Monday, September 13, 2010

Chicago Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 5; 28th Edition
759.8 miles raced; 350 yards swam and 9 miles biked in 2010

Race: Chicago Half Marathon
Place: Chicago, IL
Miles from home: 1396 miles
Weather: 50-60s; Bright sunshine

I love Chicago.  Yet this race marks only the second time I have ever set foot within its city limits.  The last time was eight years ago and I spent less than two full days here and I had my car towed because I unknowingly parked in an illegal spot.  And I still love Chicago.  Much of it comes from my unabated, rabid and nonsensical love for the Chicago Bears. When I booked this trip a few weeks ago, I did not even take into account that the Bears might have a home football game the same weekend I was in the area.  I kicked myself when I learned this as I easily could have stayed in town a few more hours and watched the game.  As it ended up nearly giving me a brain aneurysm watching them eke out a victory over Detroit, it is probably good I didn't go.

This almost loss capped off what had been an almost horrible race day as well. Racing in the 14th Annual Chicago Half Marathon, I was hoping to continue the best running I have done all year starting with a simple workout about two weeks ago that lit a fire under me.  After lethargy stemming from my 202 mile run in April had set in, I found my energy level had ebbed extensively.  I would have a good workout here and there but nothing consistent.  So by running my fastest half-marathon of the year last weekend in Oregon and having a wonderful weekend at the expo working with the Illinois Beef Association to educate people about all the fantastic health benefits of eating a diet rich in lean Beef, I was ready to take on this course. Unfortunaetly, my body did not seem to agree.

Race Morning: 
I went to bed at a relatively early hour (for me) as I knew I had to catch a shuttle bus to the 7 AM start and the last bus supposedly left at 5:30 AM.  I should have know this wasn't true and was just a race's way of trying to get people the the start on time with no snafus.  As I got on my bus around 5:40 AM with plenty of people behind me and busses in line, I cursed silently whoever decided to run races mostly in the morning.  As the consummate night owl, I have picked the wrong sport to love.

However, when I had awoken at the ungodly hour of 4:45 I had felt atrocious. I had woken up nearly every two hours during the night for some reason and my stomach was churning.  The bus ride to the start didn't help matter much, nor did realizing I had to sit around at the starting line for about 45 minutes feeling blah.  However, rarely do all hings fall together on race day and I figured I would just go out and see what the day would bring me.

First 5k: 6:15, 6:19, 6:19

My pre-race goal had been to stay as close to 6:15 miles as possible and when the first mile went by right on target I was disappointed.  Why?  Because I felt it had taken the effort of a sub-6 minute mile just to get there.  Sure there had been a little weaving in and out of runners in front of me at the start who obviously should have been further back (this remains my biggest pet peeve of running races of all-time) but I didn't think it took that much time off my mile.  When the next two miles gave me identical splits, I actually felt much better as I had mentally dialed down the effort.  In spite of the cool 57 degree start, I was already wiping droplets of sweat from my eyes by the second mile - Welcome to the world of a heavy sweater!

As late-arriving racers scampered across the street in front of us on their way to the starting line (they could have also been 5kers who started at 7:45 AM) the runner next to me almost had to hurdle one particularly unconcerned-about-getting-the-hell-out-of-the-way runner.  "That's ok," he remarked.  "Just a race going on here.  No need to get out of the way."  It got quite a laugh.

To the halfway mark: 5:43, 6:26, 6:45, 6:18

I had felt the first three mile markers were right in place.  Unfortunately, it appears the next few were a little askew. As always, I caveat any complaints about mile markers with the explanation that
a. mile markers do not have to be certified
b. they are placed there as a convenience to runners and we should be happy to have them.
That said, when they are placed you want them to be in the right spot.  Having a clock at every mile marker was a very nice touch though.

Me in the Boilermaker 15k earlier this year.
I began to fall into a rhythm here and was surprised that the yuck feeling I had experienced all morning did not seem to be affecting my race too much.  At 7 miles, I was just a few seconds off my slightly ambitious 6:15 pace for the day.  Part of that I can thank you a female runner who appeared by my side around mile 5 and said that she loved my singlet.  "Powered by Beef" it read as I was once again promoting how much I love to fuel my own personal running diet with Beef.  She wasn't the only one who had commented on the shirt and many asked where they could get their own.  We chatted for a bit and I told her that I thought she was about in 10th place for the women but there was no doubt in my mind that no fewer than four of those in front of her had gone out too fast.  She had never run the course before so I told her that there were plenty of twists and curves along Lake Shore Drive and if she hugged the tangents, she would crush out a good time.

As she soon left me in the dust, Jean Marinangeli would not only go on to take 5th place overall for the women in a extraordinarily tough women's field.  (The winner, Andrea Pomaranski, took 13th OVERALL in a time of 1:13!)  She also provided me with a pacer to follow even as she faded off into the distance.  Thanks, Jean!

To mile 10: 6:46, 6:19, 6:26

I wasn't surprised that my 8th mile was a little slower as the only real hill of the course, being an on ramp, was during this mile.  I also assumed the mile marker might be a little askew and expected that along with the downhill ramp on the other side, my 9th mile would even out the two.  When I ran just a 6:19, I was a little perturbed.  I was passing runners here and there and reeling in others who did not seem to be slowing.  With a 1:22 in my grasp just a mile or two earlier, by the time I hit mile 10, it looked like a 1:23:30.  Well, damn.  Funny how racing goes.  Three hours prior, I was ready to bag the race.  Eighty minutes prior I was disappointed my first mile wasn't under 6 and figured a 1:30 was in the works for the day.  Twenty minutes prior I was feeling good and thought maybe I had a 1:22 in store.  And now, I didn't know what to expect.  People ask me what I think about when I am running.  I often wonder how their head is not filled with thoughts like mine here!

Finishing up: 6:15, 6:38, 6:40, :39

When the 11th mile produced the time I was hoping for it spurred me on more.  I picked up the pace, passed a few runners, swigged some liquid to stave off the ever-warming sun on my skin, and promptly ran 20 seconds slower.  Ugh.  I now know I have no idea what to believe via the mile markers and just need to enjoy the day.  By now, the hordes of runners behind me are now streaming northward on Lake Shore Drive and I am doing one of my favorite pastimes on an out-and-back portion of a race: try and pick out people I know.  Of course, people always see me prior to me seeing them and it is so energizing to see the faces of those I had met in the previous days and to know their story, their struggle and their own desires.  I also had to laugh because of the sheer number of Bears paraphernalia on runners.  In most places, I would shout "Go Bears!" because two Bears fans in the middle of, say, Jackson, Mississippi might definitely share a kindred spirit.  Here, I would look like an idiot, so I refrained.  I don't need any help in that department.

Realizing that I could still slip into the 1:23s, even with my miles seemingly going slower, I kicked pass the last guy in front of me I had seen wearing the five-finger shoes (sorry, but I am not going to let him beat me) and ran my fastest time of the year by almost a minute in a 1:23:54. To tell you how solid a field this was, that was only good enough for 103rd place overall.

Moreover, I got to see two really good friends from high school and I think I am a good influence.  Having both runner a marathon in the past, both Kim and Jason had mentioned they were looking to maybe get back into running again.  By the end of the weekend, they had brand-new sparkling running shoes aching to be worn out on a run.  Perhaps I should come with a warning label:

"Caution: May Cause you to Test Your Own Boundaries.

1 comment:

Jon said...

I remember doing that race as my first half-marathon. Didn't appreciate the folks who cheated in the last 5k when they were cutting through the park to get to the finish earlier. This was also my loneliest race as well since I had no friends or family to see me at the finish. Watching everyone else around me hugging their family/friends as they crossed the finish line sucked!