Chicago Half Marathon Race Recap

I hit the half marathon of half marathons on Sunday (that is to say, I ran my 13th half marathon on Sunday), and boy oh boy did I earn it.

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Sunday happened to fall in the middle of the worst, most unrelenting heat wave we’ve had all year, and after running 20 miles in the heat last Sunday, I was extremely uninterested a half marathon in similar conditions. I never actually considered a weather-related DNS until Sunday, and honestly, the only thing that got me out there Sunday morning was my anxiousness over how behind I feel in marathon training. I’ve missed 35 long run miles this season, and I certainly was not about to miss 13 more for anything short of serious illness, injury or other similar emergency.

I woke up at 4:45 Sunday morning to a balmy 74-feels-like-78. I had known all week that this was not going to be a PR sort of day, though I did hope to at least do better than I did in Nashville earlier this year, when it was just about as warm and terrible. I thought I ran a 2:45 in Nashville (turns out I ran a 2:40), so the goal was to do a sub-2:45 for sure, and maybe do a sub-2:30 if I could mange. I figured I’d be walking a lot and didn’t have any “run x miles before I start walking” hopes or dreams.

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I crossed the start line three minutes after the race began and felt like the entire field passed me. My goal is always to start slow and speed up as a race goes on, but it was still a little demoralizing to get passed so. many. times. I stuck to my guns, though, churning out some 11:xx miles.

Honestly, I felt WAY better than I expected I’d feel, and a mile or so onto Lake Shore Drive, I was having a hard time holding myself back. I knew the second half would be, minimally, much sunnier than the first half, though, and didn’t want to start running faster only to pay for it later. I did try to keep all my miles faster than 12:xx, though, and while I came close on my fifth mile (11:50), I managed to never drop below that 12:00 threshold. Woo!

To my great delight, I negative splitted all of the second half miles (11:36, 11:32, 11:20, 11:20, 11:16, 11:02, 10:44, 9:12 [the last .23 – I favored shade over tangents and didn’t run this race very well]). That doesn’t very often, and it certainly doesn’t happen often on a hot day like Sunday, so I’m quite proud of that. I only walked when getting water from the aid stations, and did my best to not get caught up in the crowds at the aid stations to avoid losing too much time.

Speaking of the aid stations: for a race that always takes place in September, I was BEYOND IMPRESSED with how much Life Time did to keep runners cool on the course. None of the aid stations seemed to be scrambling for water by the time I got there. There were regular-sized misters you see at football games at a few of the aid stations, there was a gigantic, fire department mister somewhere in the neighborhood of mile nine, and most–possibly all?–of the aid stations on the return trip on Lake Shore Drive were handing out cups of ice, which I happily stuffed down the front and back of my sports bra, as once does when it’s 89 degrees and you’re trying to run a half marathon in full sunlight. They also handed out popsicles at the finish line. I had half of mine, but I wanted salt more than I wanted sweet, and it was so cold compared to the rest of me that I was having a hard time eating it. It was a much appreciated gesture, though!

I checked my watch obsessively down the final stretch and was pretty sure I’d get in under 2:30. Sure enough, I crossed the finish line in 2:29:31 #nailedit. It’s my second slowest half marathon to date, but considering that it was also the second worst conditions I’ve run in, I can’t complain.

I downed some water, collected my obscenely large medal, ate my free slice of pizza, and stumbled out in search of air conditioning and a cold shower. This certainly wasn’t the day I hoped for or expected when I signed up for a late September half marathon, but I’m really happy with how things went. This is the first time I’ve made it through a run lately without questioning whether the effort involved is worth it, and that, my friends, was a wonderful feeling.

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Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon Race Recap

After running my first Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon two years ago, I swore up and down that I would never do that race again. I didn’t have a particularly bad experience with Rock ‘n’ Roll or the race as an entity, but the race as a concept–that is, a half marathon in the middle of July in Chicago–just seemed like a stupid idea. While, admittedly, this is about the time in marathon season where I’d need to run that distance anyway regardless of whether a medal awaited me at the end or not, there are so many better times of the year to run a half marathon in Chicago, I felt, and since I had done the race once, I really didn’t think I’d need to do it again.

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Well, things change, and once again I found myself registered for this race. Fortunately, the weather on Sunday could not have been less mid-July-like, with temperatures in the low 70s, a dew point of 64 degrees (a vast improvement from the 72 degree dew points we had more than once last week), mostly overcast conditions, and a cooling breeze out of the north *praise hands emoji*.

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I got to the race a bit later than I expected and panicked while waiting in a portapotty line that I wouldn’t make it into my corral in time (a stupid worry, in hindsight, given that Rock ‘n’ Roll’s “policing” of its corral is nonexistent), but I got through quickly and managed to get into Corral 10 with time to spare. (A perhaps interesting side note: I was in Corral 10 of 20 at this year’s race. In 2015, I was in Corral 20 of 36. In 2015, there were 14,060 finishers between the 10K and half marathon; this year, there were 12,002 finishers between the two races. The downward trend in finishers continues!).

Despite favorable-for-mid-July conditions, I didn’t have any goals/hopes/dreams for this race other than to finish. I had some hamstring soreness Saturday evening that continued Sunday morning (but fortunately has now cleared up) that I didn’t want to aggravate during the race, which was all the more reason to hang back, at least in the early miles. My soreness didn’t bother me at all while running, which was a nice surprise.

I’ve run downtown enough times to know that my watch can’t make sense of all the tall buildings, so I manually lapped my watch at each mile marker I saw. I missed mile two, so I didn’t get any splits for that mile, but from what I could see, it looked like I was running fairly consistently in the 10:35-10:45 range. That’s about what I expected out of myself for this race, so I didn’t have any complaints.

The forecast leading up to the race had consistently called for morning thunderstorms, so when I turned onto Michigan Ave. a little bit before the halfway point and saw dark clouds looming in the north, I panicked. My worst fear heading into Sunday was that a thunderstorm would pop up while I was on the south portion of Michigan Ave. with no nearby place to shelter, and it looked to me like that was becoming a possibility. I picked up my pace and started doing 10:2x miles, somehow thinking that I’d be able to outrun a storm at that clip. It ended up not even raining, so my speed was unnecessary, but I suppose better safe than sorry?

Rock ‘n’ Roll went WELL above and beyond the call of duty in the on-course cooling department. I assume the race assumes the weather is going to be miserable during Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago, given that it’s always in the middle of July, but the cooling mechanisms available were borderline excessive, given the not-steamy conditions. I didn’t mind them, necessarily, but it seemed to me like there were more open fire hydrants this year than in 2015, when it was extremely steamy. On the other hand, the water stations weren’t running on empty by the time I got to them this year, either, which was a nice change from my 2015 experience with this event.

My usual, not-trying-to-do-anything-spectacular goal for a half marathon is 2:15, and coming up Columbus, I thought I had a decent chance at, if not hitting 2:15, at least finishing in the 2:17 minute. I crossed the finish line in 2:17:15, so self-high five for my last minute accurate prediction 😛 Also, I continued to loathe how much of Columbus we had to run for the final stretch of this course. It seriously feels like you will never, ever get to the finish line since it is SO. FAR. AWAY. compared to other Columbus finish lines (i.e.: those of the Shamrock Shuffle and the Chicago Marathon).

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I collected my medal (which, along with the t-shirt, I am not a fan of. The t-shirt design seems wildly uninspired to me, especially compared to what I got in Nashville and at RnR Chicago two years ago, and I really think we should ban race medal interpretations of the Bean. I hated it on the Chicago Marathon medal in 2015 and I hate it on this medal, too. It looks like a manatee in both instances, and, with so many other, easier-to-represent Chicago icons, I wish races would go with anything else.) and proceeded to the post-race party, where I stretched out a particularly grumpy right hip and relaxed for a bit. All things considered, I’m pretty satisfied with this race. We really couldn’t have hoped for better weather this time of year, and I’m so glad it didn’t storm on us!

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St. Jude Rock ‘n’ Roll Nashville Half Marathon Race Recap

Hottest. Hilliest. Race. Ever.

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Late last year, I took advantage of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s annual crazy insane sale, when you can register for their races at the lowest price of the year. I signed up for three Rock ‘n’ Roll races during that promotion, one of which was the St. Jude Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in Nashville. I’ve been a country music fan since middle school and have wanted to visit Nashville for years, so this seemed like a good event to sign up for (ignoring, of course, the fact that I was running another half marathon one week before.)

I started looking at the race day forecast last Monday, and was quite distressed, to say the least, when I saw that Weather Underground was predicting a high of 89 on race day. I’ve run in all sorts of miserable weather before, and I’ve run long distances in miserable weather during marathon season, but this, as you may have noticed, is not marathon season, nor is it the armpit of summer in Chicago. We’ve had a warm day or two, but it has certainly not been hot, and it must definitely has not been humid, since sometime last summer or fall. Even though I often tried to overdress on my runs this winter to prepare myself for warm race conditions, no amount of overdressing could possibly mimic a half marathon 89 degrees when the actual outdoor temperature is closer to, you know, 20.

On Monday evening, I received an email from Rock ‘n’ Roll, advising runners to check their start times because the race had adjusted as a result of the forecast, moving the half marathon up from the original scheduled time of 7:30 to 6:45 a.m. (ouch). I was SHOCKED. I’ve run more than 55 races in my life at this point, and never once has a single race ever, ever adjusted its start time due to the forecast (or even current conditions). I’ve never even had a marathon training long run adjusted due to the weather. I was SO surprised to see Rock ‘n’ Roll do that.

It was, without a doubt, quite toasty when I arrived in Nashville Friday afternoon. I quickly remembered how much I loathe being hot and sweaty on the way to the expo! After retrieving my packet, it was back to the hotel for a very quiet and very early night in.

I stayed at the Sheraton, which was one of the hotels that partnered with the race. In addition to serving pasta for dinner on Friday night, the hotel also had a FANTASTIC spread out for runners on Saturday morning with bagels (wheat and white), orange juice, water, coffee, a toaster, peanut butter, regular butter, cream cheese, and other options I didn’t notice because I was too busy being happy about the bagel + peanut butter + orange juice situation. Even if I’m not spending the night before a race at my house, I always bring all of my own food for race morning, but I had forgotten to make any toast for myself before leaving for Nashville. I was totally panicked about what I would eat Saturday morning, and it was a HUGE relief to have almost all of my usual food made available to me by the hotel.

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The view from the room, also, did not suck.

To be honest, it didn’t feel too bad walking out of the hotel Saturday morning…if my plan had been to sit around and not do anything all day. That, obviously, was not the plan, since I had 13.1 miles to cover. Fortunately, it was overcast at the start (that didn’t last long, though), so I wasn’t a puddle of sweat before we even started running. After navigating the longest portapotty lines of all time, I got into my corral, and 20 minutes or so after the race began, took off.

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I, admittedly, have not run very many races outside of Chicago, and consequently, have not run many races with hills. But OH. MY. GOSH. Nashville was bonkers. Even if you took the weather out of the occasion, I think this race still would’ve been a struggle. It felt like the ENTIRE course was either uphill or downhill. There was a stretch maybe a mile long or so in the 10ish mile area that was flat, but everything else was up and down. I tried to work as many hills on the Lakefront into my training as possible, but nothing could’ve ever prepared me adequately for what Nashville’s course had in store.

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I was obsessed with this building, the Union Station Hotel. I spent most of my time waiting in my corral staring at this beauty.

Since I’ve never been to Nashville before, I wasn’t particularly familiar with the city to begin with, so I wasn’t really sure where exactly we were running. We started on Broadway and ran through the stretch of all the honky tonks to begin with, and then wound around…other neighborhoods. Haha. I did feel like we got a good tour of Nashville, though, since we definitely saw all sorts of places! Most of the neighborhoods were interesting, too, with only one stretch (the flat stretch towards the end) feeling a little on the boring side.

Another thing I have to mention is the amazing crowd support this race had. Outside of the Chicago Marathon, I don’t think I’ve ever run a race that had such consistent crowd support from start to finish. I was so impressed, and it really helped keep my mood up, which was certainly key to surviving a race day like Saturday! It was 75 degrees before the sun came up when my alarm went off at 5:15, and by the time I finished it was in the mid 80s, so any bit of help was much appreciated that day.

My only goal for this entire race–A goal, B goal, C goal, Z goal–was to finish alive, so I threw all my normal race day strategies out the window. I walked whenever I wanted to, not following any sort of run:walk ratio or forcing myself to run to a certain point in the race before walking. I walked up hills when I felt like it and ran up them when I felt like it. I started throwing water in my face and dumping it over my head probably around mile three or so. I fueled when I was hungry, not only at miles 5 and 10 like usual (it ended up being miles 5 and 8). I fully expected to have my slowest half marathon time ever even before the race began, so I paid no attention to my watch whatsoever. I ended up crossing the finish line in 2:40:53, a full 30 minutes slower than the week before and a personal worst by 15 minutes (dethroning Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago 2015, my previous personal worst, also on a ridiculously hot day). Nevertheless, I still finished in the top half of women, and just narrowly missed finishing in the top half of my age group. If that doesn’t show you how terrible race day was, I don’t know what will.

This race should’ve been the worst experience of my running life thus far by all accounts. I was in no way prepared for the heat nor the hills, and I had an absolutely miserable finish time. But it wasn’t the worst experience. Not by a long shot. Having no expectations made this race infinitely more bearable, and while I can’t necessarily say that I’ll do it again, I’m certainly glad I did it at least once.

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(p.s. how AWESOME is this medal?! You can’t tell super well from the picture, but it lights up under where it says Nashville!! This is easily my favorite medal in my collection to date.)

Christie Clinic Illinois Half Marathon Race Recap

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Half Marathon Training Recap

I plan to run three races in the next 11 days, so before I inundate you with race recap after race recap, I thought I’d take a moment to recap my training.

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As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, I decided to follow Hal Higdon’s HM 3 program for this training cycle, and if I ever want to reasonably (i.e.: not intensely) train for a half marathon again, this will definitely be my go-to program. It fit my schedule and style of running so well. I loved only having to run three days a week. The flexibility in particular was so nice. If the weather sucked on Monday or Wednesday, I could skip a run on that day and move it to Thursday instead. I also really appreciated having three days of cross training built into the program. That allowed me to do one day of dance, one day of yoga, and one day of strength training each week. I know I’ve said this several times in the past, but three days of running + one day of dance + one day of strength training + one day of yoga really is my fitness happy place. It makes me feel like I’m getting the right balance of various types of exercise, which for a long time was my primary fitness struggle: feeling like I was focusing too much on one thing at the expense of something else.

As for how training itself went? Overall, I think I did fairly well. I took a new approach to keeping track of my training program this year, putting everything in an Excel spreadsheet and crossing off workouts with black if I finished them as prescribed, or red if I altered them in some way (skipped the workout, reduced the workout, added to the workout). Out of the 79 workouts I’ve completed thus far (counting rest days as workouts), I altered nine of them for an 88.6% completion rate: a solid B+, I’d say. Most of those altered workouts were a result of the various bacterial infections I was dealt during a two-week period in February/March, so I’m not too upset with myself over missing those.

My worst workout, BY FAR, happened this past Saturday, which was not particularly great for building my confidence. My plan called for 10 miles, but I hoped to do 12. I hydrated poorly on Friday and slept in too late on Saturday, so by the time I finally got out the door around 9:30 or so that morning, it was already nearly 70 degrees, with not a cloud in the sky and a lot less water in reserve than I should have had. My first mile felt stilted and awkward, but that’s not entirely uncommon for the first mile of a long run. I figured my legs would work themselves out, and they did, but the rest of my body gave up at about the same time. I felt like I was on fire, and not in a good way. I had already decided to do 10 miles instead of 12, but by the time I turned around at mile five, I was already about to explode with frustration and grumpiness. Everything was hard, I was extremely uncomfortable, and I just hated absolutely everything. At mile 6.33, for the first time ever on a long run, I just gave up. Stopped right where I was, still in the middle of the Lakefront Trail and nowhere near a convenient exit, and quit. I felt a lot better (mentally, at least) after walking for a bit, but I had already thrown in the towel on that run and had absolutely no desire to start running again. I made my way to the CTA and went home.

Since I know (or at least am pretty sure) that I know why Saturday’s run went so poorly–high temperatures, poor preparation the day before, not enough sleep on Friday night or really any other night that week–I’m hoping that Saturday’s disaster of a long run was a fluke. While my 11 miler two Saturdays ago wasn’t particularly speedy (10:26 overall pace), it felt really comfortable and doable, which has helped keep my confidence from completely tanking (just partially tanking 😉 ). Right now, the forecast for this weekend calls for temperatures about 15 degrees cooler than last weekend, which also makes me feel a little better about how my half marathon could go. I’m still hoping for a sub-2:10 race, but a lot of things have come up in the health department over the past few weeks (I am, most frustratingly, apparently reliving the end of February/beginning of March, having, once again, come down with a sore throat that was immediately relieved by azithromycin, only to have my recurring leg infection flare up while I’m taking azithromycin. And, of course, my surgeon doesn’t have any availability until a week from today, and my doctor is on vacation until a week from yesterday. How dare these people be unavailable when I need them!), so I guess we’ll see what happens. To be honest, getting rid of whatever it is that keeps making me less-than-healthy for good is much higher on my priority list at the moment than a fast half marathon, so I’ll be happy to finish and even happier with whatever else I can do beyond that.

Also, because I want to document this for the entire world to see and consider: I’ve developed a new pet peeve throughout the course of this training cycle, and that pet peeve is pedestrians who cross intersections when there’s a green left turn arrow. I cannot BEGIN to tell you how many times I’ve stopped at an intersection with my fellow sidewalk users because traffic traveling perpendicular to my direction has the right of way at that moment in time (i.e.: they have the green light), only to have at least one, but often two or three, of them brazenly stroll out into the intersection after the cross traffic’s light has turned red but before our light has turned green (or white, as the case may be). Every. Single. Time. these above-the-law pedestrians get in the way of the cars who were traveling parallel to us, but need to turn left at that intersection and get a green arrow to turn left before traffic proceeding straight through the intersection (including pedestrian traffic) gets the green light, it slows down the WHOLE flow of traffic and drives me absolutely insane! The cars turning left have to wait for the pedestrians who don’t have the right of way, which then backs up all the other traffic when these left-turning cars get stuck in the middle of the intersection waiting for the pedestrian to get out of their way. That means there are still cars turning left when the rest of us get our green light, which slows everything down. It doesn’t even really impact me, because I’m not the driver trying to make a left turn in these situations, but I find it infuriating nevertheless. Those green arrows last for like 15 seconds. YOU CAN WAIT.

Half Marathon Training Check-In

I’m a quarter of the way through half marathon training, which is the PR way of saying that I’ve finished three weeks. I don’t plan to do weekly recaps (obviously, I would think, by this point), but I thought I’d at least give some updates on training thus far.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I decided to use Hal Higdon’s HM3 program for half marathon training this spring, and so far, I am LOVING IT. A month or so into marathon training last summer, I realized that my (exceedingly specific) running happy place involves three days of running, one day of dance, one day of yoga, one day of strength training, and one day of rest. I fell into that pattern during marathon training in 2015, and as soon as I fell out of that habit post-marathon, I struggled with feeling aimless and extremely unsatisfied in all of my workouts, even when following a program, until in July of 2016 I decided to try that method again and instantly felt better. It truly was my “come to Jesus” fitness moment. Having a half marathon training plan that accommodates the running/cross training balance that both makes me happy and has kept my muscles/joints/bones happy without me having to tear the plan to pieces and put it back together with my utter lack of education (see: all of my past marathon seasons) has been such a nice change of pace and makes me feel so, so much more confident in my training plan.

It’s nice to have confidence in my training plan, because at this point, my confidence in myself is low, to say the least. Out of the five half marathons I have on my calendar so far this year, I plan to approach four of them with a “just for fun” attitude. One is a week after my first half of the year on a hilly course, one is in July, one is during taper, and one is not too long after the Chicago Marathon, so my expectations for all of those races are low, to say the least. Because of that, I’ve decided to make my first half marathon of 2017 my goal spring race, and because I’d like to do it, I’ve decided to make that goal to run a sub-2:00 half marathon.

I’ve never run a sub-2:00 half before. My PR, set on a picture perfect day in early April of 2014 after a winter of tempo and interval runs, stands at 2:02:50, so in theory, a sub-2:00 half shouldn’t be that unattainable. I need to take 171 seconds off my time, or about 13 seconds per mile. This is not like my pipe dream Boston aspirations, where I’d need to take closer to three minutes off all 26.2 miles of a marathon. 13 seconds isn’t nothing, but it also certainly isn’t three minutes.

A 2:00 half marathon is a 9:10 pace, but because I’d like to break 2:00, and, ideally, give myself a bit of a cushion to do so, I decided I should aim to run at a 9:00 pace. Last week, my training plan called for a three mile run at goal pace, so I set out to run three miles at 9:00. The good news is that, for the first time in my nearly six years of running, I actually hit my exact pace goal for one of those miles. The bad news is that when I got home from my run, I thought I was going to die. While that certainly didn’t bolster my confidence in my ability to run a sub-2:00 half, I figured I still had more than two months to gain more fitness and speed, and it wasn’t worth getting too bent out of shape over.

Then on Saturday, I ran seven miles: the first time I’ve covered that distance since the Chicago Marathon. It went poorly, to say the least. Granted, this was also the first time I’ve run in anything above, say, 40 degrees since the Chicago Marathon, so maybe my expectations were too high. After logging shockingly consistent runs throughout this entire training cycle (all of my non-speed workouts had been between a 9:55 and 9:58 pace. Every. Single. One.), turning in a 10:19 long run–which, to be fair, is still a lot faster than my usual not-cold long run pace–left me feeling so defeated that I came home and cried. I’m sure I’ve cried after runs before, but I certainly don’t remember the last time that happened before Saturday.

If I’m being honest, Saturday’s emotional breakdown was more a culmination of several frustrating workouts rather than the result of just that run in particular. Even though I kept up a regular workout routine after the Chicago Marathon, I have constantly felt out of shape. So many–not all, but so many–of my workouts feel harder than they should. I don’t think anything’s wrong with me physically, considering that the blood work I had done at the doctor a month ago came back normal (aside from my stubbornly, inexplicably high cholesterol), but it bothers me that I don’t feel like I’ve seen any results from the work I’ve put in. To be fair, I rarely see results from workout programs/habits, but I have tried to be a bit more conscious of what I eat after the holidays ended (see: high cholesterol), and that hasn’t seemed to make one lick of a difference, either. On the other hand, I am only three weeks into a 12-week training program, so maybe I’m expecting too much too early. Even though my mileage is relatively low (I ran 15 miles last week, for example), it’s still the most I’ve run since last fall.

So that’s where I am right now. While it’s definitely not my favorite place to be running-wise, I suppose it’s all part of the process, and hopefully this will pass sooner rather than later. Either that, or I’ll change my goals for this race and stop caring about running 9:00 miles 😛

Tacoma Narrows Half Marathon Race Recap

This just might be the latest I’ve ever recapped a race! Vacation will do that to you, I suppose.

Anyway, on August 27, I ran my first race in Washington (state), the Tacoma Narrows Half Marathon. This point-to-point race (another first for me: I had never run a point-to-point race before) starts at the Tacoma Narrows Airport, runs over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and then follows a paved bike trail that more or less parallels the highway (that highway being State Route 16) into downtown Tacoma. It is, one might say, perhaps a bit hillier than your standard Chicago Lakefront Trail race:

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Yeah.

I won’t lie: I was super nervous about the hills on this course. My “hill training” consists of one jaunt up Cricket Hill per week at best, and I anticipated walking most, if not all, of the uphill portions of this race.

We had nearly perfect weather for racing, with overcast skies and temperatures in the 50s Saturday morning. It was also quite windy out by the airport where the race began. The race provides shuttles from the finish line to the start line, due to the point-to-point course, so I arrived at the starting area about an hour beforehand and spent most of that time swaddled in the sweatshirt I begged off my mom, huddling with a dozen or so other runners behind portapotties as we tried to stay out of the wind.

The race had day-of packet pickup on the race site (a huge perk for me, as I was coming from way, way out of town) and used a school bus that would travel to the finish line after the race began as gear check, so 15 minutes or so before the race began, I reluctantly shed my mom’s sweatshirt and headed over to the start line.

This was one of the smallest races I’ve ever run, with 711 finishers, so there weren’t any start corrals and we all took off at the same time. The race had pacers, but I didn’t see anyone pacing slower than a 2:10. I expected to do around a 2:30 for this race, so I lined up a bit behind the 2:10 pacer and decided I would just see what happened. I got passed by a TON of people in the first mile. This always does kind of make me feel like a lousy runner, but I hoped that by starting conservatively, I’d have enough gas left in the tank later on to pick off a fair number of the people who passed me in the first mile.

My iPhone committed suicide as soon as I got to Seattle the day before the race (more on that some other time), so unfortunately, I can’t show you photos of the stunning scenery along the course. Granted, I’m not used to running in the Pacific Northwest, so maybe if I were a native and/or local, I wouldn’t be quite as breathless over the towering evergreens and mountains on the horizon. Regardless, this was, without any competition whatsoever, the most beautiful race I’ve run to date. Parts of the course ran through residential and more industrial neighborhoods, so it wasn’t all forests and nature, but I was still constantly ogling over the gorgeous sights along the course.

The biggest highlight for me came from about mile 2.5 to mile 3.5, where we ran across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. I was totally ignorant about this bridge prior to the race, but let me tell you, it was a sight to behold, and running over it was one of the coolest moments I’ve had in a race so far, despite winds so strong they blew my shirt up (that was a first!).

To my immense surprise, the hills, though rather frequent and occasionally steep, did not faze me one bit. In fact, I think I passed more people on the steepest hill of the course than at any other point during the entire run. I was flabbergasted. I could not, for the life of me, figure out why I felt so strong on the hills. Was it the weather? Was it my (laughable, totally minimal) strength training? I have no idea. But for whatever reason, I felt great on the uphill portions of the course, and used that to my advantage.

The worst hill came right after we got off the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and I knew from looking at the elevation map that once I passed mile five, the worst of the climbing would be over. I kept waiting to hit a wall, figuring I had burned way too much energy powering up the hill after the bridge, but it never came. I felt really, really good, and could not believe it.

Right before mile nine, we did a lap around the running track of Cheney Stadium, the home of the Tacoma Rainiers: a farm team for the Seattle Mariners. This, like the bridge, was also one of the coolest moments I’ve had in a race so far. They showed everyone running through the stadium on the Jumbotron, and, unlike Soldier Field, where there are so many people you can barely identify yourself, this race was small enough to make it super easy to pick yourself out on the screen. I loved it.

Right before we got to Cheney Stadium, I caught up with a girl who I hadn’t seen up to that point in the race. She and I ended up leap frogging each other several times for the remainder of the run, with me usually catching her and getting some ground on her on the uphills, and her catching me and putting a good amount of distance between us on the downhills. I’ve never had that happen in a race before, and it made things a lot of fun for me.

I was still feeling awesome as we got closer to downtown Tacoma. Basically all of the last two miles were downhill (on occasion, steeply downhill), which probably helped my speed out a bit. I was also feeling great, though, and I’d like to think that at least contributed a little bit to my acceleration. I had a 9:32 and 8:45 last two miles, after running mostly 10:20s-10:40s earlier on, and man, nothing feels as good as knocking out an 8:45last mile in a half marathon when you’ve been running 10:xxs leading up to that point…except maybe passing that girl I had been leap frogging in mile 12 once and for all 😉

I finished in 2:15:11, which blew my mind. I really, truly expected to do a 2:30, so to blow my expectations out of the water by 15 minutes was thrilling. As a cherry on top of that finish, the announcer at the finish line also gave me a special shoutout for traveling “all the way from Chicago to run our race.” 🙂 First time that’s ever happened! No one in Chicago seems to care about me traveling all the way downtown to race 😛

The post-race party had pizza, race t-shirts, and a few vendors, but it was cold and my family was waiting, so I didn’t stick around too long (I did get my pizza, though, don’t you worry. Haha.). Overall, I had an absolutely fantastic experience at this race, and would do it again in a heartbeat if I happened to be out in Washington and in need of a long run the same weekend of the event. It was well organized and such a nice change from the usual out-and-back on the Lakefront Trail.

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