Chi Town Half Marathon Race Recap

A few months ago, I mentioned that I wanted to PR my half marathon. This has been a goal of mine for quite some time, and as such I intended to put myself in a situation where PR-ing would be almost inevitable. I know, overall, that I’m a faster runner than I was when I ran my first half marathon, but I wanted to set myself up for success, both by training hard and by strategically choosing a race that would likely yield ideal-for-me race conditions (which is to say: cold.).

The Chi Town Half, also known to just about no one but myself (until these past couple of days) as the biggest goal race I’ve had in a long time, turned out to be exactly what I needed it to be.


While I was happy to talk in general terms about what I hoped to accomplish at Chi Town (a PR), I kept the specifics to myself until about a week before the race. My primary goal was always to PR, period, but I really wanted to run a 2:05 or faster. Last year, runners with a sub-2:05 half marathon qualified for Corral E at the Chicago Marathon, which was the final corral in Wave One. I know, realistically, that the color of a person’s bib does not determine his or her worth as a runner, but man did I want the chance to wear a red bib. Though I don’t know what the qualifying standards for Wave One will be this year–nor do I know if I’ll even want to run in Wave One–for my own sake, I wanted to prove to myself that I could qualify for Wave One (or at least 2013′s Wave One).

So I trained. I trained hard and I trained intentionally. I did intervals once a week (I hadn’t done any intervals at all in two years). I did a tempo run once a week (I had never done a tempo run in my life). I did my long runs. I stretched, I strength trained (…occasionally), I practiced yoga, and I foam rolled every. single. day. (literally. The last day I didn’t foam roll was December 31, 2013.) But even with all that, 2:05 still didn’t sound realistic. When I would talk about running a 2:05, I always said conditions would have to be absolutely perfect to hit that time, and even then I still didn’t actually believe I could actually run a 2:05. It was my pie-in-the-sky goal. My best long run was at a 9:49 pace, and that was only a seven miler. Ultimately, though, my #1 goal was just to PR, and anything better than a 2:22:34 would get me that PR.

I laid low and carbed up on Friday and Saturday, only leaving my apartment for a hair cut and to pick up my “packet.”


Pictured: the entire packet. Honestly, I can’t complain. Who needs all the junk that comes in race bags, anyway? Also, love this race shirt. This is my first tech hoodie, and I think this will be a VERY handy base layer on future cold runs (hood up + hat over hood = improvised balaclava, yes? That’s what I’m telling myself.).

I got to the race site (good ol’ Nature Museum. I do enjoy racing out of there) about 45 minutes before the race began, which gave me plenty of time to check my gear, use the portapotties, warm up, and observe those around me, wondering if I were underdressed for the occasion. Most of the people I saw wore full tights and a long sleeve pullover, while I was rocking crops, a short sleeve shirt, and arm sleeves. I was a bit chilly while we waited for the race to begin, but once we got running I warmed up quickly, and MAN. I don’t know how those people in tights and long sleeves survived. I took my arm sleeves off at mile 6 (woooo first outdoor run in short sleeves of 2014!!), and even then I was still toasty. But I digress.

Late last week, I was talking with a coworker who also would be running the race, and casually said, “I’m never going to break 2 hours.” (I think he thought I meant at Chi Town. I meant…ever. As in, at any point in my life). He, however, was convinced I could break 2:00 (perhaps he didn’t know my current PR was 2:22:34?), and you know how it is once people get those ideas into your head…. He told me, especially in light of my performance at Shamrock, to line up with the 2:00 pace group. I thought that was insane, but decided it wouldn’t be a bad idea to find a pace group I could stick with. When I got to the race, however, all the pacers were holding minute/mile signs rather than finishing time signs, so I put myself a bit behind the men holding “9:32,” having absolutely no idea what 9:32 translated to in terms of finishing, and hoped for the best. I wanted to start the race a bit slow so I’d have enough left to give at the end, and 9:32 seemed like a good enough group to have in front of me.


The race started right on time and took us out to the Lakefront Trail to head south towards North Ave. (Side note: I’ve heard that last year there were issues with volunteers/course markings. The course could not have been better staffed or more clearly marked this year. A++ to All Community Events — I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a Lakefront Trail race so well marked). I hit my first mile in 9:05, which seemed way too fast, so I tried to hold back a bit. Those trusty 9:32 pacers were still in front of me, so I figured as long as I stayed put, I’d be fine.

The course was a bit crowded for the first few miles, what with all of us half marathoners and 10K runners traipsing along the trail together (which undoubtedly thrilled everyone else on the trail Sunday morning), but again, I was trying to hold back, so this was fine by me. We continued on our merry way back into Lincoln Park, where I generally just kept hangin’ in there behind that 9:32 group. After taking the first three miles to settle into the pace, those pacers were spot on. 9:26, 9:33, 9:30 — I’ve never run a race so evenly in my life.

After we headed under Fullerton, someone approached one of the 9:32 pacers, who had ended up a little closer to me after a water station and asked the pacer what time we’d finish in. He said:


Huh. Well then.

So as it turns out, I had, entirely unintentionally, found myself running with a pace group that was not only going to get me a PR, but was going to get me my ultimate goal time. I’ve never really run a race with a pace group before, so I guess my opinion may not count for much, but GOOD HEAVENS. I cannot say enough about these pacers. They were consistent, they gave us course info on the run (“Take water here: we don’t have another water station for another 1.5 miles!”), they watched out for us (“Huge pothole coming up!” “Muddy trail!”). They were perfect. I mean, seriously. Check out these stats:

Screen shot 2014-04-06 at 6.27.00 PM


We ran all the way up to Foster, and once we turned south were greeted by a lovely headwind. Not necessarily the ideal conditions for the last fourish miles of a half marathon, but it wasn’t the worst wind I’ve ever run into. I spent most of this time trying to figure out when I wanted to really kick it in and attempt to ditch my pace group (I had not, mind you, been running with them, per se, for this race. Though they kept me on pace, I was generally about 20-30 feet behind the pacers and the group of runners immediately surrounding them). With the headwind, I figured I’d wait until the last mile or so and see how I felt before attempting anything.

And then, out of absolutely nowhere, at about mile 10.5 I found myself passing the 9:32 pace group, and I never saw them again.

Never once in my running life have I gotten a second wind, but BOY OH BOY did I get a second wind on Sunday. I didn’t want to freak myself out, so I told myself I couldn’t look at my watch. Buttttt then when I hit mile 11, I couldn’t help myself. 9:13. All right. Better than I had been doing, so, for the love of God, Bethany, do not look at your watch anymore! Don’t think about it! Buttttt then when I hit mile 12, I couldn’t help myself. 9:06. Who am I?? Where was this coming from??

I snuck another peek at my Garmin just beyond the 12 mile mark and saw I was at 1:52. Running a sub-8:00 mile for the last 1.1 seemed a bit out of the question, so I knew I couldn’t be hitting sub-2:00, which, honestly, was totally fine. I had NO intentions of actually running that fast, regardless of what my coworker thought I could do. But being beyond mile 12 at 1:52 did mean a 2:05 seemed completely reasonable. My legs were killing me, my feet hurt, I was sweaty and tired, but doggone it, I did NOT run intervals into the wind, I did NOT suffer through treadmill hills, and I did NOT bundle up for long runs in sub-zero wind chills to quit with 1.1 miles left. I stepped up my game as we headed back onto the limestone trail and knocked out an 8:53 (which included seeing my coworker, who was happy to  yell at me, “Come on! You can do better than that!”) and a 7:41-pace last .08 miles (by my Garmin; .1, officially), for an overall official finishing time of:


I was exhausted, but I crossed that finish line with an enormous smile on my face. I took almost 20 full minutes off my previous PR (19:44, technically). I not only PRed, but I destroyed the time I realistically expected to run (2:10-2:15) and smashed the goal I never, ever, EVER really dreamed I would hit (2:05).


Hard work pays off.


Filed under Half Marathon Training

Thursday Things

1. I need advice. I’m a running hoarder, and as such never throw away race-related things. Shirts, medals, bibs, safety pins: I keep it all.


You thought I was kidding, didn’t you?

Anyway, while my safety pin collection is doing just fine, and I still have plenty of room to display my medals, the bib situation is getting a little out of control.


I think the B-Tags are primarily to blame, since they add extra bulk to the bibs. It’s getting to the point where my bibs (clearly) don’t come close to lying flat against my corkboard anymore, and I’m concerned that sooner rather than later, I’m not going to be able to pin more bibs onto my collection. Since I’m currently registered for six more races in 2014, this is a problem. I’m not about to throw them away, but I’m in the market for a new, creative, and cheap (ideally, free) way to display the numbers I paid so much money to wear. Any ideas?

2. Our bag of post-run food at the Shuffle included belVita Breakfast Biscuits. While these were all the rage around Blogland awhile ago, I had never had one before (and have yet to eat the one that came in my bag, but never fear: I’ll get around to it ;) ). I was looking at the packaging, however, and thought this was strange:


Natural flavor with other natural flavor? What does that even mean?

3. So I’m running a half marathon this weekend, and in hilariously predictable fashion, I am starting to FREAK. OUT. over every itty bitty thing that could possibly point to inevitable race day failure. Minor lingering soreness in my right quad on Monday and Tuesday? DISASTER. Slightly twingey left Achilles tendon after dance? HORRIFYING. A small tickle, perhaps scratchiness, in the back of my throat on Wednesday? DOOM. Hahaha. Everything is a crisis when I have a goal race. I’m such a joy to be around this week :P

Do you keep souvenirs (bibs, medals, etc.) from races? What do you do with them?
How do you stay sane when you have an upcoming race? I’m all ears…


Filed under Life

Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K Recap

(True life: I’m so used to saying “Bank of America Chicago Marathon” that to hear “Shamrock Shuffle” after “Bank of America” throws me off every time.)

Because I apparently live by the motto, “Go big or go home,” I put four races on my calendar between March 30 and April 27. Up first: the Shuffle.


I took care of my expo-ing on Friday, where I must say I was a bit disappointed with my haul compared to last year’s. I walked away with a lot of flyers, but very little free food. I think we can all agree that the success of an expo hinges upon the availability of free food and t-shirts, so in that sense the expo was a bust. But I got my packet with ease, lamented the lameness of this year’s shirt to anyone who will listen (SERIOUSLY, B of A? You threw the LOGO on a WHITE shirt and called it a day? Come on, now. If you’re going to market yourself as the premier 8K in the world, at least pretend to put a little effort into your t-shirt.), and called it a day.


For funzies, this is what I deemed actually worth keeping from my participant bag:


Haha. So. Much. Junk. The best find of the day: the BTN Big 10K booth, where they handed out cards with $10 off discount codes. Heyo! Guess who’s running the BTN Big 10K again this year? $38 for a 10K? I can’t say no to that, even if it is on a 12 mile week for marathon training.

Anyway. Onto the race itself. I woke up nice and early on Sunday morning, had some toast and almond butter, and arrived at Grant Park around 7:30 a.m. Like last year, a twist of fate handed me the opportunity to run in Corral A, even though I distinctly do not belong in Corral A. Never one to pass up the chance to feel like I’m actually a competitive runner, though, I placed myself in the very very back of Corral A and waited for the race to start.

My plan for the Shuffle this year was to survive. I had no intentions of PRing, no intentions of running particularly fast, and no intentions of being at all competitive. I am much more concerned about my race next week than I was about this race, and as such I wanted to not be an idiot at the Shuffle and just enjoy myself. Plus my breakfast wasn’t sitting quite as well as I would have liked, though that’s hardly abnormal for me on race day (or, you know, in life in general).

I lost my Garmin signal as we headed underneath Randolph, which I expected. Last year I tried to manually keep my splits, but this year I didn’t bother beyond looking at my watch at each mile marker. I hit the first mile in 9:0x, which had me running slower than PR pace, but that was fine by me. Again, this wasn’t a goal race for me, so I wasn’t wildly concerned about time.

I felt pretty solid as we headed down State Street but was still quite surprised to see a 17:xx on my watch at the two mile mark (I think it was 17:2x or 17:3x). I don’t know my exact splits, but obviously with a time in the 17s, I ran the second mile in under nine minutes. I didn’t feel like I had sped up, so that came as a bit of a shock.

The course for the Shuffle was different this year from that of year’s past (I believe there’s currently construction on the bridge on Harrison? Not sure on this, but that would explain the changed course), and personally, I really liked this year’s course. Though I had no intention of PR-ing, I wanted to run a tactically intelligent race, mostly because I’ve never actually set out to run an intelligent race before, so hey! Why not? Basically this meant I did my best to run the tangents of the course, and I think I was fairly successful in this venture. Woo!

I hit the three mile mark at 26:00, which put me just slightly over my 5K pace and gave me roughly an 8:30ish mile. A-ok with me. I was starting to feel a little more tired at this point, but kept trucking along. I didn’t necessarily feel like I was *losing* steam, but I certainly didn’t feel like I was picking the pace up at all. You can imagine my complete shock, then, when I hit the four mile mark, looked down at my watch, and saw 34:00 exactly. I may or may not have said, out loud, right then and there, “Holy sh*t! I just ran an eight-minute mile!” My 5K pace, mind you, is about 8:15, so to run an 8:00, especially at that point in the race, was completely unexpected.

I held back as I ran down Michigan until a few blocks before Roosevelt, at which point I figured I might as well go for it. I kept my eyes off my watch in order to not psyche myself out, tried to run smart up the hill on Roosevelt, and then kicked it in once we got back on Columbus. I told myself I wouldn’t see that finish line again until October 12 and wanted to make it count. I had to really, really dig deep, but I pushed as hard as I could and crossed the finish line in 41:38.


That’s a 48-second PR, baby! I couldn’t believe it. I figured there might be a chance I’d PR after I saw my split at the four mile mark, but going into this race with zero expectations and zero goals and then PRing–PRing by a lot–was beyond my wildest dreams. According to my results, I splitted 7:54 between the 5K mark and finish line which is just insane. I never run 7:xx. EVER.

After the race, I retrieved my gear and made my way to the hospitality tent, where I rewarded my efforts with carbs.



Overall, I could not possibly be happier with how everything went at the Shuffle. I ran smarter than I think I’ve ever run before. I negative splitted most of the race. I PRed. Yeah, can’t ask for much more than that. This gave me all the confidence I need for my race next week, and, assuming all out-of-my-control elements line up well (the weather in particular), I think I just might get that half marathon PR I’ve wanted for so long. Fingers crossed!




Filed under Fitness