Chicago Half Marathon Race Recap

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.

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(with a 8:35 pace for the final .3 that my watch measured [according to my watch, I ran 13.34 miles)


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.


Filed under Half Marathon Training

Chicago Marathon Training Week 16

Sunday, September 20: 20.06 miles in 3:37:32 for a 10:51 pace.
Before we get too far into this post, I would like to highlight these excerpts from 2013:

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And 2014:

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I have run a 3:37 every. single. year. How does that even happen?!?! After running two 3:37s in the past, I was bound and determined to run ANYTHING faster than a 3:37 this year, and absolutely could not believe it when I turned the corner about 75 meters from the finish line of this year’s 20 miler and saw my watch at 3:36:5x, meaning I wouldn’t break 3:37. I don’t think I have ever, in my entire running career, been this predictable over a certain distance. Someday…someday I will break 3:37 in the 20 miler…


Sunday was PERFECT. Well, mostly perfect. It would’ve been perfect if it had been overcast instead of sunny, but beggars can’t be choosers, and in terms of temperature, humidity, and wind, Sunday was perfect.


It also had a very pretty sunrise, so I suppose I can’t complain.

Despite my lackluster peak week, I felt super, super ready for the 20 miler. Though training certainly has not always been fun this year (by any stretch of the imagination…I’m looking at you, like all of July and August, and Labor Day weekend), I have had a pretty solid training cycle and have, by and large, been very happy with the quality of this year’s training. I had no doubts about my ability to have a good 20 miler.

Even more importantly, this year I went into the 20 miler with the intention of negative splitting. When I did my overanalyzing of last year’s 20 miler, Pete left one of the most helpful comments ever on my blog, mentioning that it looked like I was going out too fast. How this had never occurred to me is anyone’s guess, but that really stuck with me, and has been in the back of my mind on many long runs this year as I’ve faded away from the group on the last miles (which, for the record, has also happened time and time and time again over the past two years. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, I should probably be locked up ASAP.) With that in mind, I decided to “bandit” an 11:00 pace group (I was assigned to a 10:30 pace group and, theoretically could’ve told CARA I wanted to move back, but…I didn’t. Whatever. It’s not like the group assignments are actually enforced at all.) in order to run with a group that would FORCE me to go slow with the intention of ditching them around 10 miles, or 15 miles at the latest, in order to negative split the 20.

This more or less worked. I did start with an 11:00 group, and though I felt like we were barely moving, I knew that strategy would likely pay off in spades later on. All was going well until mile 2 or so, when my uterus was like, “Oh, you thought you were going to get through this period without cramps? That’s cute. Let me remind you who’s boss around here.” That pain train continued through mile 8 or so, which was every bit as terrible as it sounds. I tried to convince two different aid stations to give me Tylenol (not that Tylenol has ever helped me, but I figured it was worth a shot) to no avail. I knew they wouldn’t give me ibuprofen, since ibuprofen is generally a big no-no during a run (hence why I hadn’t taken any that morning), but Tylenol is usually considered all right, at least from a not-going-to-die-of-kidney-failure standpoint. All of this stopping, along with a couple of hormone-induced bathroom breaks, meant that I lost the 11:00 pace group I started with somewhere around mile 6. Regardless, since my bathroom breaks/aid station painkiller begging didn’t take that long, I was still in the general area of 11:00s, and more or less stuck with that pace.

The miles ticked by much faster than they ever have before on the 20 miler, and I was quite surprised when we got to mile 13 and I realized I only had seven more to go. I kept passing landmarks where I remembered feeling terrible in 2013 and 2014 and still felt super great, and by mile 15 or so, I knew that unless I literally died–like, heart stopped beating died–this was going to be, at least from an endurance/feeling standpoint, the best 20 miler I had ever had. I hit mile 17 when my watch read 3:06, which meant I had exactly 30 minutes to cover the remaining three miles if I wanted to do a sub-3:37. I hadn’t done anything faster than a 10:29 all day (though some of my mile splits aren’t entirely reflective of my actual moving speed, because I stopped at multiple aid stations to refill my water bottles. Of course, on marathon day the clock will keep running as I do that sort of thing as well, but nevertheless, I was running faster than some of my splits imply.), so knocking out three consecutive 10:00 miles seemed…ambitious. But who am I to shrink away in the face of a challenge, right?! I felt solid, so I picked up my speed and turned in a 10:13 mile, a 10:12 mile, and a 9:38 last mile.  *celebrates excessively*

Oh my gosh, you guys, I’m just over the moon with how well things went on my 20. Even if my overall time was the same, this was a night and day difference from my previous 20s. Going out slow was SO key and made all the difference in the world, so I plan to employ that strategy during the marathon itself. I have had so much trouble trying to figure out how to effectively run a marathon, and if this 20 miler is any indication, I think I may have finally gotten a grasp on what I need to do to have a successful run. I’m sure my harder training throughout the summer had a major impact on the success of this run as well, but I think having two of these under my belt to begin with made a big difference as well. And mentally, I’m all there right now. Like I mentioned with my midweek 10 miler last week, for whatever reason, I’m not struggling in the head department as much as I have in the past in terms of getting overwhelmed by what I need to accomplish – not that I’m complaining!

And though I can’t imagine too many other people are interested in my year-by-year mile splits and 10 mile stats (especially 10 mile stats, because I’ve run enough 10 milers to have that time actually mean something to me), I have found it incredibly useful to have them here in this, my digital training log, so:

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2013 Pace Splits: 10:32 first half (1:45:21); 11:12 second half (1:52:08) — +0:40 pace positive split; +6:47 overall
2014 Pace Splits: 10:21 first half (1:43:38 [YIKES]); 11:05 second half (1:50:51) — +0:44 pace positive split; +7:13 overall
2015 Pace Splits: 10:56 first half (1:49:29); 10:45 second half (1:47:35) — -0:11 pace negative split; -1:54 overall

GAH. So happy with how this went :D

Monday, September 21: Rest.
I got a sports massage, if you want to count that as activity (I don’t). I got on exhale’s email list when I went there through ClassPass, and earlier this month they sent me a coupon for 50% off a 60-minute massage during my birthday month. I could never afford to go to exhale otherwise, but the 50% off coupon brought the massage down to close to what I’d normally pay anyway.  My massage therapist was INTENSE, and this was the opposite of a relaxing experience. On the bright side, I no longer have anything even resembling a knot in my back. Haha.

Tuesday, September 22: Dance.
Just hip hop for now. I’m skipping breakdance until after the marathon (and maybe after the marathon. And maybe forever. Haha. Definitely over that class on Tuesdays…). We learned new choreography, but it was also to Major Lazer: this time to Lean On. This time last year we did a Beyonce-themed session, and if we do a Major Lazer-themed session this year, I will be the happiest :D

Wednesday, September 23: 8 miles in 1:29:23 for an 11:13 pace.
Yikes. I don’t know what happened on this run, but I was a total turtle. Miles 4-8 were all 11:xx paced, and that was pretty discouraging, especially in light of how well I ran the 20 miler. The route I took on this run did kill me once before earlier this season, so maybe that was part of it? I was also pretty worked up going into the run. I was dealing with a lot of life stress on Wednesday and discovered, to my immense frustration, that my heart rate monitor has decided to stop working. Based on my stats, this heart rate monitor’s battery should only be halfway through its lifetime, but none of my Bluetooth-enabled devices were able to pick up a signal from it. Unless I’m dead (which I don’t think I am, based on the fact that I feel very much alive), I can only conclude that my heart rate monitor must be dead. I tried it with a different strap to no success, so that’s not the problem. Changing the battery sounds great in theory, but unfortunately the little thing you twist with a coin to open up the battery case won’t work. At this point, I think my only option is to send it to Polar and hope they fix it, but there’s no way that’ll be solved before the marathon. It’s really annoying, because I’ve very much enjoyed tracking my heart rate this marathon season, and have also used heart rate monitoring in ALL of my workouts (except dance) since last November or so. This totally throws off all my data tracking, which is something that’s really important to me. Of course, I could get a new HRM, but considering that this is the second Polar HRM I’ve had die this year (the first one survived an entire calendar year before it died, rather than all of four months), AND considering that the batteries seem to be essentially irreplaceable (I can’t open the battery compartment on my original HRM, either), I’m not exactly eager to invest more money in a new one. Not having an HRM also makes my Polar M400 way less useful than it originally was, because in the past, I could use it to track ALL of my workouts–strength, yoga, climbing, running, November Project, whatever. Now it only functions as a GPS watch…which is better than nothing, but isn’t what I want, now that I’ve gotten used to having data from every workout I complete. I’ve poked around the Internet a little bit, but I have yet to find a watch that would track everything I want it to while using wrist-based heart rate monitoring, which I think is what I’d be more apt to try next, since if the HRM is built into the watch itself, it can’t die independently. #firstworldproblems

Thursday, September 24: 4 miles (tempo) in 41:03 (9:26 and 9:36 tempo miles) for a 10:16 pace.
My feet were once again dragging to start this run, so I was really surprised that I was able to do 9:xx tempo miles. I haven’t done any sort of speedwork in such a long time, and I’m glad I was able to get this in, even if my non-tempo miles were much slower than I would’ve liked them to have been.

Friday, September 25: Rest.

Saturday, September 26: Rest.

WAY too many rest days this week, again. I know it’s taper, I should be saving my energy, blah blah blah, but I am NOT okay with taking three rest days two weeks in a row. It makes me feel lazy and gross, and I don’t like that. If all goes according to plan, I should get back to my normal activity level this week. Thank goodness. I’ve been slacking a bit on the PT front, and hopefully reduced mileage (and, consequently, more free time) will encourage me to get back into doing more than two of my PT exercises per day. I also really need to focus on getting to bed as early as possible for the next two weeks. My sleep was a little hit or miss during peak week and wasn’t great last week (not necessarily in terms of quality, but in terms of getting to bed on time, or, even better, getting to bed early), and that needs to change ASAP. I’ve been hanging around some people who have colds, and now is not the time to acquire their germs. As always, my diet could use a bit of help as well…must. resist. office. treats. I can do whatever I want in two weeks, but right now I really, really, REALLY need to do everything I can to take care of myself so I’m good to go on race day.


Filed under Marathon Training

Thursday Things

1. I get the most homesick when I feel like I can’t handle my life anymore, and last Thursday I was dying to go home. Between peak week, all my events last Wednesday, a bunch of unbloggable ~life stuff~, and the crushing dread of my impending birthday, I was done. After talking to my petunias and geraniums on my deck about how I was upset that the following day was my birthday (this…this is my life. I talk to my flowers. Judge away. I’d talk to my dog, if I had one, but I don’t, so the flowers will have to do in the mean time), I was putting together my work bag for the day when I heard a really familiar bird call. I can’t identify most birds by their song alone, but that bird instantly reminded me of home in the middle of nowhere, where nature sounds are the only sounds you hear. Whatever it was, I knew I knew it from home, but I didn’t know what it was. I’m sure there’s a Shazam for bird calls, but I don’t have it, so when I got to work I Googled “two tone bird song” and found:

YOU GUYS!!!!!!!!! It was a CHICKADEE!!!!! Probably a boy chickadee trying to court a lady chickadee, according to the interwebs. I was so excited. Out of all the birdies, chickadees (and bluebirds) are my favorite. Well, realistically, I love most birdies and like all birdies, even gross ones like pigeons and seagulls, except geese, because they don’t count as birdies because they’re Satan incarnate, but chickadees have been my favorite kind of birdies since I was really little. I have never, in three years and three months of living in Chicago, seen a chickadee in this city, but apparently they exist, and in my neighborhood!! I kind of want to put bird seed on my deck to see if I can attract them and befriend them, but I’m pretty sure the alley squirrel (who earlier this year brazenly stole and/or broke one of my terra cotta pots and pooped on my deck rail in the process AND didn’t even say sorry when I confronted him about it, and now passes his time chattering at and chasing away the other squirrel who wants to live in the alley) would eat it all, because he’s a territorial, scavenging jerkface (albeit a cute one). I should give that squirrel a name, other than “squirrel who lives in the alley.”

2. In my office, standard birthday operating procedure states that if you expect office treats on your birthday, you must supply them. In the past, I’ve taken a variety of approaches to this. Once I collaborated with another coworker whose birthday is two days after mine to jointly supply Dunkin Donuts (I think? I don’t remember) to the rest of the office. Last year I was poor, so I baked a coffee cake instead of buying something. I originally planned to bake something this year as well, until, while scrolling through Twitter, I remembered that Glazed and Infused makes jumbo donuts.


The picture doesn’t do it justice, though hopefully the pencil I used for scale will help a little. This donut is 16 inches: that’s the size of a large pizza. It’s not a cake that looks like a donut: it’s an actual, made-to-order donut. A very, very, very big donut. If I had to guess, I’d estimate that there are at least 1.5 dozen, if not two dozen, donut servings in this jumbo donut. It’s mind boggling. AND AWESOME.

3. Two weekends ago, my best friend from when I was growing up texted me checking to see if she had my correct address, since I had a birthday coming up. I figured she planned on sending me a card, which I thought was a very sweet gesture, considering that we don’t see each other all that often any more these days. I was quite surprised, then, when a package arrived at my apartment last weekend.


Isn’t that so cute? My friend made it, too! She makes a bunch of cute decor things in her spare time, and even has an Etsy shop with the things she makes. I was so touched, and my little reminder of home is now proudly hanging on my bedroom wall :)

Favorite birthday treat? I have to say, I’m much more of a cake person than a donut person…mostly because donuts don’t usually come drowning in frosting, and I am all about frosting.
Are you crafty? I like to pretend I’m crafty…and I suppose I can make a mean friendship bracelet…but for the most part I’m all good intentions, no actual effort when it comes to crafts haha :P


Filed under Life