I completed 40 races in 2019 (in honor of my 40th birthday), and one of the most memorable was the Corn Maze 5K. An entire 5K race, all held within a giant corn maze! So I was super excited (and a bit trepidatious) to attend this year’s Corn Maze 5K, a few weeks back.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room: How did they hold a live, in-person race during a pandemic? With a lot of changes and safety protocols. First of all, the race wasn’t officially on the books until a couple weeks prior to the event. I had registered in August, but they arranged it so everyone was basically on a waiting list until the end of September, about two weeks before the race, so they could monitor COVID-19 levels and any changes in Illinois regulations. They collected credit card info, but didn’t charge the registration fees until the end of September, when they felt confident they could hold the race.
Then, on race day, there were all sorts of safety measures in place. They had mailed out bibs and start times beforehand, so you knew exactly what minute you were going to start. My start time was 7:44am, although my bib didn’t arrive before I left to drive to Illinois. They were able to give me an alternate bib at the event. And oh yeah, did I mention this race was in Illinois? At Richardson’s Adventure Farm in Spring Grove, Illinois (about 75 minutes northwest of Chicago).
You couldn’t even enter the premises until five minutes before your start time – you had to hang out in the parking lot. I used that time to stretch and warm-up. Then, when I finally entered and approached the start line, they were starting people one every 15 seconds, to create some social distancing within the maze, and cut down on passing. Plus, masks were required at all times, except they specified you could choose not to wear it once you were in the maze.
I wore good ol’ lucky number 867.
The maze and the route were not the same as last year. Every year they create a different, themed maze, and this year’s theme was a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
Here’s the route through the maze for the 5K:
Although I’ve done a couple virtual events, this was my first in-person race since February, and even though the atmosphere was rather different because of the pandemic-related changes, it was still exciting to be somewhere, doing something really unique.
I felt ready to go when I waiting for my turn to start, and once I got into the maze, all sorts of memories came flooding back from last year. It’s very exhilarating, and completely bizarre, to be running through a corn maze. They block off the dead ends, so there’s no way runners can get lost, but all it is turn after turn after turn. You get disoriented quickly, and it feels like you’re running in big circles, although you’re never on the same path twice.
Check out my YouTube video from last year’s race, which starts with my finish, and then has some footage I shot during the race, running around corners in the middle of the maze.
Runners’ start times were loosely grouped by speed, so in theory I was running with others who kept a 10-minute mile pace, but I ended up passing a lot of people – roughly 2 dozen. For the most part, I would announce my intention to pass by shouting out “on your left!’ and then, when I actually passed, I would look down and away, because I chose to remove my mask after about the first half-mile. I couldn’t pull in enough air with it on.
For about the first mile, I was trailed by a guy whose presence pushed me, although eventually, on a rare straightaway, he finally passed me. The rest of the race was more of a challenge, but I kept focused, and kept running. I was thankful that it was drier this year; last year there was patches of mud that made some turns a little dicey.
I tried to save a little energy so I could really sprint to the finish line, and I gave it my best, but I was pretty wiped out by the end. I immediately pulled my mask back up, and collected a bag that was laid out on a table past the finish line that had a bottle of water, some individually-wrapped snacks, and my finisher’s medal.
Once my heart rate slowed down, I climbed the tower that’s there to provide views of the entire maze.
It’s breathtaking up there, and really fun to look out over the maze and occasionally see a runner dodging and weaving between the stalks.
I finished the 5K in 35:41, well behind my time from last year, which was 30:38. I finished in 185th place, out of 430 finishers. And a big congrats to my buddy Josh, who won the whole dang thing with a time of 21 minutes even!
One of my favorite things from this race is the GPS map of my run, captured by my Garmin watch:
I’m not sweating my slower time. I was doing a whole lot more running last year that I am this year, and I’m carrying more weight this year, too. I’m proud that I sought out this experience again, proud to have shown up, and proud that I gave it my all. There’s nothing left to say.
Except this: I’m going to share one more thought that I had during the race, as I was whipping around hairpin turns: I’m at a point in my life where I need to turn the corner. I need to keep making better food choices, keep focused, keep choosing to value my health, and lose the weight that I’ve slowly been gaining. I have countless opportunities to turn the corner towards a healthier life, every single day, and on this day, at this race, I literally had 250 corners that drove that point home. It may be a clunky metaphor, but in that moment, it was exactly what I needed. It was a great reminder to keep turning the corner, keep taking care of myself, and keep loving myself, because that love has gotten me to incredible places, and will keep taking me to many more.
Keep it up, David!
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