If you memorize my blog posts, as I expect most of you do, you may recall that at the end of last year, I declared that I hoped to PR my 10K in 2016. I had last PRed a 10K in 2013, and since that time had PRed every “usual” distance (5K, 8K, half marathon, marathon) at least once, if not more than once. The BTN Big 10K is usually my only 10K of the year, and its mid-marathon season timing rarely makes it ideal for PRing. Therefore, this year, I decided to find another 10K and set that as my goal race.
I really enjoyed the Chicago Spring 13.1 last year, but didn’t feel like being ready to run a half marathon by late May this year, so the Chicago Spring 10K was a (fairly) easy choice. I knew it was a little risky to have a goal race so late in May, since all of my PRs have come on cold days, but nothing else aligned well with taking the whole month of February off running. The Chicago Spring 10K it was!
I’m in love with the design on the shirt this year! Last year’s shirt was nice, too, but I think the artwork on this is just fantastic.
The Chicago Spring 10K, obviously, comes with a half marathon as well that starts a “half hour” before the 10K. I’m not all that crazy about standing around race sites for hours on end before my race begins, so I showed up right around 7 a.m., when the half marathon began. The Chicago Spring 13.1 & 10K has a somewhat unique setup, in that all of the usual pre/post race stuff–gear check, food, most of the portapotties (but not all – there are also some by the start line), vendors, the finish line–are all inside the park area of Lakeshore East, while the start line is out on the trail itself. When I arrived, Lakeshore East was basically a ghost town. Nearly everyone else had gathered near the start line, so I checked by bag with ease and enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime experience of not encountering a single line (or even another person, for that matter) at the portapotties. Miracles do happen.
I ran the Chicago Spring 13.1 last year, and I took photos at the race the year before, so I knew the start of the race is always super crowded. To ease crowding, they only send half marathon corrals off every minute, and with corrals A-I, that’s going to take a long time regardless, as the minute in between corrals starts after the last person gets through the start line, and the whole corral doesn’t start at the same second. But ho.ly. smokes. It took SO LONG for the half marathoners to get through the start this year (and maybe last year – I wouldn’t know for sure, since I was one of them). Our race was supposed to start at 7:30, but I didn’t cross the start line until 7:49, and I was fairly close to the front of the 10Kers. I suppose 19 minutes isn’t the worst thing in the world in the grand scheme of things, and I’ve certainly waited longer than that to start from an official start time before (see: the Chicago Marathon, Rock ‘n’ Roll, any big race ever), but it’s one thing for me to wait for 20 minutes to start running after the race’s official start, and another thing for the race itself to start 20 minutes late. I don’t know what the entire start process for that race always looks like, so maybe this was a one year thing, and again, I realize that big picture, this isn’t a world-is-ending sort of problem. But it still frustrated me. And while I’m complaining about the start process: while the half marathon was seeded by whatever time you said you’d run when you registered (I assume), the 10K was self-seeded…which is totally fine, if you have some sort of way to get people to arrange themselves, which the Chicago Spring 10K did not. They just threw us all on the path behind the half marathon corrals and sent us on our way. The 10K field was SUBSTANTIALLY smaller than the half marathon field (818 finishers, compared to 4,481 in the half), so once again, this was not the absolute worst thing in the world, but I can’t remember the last time I ran a race that didn’t even attempt to encourage its runners to organize themselves by anticipated pace, and I thought that was super bizarre, since it’s not like this is Lifetime’s first rodeo at race management.
Anyway. I had all sorts of goals for this race: A goal – 55:00 or faster; B goal – 57:27 or faster (that would get me a PR); C goal – sub-60 (not a PR, but it would only be the second time I’ve run a sub-60 10K). To hit my A goal, I needed to run an 8:51 pace or faster. I planned to start out around 9:00s and pick it up as things went on. In an extremely uncharacteristic moment of level-headedness, I did not panic when I went through the first mile in 8:38. Instead, I decided I’d just try to back off a little bit.
Not long after I went past the one mile mark (or maybe even a little bit before?), I passed the “Back of the Pack Crew,” which, based on their event staff t-shirts, I’m assuming are people chosen by Lifetime to bring up the rear of the half marathon. As I kept going, I encountered more of the Back of the Pack Crew, and, soon enough, people walking the half marathon, including the 3:00 pace group. This made things a bit sticky, especially around Soldier Field and McCormick Place, because by that point, the leaders of the half marathon were coming back (the course is, for all intents and purposes, out and back), and you had 818 extra people on the course, and all of these walkers – it was a lot of people in not very much space, and made for a lot of bobbing and weaving until I hit the turnaround. I don’t know how this could possibly be avoided–realistically, it probably can’t be avoided, unless one of the races started like an hour before the others–but it was a bit more crowded than I had hoped it would be. I don’t know if my watch was just feeling particularly uncooperative, or if I just did a particularly terrible job of running tangents, or if my bobbing and weaving really did add up to a substantial distance, but my watch says I ran 6.42 miles total, which seems like a pretty significant amount to add on to a 10K, considering that my MARATHONS usually end up with an extra .6 or so miles by my watch when it’s all said and done. I’m sure the course itself was accurate, and I’m sure my watch was confused, because it normally is, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if all the passing I had to do throughout the race did add some distance onto my total.
We turned around just south of McCormick Place, and right around that point I discovered that one can, in fact, hit a wall during a 10K. Oh. My. Gosh. I knew I had gone out too fast, but I did not expect it to beat me up so hard. I had a really hard time keeping my breathing under control and basically wheezed my way through the last 2.5 miles. My watch’s measured distance and the course’s marked distances stopped lining up after the first mile mark, so I really don’t know how fast I was running my miles. According to my watch, only my last mile was in the 9:00s, but if I really ran an 8:53 fifth mile, let me tell you, 8:53 has never felt so long in my entire life. I was burning up and I was cursing the sun and Lake Michigan for making everything ten times worse and my legs were begging me to walk. I looked at my watch when I went through Mile 5 and saw it at 47:something (I think? I really don’t remember for sure), and figured at that point, I didn’t stand a chance of running a sub-55, and with how quickly I was fading, I didn’t really know if I’d even PR. I was giving it absolutely everything I had, however, which consoled me. If I didn’t PR, it certainly wouldn’t be for lack of trying.
I tried to push it a little harder when we got back into Lakeshore East and had .1 miles left to run. God only knows what kind of horrors my finish line photos will hold when they publish them online, but I crossed the finish line in 56:22, hitting my B goal and getting me a new 10K PR by 1:06 (!!).
I felt some kinda way after I finished, let me tell you. I’m used to feeling like I’m going to fall over dead at the end of any race shorter than 10 miles (and, sometimes, at the end of races longer than 10 miles haha), but this was EASILY the worst I’ve ever felt after any race. I couldn’t even keep walking through the finishing chute, which earned me a little bit of medical attention (go me!). I really wanted to sit down, but whichever medical person was paying attention to me when I was standing bent over with my hands on my knees wouldn’t let me, and instead propped me up against the fence, where I tried to remind my body how breathing without hyperventilating is supposed to work.
Once I eventually got my bearings back, I retrieved my gear and got breakfast, which, full disclosure, is really the only reason I run this event. Yes, I will happily run your event if you’ll give me free breakfast at the end.
While it would’ve been nice to not feel like I was about to die at the end of the race, I am SO happy that I PRed. I wanted this so bad, and have suffered through untold numbers of intervals and 60 minute runs to make this happen. It was wonderful to see all my hard work pay off.
(I have no idea why my medal so prominently says 13.1, by the way. I’m assuming they just gave the same medal to half marathon and 10K finishers? It feels a bit fraudulent to have a medal that makes it look like I ran a half marathon when, in fact, I didn’t even run half of a half marathon…but whatever. I didn’t design the medals.)