Byline Bank Chicago Spring 10K Race Recap

I crossed the last race off my pre-move city races bucket list on Sunday at the Byline Bank Chicago Spring 10K. I’ve done this race twice before, running the half marathon once and the 10K once. I’m a HUGE fan of this event’s post-race party, so I wanted to do the race again. I waffled between the half and the 10K, but ultimately decided to do the 10K for a few reasons:

Reason #1: I didn’t think I’d be up to half marathon shape that quickly after my Europe trip.

Reason #2: I’ve never had good weather for this race (by which I mean it’s always been hotter and/or more humid than I’d like for a long distance run), and I’d rather run fewer miles in hot/humid conditions given the option.

Reason #3: The two times I’ve accidentally run the 5K of the Chicago Half in September rather than the half marathon (“accidentally” because in both instances I registered for the half, but extenuating circumstances [running a marathon seven days earlier; a bum hamstring] made me drop down to the 5K) have taught me that, given the option between the long distance and the short distance event offered at a Lifetime race, you should always pick the short distance event. You get all the benefits of running a Lifetime race, of which there are many–I firmly believe Lifetime is the best race organizer in the area–and you don’t have to do as much work to enjoy those benefits. Plus, the shirt and medal 5K at the Chicago Half are always way better than the shirt and medal for the half marathon, but that’s not really relevant to this race 😛

Reason #4: I hadn’t run a 10K since the last time I ran this 10K, and that was three years ago. It seemed like it was time to do one again.

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I didn’t have any particular goals for this race, though I did hope to break an hour. Had this race been closer to my previous spring races (and had the weather been much cooler and drier), I would’ve gone for a PR–I unofficially PRed my 10K during the Lakefront 10 Miler, and most likely unofficially PRed it during the Chi Town Half as well–but I knew I wasn’t in PR shape and neither was the atmosphere, so I didn’t want to put undue pressure on myself from a performance standpoint. Plus, I was really only interested in doing this race for the finish line breakfast and flower, and I’d get those regardless of how fast I ran.

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(If you go to the Bean at 7 a.m. on a Sunday, you get it all to yourself! Who knew!)

The logistics of this race changed since I ran it in 2016. Instead of being based in Lakeshore East and starting on the Lakefront Trail right outside Lakeshore East, it’s now based in Maggie Daley Park and starts on a completely-closed-to-traffic Columbus Drive. The half marathon started at 7 a.m., but the 10K didn’t start (“start”) until 7:45, so I got there a little after 7:00 and had ample time to linger around before getting to the corrals. The corrals were a BILLION times better organized than when I did the 10K in 2016. In 2016, we lined up behind the half marathoners and just waited around forever. This time, they sent all the half marathoners on their way before even organizing us into our corrals, which I thought worked a lot better.

However, I don’t think the corrals themselves made a whole lot of sense. I don’t know what I put down as my estimated finish time when I registered, though I’ve got to imagine it was awfully close to 1:00. Despite this, I somehow was assigned to what appeared to be the last corral of the 10K. While waiting to start, two women who clearly were friends were next to me chatting, and one said to the other, “Just remember: only an hour and a half until brunch.” I didn’t ask her to clarify what exactly she meant by that (did that hour and a half account for the fact that we hadn’t started yet? Did that account for travel time to brunch? Did “brunch” mean “at a restaurant somewhere” or “at the finish line”?), but if she was planning to run the 10K in 1:30, obviously we had very different expectations for how our race days would pan out, and she didn’t seem to be someone who should be standing next to me.

The race was supposed to start at 7:45, but the pre-race stuff started at 7:45 instead (God Bless America, announcements, etc.), so no one got moving until 7:47. They waited FOUR MINUTES between corrals, which meant I didn’t start running until 7:55. The point of waiting that long was to alleviate course congestion, but I really don’t think it made a difference, as I’ll get into later.

I started the race behind someone in JEANS who took off at a casual stroll across the timing mats, which further confirmed I was not in the right corral. I don’t have any problem with people who sign up for races with the intention of walking them, but it seems to me that someone who plans to walk the race, as this person clearly did given their wardrobe, and someone who hopes to finish the race in under an hour shouldn’t be starting right by each other.

Anyway, we ran down Columbus, making this the only time I’ve run that road going south rather than north, and at Roosevelt turned into Grant Park. We went under Lakeshore Drive and headed to the Lakefront Trail, which is where things got a bit sticky.

The Lakefront Trail going around the Shedd Aquarium is too narrow, period. It’s really only wide enough to comfortably accommodate one person in a northbound lane and one person in a southbound lane at a time. It is NOT wide enough to accommodate a bit over 1000 10K runners, three different on-course race photographers, AND homeward bound speedy half marathoners all at once, but that’s the situation we were in. I felt really bad for the half marathoners who had to deal with all of us 10Kers going south, because we were very clearly in their way, and those were not the sort of runners who seemed…unbothered…by having other runners get in their way. I’m sure the long intervals between 10K corrals helped, but I think if they really want to alleviate crowding on this course, they have to make the Shedd Aquarium curve a one-way deal. I think the course would be vastly improved by routing outbound runners around the Field Museum and Soldier Field and then having them merge on to the Lakefront Trail and limiting the Shedd Aquarium curve to inbound runners, similar to the way the Hot Chocolate 15K finishes.

There was a pretty aggressive (16 mph) wind coming out of the south during the run, which helped keep me cool for the first three-ish miles of the race but certainly didn’t make running particularly easy. Sunday was definitely my hottest and most humid run of the year thus far (it was in the low 70s, with a dew point in the low-mid 60s), and I wasn’t very prepared for that. Drafting wasn’t an option for me because I spent the first four miles passing people, thanks to my bizarro corral assignment.

For all my criticisms of the beginning of the course, I have to give credit where credit is due, and credit is VERY much due for how the race handled the 10K turnaround. I spent most of the southbound portion of the race wondering how on earth they were going to accomplish having all of us 10K runners make a hairpin turn to head north in the middle of the half marathon course, what with all the northbound half marathoners we’d have to disrupt and all. What they ended up doing was routing the 10K runners off to an auxiliary trail just south of McCormick for like maybe 50 meters and having us do our hairpin there, which allowed us to seamlessly merge back into the half marathon course from the left. Genius!! I was so amazed by how smoothly it worked! Like, I spent a good couple of minutes marveling over how smart of a course design that was. Good work, Lifetime!

Turning around meant we had the wind at our back, but I’ve found that’s almost never as pleasant as it sounds like it should be. I got really warm, and, courtesy of my over-enthusiasm at the start, was getting quite tired as well. I alternated between reminding myself that I was only in this for the breakfast and thinking about how annoyed I’d be if I ran a 1:00:xx, so I did my best to keep pushing. It started to rain a little around mile five, but not enough to cool me down as much as I could’ve used.

I ended up finishing in 58:34, which is my third fastest 10K time. I averaged a 9:26 pace, which makes me really happy! Obviously if I was going to break an hour, I needed to average sub-10:00 miles, but given how much my training has nosedived since I ran my half six weeks ago (which I don’t say to be critical of myself – I wanted to back off my training after working so hard for 12 weeks), I was quite surprised that I managed to hold an average 9:26 pace over 6.2 miles. Anything faster than a 10:00 is fast to me, so I’m really proud that I managed to pull that off.

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The rain tapered off during the post-race party, giving me time to enjoy the breakfast I was so interested in and to get a begonia to kick off my 2019 gardening. This was my last Chicago race as a Chicago resident, and I’m glad I ended with strong finish at one of my favorite races.

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Michelob ULTRA Chicago Spring 10K Race Recap

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(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.)

BTN Big 10K Race Recap

The streak lives on! For the fourth year in a row, I pretended to be a Big 10 alum and ran my only 10K of the year: the BTN Big 10K.

This year, the race (10K and 5K) had 12,105 finishers – which, fun fact, is more finishers than the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half had last Sunday (12,031, though with the 10K, the overall Rock ‘n’ Roll event had 13,961). Despite now easily being one of the five biggest running events in Chicago (with the Chicago Marathon, Shamrock Shuffle, Hot Chocolate and Rock ‘n’ Roll as events one through four, respectively), for reasons far beyond my comprehension, the race still insisted on holding packet pickup at exactly one Fleet Feet location. That went about as well as you would expect a small store hosting packet pickup for 12,000+ runners to go.

That is to say, not well.

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Now, I will admit that I went to packet pickup at about 5:30 p.m. on Friday, which was probably a pretty popular time to go to packet pickup. HOWEVER. I have never, in my four years and 30+ events of racing, seen packet pickup this disastrous (then again, I’ve also never run Hot Chocolate, so maybe that’s why 😉 ). For those of you familiar with Fleet Feet Old Town, the line for packet pickup began in the Piper’s Alley lobby, snaked down the hall that goes past Chipotle and Starbucks, out onto the sidewalk on Wells in front of Adobo Grill and Fleet Feet, beyond the gated houses next to Fleet Feet, and down to the hair salon to the north of those homes – when I got there. I have no idea how much longer the line got later. All told, packet pickup, which involved getting my bib and participant bag–a task that should, AT MOST, take five minutes–took 40 minutes. The line moved along at a decent clip, but that is ABSURD. The Big 10K has, without question, outgrown Fleet Feet as a packet pickup location, and it’s time to look into other options – especially since this is now a Top Five race in the city.

If only everyone consulted with me before organizing their races, eh? 😉

Continuing with this year’s trend of bare bones packets, there was next to nothing in this year’s for the Big 10K.

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Which is fine. I only need to throw away so many Chicago Endurance Sports advertisements, you know?

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I’m starting to feel silly for having four Michigan Big 10K shirts, and I’m thinking of getting shirts for random schools if I continue to run this race – maybe see if I can collect the entire conference? (Except Ohio State. I may not be a Michigan alum, but that doesn’t mean I want any scarlet and grey shirts in my wardrobe.)

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In my opinion/experience, this year’s start line was the most organized of them yet. I was in an appropriate corral (unlike 2013), and I thought they did a good job of spacing us out as started the race. In the weeks leading up to the race, we kept getting emails touting the new course (as if changing the course were a new concept: this race has changed the course literally every year – not that I’m complaining!). This year’s race took us under McCormick Place TWICE (kill me), which threw my watch into a tizzy. And while the race didn’t read my Rock ‘n’ Roll recap and provide me with a club atmosphere inside McCormick Place, they did play music inside the tunnels, which I really appreciated. Let’s make this a permanent thing, shall we? McCormick Place tunnels are so much more tolerable with music.

After such a lousy week of running, I really wanted to keep myself under control during the race and not bonk no matter what. I hit the first mile in 9:30, which was just about a full minute faster than I wanted, but I had a really hard time slowing down. I eventually got more into the 10s, though the heat certainly helped with that. It was mercifully overcast on Saturday, but it was hot hot hot and humid humid humid, making conditions less than enjoyable for the heat-averse like me. Also, there were only three aid stations on-course, which was about three fewer than I would have liked. I really, really needed more water out there on a day like Saturday.

The last mile of the course was super weird, with us winding all around the area of McCormick Place before going into a tunnel that lasted for.ev.er. (and caused my watch to think I ran a 12:02 last mile. Lulz. I guarantee you that is NOT true.). I actually felt pretty good and able to push it towards the end, which made me so happy. Aside from Rock ‘n’ Roll, I’ve been so spent at the end of most of my races lately that it’s been a struggle to make it to the finish line. While I suppose that’s a somewhat effective way to race, at least in the sense that it means I’ve given it my all, I much prefer to not feel like death for the last mile.

I ended up finishing in 1:03:01, which ranks as my #3 (out of five) 10K time. No complaints from me! Though I would like to break an hour in the 10K again sometime, ideally sooner rather than later, Saturday was not the day that was going to happen. If I want to run a fast 10K, it’s going to have to be in the spring or fall, no question about that.

I met up with my CARA BFF after the race and hung out with her and a couple of her friends for quite some time. She hasn’t been to training at all yet this summer, so it was SUPER great to see her and catch up. And eat those delicious chicken sausages they serve post-race, which in and of itself is pretty much enough to keep me doing this race 😛

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I feel oddly loyal to the Big 10K since I’ve done it every year since its inception, but I’m also starting to feel weirder and weirder about doing it, since I didn’t go to a Big 10 school. Obviously no one at the race knows that, but I still feel like I’m not ~supposed~ to be there since I don’t have a Big 10 degree to my name (would just like to reiterate that I did get into Michigan and could have gone to Michigan but chose not to go to Michigan. Sorry not sorry.). Big 10 alum are so oddly possessive about their schools, and I get sick of justifying my presence there to people who ask why I’m running if I didn’t go to a Big 10 school. But it’s a fun event, and the post-race party is honestly my favorite out of all of the post-race parties, so…yeah. We’ll see.

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BTN Big 10K Recap

The streak lives on!

For the third year in a row, I participated in the BTN Big 10K. While this race has been particularly good to me in the past in the form of a huge PR both in 2012 and 2013, I had relatively low expectations for this year’s race. To be honest, just the fact that I had clearance from my PT to run was more than enough for me, and I didn’t want to do anything I’d end up regretting long term for the sake of maintaining a perfect PR record.

I picked up my packet during non-peak hours, which made things go much smoother than last year. I was in and out in under five minutes, and I thought, overall, this year’s packet surpassed last year’s, at least in the swag department (i.e.: I was starving, and there was food in the packet. None of that food made it into the picture, because none of that food survived my CTA trip home. Haha).

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The shirt, however…oh man. I don’t know what’s up with Chicago race shirts this year, but between this monstrosity and the disaster that was the Shamrock Shuffle shirt, I have been less than impressed (#firstworldproblems). But really, did they NEED to put the whole logo on the front of the shirt in addition to the BTN thing? Couldn’t that have gone on the back instead of this?

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Whatever. It’s not like I’m exactly hurting for tech shirts, and I’ll wear just about anything. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it 😛

Because the BTN Big 10K has apparently developed a complex, we all had to use event-issued clear plastic bags for gear check this year (which does, admittedly, beat the cheap-o drawstring bags of past years). While this initially irked me–I had planned to only check my water bottle after all–ultimately it ended up working out. My CARA pace group buddy wanted to change shirts at the race, so we put her shirt in my bag after arriving on-site, went to find one of her friends, and headed towards our corral.

Now, as I mentioned, I had no intention of competitively running this race. Unlike last year, the weather on Saturday wasn’t particularly PR friendly, and I knew I needed to treat the race as the back half of my 12 mile training run. This all changed when, on our way to our corral, I happened to see three of my classmates from high school.

I don’t consider myself to be particularly competitive with others when it comes to running. I’d say the vast majority of people I know in Chicago are runners, and while I’m often interested to know other people’s times, I don’t really care all that much kind of times other people turn in. None of my Chicago running friends have ever made me feel inadequate or like a lesser runner because I’m not a speed demon–in fact, none of my runner friends, period, have ever made me feel that way. For whatever reason, though, I am absurdly competitive when I find out people that graduated with me in high school now run. I look up their race times, I get inexcusably annoyed that they run (which, really? As if I have any claim to being the only runner from my high school’s class of 2008. Come on, Bethany.), and I get an embarrassing amount of satisfaction over knowing I’m faster than they are, because I’m a terrible person (but a self-aware terrible person! :P). Thus, after seeing these three classmates of mine, I instantly had one goal: beat all of them.

The course for this year’s race was different from both the 2012 and 2013 courses, but still managed to include a long stretch under McCormick Place at the beginning of the race, which shot my Garmin for the duration of the run. I eyeballed my mile splits and guesstimated we ran somewhere in the neighborhood of 10:00 to 10:15, but it was tough to know for sure. What I did know for sure was that I was both exhausted by mile 2 and STARVING by mile 2.5. I didn’t want to fuel until mile 4.2 (which would’ve been mile 10 for the day), but I honestly couldn’t wait that long, so I took my fuel a bit before the aid station near mile 3, and it made a world of difference for the back half of the race. I was also super dehydrated–I knew when I went to bed on Friday I hadn’t had enough water during the day, and I’m sure that didn’t help matters at all.

My CARA buddy and I maintained a steady pace just about to the end of the race, when I suggested we do a mini kick for the last .2. My Garmin measured the last bit of the race at .17 but says we ran an 8:59 pace for that .17, which, all things considered, was not too shabby of a kick. We finished, officially, in 1:03:17, which is far and away my worst BTN Big 10K time and ranks #3 of four on my all-time 10K times list. I did beat all three of my classmates by anywhere between four and seven minutes, however, so as far as I’m concerned, Saturday’s race was a shining success 😀

My friend and I hung around the post race party for quite some time and enjoyed the requisite post-run chicken sausage:

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(Apple Gouda! AHmazing)

before I dragged her off the the Hudsonville Ice Cream tent, where we sampled Grand Traverse Cherry Fudge and Bear Traxx, and I got all nostalgic. Hudsonville Ice Cream is a staple in West Michigan, and it just started to be available in Chicagoland. It is a little $$, but trust me, it’s worth every penny.

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All things considered, I felt this year’s BTN Big 10K went off better than last year’s. The new venue at 18th Street made the post-race party less crowded, and the finish chute was substantially more organized this year. Though half the course takes place on the Lakefront Trail, I didn’t feel as though it were overly crowded, though it is worth noting that this race tends to draw more of a non-running crowd that may not be entirely familiar with usual racing/running protocol (slower movers to the right, don’t stop suddenly, the first cup of Gatorade is not the only cup of Gatorade at an aid station, etc.). That being said, if a tailgate-like race sounds like something you’d enjoy, I can’t recommend the BTN Big 10K enough.

BTN Big 10K Recap

Not gonna lie, I’ve got some pretty mixed feelings about this year’s BTN Big 10K.

I picked up my packet Thursday morning and was not wildly impressed, both from a swag and efficiency standpoint. I realize that I’ve had a lot of luck with packet pickup in my life, but I was both surprised and annoyed that I had to wait several minutes for my shirt at 10 a.m. on Thursday (granted I was already running late for a 10:30 meeting, so I was stressed in the first place). I’d forgive the t-shirt packet pickup line if the packet was actually worth picking up, but…it kind of sucked.

BTNBig10KPacket2013

Really cheap, crappy drawstring bag (does anyone else hate getting these? I have so many drawstring bags, and I really only ever use one), one snack size Clif Bar, and five bazillion ads for Chicago Endurance Sports. I did like the shirt, however, especially the detail on the shoulder which you can kind of see in the picture. I also liked that the Michigan shirt is yellow (or maize, I suppose) this year. I generally work out in tech gear because it’s too hot to wear cotton, and if it’s too hot to wear cotton, most of the time it’s too hot to wear dark colors as well, so yellow is much better than navy blue in my opinion. I’ve also got to hand it to them on the race program. I’ve never got a program for a race before, not even for my half last year. Considering that this was only a 10K/5K, I was really impressed that they put together such a nice publication with all the race info.

As I mentioned yesterday, I ran to the race so I could get my 12 miles in for the day. I’ve never run to a race before and I figured my legs would be relatively tired, so I didn’t want to plan on running any sort of time and set myself up for disappointment. While I ran to the race, though, I kept thinking, “Man, it’s really too bad I have to run this extra 5.8, because this kind of weather was made for PRs.” Cloudy, low 60s, not much wind unless you were right by the lake: this is the stuff PRs are made of, people. But like I said, I wanted to keep my expectations low/nonexistent, so I tried not to think about it.

I got to the race site around 6:20 or so (10K started at 7:00) and it was CROWDED. Last year the race was at Soldier Field, but this year they moved it up closer to the planetarium to accommodate a larger field (about 13,000 instead of about 5,000 last year). While I’m sure we had more space by Adler, the race site was by no means spacious, and it took me quite some time to get to gear check. I checked my Nathan because I didn’t want to run the 10K with it if I didn’t have to, made a traditional pre-race portapotty stop, and then hauled it all the way back over to my corral.

BTNBig10K2013

So. About this whole corral situation. In theory I’m sure a corralled start was a good idea. Honestly, possibly even in practice the corralled start was a good idea, at least for the elites/speedsters in the first few corrals. I, however, somehow got put all the way down in Corral I. The 10K corrals went through J, which put me in the second to last corral. Now, I’m not going to pretend like I’m a fast runner by any stretch of the imagination. I am perfectly happy to embrace my slowness. But Corral I? Really? When we registered, we had to estimate our pace for the run, and, according to my registration confirmation, I estimated I’d run a 10:00 pace. Since the course was open long enough for people to complete the race at a 15:00 pace, I can’t come up with any logical reason why on earth I got put in Corral I. A couple girls near me were chatting about their expectations before the race and said they hoped to finish in 1:15:00, which is great! More power to you! But my slowest 10K is a 1:05:21, and my most recent 10K heading into the race was a 1:00:30, i.e.: NOWHERE REMOTELY CLOSE TO 1:15. I also had a friend at the race who previously ran a 1:10 10K, and she was ahead of me in Corral H. So there’s that.

It took us almost 15 minutes to cross the start line after the race began, which, whatever. It was downright cold standing around for 30 minutes waiting to get running, but I welcome cold weather with open arms, so no complaints here. When we finally got going I got to enjoy what was easily the most crowded first mile of my life. I bobbed and weaved and I’m quite sure pissed more than my fair share of people off, because everyone was running so much slower than I wanted to run (which, given where I started, is not entirely surprising).

Last year, the course was pretty much entirely on the Lakefront Trail, and since I apparently suck at reading course maps, I was under the impression that would be the case this year as well. I wasn’t paying much attention to my surroundings (other than the runners in front of me I was trying to not trample), and at one point we kind of went up a ramp and then down one. I continued on running when all of a sudden I realized we were running on Lake Shore Drive! That was pretty cool. We were on the Drive to the halfway point of the race, where they turned us off (…into the grass. Classy) and put us back on the trail for the return to the start. Honestly, the course was pretty crowded through all of this. I ended up hugging the far right side of the trail for most of the back half of the race so I could easily duck off onto the gravel and pass the people in front of me.

I had consistently been hitting 9:2x miles for the first four of the race and clocked a 9:09 fifth mile. At that point I knew it was pretty likely that I would PR and pretty likely that I’d finish in under an hour (which is something I’ve wanted to do since last year’s BTN Big 10K), so I decided to see what my legs could do for me. Turns out they could do a lot! I ran the sixth mile in 8:48, which is not *too* far off my 5K pace (about 35 seconds) and had a real nice 7:25 kick for the last .2. According to my Garmin, I ran 6.24 miles in 57:25, though officially I ran a 57:28. Regardless, I still took 3:02 off my previous 10K PR in the middle of marathon training, which is the second time I’ve turned in a HUGE PR at this race (last year’s 1:00:30 was a 4:55 PR in the middle of half marathon training).

Aside from the corral issues, the real disaster of this race for me was at the end. The finish line absurdly crowded and poorly organized. Whether you wanted to grab food/water or not, you were stuck in a huge crush of people that wasn’t going anywhere. After you made it past the rally towels, water, Gatorade, cookies, crackers, pretzels, and bananas (I will give them an A+ for finish line food choices), only then did you get your medal, and that was also a disaster. All the 5K medals were hanging nicely on racks, while the 10K medals hadn’t been unwrapped, so volunteers were walking around the crowd blindly handing them out. Since the 5K started at 8:15, it seems like it would’ve made a lot more sense to organize the 10K medals first, which would’ve done a lot to streamline that whole process and probably keep the finish area from being so crowded.

BTNBig10KMedal

Speaking of crowded. The post race party was insaneeeeeeee. So. Many. People. This year the alumni associations from all the Big 10 schools had sunglasses to hand out to runners (instead of foam fingers like last year. Each bib also had one sunglasses ticket you had to use to get the glasses to prevent people from taking one pair from each school like they did with the foam fingers last year), and while I would have liked a pair of Michigan sunglasses, the line to get said sunglasses was probably at least 30-45 minutes long, and I didn’t want $2 sunglasses that bad. Fortunately the line for sausages (instead of hot dogs like last year) was much more manageable, so I got myself some food and found an open spot in the grass away from the 9348230948 people at the party.

BTNBig10KFood2013

On the one hand, I very much want to like the BTN Big 10K. It’s been good to me (obviously, with two PRs there now), and the atmosphere is really cool. I think, ultimately, my biggest problem with the race this year was just that it was way, way too crowded. I don’t blame the organizers for wanting to grow the race, since ultimately I think that’s what every race organizer wants, but you can’t host a race of that size in a small area. Grant Park would’ve been a much better venue if it had been an option (which it wasn’t, because Lollapalooza setup had already begun), and I do hope if the race happens again next year, they’ll either cap registration at around the 7,000 or 8,000 mark or consider a different location if they hope to keep growing the event.

Hail to the Victor

I can sum up the inaugural BTN Big 10K in three words:

Best.

Race.

Ever.

But let’s back up to the beginning, shall we?

Per usual, I barely got any sleep last night. That seems to be a theme for me the night before a race, as this was the third time in as many races that I’ve run on significantly less than my usual 8 hours of sleep. The Opening Ceremony for the Olympics kept me up late, and my neighbor decided last night would be a good time to go on a smoking binge. Their vent connects to our apartment, which means I got a handy dose of secondhand smoke last night, and the smell was driving me crazy, especially at 2 a.m.

When my alarm went off at 5:40, I got ready for the race and had two pieces of whole wheat toast with peanut butter. Normally I only have one piece of toast before running, but I also normally eat half an hour before running, not two hours, so I figured it wouldn’t kill me to have a little more food.

At 5:58, I got a text that my taxi had been dispatched and was 2.4 miles away. Honestly, that made me really mad. I ordered a taxi last night for 6:15 this morning. When I said 6:15, I did not mean 6:05, or even 6:10 — I meant 6:15. Hmph. Fortunately, I made it down to my cab right before it left.

There were already a lot of people at Soldier Field when I arrived, and even though it wasn’t yet 7 a.m., the energy was great. I checked my bag (side note: that gear check was a thing of beauty. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more clearly organized gear check) and wandered around for awhile trying to not look too awkward. Story of my life.

Around 7:20, I started to get really antsy, so I headed over to the starting corral. They had the corral segmented off in 30 second pacing increments. My long runs lately have been in the 10:45ish range, but I thought I would push myself a little, so I lined up near the back of the 10:00 pacing group. I was shooting for around a 10:20 pace.

After hanging out in a VERY crowded corral for awhile, we finally got started. As we headed towards McCormick Place, I heard a woman behind me ask her running buddy if their current pace was fine. The running buddy replied with something along the lines of, “Yeah, I’m comfortable at 9:30.”

Come again?

I looked down at my Garmin, and lo and behold, I was running something in the 9:30 range. We weren’t even half a mile into the race, though, so I figured my Garmin was just taking some time to get its bearings and in the mean time was doing its always-enjoyable-if-misleading ego stroking.

As we kept going, I saw we were going to actually run through a tunnel under McCormick Place, which did not make me happy. I knew my Garmin would lose its signal in the tunnel (it can barely handle underpasses under Lake Shore Drive, after all), and I wasn’t thrilled about having my Garmin thrown off so early in the race.

The tunnel ended up being stuffy as anything, and I was a sweaty mess by the time we got out. As expected, my Garmin had lost its signal, but it picked right back up as soon as I was back in the open. It was still telling me I was running sub-10 minute miles, but I had pretty much given up on its accuracy by this point. That is, until it beeped at mile one, which, by its measurement, was maybe 100 feet before the actual first mile marker.

I couldn’t believe how fast the first mile felt (or rather, how fast the first mile went). I figured I would lose my speed pretty soon, but I was feeling great and didn’t want to slow down until I had to. After the second mile, my Garmin was still telling me I was running sub-10 minute miles, and around this point the thought of PR-ing entered my mind. I started to do a little mental math (which, realistically, was probably the biggest accomplishment of my race…it’s a rare occasion that I can do a simple addition problem without the help of my fingers and toes) and realized that if I was running almost a minute faster per mile than I had run in my first 10K, I could possibly finish in under an hour. After that realization, I forced myself to do a quick reality check: I hadn’t even hit the halfway point yet. I still had plenty of time to die, and there was no point in getting my hopes up that high so early in the race.

Mile three came and went, and I was still running sub-10 miles. This was also the point where we passed the slip and slide on the course, but since I was having the race of my life, I decided to run straight past it to the turnaround. I pretty much had my heart set on a PR by that point, and I wasn’t going to blow it for a gimmick mid-course.

We passed an aid station after the turnaround and I finally heard Hail to the Victors, which gave me a huge surge of energy. They played different school’s fight songs all along the course, and while I kept hearing MSU’s fight song, I hadn’t heard Hail to the Victors at all up to that point. I’m a Michigan fan through and through (almost went there for college, in fact), so I was definitely running the race for the maize and blue. The fight song was just what I needed to keep my energy up.

All of a sudden I passed the five mile mark. I knew unless something awful happened, there would be no way I wouldn’t PR. At that point, it was just a question of what my PR would be. Up to that point, I had run 9:41 to 9:56 miles. I didn’t expect to finish in under an hour anymore, but that didn’t keep me from pushing hard. I ended up running a 9:14 mile (what?!?). I kept myself more or less under control until we got to the three mile mark from the 5K race before us, at which point I gave it everything I had. Final official time: 1:00:30.

!!

I didn’t just PR. I SMASHED my time from my first 10K. I ran a 1:05:21 in my first 10K. Four minutes and 50 seconds, y’all!

I still can’t believe it. I honestly have no idea how I ran so fast. Yes, this course was a lot flatter than the course from my first 10K, so obviously that makes a difference. But five minutes worth of difference? I mean, I’ve never run this fast in my life outside of a 5K. My all-time fastest training run was a 10:12 four miler. This was not only 2.2 miles longer than that, but I ran an overall 9:45 pace. WHAT?? Man, if this is what training in heat does to a person, from here on out I’m only running on treadmills in saunas.

After I floated on the greatest runner’s high of all time over to gear check, I headed over to the post-race party.

 

I went to the Michigan tent first, but alas, they were all out of goodies. My next stop was the BTN tent, where I hung out with the Big 10 Championship trophy for a second and picked up a poster with the complete schedules of all 12 teams.

I wanted to get stretched out by AthletiCo, but the line was crazy long. Instead, I picked up my free hot dog (because nothing says “hot dog” quite like 9 a.m….haha) and got a picture by the Michigan finisher area.

Then I wandered over to the Michigan State tent and got a poster of their full schedule. Why? Fantastic question. I guess because Michigan didn’t have any and neither did Penn State (I made a conscious decision to be a Penn State fan when Michigan was having a crummy season when I was in high school, and I’ve been a fan since [except for the whole Jerry Sandusky thing, obviously]). Actually, the more I think about it, I really have no clue why on earth I felt compelled to go to the MSU tent. I only cheered for Michigan State when Kirk Cousins was on their team, because I’m a HUGE Kirk fan.

And I met him once, cause I’ve got connections. Aww yeah 🙂

But yeah, I really don’t like Michigan State at all these days, and now I have a poster of their full schedule. Hm.

Anyway, I think I’ve made it very clear that I loved this race. Some aspects of the course were a little not-awesome, but overall, this was without question my favorite race to date. The PR was great, of course, but the whole atmosphere was without question the best I’ve experienced so far. I’ll run it again in a heartbeat.

Also, I really want to go to a football game now. Hurry up, September!

Officially a Runner

On Saturday, May 12, I made history.

…and got a pin to prove it!

May 12 was the 35th annual Fifth Third River Bank Run. Over 20,000 runners came from around the world to compete in a full morning of races, including a 5K, 10K, and a 25K. The 25K is the main event: it is the largest 25K road race in the country and draws a number of elites.

25K female winner Janet Cherobon-Bawcom, winner of the 2011 USA 20K, 10K, and 5K Championships and USA Running Circuit. Kind of a big deal.

In late August, I was telling one of my very good friends at school about my first 5K and how much I enjoyed it even though it was a small race. During that conversation, my friend challenged me to run the River Bank 10K. I was intimidated initially, but it took all of 24 hours for me to make up my mind that I wanted to run the race.

River Bank was unlike any other race I’ve competed in up to this point. Nearly 5,000 runners signed up for the 10K alone. That’s almost 20 times larger than the field for my second 5K, which had a field four times larger than my first 5K. The size of the event was more inspiring than intimidating, but it did make a big difference in my racing. I really had no idea who was registered for the 10K, and the sheer number of people made it difficult to attempt to keep track of the same person to try to pass them or stay ahead of them, which was something I did a lot of in my first two 5Ks. This really forced me to run my own race rather than focusing on competing with others, which, realistically, was probably a good way to approach my first 10K.

I got to the race about an hour and a half before the 10K started, and I spent most of that time getting more and more antsy. Two heats of the 5K started before my race, and I just wanted to run. After the second 5K heat started I got into the starting corral and hung around the 10:00 minute pace group, since that’s what I intended on running. I had my phone on me, and fifteen minutes or so before the race began, the same friend who challenged me to the race called me. He was running the 10K as well and wanted to know where I was. He found me and we chatted for awhile before the race began.

We crossed the starting line about two minutes after the race officially began and started off at a really comfortable pace (for me). While we were waiting to begin, my friend decided to run the first mile with me, so he stuck by my side for the first bit of the race, which I really appreciated. I had expected to run the race completely solo, so it was so nice to have some company. He left me with a fist bump and a “See you at the finish line,” after the first mile marker and got up to his normal speed while I continued plodding along.

Feeling good, looking happy, effectively demonstrating how not to achieve a mid-foot strike…sigh.

The next two and a half miles were really great. There was decent crowd support along that area of the course, which is something else I’m not at all used to in races but definitely loved. My ever-sore calves gave me a little bit of trouble right before the three mile mark, but that went away probably within half a mile.

There I go! Please note how much Mysterious Blue Shirt Man gained on me in all of 25 meters. This is a testament to my lack of competitiveness while running that race.

The last 2.7 miles of the race weren’t bad, but they certainly weren’t as good as the first few. My final long run (five miles) was last Saturday, and it was miserable in nearly every sense of the word, and the long run before that (seven miles), while not bad, was run entirely in the rain and 45 degrees, so it had been awhile since I had had a decent long run, and I was beginning to feel it. I’ve been a smidge sniffly this week, and my bronchial tube doesn’t appreciate long runs and respiratory infections, so around this point my chest began to ache from all the heavy breathing, as it tends to do on these occasions. Not fun.

I also had some serious morale issues around mile 4. The crowd at this point of the race was absolutely fantastic: there were people everywhere cheering really loud and it was very encouraging. However, somewhere in this madness I missed the four-mile marker (or maybe there wasn’t one? I don’t really know). I had my Garmin on but I knew it was measuring wrong because I had started it early. The end result of this was that I thought I was still in the third mile for significantly longer than I was, and that was really discouraging until I came to my senses and realized that my Garmin was not over half a mile off.

4.5ish miles in was also where the hills began on the course. I’ve been slightly judgmental in the past of the people who complain about the hill on Roosevelt at the end of the Chicago Marathon and Shamrock Shuffle because, to be honest, the hill is not that steep or long. However, all of that judgment went away Saturday, when after the 4.5 mile mark (more or less, judging by my inaccurate Garmin), I encountered three hills at around 4.5 miles, 5 miles, and 5.25 miles. Realistically, these hills were far from intimidating. They were gentle and not very long. However, at that point hills were the last thing I wanted to deal with, so that was less than awesome.

Mid-blink, mid-exhale–literally could not look worse in this picture, but it’s too funny to not post. Also, I was not feeling nearly as awful as this picture makes me look, just to clarify.

I was dead tired for the last mile and very ready to finish the race, but pushed through it to the finish line. My friend had finished the race about 15 minutes earlier and was just a little bit beyond the line, ready with a huge hug, a wonderful congratulations, and a declaration that now I am “officially a runner.” 🙂

Being able to share a bit of the race and my post-race pride with the person who was the entire reason I ran the race made every bit of discomfort in the last few miles completely worth it. I had been planning on eventually running a 10K since last summer, but by “eventually” I meant “around age 24 or 25.” I would not have run on Saturday if it hadn’t been for his challenge, but I’m so grateful for it. Training for this race took my love of running to a whole new level and pushed me beyond what I ever would have imagined was possible. I am very blessed 🙂

I ended with a time of 1:05:21. I can’t say I was wildly surprised by my time, because on my two 7-milers that’s the time it took me to run 6.2. However, I was expecting to run the race a little faster than my training. I’m not exactly disappointed, though after looking through the results and seeing all the familiar names in my age group come before my name, I do wish I had been able to run it a little faster (ah, the curse of being fiercely competitive). If I’m being honest, though, I probably couldn’t have run a whole lot faster than I did, and since it was my first 10K finishing period was really higher on my priority list than finishing fast. Besides, it’s nice to have a low standard set: it makes PR-ing easier the next time around 😉

I have another 5K coming up this Saturday, which should be interesting. PR-ing would be fantastic, but even on my recent 3-milers I haven’t run anywhere near my normal 5K race pace, or even my normal 5K training pace. However, this race promises to have a lot more familiar faces, so maybe my competitive spirit will help me out 😉 . There’s another 10K in about a month that I have my eye on, but the timing’s a little rough, so I don’t know if I’ll do that or not. Other than that, I plan on backing off a little on the running for the next six weeks or so. I kept up my strength training more or less during my 10K training, but with all my running I didn’t have time to focus on it as much as I would have liked to, so I hope to build that back up in my mini running vacation. I’ve got some pretty big running plans for September and a slightly smaller but still big running hopes for November, so I don’t want to burn myself out before then. All in all, I’m looking at five or six more races this year. I think it’s safe to say I’ve been severely bit by the running bug 🙂