Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Chicago Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 7; 11th Edition 
248 miles run; 1 mile swam; 30 miles biked in 2012 races
Race: Chicago Half Marathon
Place: Chicago, IL
Miles from home:  2126 miles
Weather: 50s-70s; sunny

Last weekend, I found out I can still complete a marathon with next to no training. This weekend I wanted to see if, having just barely started running again, I could get my legs firing at a decent clip. To say I am happy with the end result would be an understatement. I am hoping this all bodes well for a rapid return to some faster racing.

This would mark the third straight year I have run the Chicago Half. If memory serves me correctly, the year before was the final year of the race's previous course. I have only known one course and it is one I thoroughly enjoy. (Read my 2010 recap here and my 2011 recap here). I can definitely see myself setting a PR here if I could actually rest prior to racing.  As much as I love expos, and the fantastic people I meet, they are a tiring thing to do. Just when I really start to begrudge all the lucky runners who can sit in a hotel and relax, I get the pleasure of meeting someone super sweet and nice like JoAnne, her daughter Kyzee and her husband Earl.  JoAnne would be going for a new PR in the half while Kyzee and her Grandpa would be doing the 5K.  It's hard to explain how much this makes my heart swell.  When you no longer (and never had) the chance to do a race with your own father, seeing those who do makes you both melancholy and happy at the same time.

I was happy to representing both the Illinois Beef Association and the Wisconsin Beef Council jointly. What I loved the most was not only the word getting out that I personally am known as the spokesrunner for beef but already people are saying that they have seen Team Beefs across the nation.  More and more people are realizing that lean beef is good for you, refuels you and helps you feel good.  Myths and rumors will always be out there but educated with the facts, many more athletes are glad to be saying they are eschewing the pre-race pasta dinner in favor of a pre-race beef dinner!  My works is far from done, but we have come a long way in the past 2-plus years.

When the expo ended on the second day, I eschewed hanging out with friends and tried to go get some food. The previous two nights had been fiascoes in that arena and I was starting to get a three-day Hanger (Hunger + Anger) thing going on. I thought about eating and joining my friends as I did not expect the next day to result in anything faster than 1:35 but after eating a ridiculous amount of food (compensating, I guess) I was sleepy.  I decided to turn in and get ready for the awful 4:30 a.m. wake-up.

Race Day:

After a short few blocks jog to the shuttle it was rather uneventful trek to Jackson Park, south of Chicago's downtown and where the race began. Apparently, some runners had troubles with buses in other pickups and had a tight connection to the race. I felt for them but listening to the bitching on Facebook and whatnot makes me wonder how unbelievably entitled some runners can be. When NYC Marathon said they would not be ferrying drop bags back to the finish (a decision they just reversed) you would have thought they said they were not going to let gay runners compete. I often wonder how many runners have ever been involved with putting on a race.  If so, they would see that 99.9% of those involved are runners themselves who want nothing but the race to go smoothly. If they only saw how many fires are put out before anyone even knows they were lit, perhaps they would be a less like, well, Sam Axes says from Burn Notice. 

Having gotten there in plenty of time, I actually had to stand around a bit and got a little chilly.  Chilly sounded really good to me as I knew it was supposed to get warmer than I would like later. Shooting the breeze with the announcer, my friend Jeremy, helped the time quickly pass.  Before long I found myself in Corral A and running under the starting line banner. I love the looks of all the runners before a race starts and trying to guess their own personal goals for that day.

First 3 Miles: 6:27, 6:52, 6:48

The first mile felt far slower than this. I was shocked how easy that had been and immediately knew that I needed to slow down. My guess for the race was a 1:33 and that meant I had to average just a hair over 7 minutes per mile (7:05, actually). To force myself to slow down, I began taking pictures.  First I was able to get a neat shot of the runners in front of me as we passed under some trees and the temperatures dropped in the shade.  That said, even by the second mile I was already perspiring heavily.  I wish those who do not have to deal with this knew how much easier not being covered in wetness 7 minutes into a race really is.

Slowing down here, when I felt good was hard, but if anything I like to heed my own advice.  I knew that later I would appreciate having not gone out ridiculously fast for what I could reasonably expect to do on the day. I took a few pictures here and there but the occasional jackwagon runner photobombed a few of them.  Sorry, pal, no free publicity on my blog.

But I did try to keep myself entertained, including taking a picture of the photo guy as he took a picture of me.  I'm quite happy to say that it turned out pretty well. Meanwhile, after looping around Jackson Park, cresting a small rise to hit Lake Shore Drive, and seeing runners behind us about to do the same thing, I was read to hunker down and get a little more serious.

Cruising to mile 6:  6:50, 6:56, 6:51

I fully expected the next few miles to  have me slowing to closer to 7:05 but with each mile that went by, I kept the pace.  In addition, the 3:10 pace group leader stayed right on my heels.  I was doing everything I could to stay more than jus ta little bit in front of them so when they finally did pass me (which I felt was inevitable) I would be that much closer to the finish.

The next few miles had me running the tangents as much as I possibly could.  It amazed me how few other runners took advantage of this type of running as Lake Shore Drive twisted and turned in long wide arc.  I wanted to tell people who continued on the longest possible route "Please! Follow me!"  More than few times, just trying to keep a straight line in between curves had me criss-crossing in front of runners.  Many of these runners were actually running faster than me but because of the longer distance being run would keep falling back.

As we approached the 6 mile and 10K marks, I finally could no longer hold of the 1:30 group.  I was surprised I had kept n front of them this long and getting to the near-halfway point was a huge victory.  I began to do the calculations in my mind about how much slower I could run to stay under a 1:33.  Then they slowly left me behind them.

Heading onward to mile 10: 6:57, 7:20, 6:49, 7:01

From two previous runnings of this race I know that the 8th mile is in the wrong place.  I am not saying the course is long here (although I do believe it runs about .1 long overall, even cutting all the tangents) just that the placement of the 8th mile marker always leaves everyone looking at their watch. True to form, the 8th mile was far and away my slowest mile. Also true to form, even though the 9th mile contains a hill of the off-ramp, it somehow was one of the faster miles of the day.

But before we got there, we were able to see both the awe-inspiring and semi-spirit deflating top runners cruising along at a 5:07 mile pace. I marvel at these runners and can only imagine what that speed is like for that long of a period of time. After the top-tier of men went by, and then a second tier of men, my friend and eventual winner Meagan Nedlo came cruising along, flanked by a phalanx of male runners. She told me this was rather unplanned and it just so happened that she was running the same pace as this group of guys, who also helped to shield her from the wind a bit.  I personally didn't feel any wind but that is the difference between weighing 185 pounds and like 100 pounds like Meagan does.

I remembered the 10th mile being one that really broke my spirit last year and having take me just over 7 minutes, I felt ecstatic.  I began playing a game of cat and mouse with a few runners but knew I had my sub 1:33 in the bag.  Still quite mindful of the calf muscles which had given me problems in what has been basically a lost three months of training, I was in no mood to fully race anyone.  To be here, at this point, at this speed, right now, was more than I could have asked for.  As such, I just continued to stay the course.

Coming home: 6:43, 7:10, 6:52 1:06 

The 11th mile flat out shocked me as I thought I would be hanging onto a 7-flat for dear life. I had actually take a few seconds to snap some shots of the runners going the other direction but was disappointed when most of them did not turn out as well as I had hoped.  It appears that the sweat from my my hands had fogged up the lens of the camera and only after taking a few shots would the lens get clear.  However, I did get one rather telling shot of those streaming behind me and realized these were the people who were probably going to take about 2 hours to finish the race. These were people who work hard but might never be even remotely fast.  Runners who struggle with track workouts, morning workouts and long runs but nonetheless show up on race day ready to give their best effort.  Many are hoping to get a half time that starts with a "1" but many will fail.  However,  they show up again the next race, with lofty goals still in mind.

 I love it.

My 12th mile showed I had slowed a touch to take these pictures.  I had worn my SPIbelt but carried my camera in my hand for most of the entire race.  I just didn't want to fumble with it while trying to run the fastest I had run in four months. However, even just being able to pint and click still took some energy. I am sure I annoyed someone who was struggling with al they had to finish and here I was taking pictures.  But this was no walk in the park for me.  With each mile I knew I was not only going to go under 1:33 but 1:32 was in the can as well.  Up in the distance I saw the 1:30 group and thought perhaps I could just catch them.

Then I remembered that this course seems to run long. Those extra thirty seconds I would need to catch up to the 1:30 group and do this race in 89 minutes were going to be tacked on at the end.  Sure enough, if you take my average for the race, the last .1 should have taken 42 seconds, not 66. I held off one fast charging runner, forgetting for a second that I was pleased to be running and wasn't really racing. Hard to turn off that instinct.  It is a rare day when I let anyone pass me in the final 100 meters of a race.  If they do, they have to bleed for it. I have run too many races where pain and fatigue are par for the course to let just anyone pass me at the end.  Bring your "A" game if you care to do that.

All told, I finished in a time of 1:30:44, which wasn't even good enough to crack the top 300 runners.  This race attracts fast athletes and this weather, regardless of the five pounds of sweat I was carrying, was ideal for most runners.

Oodles of runners set new PRs this day, including JoAnne I spoke earlier. Meagan's time of 1:18 put her right where she wanted to be to attempt to win the Philadelphia Marathon in November. I have received numerous messages from other runners I met this weekend telling me that they too experienced major breakthroughs at the race. Once again, the US Road Sports people put on a top notch race in a fantastic city. It is always a pleasure to work with them and see how they handle races from soup to nuts. I will be heading to Dallas in just a few weeks to continue working on their 13.1 series by doing a course preview of their race in that city.  It promises to be another stellar event and I cannot wait to run the course.

To visitors I met and residents I talked to, thanks so much for making me feel so welcome.  And way to go, Bears!  That marks three straight years I have run this race and three straight years he Bars have won their opener. That's a streak I will be happy to keep going.

1 comment:

Paulette said...

I'm not the fastie you are, but I also set a new PR in Chicago last weekend and totally didn't plan it as a goal race. Nice surprise! Great job on the race!