Thursday Things

1. I had quite the visitor on Friday.

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This is a Virginia Rail. Typically a shy bird that hangs out in freshwater marshes, this one decided to defy all expectations and “hide” in plain sight on my concrete patio.

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I have no idea how he ended up in my courtyard, given that I rarely see birds of any variety in it, never mind birds that should be on the shores of Lake Michigan. He was able to run around the courtyard just fine, and I saw him fly from a sunken staircase up to ground level, so he didn’t seem to have any broken wings. My theory is that he might’ve hit a window somewhere and was recovering from being stunned or he, being a pretty small creature, was having a hard time with the high winds we had Friday and decided to shelter in the courtyard until conditions were a little friendlier.

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Regardless, it was cool to add a new bird to my life list and get to see a Virginia Rail so clearly.

Then on Monday, I had another good bird encounter!

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Check out that fluffy Yellow-bellied Sapsucker! I have a special place in my heart for Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers after my traumatic encounter with one two years ago, so I look forward to mid-April when they migrate through the city and I have a chance of seeing them (preferably on trees, not my personal belongings). I saw one in an evergreen last April, and actually saw another one in an evergreen in the same area this past Saturday. Both of those times, they were pretty high up in the tree and fairly easily spooked. But then on my walk at lunch on Monday, I encountered this fellow! I could not believe how brave he was! Granted, my walk wasn’t down the busiest street in Chicago, but this tree was only a couple feet away from the sidewalk. There he was, drilling away without a care in the world other than getting some sap out of that tree. I ❤ migration season.

2. I do not ❤ snow-in-April season.

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Sunday was ridiculous. I know that it sometimes snows in April–sometimes even later than April 14!–but this was next level. It snowed all. day. The city got 5.3 inches, only .1 inches off the all-time single-day record for April in Chicago! I knew it was going to snow on Sunday, but I don’t think anyone expected it to snow so much. There was even thundersnow! It was nuts!

All I could think about on my way to church that morning was how unspeakably glad I was that the Lakefront 10 Miler was on Saturday, not Sunday. I know there were races in the area on Sunday, and I cannot IMAGINE running through that nonsense. It was miserable enough walking the three blocks from my CTA stop to my church, never mind running any sort of substantial distance. I had briefly toyed with the idea of trying to find a 5K to do on Sunday to see if I could take advantage of my current fitness level/PR streak, but never acted on that impulse to see if I could find any races and boy am I glad I didn’t. I almost certainly would’ve DNS-ed.

3. I leave tomorrow for a 12-day trip to Europe. On the one hand, I’m really excited! I’ve wanted to take this trip since…like 2013, I think? I originally planned to take it in 2016, then spent all my money set aside for the trip on physical therapy instead. I wanted to go in 2017, but a family wedding conflicted with when I planned to travel, so then I pushed the trip back to 2018, but another wedding was scheduled for when I wanted to travel. So, 2019 it is! I’ve dreamed about this trip for a really long time, and I’m looking forward to making it a reality.

On the other, more immediate hand, I am SO. STRESSED. about this trip. Or, more specifically, all the things I have to do prior to the trip. I’m not too stressed about being abroad. I’m not traveling alone, which takes some of the pressure off. My stress about being abroad is related to language barriers and general unfamiliarity with my surroundings, but I’m not super stressed about those things – like, a 3/10 on the Bethany Stress Scale. My understanding is that most people speak English in the places I’ll be (particularly in, you know, England. Ha.), between the two of us on the trip we have somewhere between a rudimentary and semi-proficient grasp on the native languages of the other countries we’ll be visiting in case we run into someone who doesn’t speak English, and in my experience visiting new places for the first time, I usually get familiar with my surroundings fairly quickly, so I think that will be okay. I’m a little stressed about the flights, too, but that’s mostly from a duration/anticipated lack of sleep standpoint, and there’s nothing I can really do about either of those things.

However, I’m at approximately a 9.8/10 on the Bethany Stress Scale when it comes to all of the things I need to do between now and tomorrow. I ended up taking this afternoon off work to buy myself some more time, which feels like one of the most ridiculous reasons I’ve ever taken PTO: taking PTO in order to prepare for upcoming PTO. But there was absolutely no way I was going to get through all the packing and chores I need to finish before heading to the airport without an extra four hours (especially since I would really like to go to church tonight, as I won’t be able to go on Good Friday). And then, of course, there were all the things I needed to do before today: itinerary creation, booking transportation, buying tickets for places we want to visit, coordinating with people we’ll meet up with while abroad, getting outlet adapters, getting foreign currency: it has been a lot of work. First world problem work, I suppose, but a gigantic source of stress over the past few weeks nevertheless.

Speaking of which, I don’t expect to have a whole lot of content on the blog while I’m gone. There might be one post if I can get my act together before leaving, but getting my act together for the blog is at the very bottom of my priority list right now. Otherwise, I’ll talk to you all in May!

Any tips on keeping boredom at bay during a trans-Atlantic flight? I can only spend so much time working on my coloring book (my normal way of passing time on flights)

 

Wintrust Lakefront 10 Miler Race Recap

I’ve run CARA’s Lakefront 10 Miler twice in the past (2014 and 2015) and enjoyed the race both times, so I figured I should put it on my proverbial victory lap of Chicago races prior to moving later this year. Plus, it was exactly a week after my goal race for the year, the Chi Town Half Marathon, so it’s not like I’d need to go out of my way to prepare for a 10 miler.

It was actually kind of weird running this race a week after Chi Town. All of my training this year–all of my existence this year, it feels like–has been centered around the Chi Town Half. Doing a race with zero pressure to perform–doing a race just for fun, for goodness’s sake (fun? What’s fun?)–almost made the whole thing feel pointless. It also annoyed me that the race started at 9 a.m. (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write). I knew that would mean I wouldn’t get home until around noon, which made the whole thing feel like a gigantic time suck.

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All that to say, I went to bed Friday night feeling less-than-enthusiastic about the race. But I had paid 37 whole dollars to run this race, so obviously I had to do it. (Honestly, that’s the real reason why I ran the Lakefront 10 this year. I could not believe how good of a deal it was, and I couldn’t pass it up. It’s hard enough to find a 5K for $37 around here, never mind a 10 miler.)

I trekked to Montrose (the Wilson track, really) Saturday morning and very much regretted that I hadn’t arranged for anyone to drive me to the race. It was a lot colder than the week before, mostly because of the wind. Oh, the wind. It was relentless. It was actually pretty comfortable whenever the wind would take a break, but when it was blowing (which was most of the time), it was pretty darn chilly outside. I got there almost 45 minutes before the race started, and plopped myself down on the field inside the track, where I stayed for nearly 30 minutes, reading my book (as one does) while I let the sun warm me through my pea coat. (Also, lol at reading my book. Go ahead and put that on the list of ways I never thought I’d kill time prior to a race. But I had already gone through everything on my phone, and there wasn’t anything else to do, so I figured I may as well use my time wisely!)

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With 15 minutes or so before the race began, I got in the gear check line, reluctantly took off my coat and sweats, and made my way to the start line. While I didn’t have any goals for this race, per se, I did figure it shouldn’t be that big of a stretch for me to PR based on my performance the week before. Based on that, I lined up at what seemed like the back of the 8:00 pace area/front of the 9:00 pace area. My previous PR was a 1:31, so maintaining a 9:00 pace would be enough to get me a new one. I did like the idea of doing sub-9:00 miles for the duration of the race, though. I came pretty close to doing 10 sub-9:00 miles at the half, so why not try to go for it at the 10 miler, when I didn’t have to save anything for an extra 5K at the end?

We started right on time and experienced what I believe was my first (and probably only) downhill start for a Chicago race, ever. We started on the top of a small hill that accommodated a pedestrian underpass on Wilson, which meant we had a nice little downhill to kick things off. No complaints from me!

One of the reasons I’ve always liked the Lakefront 10 in the past is because, being put on my CARA, it’s a runner’s race. If there’s any event outside of the marathon (and the Shuffle, I suppose, if I’m being fair) where you can count on things going right, it’s CARA’s. Because of that, it was quite the surprise, then, when I passed the one mile mark before my Garmin was anywhere near one mile. Based on the course mile markers, I ran the first mile in 7:45. Now, I’ve gotten faster over the past 13 weeks, but I most certainly have not gotten faster-than-5K-PR-pace-is-now-comfortable faster, so I was pretty sure that my Garmin, for once, was right and the course was wrong. The fact that I didn’t hear the usual cacophony of beeping watches until well past that mile marker also indicated me that my watch wasn’t the problem: the course marking was the problem. (For the record, my Garmin said I ran an 8:25 first mile. Still pretty quick, but not 7:45 quick.)

The wind was, rudely, coming out of the west-southwest on Saturday, which meant we got to fight it for nearly the entire race, though, unsurprisingly, it was particularly tough when we were running south. I was at, like, mile two and felt like I was already working, which I didn’t find particularly encouraging. The race was shorter than last week’s, but it wasn’t a 5K. I mean, technically there was a 5K, but I wasn’t registered for it and didn’t intend to drop down mid-race. I kept trying to find people I could pace off, but that wasn’t going very well.

We wound down the Lakefront Trail, covering some pretty familiar territory based on last week’s course. I studied the Chi Town course backwards and forwards but only looked up the Lakefront 10 course once or twice, so I kept getting to points on the course and thinking things like, “If this were last week, I’d be at mile five, not mile three,” which isn’t the most helpful thought pattern. It was helpful, though, to get to mile three and think, “Seven miles to go,” rather than “10.1 miles to go,” so I’ll give the race that.

There was the most delightful cheer station from Chicago Run at mile five, which warmed my heart. I had been clicking off steady(ish) sub-9:00 miles up to this point (8:25, 8:46, 8:49, 8:42, 8:47), so I was feeling pretty good about my chances of turning in a sub-9:00 race. I also figured once we started heading north, the wind would ease up, right? Wrong. I swear, it was just as bad on the northbound trip as it was going south. Lame.

In reflecting on my half marathon in the week between it and this race, it occurred to me that I almost certainly PRed my 10K during my half without realizing it (if we hit 6.55 at 58:30ish, and my 10K PR is 56:22, it feels fairly likely that I PRed it). Since I was ahead of half marathon pace during the 10 miler, I made a point of checking my watch at 6.2, and I was at 54:xx. That’s a pretty nice 10K PR! It doesn’t really count, since I was running 10 miles, not 10 kilometers, but it felt great to know that I was able to PR my 10K by two-ish minutes in the middle of another race!

I definitely started losing some steam at this point. I hoped that fueling at the aid station past mile six would help (and that walking through that aid station while I drank water to chase my chews…this seems to be a new thing that I do, apparently, since I did it at the half last week, too (walking through an aid station to drink water to chase my chews, that is, not fueling in general)), but it…didn’t.

Another thing that definitely didn’t help was having the mile seven sign at 6.78!! What?! I saw the mile seven sign coming up and was like, “There is no way it’s been a mile since the mile six sign,” and it certainly wasn’t. I don’t usually take my Garmin as gospel truth, but it also has never been nearly a full quarter mile off during a Lakefront Trail race (during a downtown race: absolutely), so I’m 100 percent sure the sign was in the wrong spot. I was so surprised by this. I really expect CARA to get those sorts of details right, so it was shocking that they didn’t – and especially that they messed the mile seven sign up by so much.

But whatever. I wasn’t taking manual splits, and the course was going to end at the finish line regardless of what my watch said, so onward I went. I had slowed down a bit by this point (8:51 for mile six; 9:00 for mile seven), but I still felt pretty confident that I’d PR. When I did a 9:04 mile eight, I started to get a little nervous, so I once again tapped into my half marathon mindset of, “Physical pain now is better than emotional pain later.” The wind was BON.KERS. coming into to mile 10. I was fighting and pushing and somehow did an 8:52 for mile nine, but things certainly didn’t get better once we got past that sign. It was nothing but headwind until we turned to run up Cricket Hill (*sobs*), and obviously that didn’t make anything easier. I haven’t run up Cricket Hill since my Montrose marathon training days, so it’s been awhile. But I got up it, and down it, and then it was time for one lap around the Wilson track into the finish line. I really liked finishing that way. It was a lot easier to understand exactly how far away the finish was on a track compared to a straightaway or any other finish line setting you typically get at a race.

I finished in 1:28:20, a 3:12 PR and an 8:50 overall pace. 3/3 on PRs this spring! Woo!

I’m really, really happy with how things went on Saturday. It felt nice to PR a race I was doing just for for fun (…sorta. A race that wasn’t my goal race, is probably the more accurate way of putting it.), but it felt even nicer to run a 10 miler at an 8:50 pace. There was a time–and by “a time” I mean “basically any time before last Saturday”–I would’ve considered an 8:50 pace to be, like, 8K pace. In general, I considered 8:00-8:15 to be my 5K pace, 9:00 to be my 10K pace, 9:30 to be half marathon PR pace and 10:30 to be regular half marathon pace, and…well, I don’t really have a marathon pace. 11:15, I guess. Honestly, it never occurred to me that I could run anything longer than an 8K at an 8:xx pace until I did it at the half last week. That just wasn’t something I believed I could do. I considered long distance 8:xx miles to be the realm of fast runners, of good runners: of runners that were not middle-of-the-pack, nobody me.

Obviously, you don’t have to run a certain pace for a certain distance to be a runner, and I never felt like I wasn’t a runner–but I did very much think that I was a 9:xx long distance runner under the very, very best of circumstances. And sure, 8:50 isn’t that far off 9:00, but that’s not the point. Even if I had averaged an 8:59 pace for this race, I’d still be really happy with how things went. Don’t get me wrong: 8:50 was very much a race pace for me, and I definitely don’t think I could run anything much farther than that at that pace without an obscene amount of work. I’m not suddenly toying with the idea of BQing or anything like that. Heck, it took an obscene amount of work just to get to this point, and I don’t expect this speed to stick around once I go back to my normal running volume. But regardless, it felt amazing to be able to do this, even if only for a moment. It made me feel like I had become one of those runners I’ve been stood in awe of: the runners whose results I see and wonder how on earth they manage to run so fast for so long. After 11 weeks of hard training (and two weeks of not-hard training), that’s a really rewarding way to feel 🙂

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Thursday Things

1. In an effort to try to set myself up for success with my half marathon on Saturday, I intended to do two things for the duration of my training cycle: no dessert except on special occasions, and no alcohol, period.

I made it a whopping three days into training before I decided stressful days at work counted as “special occasions,” (as did, as time went on, weekends, days where I ran a lot of miles, days where I just wanted dessert. A lot of occasions became special over the last 12 weeks, ha 😛 ), which I suppose isn’t that surprising. It’s no secret that I have a sweet tooth, nor is it a secret that I have little interest in denying that sweet tooth.

I didn’t, however, have a drop of alcohol from the moment I started training until–well, I still haven’t had any. I had hoped to go out for brunch after the race and get a mimosa, but 1) the place where I had brunch that morning doesn’t have alcohol and 2) I was so exhausted, dehydrated, and underfed after the race that alcohol seemed like a really bad idea, so I probably wouldn’t have had one regardless.

Admittedly, it’s not like I accomplished anything particularly notable here, at least for me. Me giving up alcohol for three months is basically the equivalent of a pescatarian who only kind of likes fish going full vegetarian for three months. My drinking on a normal basis is already limited to special occasions, so it’s not like I was making a huge sacrifice here. There were only like two times when it was a real bummer to not be drinking: when I went to Bar Siena during Restaurant Week, and when I went to Girl & the Goat in early March, and wasn’t able to get a fancy cocktail at either of them.

Nevertheless, I thought it was useful to see just how much of a non-issue it was for me to not drink for 12 weeks. I still went to bar trivia with my friends, I still went out to dinner, I still went to get-togethers. I just drank a lot of water (which, considering my training status, probably wasn’t a bad idea anyway!).

2. It weirded me out how…nothing, I guess, I felt after breaking 2:00 in my half marathon Saturday. After the Chicago Marathon in 2018 (and in 2017, even though the only (“only.” It’s hardly an “only” in my opinion) thing I accomplished was not bonking), I basically floated through the next week. I was perpetually on cloud nine, and I 100 percent expected to feel that way if I broke 2:00 in the half. I wanted this as badly as I wanted to break 4:45 in the marathon, and considered it to be as “unattainable” as breaking 4:45 in the marathon (unattainable without concentrated, focused training, that is).

And yes, I’m glad I broke 2:00, but when I reviewed my race photos, I was genuinely surprised to see myself smiling in my finish line photos–like, happy smiling, not smile-for-the-race-camera smiling. My actual thought was, “Oh, I guess I was happier than I remembered.” Like, what?

I think my lack of emotion–which, upon reflection, I don’t think is actual so much a lack of emotion as it as a lack of the emotion I expected–is because honestly, I’m not happy with how the race went. I mean, I’m happy with the outcome, but I’m not happy with the process. I’m not unhappy with the process enough to wish I could do it again, but I guess I am a little bummed I didn’t have the picture-perfect race I hoped for, even if I still got the result I hoped for.

3. I have another race on Saturday! I’m on a mission to do all the Chicago races I like prior to moving (again, not because I’ll be prohibited from doing them after I move, but because I don’t think I’m going to want to do them after I move.), and the Lakefront 10 is one I’ve really enjoyed in the past. I haven’t done it since the Wilson track was added, though, so I’m curious to see what it’ll be like to finish with a lap around the track. I’m also curious to see what it’ll be like to tackle Cricket Hill at the end of the race rather than at, like, mile three, but I’m more curious about that in a dreading it sort of way rather than an interested in seeing what it’ll be like sort of way, ha. I don’t have any real goals/hopes/dreams for it, though the last time I PRed it was right after the Chi Town Half five years ago, so who knows.

Chi Town Half Marathon Race Recap

After twelve weeks of training my face off–well, eleven weeks of training my face off, plus one week of shin pain/paranoia-induced super taper–it was finally time to put my hard work to the test at the Chi Town Half Marathon.

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I got up at 5 a.m. and did my best to get my head in the game, listening to my favorite running motivational video on YouTube and even busting out my sacred I Run the Marathon to the Very Last Mile playlist on the Music app on my phone: a playlist heretofore reserved exclusively for marathon mornings (and the occasional time I need to warm up my dance class because my teacher’s running late, as that playlist and the Hamilton soundtrack are the only music I have on my phone, ha.). I was in a decent headspace heading out of the house, but I still only felt about 35 percent as confident as I hoped to feel when I left my apartment. Marathon Morning 2018 this was not.

I got a ride to the race and did a pretty good job of keeping it together until we got just past Irving Park on Lake Shore Drive, where we encountered an insane backup of traffic trying to get off at Montrose. I thought I had allotted plenty of time to get to the race, but clearly that wasn’t the case. After we finally got off the exit ramp, finding parking was impossible. People had parallel parked on Simmonds, even though you’re supposed to regular park on that road. All that parallel parking reduced the road’s parking capacity by nearly 50 percent, because now each individual car was taking up about 15 feet of parking space rather than the eight or so it should’ve taken.

I was freaking out about the parking situation. Like, literally crying in the car. I didn’t want to walk all the way (“all the way”) from the parking lot north of Wilson to the start line at the bend of Montrose (you know, that whole…half mile, maybe?), and I didn’t want to take off my sweats any earlier than necessary because I didn’t want to get too cold, but I also didn’t have anything to gear check them (since I planned to keep them in the car)…basically, I was a mess, to put it gently. Eventually I got dropped off close to the stop line, made a beeline to the portapotties, and got to the corral staging area about 10 minutes before the race began.

I haven’t done this race (or any other All Community Events race) in five years, so I don’t know how long they’ve handled corralling this way, but it was totally different from anything I’ve experienced at any other race. Instead of all of us lining up in a straight line behind the start line, there were three large corrals to the right of the actual start line: one for blue bibbed runners (“7:00-8:59 pace, no walkers, no joggers”), one for red bibbed runners (“9:00-10:59 runners, no walkers”), and one for green bibbed runners (“11:00+ runners”). I was a little offended that being in the red corral meant that I was considered a “jogger,” apparently, instead of a runner, because I would hardly consider a 9:00 pace to be jogging, but whatever. I guess if you normally run a 7:00 pace, 9:00 is jogging.

Anyway, I got into my corral and maneuvered my way forward to a woman holding a 9:10 minute/2:00 overall pace sign. I struck up some small talk with a girl standing next to me in an effort to distract myself from my nerves. She asked me if this was my first race, which I took to mean my first time doing this race specifically. I told her no, I had done it five years ago (to the day, coincidentally, though I didn’t realize that until much later that afternoon), and eventually asked if she had done it before. Turns out when she asked me if it was my first race, she meant my first race ever, because it was her first race ever. Holy cow! I guess she ran when she was younger, but had never done an organized road race before. I was so impressed that she was starting her road racing career with a half marathon! I had two 5Ks and a 10K under my belt before I even considered a half marathon, plus two more 5Ks and another 10K under my belt before I actually ran my first half marathon. Props to her! She ended up ditching my pace group, like, .25 miles into the race, so I have no idea how she did, but I hope it went well for her.

Two other pacers showed up before the race began, one of which was a very enthusiastic woman who seemed over the moon to be pacing us. She was asking us about our PRs (I was the only one she asked who actually had a PR, because the two other people she asked were doing their first halves that morning. Popular first time race, I guess!) and told us that a year ago, she had been told she’d never run again due to a cocktail of health problems, but here she was. I’ll admit, that made me a bit uneasy. I was hoping for pacers who bust out 1:30-1:45 half marathons every weekend and were taking it easy pacing the 2:00 group, not someone who, it seemed, hadn’t been running much over the past 365 days. But that’s what I got, and I wasn’t about to try to pace myself for 13.1 miles.

We got to the start line about three minutes after the race began, and we went out like bats out of hell. We came through the first mile in 8:56, which is not exactly the 9:10 I was promised. I felt surprisingly comfortable, though, and decided to consider it money in the bank for later on (knowing, of course, that there is no such thing as money in the bank when it comes to racing. Going out too fast is always and only a bad idea.) We hit mile two in 9:04, which was closer to 9:10 to make me not panic too much.

The pacer-with-something-to-prove and first woman pacer I found were towards the front of the group, so I tucked myself in behind the guy pacer in our group, who had said before the race started that he’s run the course thousands of time, because he paces CARA groups out of Montrose. I trusted his credentials more than I trusted the two women (mostly because I didn’t know anything about them), so I felt like he was safe to follow. He was keeping pace with the women in the front, though, and we came through mile three in 8:54.

Incidentally, I had spent a fair portion of the week before the race chatting with people who’ve done a decent amount of pacing, so I went into this race feeling like I knew a thing or two about pacing a race: specifically, that if you’re consistently off pace, you should make adjustments. But we just kept clicking off these way-above-pace miles: 8:52, 8:44 (?!?!?!), 8:57. The race is on the Lakefront Trail, so it’s not like you can really blame buildings for erroneous Garmin signals here. Aiming for a 2:00 half marathon made it pretty darn easy to figure out what time we should hit at the halfway point (1:00, obviously), so when we got to 6.55 miles and I looked at my watch and saw 58:30(ish), I was a bit concerned. Pacers are supposed to aim to finish within one minute of the advertised time (so in this group’s case, 1:59:00-2:00:59). Instead, we were 1:30 ahead of pace at the halfway point, which meant if we kept that up, we were going to finish three minutes ahead of pace.

Now I, personally, did not have a problem with finishing three minutes ahead of pace, because my goal was to break 2:00, not hit 2:00. But I planned on breaking 2:00 by running a 2:00 pace for the first 10 miles and then leaving the group to run faster, not putting a full minute and a half in the bank by the halfway point. I had run the first half of the race MUCH faster than planned, and while I was still feeling fine, I was concerned about how I’d handle that pace going forward.

The guy pacer was running with someone he clearly knew, and at one point, his friend asked him when we were going to start running a 9:10 pace (THANK YOU). The guy pacer consulted with the pacer-with-something-to-prove at a water stop around mile seven, and we finally slowed down and did a 9:08 mile for mile seven. About time! Of course, when you’ve been running in the neighborhood of 8:55 for six miles, 9:08 feels like quite the slowdown. I considered ditching the group, but I did not want to be responsible for pacing myself for almost the entire second half of the race, so I hung out behind the guy pacer again while we did a 9:10 and a 9:07 mile.

There was a water stop somewhere in the neighborhood of mile nine, and in the melee, I got ahead of the pacers. At that point, I was still feeling relatively decent, so I figured I’d forge on ahead on my own. Now that they had slowed down to the advertised pace, I was worried that the slowdown would somehow keep me from breaking 2:00, and that wasn’t a risk I was interested in taking.

So off I went. Only four more miles! I could handle this! How many times have I “only four more miles!”-ed myself? Too many times. So many times that I should definitely know better by now. “Four more miles” is my nemesis in long distance running. I consistently underestimate how long four miles is during long runs and the marathon, and here I was doing it again during this race. Sigh. Some day I’ll learn to respect the last four miles of a run, though Saturday was not that day.

I looked at my watch when I hit mile 10, and came through it in 1:29:xx (which would’ve been a 10 mile PR for me, had I been running a 10 miler). When we crossed the 5K mark a lifetime ago, I looked at my watch and saw 28:xx, so I spent the next bit of time doing some mental math to try to figure out my overall finish time if I, somehow, managed to running the last 5K as fast as I ran the first 5K. 1:29:xx + 28:xx is 1:57:xx. That wasn’t terrible, but, despite the fact that I only had three miles (and one tenth) to go, I was worried that I’d somehow slow down by three full minutes over that distance, so I refused to take my foot off the gas.

But don’t get me wrong. I was struggling, hard. I thought I had plenty to eat for breakfast that morning, but I was hungry throughout the race, and it was all I could do to only eat my chews at miles five and 10, per my usual protocol. (I didn’t have any extra chews on me, so I couldn’t fuel any more than that.). My hip flexors were screaming. My breath had moved from my comfortable three-step inhale, two-step exhale to a more labored two-step inhale, two-step exhale. I was pulling out every mental trick I could think of: mental math to calculate my finish time, reminding myself how I’ve run this exact stretch of the Lakefront Trail probably hundreds of times before, how I know it’s only about two and a half miles from the Barry underpass to Montrose (thank you, marathon training at Montrose!) and I can do that distance in my sleep, utilizing various mantras (“No bonk, no wall,” borrowed from Erin, who commented with it on my marathon post last fall, and “I will,” borrowed from myself during the marathon last fall). It was helping, kind of, but there’s really only so much you can do when you’re hurting like that.

I saw one of the girls in my dance class who happened to be out for a stroll on the trail just a bit before mile 12, so I said hi to her and tried to use that a motivation to get myself across the finish line quickly in case she’d ask me about the race on Tuesday. I hit mile 12 in 9:12, which was my slowest split of the day. My overall time at that point was 1:48:17, and I was really worried that another 9:12 mile + a 9:12 .1 mile wasn’t going to be enough to me home in under 2:00 (it would’ve been. It would’ve gotten me a 1:58:24.), so I did everything I could to find another gear. As I headed towards the Montrose underpass, I made a conscious decision to go into the pain cave, another phrase I borrowed from various other bloggers, which is something I don’t ever remember intentionally choosing before. But I knew the last mile or so was going to hurt, probably a lot, and I was going to have to just put my head down and power through it, because the sting of finishing in anything slower than 1:59:59 was probably going to hurt worse and for a lot longer.

So power through I did. I was gasping for air. My legs were dying. I saw mile 13 (turned in an 8:42 last full mile, which was my fastest of the day), thanked everything good in this world that for once, the distance between mile 13 and the finish line didn’t feel interminable, did my best to smile for the camera and appear triumphant at the finish line, and stopped my watch.

1:57:27.

I visualized my race three times in the week leading up to Saturday, and in all of those visualization sessions, I saw myself cruising across the finish line with tears in my eyes. In reality, I forced myself across the finish line with every iota of willpower I could muster, and by the time I stopped running, I was too spent to feel any emotion. I was worse-than-5K exhausted. I was 10K-PR exhausted, which, prior to Saturday, was my benchmark for feeling exhausted after a race. I made it through the finishers chute and found a French barricade to drape myself over while I tried to recover and process what I done.

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This was, hands down, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. It was so much harder than any of my marathons, even my first one. I really think only my 10K PR comes close to comparing to the difficulty I felt on Saturday. All I could think after I finished was, “I’m so glad I never, ever have to do that again.” Unless I magically get about a thousand times fitter, I am a hard one-and-done on the sub-2:00 club, thanks.

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Chi Town Half Marathon Training Week 12

Sunday, March 31: 60 minutes cross training (18 minutes strength – legs + 42 minutes bike)
I know I need to dial down the intensity on my strength training workouts this week in the interest of my shin and in the interest of taper. I did dial down the intensity on this workout, but man, I feel so silly using such light weights when I know I’m capable of lifting much heavier. I did my squats with two five pound kettlebells, for example, when normally I’d do them with a barbell at minimum, possibly a barbell with added weight. I don’t think anyone at the gym cares so much about me that they meticulously track how much weight I’m using (other than me, of course), so I’m probably getting worked up over nothing (if you can imagine such a far-fetched scenario as me getting worked up over nothing). But I do prefer to use weights that actually challenge me rather than ones that make it feel like going to the gym at all is a waste of time. As noted, I biked after finishing my strength training workout.

Monday, April 1: Strength training – upper body (AM) + 45 minutes cross training (bike) (PM)
Another day, another strength training workout with light weights. The benefit of light weights, I suppose, is that it doesn’t take me nearly as long to recover between sets, so I can get through my workout a lot quicker than sometimes. I was in and out of the gym in 21 minutes Monday morning, which was nice.

I had a four mile run on my schedule for Monday, but due to my shin pain/crushing anxiety surrounding said shin pain, I opted to bike instead. In a perfect world, my run would’ve taken about 45 minutes anyway (“perfect world” being one where I actually run slowly on my easy runs), so I got in the same amount of exercise from a time perspective. I FINALLY finished Native Son while biking. Well, mostly. I didn’t get through all of Richard Wright’s comments about how he created the character of Bigger, but I did finish the novel itself. What a powerful story.

Tuesday, April 2: Strength training – legs (AM) + dance (PM)
I had my final strength training session of this cycle Tuesday morning, where I accomplished incredible feats like deadlifting 10 pounds. I actually really wanted to bail on this workout because I could barely drag myself out of bed, but I hadn’t missed a single strength training workout over the past 12 weeks. Skipping the very last one because I was tired seemed like a dumb time to break that streak.

We had a sub in dance again this week (same sub as last week). At the beginning of class, he asked if we wanted to learn something simple or something challenging, and fortunately everyone voted for the challenging routine. I’m always interested in learning tough routines, and this one did not disappoint. It was to Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” and it was no joke. We make it through I think two eight counts. Ha. But it was really fun to have tough, fast, intricate choreography to learn!

Wednesday, April 3: 30 minutes cross training (bike)
I had a 30 minute tempo run on my schedule, so it was pretty easy to figure out how much time I should’ve spent running on Wednesday and spend an equivalent amount on the bike instead. I had a moment of shin pain when I biked on Monday, but nothing on Wednesday, so that was encouraging.

Thursday, April 4: Rest

Friday, April 5: Rest

And that’s it! Twelve weeks of training in the books. Now we just have to see what tomorrow holds.

Thursday Things

1. Can I spend the entirety of this post stressing about my half marathon on Saturday? Yes, yes I could. (Will I? I guess you’ll have to read the whole thing to find out 😛 )

UGH. I AM SO STRESSED ABOUT MY HALF MARATHON ON SATURDAY. Reasons why I’m stressed:

Reason #1: My shin.
Is it going to hold up? Did I completely overreact to the pain I felt last week? Do I actually have a stress reaction, or fracture, or other terrible, bone-related outcome? Am I going to get partway through the race and have to drop out because the pain is too bad? Am I going to have so much adrenaline that I won’t notice how bad the pain is until after the race, at which point the damage will be done and I’ll definitely have a stress fracture? Am I going to spend all 13.1 miles, all hopefully-just-under-two-hours of running worrying about it, derailing my mental game and ruining my race?

Reason #2: My mental state.
Obviously, I have had saner moments in my life (see: above). I’ve had a hard time sleeping all the way through the night recently, and every time I wake up my mind is already going one billion miles per hour. There’s no bleary-eyed, “What time is it?”, no turning to look at the clock and being relieved I still have time before my alarm goes off. Nope, it’s zero to one hundred–or rather, dreaming one hundred to waking one hundred, because I’m all about stressful dreams these days, apparently. So then I don’t sleep well, and I worry about not sleeping well, and I worry that my worrying is making everything worse and will keep me from having a good race, and round and round we go on the merry-go-round of anxiety.

I found having a visualization session to be very helpful prior to the marathon in October, so I’m trying to do my own at home: putting on some meditation-y music from YouTube, laying down, closing my eyes, and walking (running?) myself mentally through the race: what it’ll look like, what it’ll feel like, etc. It’s somewhat helpful–I suppose I won’t really know how helpful it is until Saturday–except when I see things I don’t want to see in my mind’s eye, like a 2:01 on my watch after I cross the finish line >.< I need to get my head in the game, but right now my head is too stressed to do anything but sit on the sidelines fretting about the game. Things could be going better, clearly.

Reason #3: The forecast.
I KNOW, I KNOW. I don’t need anyone to tell me that worrying about the forecast 1) isn’t going to change it and 2) isn’t going to make anything better for me. Trust me, I know. But I am OUTRAGED that the forecast calls for sun and highs in the 60s on Saturday. OUTRAGED, I SAY!!!!11!1!! *shakes fist at sky* I want 45 and overcast, not 60 and sunny! I would go so far as to say that I need 45 and overcast. Admittedly, the forecast still has time to change, and the race is at 7 a.m., so it’s not like it’s going to be in the 60s and sunny at the start–or, honestly, at the finish–so I’m almost certainly worrying about nothing. But when has knowing that I’m worrying about nothing stopped me?

I need to stop having performance-related running goals, because I clearly am not capable of handling the stress I put on myself as a result of those goals. (As it happens, I’ve gone through some old blog posts prior to goal races this week, looking for reassurance from Past Bethany’s thought patterns, and what do you know? Apparently this is always how I am in the days leading up to a big race. Not a surprise!)

2. Though I’m not doing a good job of it right now, I do need to remember that regardless of what happens on Saturday, it’s not like this entire training cycle was for naught. It helped me get a big, surprising PR at the Shamrock Shuffle. That’s not really what I was shooting for with this training, but it’s also not nothing, so I’ll happily take it. I got a lot stronger through this training, too, which is also not nothing. I set some lifting PRs, which felt good. I also have arm and leg muscles I’m very proud to show off, which is closer to nothing than the other things I’ve gained from this, but still isn’t nothing. Even if I don’t hit my goal time on Saturday, this training made me stronger, faster, and fitter, and that’s worth celebrating in and of itself.

But I still hope I hit my goal time on Saturday.

3. And to reward you for getting through all of my half marathon hand-wringing: a non-half marathon-related item!

It was Election Day (again) in Chicago on Tuesday. Unless something highly unexpected happens, it was my last election prior to my impending suburb move, and that put me in a difficult situation. You see, for the past few years, voting in person on Election Day in Chicago entitles you to an, “I VOTED! DID YOU?” wristband from the Board of Elections (we don’t do stickers in Chicago; the wristbands are our alternative.)

I’ve never voted in person on Election Day since I registered to vote in Illinois. I voted early a few times, but even waiting in those lines got annoying, so after the 2016 presidential primaries I have exclusively voted by mail. The convenience is undeniable: all I have to do is confirm my address online, and the Board of Elections will mail a ballot to my house! A ballot I can fill out whenever I have the time and desire to do so! A ballot I can take DAYS to fill out if need be! It makes voting so easy…but it does come with one major down side. When you vote by mail, you don’t get a wristband, which means you don’t get the opportunity to passively show off how good of a citizen you are on Election Day. Even though I knew I was a good citizen for voting, I wanted tangible evidence of it! I wanted to post smug pictures bragging about my participation in democracy on Facebook too, darn it!

I very, very seriously considered voting in person on Election Day this past Tuesday solely because I wanted a wristband, and this was my last chance to get one. I worried that it would get in the way of my morning strength training workout however (typical), and ultimately decided that for the good of exercising both my body and my right to vote, I should vote by mail instead. I accepted my fate and applied for a ballot online.

The ballot came with an insert that directed you to the a video about how to vote by mail, which I highly recommend watching regardless of whether or not you’ll ever vote by mail in Chicago exclusively for the candidate names on the sample ballot (highlights include Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas on the presidential ballot, Daniel Burnham for Plan Commissioner, William Wrigley, Jr. for Park Commissioner, etc. As someone who occasionally needs to come up with pretend names for training purposes, I applaud whoever at the Board of Elections came up with these candidates).

At the end of the video, the screen shows the Board of Elections’s contact information so you can contact them with questions. When I saw that, I thought, “I should email them and ask them why people who vote by mail don’t get wristbands.” I then continued emptying out the envelope in which my ballot was mailed, when LO AND BEHOLD:

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YOU GUYS. VOTE BY MAILERS GOT WRISTBANDS THIS TIME.

I literally squealed with delight. I couldn’t believe it!! My dream had come true! I could finally be smug on social media, too!!! And all this, after I had accepted my fate of never receiving a wristband!

I, obviously, wore it all day Tuesday.

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So smug.

Chi Town Half Marathon Training Week 11

Sunday, March 24: 4.97 miles in 40:24 for an 8:08 pace
Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K, by my official stats. My watch had me at something like 5.3 miles, but I know it was wrong based on the squiggles in the map. I’m sure I ran more than 4.97 miles, though – I’m not that good at tangents!

Monday, March 25: Strength training – legs (AM) + 40 minutes cross training (bike) (PM)
After having such a great race at the Shuffle, it felt like I should’ve had a day off. But the Shuffle wasn’t my goal race, and I have two more weeks of training to get in before my goal race, so back to the gym I went Monday morning. I did squats for the first time in a month, and I definitely felt it the next morning! This was the first workout in awhile that’s made my legs sore (my arms are a different story 😛 )

I did take the day off running, though, and went to the gym for a 40 minute bike instead. I hadn’t been to the gym after work in four weeks, so it felt weird to be there rather than running outside! I appreciated the break, though, and of course was glad to get some reading done.

Tuesday, March 26: Strength training – upper body (AM) + dance (PM)
I had some CTA woes Tuesday morning and got to the gym about 10 minutes later than usual. My Tuesday schedule is pretty tight, so I didn’t have a lot of flexibility and was worried about getting through my full workout. Fortunately, it was pretty straightforward (i.e.: not a lot of equipment changes or one-sided work, which can quickly add up in the time department) and I was super focused, so I got through everything and made it to the office on time. Phew!

We had a sub in dance Tuesday night. The sub is in my teacher’s dance group, but also used to take hip hop with us (and still takes break dance), so I know him fairly well. He taught us a piece he choreographed, which I thought was so cool! It was fun to learn a routine done by someone who was once a student with me.

Wednesday, March 27: 6 miles (with 10x.25 miles w/ .12 mile rest) in 1:03:27 for a 10:34 pace
This was my final interval workout of my half marathon training cycle, and I hoped to make it a good one. Once again, the goal was to do my “400s” (really 402s, since I was measuring in miles rather than meters) in about 2:00. To my great surprise and delight, I did a much better job of getting close to that pace on this workout than when I did 9×400 two weeks ago. My splits were 2:05, 1:57 (!), 2:00, 1:59, 2:01, 2:07, 2:01, 2:01, 2:00, and 1:55 (!!). That averages to 2:00.6 (so, fine, 2:01): a three to four second improvement/400 over my 9×400 workout. As it turns out, the secret to running consistent paces appears to be actually recovering during your recovery interval. Who knew! After my fifth interval (the first 2:01), my heart felt like it was about to beat out of my chest and I was gasping for air, so I thought instead of jogging my .12 mile recovery, I should walk it. I continued walking all of my recovery intervals after that, and I’d say, based on the 2:01/2:01/2:00 that followed, brisk walking seemed to be a much better idea than jogging. (I really pushed myself on the last interval since it’s the last one I’ll do until marathon season, most likely, hence the 1:55.) My shins didn’t appreciate all of the pounding involved in this workout, but I’m hopeful they’ll recover quickly.

I have no idea if the Yasso 800s idea scales down to Yasso 400s for half marathons (I assume not, because I’ve never heard of Yasso 400s), but on the off chance it does, it’s both encouraging and slightly anxiety-inducing that a full “Yasso 400” workout for me averaged a 2:00.6 pace. Running a 2:00:35 half marathon is not what I have in mind with this sub-2:00 goal!

Thursday, March 28: Strength training – legs (AM) + 6 miles in 1:01:11 for a 10:12 pace (PM)
Thursday’s strength training workout was tough. I wouldn’t say it was fun to start my day with a tough workout, but it was a really good reminder that I need to dial down the intensity big time on my strength training workouts next week while I rest and recover for the race on Saturday. My left shin was still a little touchy from Wednesday’s run, but my right shin felt fine.

UGH UGH UGH. Thursday’s run was a disaster. AccuWeather said it was 60 degrees (or so – it was definitely 60 or warmer) with a Real Feel of 61 or 62 when I changed into my running clothes, so I put on shorts and short sleeves. It took barely any time at all to realize I was woefully underdressed for the actual weather. I don’t know why I took AccuWeather as gospel truth when I had just been outside commuting home in my pea coat and knew no matter what any thermometer said, it certainly didn’t actually feel like 60+ degrees outside. The wind, unsurprisingly, only picked up and made everything colder the closer I got to the lake, so I ended up bailing on my planned route and putzing around further inland to get in six miles. However, my eagerness to finish my run made me run WAY too fast (see: 10:12 pace) for what was supposed to be an easy run, and that made me mad at myself, because nine days out from race day is really, really not the time to cheat myself on an easy run. On top of that, my left shin continued to bother me on this run, sending me into a panic over my remaining workouts (particularly the 10 miler I planned for Saturday) and whether or not it would be 100 percent by the race. UGHHHHHHH.

Friday, March 29: Rest

Saturday, March 30: 5.01 miles in 52:08 for a 10:25 pace
This was definitely not the final long run I had in mind for this training cycle. My shin felt a bit better on Friday and didn’t hurt at all when I woke up Saturday morning. I had already accepted that my planned 10 miler might need to be cut short, but since I hadn’t had much pain, I hoped I’d be able to get in all 10 miles. I got about .15 miles into my run before I started feeling some pain, and then spent the next 2.4 miles waffling on whether or not it was bad enough that I should throw in the towel. My plan was to go 2.5 miles out, reevaluate, and either 1) continue if I thought my shin could handle more distance or 2) turn around and go home for a five mile run instead of a 10 mile run. I was having a really hard time deciding whether or not I was in enough pain that it’d be smarter to stop than continue, and I felt like the fact that I was having a hard time deciding was evidence enough that I was not in enough pain to stop running. In my experience, when I am in truly incapacitated by injury or illness, there’s no questioning it. I don’t wonder, “Do I have a stomach bug?” or “Am I congested?” or “Does a part of my body hurt enough to stop running?” When something is genuinely wrong, I know. When I got just about exactly to mile 2.5, though, I took a step where the pain was bad enough that I stopped questioning whether or not I should continue and knew definitively that I should go home, so I turned around and plodded back to my apartment. Of course, my shin didn’t hurt quite as much on the way home as it did on my step at mile 2.5, so I got to spend the next two and a half miles worrying that I had made the wrong decision, beating myself up for making the wrong decision and/or allowing myself to run to the point of potential injury 10 days before my race in the first place, and generally feeling like I had failed myself both in that moment and preemptively at the race.

I haven’t had any shin pain since my run on Saturday, but I also haven’t run since Saturday and don’t plan to run again until the race (despite the strong temptation to do a short run tomorrow just to test it out). I did the hop test on Saturday and Sunday and passed with flying colors. That gives me a small amount of optimism, but if you think I’m not losing my mind convinced that I have a stress fracture, obviously you don’t know me very well 😛 I’ve been working to remind myself that I went through something very similar (same leg and everything) in the days leading up to the Shamrock Shuffle in 2015, and a couple of days off cleared that up nicely. I don’t like skipping my last two runs of training at all, but I’m also working to remind myself that nothing I do this week is going to make the race go any better on Saturday, and if anything, it’ll make it go worse. The hay is in the barn, as they say. I’m not going to reap any benefits from pushing myself to get in two more runs on a touchy shin. Of course, it’s one thing to say that and another thing to believe it, so if you need me this week, I’ll be hyperventilating in a corner.