Back to where it all began!
The Chicago Half Marathon is a really special race to me. It was my first half marathon back in 2012 and set me on the trajectory towards marathoning that I’ve continued to ride since 2013. Hitting mile 12 during the Chicago Half in 2012 and feeling fantastic was the single most important factor in convincing me to register for the Chicago Marathon in 2013, and marathoning (or, perhaps more accurately, marathon training) has become such a major part of how I structure my running, my summer, and, to be honest, my life, and I feel like I owe all of that to the Chicago Half in 2012.
However, because the Chicago Half typically happened on the second Sunday in September, I’ve skipped it for the past two years, as that’s the 18 mile week for marathon training, and I can’t run a half and pretend it counts as 18 miles. I was thrilled when I found out they moved the race to the first week of taper this year and signed up pretty much as soon as registration opened, since I’ve wanted to return to this race for quite some time.
I went to the expo on Saturday and was SUPER blown away by its level of fanciness. With the exception of Rock ‘n’ Roll and the Chicago Half in 2012, all of the halves I’ve run have been relatively low key affairs, oftentimes without any sort of expo to speak of. To see this, then, was quite the surprise–and a little jarring, because I am, once again, in marathon mode, which warps my perception of what is or is not significant in terms of mileage. When you ran 20 miles six days earlier, it’s hard to get all that worked up about 13.1.
In terms of swag, I think this was the best race I’ve run all year so far. There were THINGS in the packet this time!
I had seen images of the shirt before the race and was a little unsure about the design, but when I saw it in person, I loved it. The graphic plays off the signage on the El, which tells you where you are in terms of the grid. I love that they did this on the shirts, even if some people may not immediately pick up on what it means. (I also, being a Chicago geography nerd, love that I now know where Jackson Park falls on the grid).
I registered early enough that I also got a running vest. I’m not entirely sure when I’ll need said running vest, but whatever. Worse things have certainly happened :P
All told, this whole thing–the race (which closes down Lake Shore Drive entirely to traffic), two items of swag, AND insurance (Lifetime events, or at least the Lifetime events I’ve run this year, offer race day insurance. If you pay the $11 insurance fee, you can drop out of the race for ANY reason–lack of training, injury, moved to San Diego, anything at all–and they’ll refund your entire registration fee, minus that $11 you spent on insurance. This makes me feel SO much better about signing up for a race months in advance, and I always take advantage of it. Given the choice between losing $11 and $70+, I’d chose $11 every time.)–cost $81, which, for a half marathon in Chicago, doesn’t seem that bad to me at all, particularly given the course (i.e.: not an out-and-back on the Lakefront Trail).
Because the race is in Jackson Park, the Chicago Half offers free (this year) shuttles from the Belmont El station and Millennium Park to take you down to the race site. I certainly took advantage of this, though it did prove to be a little bit more of a headache than I originally anticipated. The shuttles sold out, and for whatever reason, that made Lifetime decide to offer a shorter timeframe in which the shuttles would run. Shuttles ran between 4:15 and 5:00, which, #1, IS EFFING EARLY, and #2, is before the Brown Line even starts running on Sundays–which is an issue, considering that the Brown Line is one of the trains that services Belmont. I ended up having to Uber it to Belmont (with surge pricing :( ), which was an annoyance, though INFINITELY cheaper than Uber or cabbing it all the way down to Jackson Park, which I bet would cost close to $30, or $60 round trip.
I still didn’t like getting up at 3:50 to go run a race, though.
I got to Jackson Park laughably early due to the shuttle situation, so I sat around for nearly an hour before I started getting ready to run, checking my gear, etc. There was a bit of drama by the portapotties, as I guess the biggest collection of portos happened to be right by a bees/wasps/hornets/yellow-and-black insect that stings, nest, and the bugs, unsurprisingly, were none too pleased to have us in their territory. A couple people got stung, so I’m really glad I made it out of there unscathed!
For all my talk about how 13.1 miles is nothing to me at this point of the year, I was actually pretty anxious at the start of the race. It was SO crowded in our corrals and a bit warmer than I would’ve liked, and that was making me all sorts of nervous for whatever reason. I had originally hoped to go out with the 2:10 pace group, as my “A” goal for the day was a sub-2:10, but they were in the corral ahead of me, so I figured I’d see what I could do on my own.
Actually, my real “A” goal for the day was to negative split the race. After last week’s fantastic 20 miler, I really feel like I have a grasp on how to run long distances, and I wanted to use the Chicago Half as practice for negative splitting–particularly, practice for going out slow by feel and not getting caught up in the excitement of the start line. I didn’t do quite as well on this as I had hoped–my first mile was a 10:04, by my watch (which, as always, did not match up with the official mile markers)–but I was able to rein myself in after the first mile and settled into a nice 10:30-10:45 range for the following four miles.
I didn’t necessarily consciously make a decision to speed up after I hit the mile 5 mark, but I sped up a little nevertheless, turning out a 10:23, then a 10:16, then a 10:10. I was feeling pretty great when I hit that 10:10 at the mile 8 mark, and, trusting that I could hang on for another five miles, decided to see what I could do. I didn’t want to get too carried away and planned to stay in the very low 10:00 range for quite some time, and decided I wanted to run the last mile at a sub-9:00 pace: anything 8:59 or faster would be fine by me. Only once in my life have I ever run a sub-9:00 mile during a half marathon, so this was a pretty ambitious goal for me.
So, as I said: the plan was to run 10:xx miles until mile 12, and then throw down the hammer for the last 1.1. As it happens, I may or may not have dropped a 9:42 ninth mile, sooo…. :)
I was feeling GREAT on the return trip down Lake Shore Drive. Just great. Maybe not quite as great as I felt during the last three of the 20 miler, but super great considering that I was in the back bit of a half marathon. I briefly wondered if I could PR, but realized around mile 10 that that was out of the question, unless I could manage a 15:00 5K (LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL). As I got closer to the finish line, I realized a sub-2:10 wasn’t going to happen, either. My backup goals were 1) sub-2:15 and 2) sub-2:13, which would give me my fastest half of the year, and would also be my second fastest half ever. Those both seemed fairly attainable.
My only complaint about the course this year was that, unlike in 2012 when U.S. Road Sports owned this race, there was no signage in the last 1.1 miles to let you know how much farther you had until the finish. That signage saved my life in 2012, and I was banking on having it again this year, so when it wasn’t there, I struggled a bit with trying to figure out when to really give it everything I had. (I could’ve used my watch, in theory, but it was measuring ahead of all the official mile markers, and I wasn’t entirely sure exactly how far ahead it was.) As a result, I turned dug into my reserves a bit early, and the final straightaway was ROUGH. I could feel my form collapsing for the first time all day, and I was sucking wind big time. I desperately wanted a sub-2:13, though, since 2:10 had already passed, so I tried to muster up everything I had and crossed the finish line in 2:12:31.
While I’m decently happy with my time (it was in the mid-60s on Sunday, which was warmer than I expected for this time of year, and a solid 20 degrees warmer than my ideal PR conditions [though it was overcast, which made my day]), I am OVER. THE. MOON. with my mile splits. From mile six on, I negative splitted every single mile.
(with a 8:35 pace for the final .3 that my watch measured [according to my watch, I ran 13.34 miles)
YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I was so happy with how I ran the 20 miler in terms of negative splitting, but this is 100x better. This is exactly how I want to run the marathon in two weeks. This is exactly how I need to be running if I want to turn in the times I’d like to see. Going out slow is a challenge, of course, but MAN does it pay off. The fact that I ran not one but TWO sub-9:00 miles to finish off the race, the last of which is the fastest mile I have ever thrown down in any of my seven half marathons, fills me with joy. It makes me feel like all those intervals, tempos, burpees, and 5.9s I’ve struggled through this summer have worked. It makes me feel strong, trained, and capable of tackling the marathon effectively on October 11. I got passed by everyone and their running buddy for the first three or so miles of this race, but it was MORE than worth it for the energy and speed I had left at the end.
After I caught my breath and downed a water bottle, I got my race medal, which is, without question, the most absurd medal I’ve ever received.
This thing is ENORMOUS, you guys. For comparison, here it is with my 2014 Chicago Marathon medal, which is sized about the same as any medal you get at any other race:
Yeah. It. Is. Ridiculous. And so heavy! I love the design though–the statue pictured is the statue in Jackson Park, which is right next to the finish line–and the back, once again, features the El-like numbering.
Because this medal, which could eat most of my medal collection alive, obviously was not enough, I got an additional 26.2 medal for completing the Chicagoland Half Marathon Series, which began with the Spring 13.1 back in May (where I did NOT feel anything resembling good for the last three miles. Even though I only ran this race about a minute faster than that one, the overall experience was so much better during the Chicago Half due to how I went out.)
This medal is also big, though not quite as bad as the race medal.
I’m so, so happy with how things went on Sunday. Not only is it really fun to see how far I’ve come in three years (I did a 2:22:34 on this same course in 2012), but Lifetime events are just top notch. I’m so impressed with their organization and style, and I’d recommend one of their races to anyone. Even more importantly, however, this race served as the perfect tuneup for Chicago. It helped me work on pacing myself, it reinforced the importance of going out slow, and it boosted my confidence in my training even more than the 20 miler did. I feel ready to tackle the marathon, and I really hope I can keep this momentum going for another two weeks.