I ran my first Soldier Field 10 Mile last year, and to be honest, I was wildly unimpressed. It was easily the worst race of my life up to that point (and this point, and hopefully all points), and while most of that was on me–going out way too fast is a great way to ensure yourself a terrible race–I just didn’t care for the race as a whole. Finishing on Soldier Field doesn’t fire me up all that much (by which I mean at all, being as anti-Bears/anti-NFL as I am), and while the race technically isn’t an out-and-back on the Lakefront Trail, it basically is, since the only real differences between running on Lake Shore Drive and the Lakefront Trail are the amount of space you have and the surface. Once you’ve done one southbound-to-start race out of the general Soldier Field area, you’ve really done them all. I didn’t have a good experience last year, and didn’t have any intention of running the race ever again.
Well, then CARA announced that this year’s Marathon Incentive Program only requires you to run five CARA Circuit races total, instead of the convoluted system they had last year. This announcement came far too late for me to run the Lakefront 10, however, which meant that the only way I could avoid running Solider Field while still completing the Marathon Incentive Program (and not renting a car to get to a race out in faraway ‘burbs) was to do Run for Walk during the middle of marathon season. Waking up at God only knows what hour to haul it all the way up to Evanston the morning after a long run sounded like the opposite of a good time, so even though Solider Field sounded like the opposite of a good time as well, it sounded less like the opposite of a good time than the Run for Walk situation. Plus it would give me some incentive to not max out my marathon base building long run mileage at, like, seven miles, which I figured would be a good thing.
And that’s how I found myself at Soldier Field on Saturday morning.
I went into this race with zero expectations and zero goals, other than “don’t bonk.” The wall and I had a most unwelcome encounter at this race last year at mile seven, and I had absolutely no desire to recreate that experience ever again. I wouldn’t even say that I really trained for Soldier Field, since my sole focus for the past two months was training for the Chicago Spring 10K. The only change I made to my training plan in light of Soldier Field was subbing in a nine mile long run a few weeks ago for the 70-minute race simulation run I was supposed to do (I attempted to make the nine miler a race simulation run, and while from an effort standpoint I suppose it was a race simulation run, from a time standpoint it most certainly was not). As far as I was concerned, this was an extremely supported training run.
Conditions on race day were less than ideal. The temperature, honestly, was not that bad when you were standing around, but the thing about a 10 mile run is that standing around doesn’t do a whole lot for getting you from the start line to the finish line, and it was HOT for running, especially considering that anyone who trained for this race in Chicago really hasn’t had much time to adapt to temperatures in the high 70s and fairly high humidity, given that up until about a week ago or so it was still in the mid 50s most of the time.
Last year, for reasons I will never understand, I ended up in Corral Eleventyzillion (roughly), but this year I was mercifully placed in the corral where I belonged, so instead of waiting like 30 minutes to start the race, I only had to wait 10, which I preferred substantially. I wanted to go out as slow as I could, and I more or less succeed. I thought a 10:00 pace for the race sounded reasonable, and I came through the first mile in 9:52. Even though this was fairly close to my goal pace, my legs just were not feeling it. I had a hard time settling into a rhythm, and I was not at all looking forward to another nine miles of running.
Soon after passing the first mile mark, I heard some of my friends from my marathon training group come up behind me (I knew they were running because I had seen them before the race, but I was in my corral and they were walking around outside of it. Also, to be honest, I didn’t particularly want to run this race with anyone going into it, so even though I saw them, I intentionally didn’t try to get their attention). Since I wasn’t having the best time of my life, I looked over my shoulder, pretended to be surprised to see them there, and fell into their group. I ran with them until just before the turnaround, at which point they pulled away and I let them go, because–see goal of “don’t bonk”–I had no intention of pushing myself in this race whatsoever.
It was already quite toasty before the turnaround, but when the sun emerged from behind the clouds after I passed the turnaround, it got REAL toasty. I decided to do something new on race day this time around and carried a little handheld water bottle with me (I usually run with a big ol’ Nathan handheld water bottle or my FuelBelt, but a few months ago I got a handheld flask-sized FuelBelt water bottle that I used for the first time ever on Saturday), and man oh man was I glad I made that decision. I don’t know how on earth I would’ve made it between aid stations with no water otherwise. If I had followed the “drink to thirst” suggestion you normally hear, I would’ve been drinking about once every other second. At all of the aid stations after the turnaround, I sipped a bit of water out of the cup I grabbed before dumping the rest on my head (instead of dumping it on the ground like usual).
Somewhere between the second-to-last aid station (just before mile seven) and the last aid station (just before mile nine), they raised the event alert level from yellow/moderate to red/high, making Saturday the first time I’ve ever run during a red flagged race (the Mag Mile Half was red flagged the year I ran it, but not until after I had finished). I was actually a little surprised, since I’ve definitely run hotter races than Saturday’s, but I presume humidity was to blame more than temperature for the worsening conditions.
Solider Field just so happened to coincide with Beyonce’s Chicago stop on the Formation World Tour, which meant the finish line had to be revamped this year, as Beyonce’s stage was in the way of the normal finish route (how rude! 😛 ). As a rule, I prefer my racecourses to not take me under/through things (i.e.: Lower *insert any street with a Lower in Chicago here*, McCormick Place), and the reroute had us running through much more of the Soldier Field concourse than normal. However, given the circumstances, this was seriously the highlight of the whole race for me. Beyonce played Chicago on Friday and Saturday, so obviously they didn’t take down the directional signage overnight, which meant as we ran through the concourse, we could see signs pointing to where VIPs were supposed to go, where the band was supposed to go, where the dancers were supposed to go, etc., and man, I thought that was the coolest thing EVER. And hey, it’s not every day that you get to finish a race with Beyonce’s stage immediately to your right.
*insert heart-eyed emoji here*
I finished in 1:43:18, which is FAR and away my slowest 10 mile time ever: almost 12 full minutes off my PR, and even about three and a half minutes slower than Solider Field last year, which was my previous 10 mile personal worst. However, given the conditions, my training, and my complete lack of any concrete time goal (during the race I decided I’d like to finish under 1:45 if I could, or at least under 1:50), I’m quite pleased with my 1:43. I’m even more pleased that I didn’t hit the wall AND, despite the fact that I had my worst 10 mile race ever, I was not in the least bit upset about how things went on race day. But more on that on Thursday 😉