As a long-time fan of the Chicago Half Marathon, and an equally long-time fan of saving money, I registred for the Chicago Half Marathon on New Year’s Eve last year (to avoid a price increase, obviously), figuring it was about as sure of a bet as anything. I planned to run the Chicago Marathon in October, and the Chicago Half lines up perfectly with Chicago training. I did purchase race insurance just to be on the safe side–since that started being a thing, I always purchase insurance on my races–but figured injury would be the only thing that would keep me from the start line on Sept. 25.
What I did not anticipate last New Year’s was running a marathon the week before the Chicago Half.
While I suppose I probably had the physical ability to run a half marathon on Sunday, attempting to do so exactly seven days after my most recent marathon and fourteen days before my next marathon seemed ambitious at the very best. I know plenty of people can perform these feats of endurance–Marathon Maniacs come to mind–but I have not at ALL trained my body to stand up to that kind of abuse and didn’t want to risk it. So, a few weeks ago, I emailed the good folks at Life Time, kindly requesting to drop down to the race’s 5K. They were happy to accomodate, but unfortnately my race insurance only worked if I dropped out of the event entirely. And that, friends, is the story of how I came to spend $80 on a 5K.
(Theoretically, I’m guessing I probably could have dropped out of the race entirely, gotten $70 back, and then re-registered for the 5K, paying whatever the race fee a few weeks before the event happened to be. Coulda woulda shoulda.)
I went to the expo on Friday, which was bizzarely located on the concourse of Solider Field…? I’m assuming this means every other usual location for the race’s expo was taken? Or maybe out of budget, but I can’t imagine that Soldier Field comes cheap. Maybe cheaper than Navy Pier or the Hilton, though. Anyway, for whatever reason, the expo was at Soldier Field, so to Soldier Field I went. I got there fairly late on Friday evening and didn’t have much time to look around, though once you’ve seen a few Chicago running expos, you’ve really seen them all, so I didn’t mind. I was, however, THRILLED beyond measure to see that, at long, long last, after five years, I FINALLY got my name on a participant list they had printed at the entrance to the expo (*significant look* CHICAGO MARATHON). Lifetime: 1 Bank of America: -2.
As much as I like the Chicago Half, I do hate the logistics of getting to and from the race. Jackson Park is inaccessible via the CTA as it is (and by “the CTA” I mean “the El,” which is really the only way I want to travel to distant locations in Chicago), and it only gets worse on race day, when Lake Shore Drive–the only logical way to get to Jackson Park–shuts down at 6 a.m. for the race. I ended up taking a Lyft to get there this year instead of dealing with the shuttle. While this improved my wakeup time substantially, I still ended up getting to Jackson Park before 6 a.m., which, considering my race didn’t even start until 7:45 a.m., was SO unnecessarily early by my normal race arrival time standards. But since there’s really no way to avoid this, I don’t know any other solution (other than building an El line that goes to/from Jackson Park, but I’m not crossing my fingers for that happening any time soon/ever.)
I hung around before the half and watched the start, and then did some warming up in the half hour that followed that end of the half marathon start and beginning of the 5K start. (I also used this abundant free time to puppy watch. There were so many dogs at the race watching their humans run! Most of them were dogs, really, but one was an actual puppy, complete with puppy paws and puppy cuteness, and I was just dying.) I made more portapottie trips than I’ve ever made before a race, not so much because I needed them, but because it was something to do, and then finally around 7:35 or so, they had our start line all set up, and we began to file into the start area.
The 5K didn’t have corrals because less than 2000 people participated, and a notable lack of singlets and short shorts made me think this wouldn’t be the most competitive race of my life, and it would perhaps behoove me to line up much closer to the front than usual. I didn’t have any *real* expectations for this race, but I know myself enough to know that I would NOT be pleased with a time dramatically off my usual 5K times, marathon-seven-days-before be damned, so I hoped to put in the best effort I could and see what would happen.
The start of the race was crowded for maybe 100 meters, but opened up quickly. I’m usually a slave to my watch during 5Ks, but on Sunday, I decided to not look at it at all (and somehow had the self-control to actually not look at it) and instead run purely by feel. I did sneak a couple glances at my watch during the race, but didn’t note my overall time or current pace until the final turn and the three mile mark, so I’d say the whole “run by feel” thing was quite successful.
There aren’t many things I like about 5Ks, but the one thing I do like is that by the time you hit mile two, you’re practically finished: a nice change of pace for me, particularly during marathon season, when hitting mile two feels more like a joke than a relief. I really felt pretty good probably until mile 2.75 or so, at which point I stopped feeling pretty good and started feeling like I hate 5Ks more than anything (except, perhaps, the last 10K of a marathon). As I came in towards the finish line, I heard my name announced (one more point for Lifetime! This rarely happens.) and then noticed a shadow coming up behind me. I didn’t think I had anything left in me for a kick, but since I couldn’t tell from the shadow if the person behind me was or was not likely to be in my age group, I managed to pull out a bit more effort for the last 15 meters or so. Turns out the shadow belonged to a man probably in his 30s, so he wasn’t much of a threat to my dreams of age group glory, but it felt nice to hold him off anyway.
I finished in 25:15, which these days is actually a pretty slow 5K for me. I’ve only run one non-24:xx 5K since 2015, and that was the Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago 5K last summer, when it was eleventy bajillion degrees with infinity percent humidity and full sunshine, so I don’t hold that time against myself. I didn’t realize it had been so long since I hadn’t broken 25:00, and when I did realize that, I was a bit bummed out. However, I was only one week removed from a marathon, which is generally not the case for my 5Ks, so I suppose I really can’t complain. I also came in 7th in my age group, AND the age groups were twice the usual size (20-29 instead of 25-29), so that was a nice consolation prize.
The post-race party was pretty empty when I got there, since the half marathon winner only finished a couple minutes before I finished. I felt really stupid collecting so much food on the way out for only having run 3.1 miles, but who am I to turn down a water, an electrolyte drink, Chobani, a banana, and chips? By the time I got through my Chobani and banana, I was more than satisfied and planned on skipping the post-race pizza for the runners, until I remembered that I paid $80 to run a 5K, and…
Sunday was a study in overindulgence after a 5K, but whatever. I was a bit bummed to only do the 5K instead of the half marathon, but I think it was the smarter idea for my body. I don’t expect to ever run a marathon on my birthday weekend and follow it with another marathon three weeks later again, so I can certainly run the Chicago Half some other time.