After Friday night’s 5K, it was time for the second half of the Half I-Challenge: the Christie Clinic Illinois Half Marathon!
(I am in. love. with the race shirt. A long sleeve purple tech shirt?! Yes please. I got the Meijer reusable bag for signing up for M Perks [even though I live nowhere near a Meijer and certainly don’t need an M Perks account] because I am in. love. with its design, too [and Meijer in general], and the Chicago Half Marathon water bottle for signing up for that at the expo, too. I’d been meaning to sign up, and I saved $20 if I did so at the race, so that wasn’t a tough call.)
After logging all but three or four training runs for this race in my warmest running jacket and tights, I worried how I’d fare if it turned out to be anything toastier than 45 degrees on race day. I woke up Saturday morning to temperatures in the 30s and a Real Feel in the 20s, so instead, I got to worry about being cold before the start of the race. I had throwaways with me, but I wasn’t convinced they’d be sufficient. I didn’t get hypothermia waiting for the race to begin, so clearly they were fine, but I have got to do something about my newfound angst about being cold in a corral before a race. It’s so unnecessary and unhelpful, and I don’t like it at all.
I crossed the start line a little before 7:15 in an absolutely foul mood due to the cold situation. As I mentioned earlier this year, my only goal for this race was to negative split it, so I intended to go out slow (ideally, around a 10:30 pace). When I crossed the first mile in 9:39, then, I was not pleased. Sure, that felt easy for the moment, but I had serious doubts that it would continue to feel easy for the next five miles, never mind that I’d be able to run consistently faster paces than that from mile seven to the finish line. I tried to dial in my pace on the second mile, but I still couldn’t get myself anywhere close to a 10:30 pace (mile 2: 10:02; mile 3: 10:08; mile 4: 10:16).
The first four miles were misery. I was so grumpy, and it felt like it was taking for.ev.er. to get to each mile marker. I had some chews at mile four, but didn’t get enough water from the following aid station and was concerned that I’d pay for it later on. Fortunately, a spectator just a minute or two past the aid station was handing out water bottles, so I took one and felt much more relaxed about the whole situation.
Soon after I took the water bottle, a girl who had been near me for at least a mile or two asked me what finish time I was aiming for. Even though I didn’t have an actual time goal, I expected to do a 2:10-2:15, so I told her as such. She said she was shooting for the same thing and asked if we could run together. I was a little hesitant, given my negative split goal, but I was also feeling really lonely (and grumpy) on the course, so I agreed. GAME. CHANGER. We didn’t chat too much, but having someone running with me turned my mood completely around and the miles started ticking by quickly instead of dragging on for all eternity. (I thought she looked younger than me, so I asked if she was a U of I student, and she said she was and asked if I was too? *brushes shoulder off* I graduated from college six years ago, so you better believe someone even thinking I could possibly still be in college was fabulous for my ego.)
We chugged along through Urbana, and when we got to mile seven, I told my running buddy I was going to try to step up the pace a little. She decided she’d try to keep up, which was fine with me, so off we went. We had a logged a 10:39 sixth mile, so “stepping it up” turned into a 10:05 seventh mile: not much faster than I had run at the beginning of the race, but at least faster than my previous mile.
We wound through Meadowbrook Park, where I ended up seeing Tree Swallows for the first time ever! They are such beautiful birds, and I was thrilled to see a bunch (seven!) and add them to my life list 🙂 I did not bother trying to go over my excitement about this with my new running buddy, however 😛
I kept trying to push the pace a little more each time we passed another mile marker. When we got to mile 10, I checked my watch and saw two things: first, that I had been on the course for 1:40; second, that I was running approximately the same pace I had run during the 5K the night before. Since it took me just under 30 minutes to do the 5K and I hoped to continue speeding up as the race continued, I thought we (or at least I) might stand a chance at a sub-2:10. I checked in with my running buddy to see how she was feeling and let her know if we continued at our current pace, we’d probably finish in 2:11. That was fine with her (her main goal was sub-2:20), which put me in a bit of a conundrum. Was it more important to me that I get my running buddy to the finish line (it was her first half marathon ever, and since we had agreed to run together, I felt responsible for doing everything I could to make it a positive experience for her), or that I get across the finish line in under 2:10, something I rarely accomplish?
At mile 11, I decided to be selfish. I felt like I had a lot left to give, and I really, really wanted that sub-2:10. I bid my running buddy farewell and wished her luck, and off I went. I did a 9:00 12th mile, and when I looked at my watch at the mile 12 sign (I didn’t run perfect tangents, unsurprisingly, and was about .1 miles off), I was at exactly 2:00. Since the goal was to have my last mile be my fastest mile, I thought I could maybe pull off a sub-2:10, but it was going to be tight. As I ran through campus on my way to Memorial Stadium, I reminded myself of all the times I pushed myself to my limit on my last mile of a training run with this exact moment. It was not comfortable or easy or fun, but I was too, too close to a sub-2:10 to throw in the towel, no matter how badly my lungs, legs, and heart (physical heart, not metaphorical heart) wanted me to. If I couldn’t get in in under 2:10, it certainly wasn’t going to be because I didn’t try my hardest.
By the time I got into Memorial Stadium, I knew I could do it. I ran down the field and crossed the finish line in 2:09:30. *celebrates forever* My legs were wobbling as I walked through the finisher’s chute, but I was ECSTATIC. This was only the third time in 15 half marathons I’ve gone sub-2:10. I went into the race with no actual time goals and just hoping I’d be able to walk away with a time that didn’t frustrate me (i.e.: anything 2:20 or above), so to get into the 2:0x range, especially since I expected do to closer to a 2:15, was thrilling. It’s no PR, but it’s the closest I’ve come to my PR in over two years and the first time I’ve been happy with a half marathon finish in the same amount of time. And as for negative splitting? I wasn’t quite as perfect as I hoped to be, but check it out:
Hell yeah, 8:31 last mile. That’s exactly how I hoped this race would turn out, and I couldn’t be happier about how everything unfolded.