Picking up where I left off after the 5K on Friday night…
While the 5K kicks things off during Illinois Marathon weekend, the main event is Saturday morning, which features the 10K, half marathon and full marathon. Months ago, I decided the half marathon would be my goal race for the spring, and initially hoped to break 2:00 for the first time. I changed my mind on that after a lackluster training cycle, and instead went into the race with the ultimate goal of breaking 2:10, but the more realistic goal of staying under 2:15.
The weather Saturday morning was almost as perfect as you could possibly hope for for a race. With a cloudy sky and temperatures in the 40s, the only weather-realted concern I had for the race came from the wind, which hadn’t really died down overnight like I had hoped it would. When I arrived on campus Saturday morning, AccuWeather said the current conditions included wind speeds of 18 mph, with gusts in the 20+ range. Oof.
This race, unlike Friday’s, had gear check, so I deposited my bag filled with post-race clothes with the gear check volunteers and headed off towards the start line. As a side note, the race is point-to-point, technically, but barely. The race begins a few blocks away from Memorial Stadium and ends inside the stadium, so while the start and finish lines aren’t the same, they’re close enough to each other that it’s easy to find a place to park between the two. To my surprise, even though the start and finish lines were so close together, gear check was still done in a way I’ve always known as Boston-style, which means your gear gets put on a vehicle and driven to the finish line. While I don’t think this was entirely necessary, given the proximity of the start and finish line, I most certainly appreciated the extra effort!
The marathon and half marathon start together at this race, while the 10K starts after all the full and half runners have taken off. The full and half courses are the same for almost the entire duration of the half marathon, with the full marathoners taking a right at about mile 12.5 while us half marathoners took a left. Because the courses are the same, the race only has marathon pacers (presuming–fairly, I’d say–that you can pace yourself for the last .6 miles you’ll need to run alone). The pacers held signs that had both their overall marathon time and minute/mile pace on them, which I thought was very helpful. Because I am perhaps the worst self-pacer in the history of running, I decided that it’d be in my best interest to at least start with a pace group. I found the 4:30 (10:18 minute/mile) pacer in my corral and awkwardly hung around his group during the national anthem and another round of Happy Birthday, and ran with them through the start line.
Maybe a quarter mile into the race, I heard someone behind me say, “She’ll probably be wearing short sleeves or a tank top and arm bands. There she is! Right there in purple!” Since I was wearing both purple and arm sleeves, I assumed this voice was talking about me, so I looked over my shoulder and lo and behold: there were my CARA group leaders again! This time, they were accompanied by a girl who had trained with them for the full marathon over the winter. I hadn’t originally planned to run with my CARA group leaders at all, really, never mind during both the 5K and the half, but since they found me and I had such a good time running with them Friday night, I was more than happy to hang with them.Four summers of running with CARA taught me that one of my CARA group leaders in particular is a FANTASTIC pacer, so I gave up my plans of sticking with the race’s 10:18 pacer as soon as we passed him and figured I’d just run with my friends instead, especially since I trusted them to maintain a steady pace.
The course was a bit hillier than I anticipated, by which I mean it wasn’t the Lakefront Trail, which features exactly zero elevation changes between its northernmost point and the south side of Navy Pier, and I think no more than four elevation changes after that. I wasn’t too bothered, though, since I had company and one of my group leaders was particularly chatty that morning. I had a good laugh at mile two or so, where a family was set up with the flag of Finland, a sign that said “Finnish Line,” and kept cheering, “You’ve made it to the Finnish!” I’ve run more than 50 races in the past six years, and somehow no one has ever come up with that joke for any other race I’ve done. I was so amused and very much appreciated the creativity!
We wound through Urbana and the miles just ticked by. Our pace felt comfortable, and I really only used my watch to check where we were in terms of distance so I could time my Honey Stinger chew consumption with water stations. I was pretty unaware of how fast or slow we were running and didn’t really care. Since we had long ago passed the 4:30 pacer I figured I was more or less on target to get close enough to 2:10 to be happy, but honestly, I had stopped feeling all that concerned with my finish time by mile four. I decided that if I needed to choose between running with my friends and breaking 2:10, I was going to pick running with my friends. I care about my finish times, most certainly, but at the end of the day, I run because it makes me happy, and the social aspect of running is one of the things that contributes to my happiness.
On and on through Urbana we ran, through a subdivision, through a neighborhood, and finally to a park where we all got squished onto a wide path rather than having the entire street to ourselves. Erin had previously warned me not to waste my energy bobbing and weaving through the newly-crowded course, and I’m really glad I knew that was coming, because I think the sudden congestion would’ve frustrated me otherwise. It was a little trickier running with four of us through the park, but we were able to make it work by dropping down to single file or two abreast when possible.
As we came out of the park, I saw a little boy with his dad and sister on the side of the street, holding up a sign that was just scribbles in gold marker. I thought it was seriously the cutest thing EVER. He was so enthusiastic about it, too! Beyond precious.
We got back into U of I’s campus and had a FANTASTIC tailwind while we ran east (which was the majority of the last few miles of the half). I was feeling really good, one of my group leaders said we were averaging a perfect 10:00 pace up to that point, and when I looked at my watch, I thought I might still have a chance at breaking 2:10, especially since I had a lot of energy and not much race left to run. I told the group this around mile 12.25 and bid them farewell.
I was FLYING past people for the last mile, having run fairly conservatively up to that point. I had a little less than 10 minutes to get to the finish (including that pesky last .1 miles) and figured as long as I could keep up a 10:00 pace, I’d be ok. There are some weird turns and lots of corners in the last part of the race, but fortunately nothing too intense. My watch turned over to 2:10 as I was coming down the ramp that leads to Memorial Stadium, so I knew I wouldn’t break 2:10 anymore, but I wanted to get as close as I could. I ran hard through the finish line and came across with an official time of 2:10:22.
I don’t think I’ve ever been less disappointed to just miss out on a time goal. In the past, I’ve beat myself up over missing a goal by so little, but honestly, I had SUCH a good time running that I didn’t even care. Besides, that was still my third fastest half marathon ever, so I can’t really complain.
After refueling with ALL OF THE FOOD (pizza, pasta, rolls, cookies, bananas, more Nature Valley bars: 10/10 to this event on the post-race food) and retrieving my gear inside the stadium, I headed outside to continue celebrating Illinois’ birthday with more cake.
Best post-race party ever.
One half marathon down, one to go! Right now, the forecast for my half on Saturday calls for a high of 89 (gulp), so the goal for that race will be to survive and not die of dehydration. No time goals, no performance goals, just survival, because I haven’t even SEEN 89 degrees since last marathon season, never mind run in it, never mind run a half marathon in it. Walking will likely be involved, but that’s okay. I had such a great time, both literally and figuratively, this weekend, that I’ll be happy to take it easy on Saturday.