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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F^3 Lake Half Marathon Race Recap

I would like to put in a formal request that it is always 30 degrees when I’m scheduled to run a half marathon.

The F^3 Lake Half Marathon has a pretty hit or miss history when it comes to weather, and though I didn’t run the race last year, I do believe that it was in the high 30s/low 40s on race day. I don’t think anyone–certainly not me–expected good race day weather two years in a row, but while the East Coast got buried under a blizzard, Chicago was sittin’ pretty with moderate winter weather on Saturday.

While 30 degrees is ideal as far as I’m concerned for racing, it’s not particularly ideal for standing outside for an hour waiting for the race to start. Last year, F^3 moved down to Soldier Field, and with that move came access to the United Club.

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Yes. Please.

Having an indoor, temperature-controlled space for gear check and on-site vendors was AWESOME. I think I’d like this for most races, to be honest, but in the winter in particular this sort of thing is clutch. I arrived about an hour before the race began, checked my gear, and wandered over to the bathrooms, where, to everyone’s great surprise, the line for the men’s bathrooms on both ends of the United Club were out the doors, while the lines to the women’s bathrooms were barely existent. I don’t think I’ve seen this anywhere before in my life, and all the other women in the bathroom commented on the odd reversal as well. ‘Bout time those boys learned what we put up with on a regular basis! 😛

I ran into one of my good CARA friends and her boyfriend and chatted with them for awhile before everyone started moving outside about 10 minutes before the race officially began. I wore my warmest pullover over a short sleeve tech shirt, and while this worked perfectly for the race, I got really cold really fast standing around outside. I lined up in what I think was the 10:00 corral, and I had assumed since this was a relatively small race that we would all start at the same time. Not so! They waited about a minute in between corrals, which I’m sure helped with crowding, but man was I getting impatient to get running and warm up.

I didn’t have much of a time plan for the race, other than thinking it’d be nice to negative split if possible. I wanted to start out comfortably slow, but it took me a little while to find my groove. I had a 9:20 first mile, which I knew was WAY too fast, so I tried to slow it down to 10:00. When I hit mile two (by my watch – my watch and the mile signs weren’t lining up for most of the race, though that’s hardly a new phenomenon. I’d be much more surprised if my watch and the mile signs did match up than I am when they don’t.), I had done a 9:46. While I was hoping to hit 9:45s later on, I figured if I felt like I was holding back and doing 9:45s at that point, I’d trust that that was fine. I tucked in behind two women who, according to my watch, were running 9:45s, and figured I’d pace off them for awhile. Pretty soon, though, I decided to pass them, so I swung out to the left, ran in front of them, and then merged back right. As I was doing this (or maybe immediately after? I’m not sure.), the woman on the left side of this pair clipped my heel.

“That girl just cut me off!” the woman declared, referring, of course, to me. I ignored her, because that’s how I normally handle this sort of situation, and continued running.

“Fucker!” the woman said, referring, once again, to me.

Aw, HELL no.

I looked over my shoulder, put my hands out in the universal sign for, “What is WRONG with you?!” and said, “SERIOUSLY?! We’re on the same team!” (Which I meant in the universal, “We’re both runners doing this race” sense, not in the literal, “We signed up for this race as team members” sense.)

“You cut me off! You cut right in front of me!!” the woman said.

“WE’RE ON THE SAME TEAM!!” I reiterated, before my adrenaline kicked in and I trotted off at a nice 9:15 pace for awhile, leaving Cranky Pants in my dust.

OH, did this make me ragey. Did I get in the woman’s way? Clearly, because we had the MOST MINOR of “collisions.” Collision actually seems like a pretty strong word for what happened. Did I do it on purpose? Of course not. I did not come equipped with rearview mirrors, but, to my estimation, when I merged in front of her and her companion, I assumed I had enough space to do so. I have never, in nearly five years of running, seen anyone cut anyone else off intentionally in the middle of the pack, because DUH. Nothing we’re doing matters. Ain’t none of us going to win the race. Heck, ain’t none of us even going to place in our age group! We’re just out there for kicks! For funzies! I have never, ever in my running life seen ANY middle-of-the-pack-er taking a race so seriously that he or she would intentionally try to sabotage another person’s race by cutting them off (or doing anything else), because why on EARTH would you do that? Not to mention, in my experience (or at least in my experience prior to Saturday) runners are a pretty supportive bunch, hence: we’re on the same team.

I don’t know anything about this woman, other than that the first two numbers on her bib were 24, and she looked to be about in her 30s. Maybe she had a really bad night. Maybe she was having a really bad morning. Maybe she was really nervous about the race. Maybe she’s just a categorically shitty person. I don’t know. What I do know is that it is never a) okay or b) necessary to call someone a fucker for passing you, even if they did cut in front of you too quickly. Would I have been annoyed if the reverse had happened? Yeah, for sure. I probably would’ve muttered, “God!” or “seriously?!” under my breath, and wished ill upon the cutter-in-fronter and tried to pass them later, all of which I think are fairly acceptable courses of action. But if you want to tempt the running gods, practically begging them to give you bad running karma: be my guest. Even more so, had she not called me a fucker, had she said, “Excuse me,” or “careful” or any other socially acceptable thing to say to a stranger, I probably would’ve been QUITE inclined to apologize for my action. But you had BETTER BELIEVE I absolutely did not apologize after she acted like that.

Be nice to your fellow runners, people. Act like a grown up. Fairly simple concepts to grasp.

Anyway.

After that situation, the rest of the race was fairly uneventful. I had several miles in the 9:55-9:45 range, and my knee acted up, like it always does these days. I survived the hill at…whatever pedestrian overpass that is (I think it’s somewhere in the 40s? Probably?), and wondered when on earth we’d hit the turnaround. (In the mean time, I passed the 10K mark at 1:00:59, which, had this been a 10K race, would’ve been my third fastest 10K and my fastest since 2013. Heyo!) Within about a mile and a half of the turnaround or so the path got super crowded, since we had two-way traffic on not-the-widest part of the trail. It was manageable, but definitely a bit cozier than I anticipated for a race with less than 2,000 participants.

We had a nice, tiny breeze at our faces after the turnaround–enough to keep you cool without bothering you–and I was still feeling great. The view of the city heading north on the path was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, with the ice on the lake and a mix of sun and clouds in the sky. I don’t carry my phone on me when I race, and even if I did, I wouldn’t stop to take pictures (I’ve never understood people who do this, though I’ve seen it happen plenty of times. Don’t you know you’re being timed?? Though I suppose maybe not everyone cares about their time as much as I do.), but those were some seriously photo-worthy views, and I wish I could show them to you.

I tried to find groups to latch onto and pace with, or even just people if possible, but I was never able to stick with anyone for very long before feeling like I had enough in me to pass them. I spent a decent portion of my race doing mental math after each mile marker, trying to estimate my overall pace and likely finish time. I hit mile 10 at 1:37, so I knew that unless I ran MUCH slower than I had been running, I was on pace to break 2:10, which was my #1 goal. I also knew that unless I ran the remaining 5K faster than I had ever run that distance before, I wouldn’t get a PR (or break two hours, which is this long-standing dream I’ve had). I had it in my head that it’d be nice to break 2:05, but I wasn’t sure if the timing would work out.

When I got to mile 12, I gave it my all. I intend to stop running for the next month or so before gearing up for the Shamrock Shuffle, so I wanted to make the last of my running for awhile count. I ran an 8:36 last mile (wheee!) and crossed the finish line in 2:05:19, for what was FAR and away my second fastest half marathon.

I was SO happy with my time. I may or may not have cried happy/proud tears. I did not at all expect to have such a great race, and though I wanted to break 2:10, I had doubts about my ability to do that. Even though my half PR is 2:02:50, I had never come remotely close to touching that in the four half marathons I’ve run since (2:12 was the best I had done), and that 2:02 was starting to feel more and more like an anomaly, something I’d never achieve again, than something I could approach, or even break. I could not be more thrilled to have been only 2:29 off my PR on Saturday.

There wasn’t much to do outside (not that I had any interest in standing around outside for long anyway), so I headed back to the United Club, where I was able to pick up my race participant hat and shirt.

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I changed into dry clothes (thank you, post-marathon training brunches, for teaching me the importance of bringing a change of dry clothes to maintain post-run warmth) and then headed over to Stan’s for a celebratory donut.

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Delicious 🙂

Overall, a very successful race day. I’m glad I was able to send this mini running season out on a high note.

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Living in Denial, or, My Half Marathon “Training”

Once upon what feels like a million, billion years ago, my sister asked if I would run the Mississippi Blues Half Marathon with her in January of 2016. This was some time last spring, well before marathon season, and I assured her that I most certainly would, provided it made it through marathon season unscathed. I did, and then proceeded to cut back substantially on my running until mid-November, when I intended to attempt to bust out an eight-week training cycle for the Mississippi Blues Half Marathon.

About one week before I intended to start training for this half marathon, I realized that my life’s circumstances had changed a bit from last spring, and I no longer knew if I’d be able to take time off work in early January to travel to Mississippi. Because my circumstances that would have prevented travel were in flux, I decided to train with the intention of running the Mississippi Blues Half, but refrain from registering and/or buying tickets to travel to Mississippi until I knew for sure that I could go.

At just about this same time, my sister told me that she had been getting migraines during her long runs, and no longer thought she could handle a half marathon. Instead, she planned to do the race’s quarter marathon. I figured I’d still train, because I didn’t know what would happen on my end anyway. I also thought that I’d eyeball the F^3 Half Marathon in Chicago, scheduled for two weeks after the Mississippi Blues Half. Worst case scenario, I could scrap the Mississippi trip and run F^3 instead.

Ultimately, that’s what happened. My sister decided she didn’t particularly want to run a quarter marathon, so I registered for F^3, crossing my fingers that, by some miracle, the weather wouldn’t be terrible on Jan. 23.

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^^ F^3 2013, when I froze my booty off volunteering and got sunburn from the snow. lulz.

So far, the forecast looks fantastic. In fact, as of my writing time, the forecast looks downright ideal for me: 32 degrees, “times of clouds and sun,” no snow. I honestly don’t know if I could dream up better conditions if I tried. That, my friends, is PR weather.

Unfortunately, I have not been training for a PR.

chitownhalf4(From that time I did train for a PR)

This has been the biggest joke of a half marathon training cycle I’ve ever undertaken. Things got off to a fairly rocky start when I came down with the plague/Ebola one week into training, which knocked me on my back for a bit. As soon as I recovered from that, it was off to Iowa for the weekend, during which time my primary activity consisted of getting in or out of the car. Then it was Thanksgiving, and then it was home for Christmas, and then it was cold….

All told, I think I only skipped one or two runs entirely, so even though I may have been all right from a quantity standpoint, I feel like the quality of my workouts, running or otherwise, was absolutely laughable during this training cycle. I intended to follow Best Body Boot Camp and call it half marathon training, but that did not work out at all. I usually got in at least one legitimate strength training session per week, but I never did any workout more than once (Best Body Boot Camp comes in four phases, with each phase lasting two weeks. In theory, you’re supposed to do the same workout twice (i.e.: the Week 1 Monday workout is the same as the Week 2 Monday workout, though Week 2 usually prescribed higher reps)), so it was very hard to feel like I made any sort of progress in the strength department, or like I was even following the plan to begin with. I spent a lot of time on the treadmill for the cardio days, which means I did get in a decent number of interval workouts this session, but from a volume standpoint, I don’t feel like I’m in good shape at all. Most of these “runs” lasted 40 minutes, including warmup and cooldown, so I was logging roughly 3.5-3.75 miles per run. While that’s probably quite fine for maintaining fitness, it didn’t feel like enough for half marathon training.

I did do weekly long runs outside, along with a whopping two weekday runs outside instead of on the treadmill. By and large, those long runs were a STRUGGLE – and I can’t say I’m surprised, given the ridiculousness of the rest of my training. I had a good eight miler the week before Christmas, and a so-so eight miler last weekend, but other than that, every single one of them was tough, both physically and mentally. And let’s not even talk about my splits, which have been more of what I expect to see in June or July than December and January (which is to say: SLOW).

And on top of ALL of that, my right knee hasn’t been quite as cooperative as I would like it to be. I don’t know exactly what’s going on. Every time I run, whether I’m on the treadmill or the road, whether I’m doing intervals or a tempo run or a slow and steady run, my right knee will start to bother me around 3.5/4 miles. It’ll last for maybe 10 minutes or so, and then usually it’ll go away and I’ll completely forget about it until the next time I run. It hasn’t bothered me when I sit at work, so I don’t think it’s patellofemoral pain syndrome quite yet, but it feels like it’s moving in that direction. I’ve tried to do my PT exercises to be proactive and prevent that, but, as always, it’s tough to find time to do them. I do a couple at work every day, and on weekends I’m (sometimes) better about doing more of them, but I just cannot seem to get into the habit of doing them. I have an okay health insurance plan right now, but its networks are weird, and my PT isn’t in my super-preferred network, which means, if I got EXTREMELY lucky and my insurance agreed to let me go to him for PT (which isn’t necessarily likely to happen – there’s some weird fine print that makes it tougher to go to places that aren’t in your super-preferred network), I’d be staring down a $105 copay/appointment. And I can only go a total of 36 times/year (which ideally would be fine, barring another Great Injury Debacle of 2014, but you never know. Also as a side note, I have to say that I think PT limits are LUDICROUS. For someone like me, sure. Does a runner likely need more than 36 PT appointments in a year? I doubt it. But what if I got in a car accident and broke a bunch of bones? I bet I’d need a bit more than 36 PT appointments to fix all of that.). All that to say I’m not super enthusiastic about going to the sports doctor (which also comes with a $75 copay. LOL I LOVE MARKETPLACE INSURANCE. *sobs uncontrollably*) to get a diagnosis and/or a script for PT when right now it’s not bothering me to the point of major concern. I just wish my PT exercises would clear it up quicker. And I wish I could convince myself to do more of them more often.

So that’s the situation. To be honest, I wish I could rewind the past 10 weeks of my life and do this whole training cycle all over again, because I really think I could stand a decent chance of PRing, at least if the forecast holds (and it’s not windy). I mean, I suppose you never know what could happen. I surprised myself big time at Jingle Bell in December, running a solid 40 seconds faster than I anticipated. At this point, there isn’t much use in whining over woulda/coulda/shoulda. I *think* I’m at least capable of finishing the race without walking. At this point, that’s my primary goal. That, and negative splitting (or at least not bonking). I’d LOVE to break 2:10, since I came within spitting distance of doing just that twice last year under humid conditions. But if I could PR (sub 2:02:50), or–pie in the sky goal–break two hours, I would be the happiest runner in all of the land. Either way, I’ll finally unlock the F^3 Badass Runner Points achievement for doing this crazy race, and I’m always happy to add another notch to that belt 😉

Chicago Half Marathon Race Recap

Back to where it all began!

The Chicago Half Marathon is a really special race to me. It was my first half marathon back in 2012 and set me on the trajectory towards marathoning that I’ve continued to ride since 2013. Hitting mile 12 during the Chicago Half in 2012 and feeling fantastic was the single most important factor in convincing me to register for the Chicago Marathon in 2013, and marathoning (or, perhaps more accurately, marathon training) has become such a major part of how I structure my running, my summer, and, to be honest, my life, and I feel like I owe all of that to the Chicago Half in 2012.

However, because the Chicago Half typically happened on the second Sunday in September, I’ve skipped it for the past two years, as that’s the 18 mile week for marathon training, and I can’t run a half and pretend it counts as 18 miles. I was thrilled when I found out they moved the race to the first week of taper this year and signed up pretty much as soon as registration opened, since I’ve wanted to return to this race for quite some time.

I went to the expo on Saturday and was SUPER blown away by its level of fanciness. With the exception of Rock ‘n’ Roll and the Chicago Half in 2012, all of the halves I’ve run have been relatively low key affairs, oftentimes without any sort of expo to speak of. To see this, then, was quite the surprise–and a little jarring, because I am, once again, in marathon mode, which warps my perception of what is or is not significant in terms of mileage. When you ran 20 miles six days earlier, it’s hard to get all that worked up about 13.1.

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In terms of swag, I think this was the best race I’ve run all year so far. There were THINGS in the packet this time!

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I had seen images of the shirt before the race and was a little unsure about the design, but when I saw it in person, I loved it. The graphic plays off the signage on the El, which tells you where you are in terms of the grid. I love that they did this on the shirts, even if some people may not immediately pick up on what it means. (I also, being a Chicago geography nerd, love that I now know where Jackson Park falls on the grid).

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I registered early enough that I also got a running vest. I’m not entirely sure when I’ll need said running vest, but whatever. Worse things have certainly happened 😛

All told, this whole thing–the race (which closes down Lake Shore Drive entirely to traffic), two items of swag, AND insurance (Lifetime events, or at least the Lifetime events I’ve run this year, offer race day insurance. If you pay the $11 insurance fee, you can drop out of the race for ANY reason–lack of training, injury, moved to San Diego, anything at all–and they’ll refund your entire registration fee, minus that $11 you spent on insurance. This makes me feel SO much better about signing up for a race months in advance, and I always take advantage of it. Given the choice between losing $11 and $70+, I’d chose $11 every time.)–cost $81, which, for a half marathon in Chicago, doesn’t seem that bad to me at all, particularly given the course (i.e.: not an out-and-back on the Lakefront Trail).

Because the race is in Jackson Park, the Chicago Half offers free (this year) shuttles from the Belmont El station and Millennium Park to take you down to the race site. I certainly took advantage of this, though it did prove to be a little bit more of a headache than I originally anticipated. The shuttles sold out, and for whatever reason, that made Lifetime decide to offer a shorter timeframe in which the shuttles would run. Shuttles ran between 4:15 and 5:00, which, #1, IS EFFING EARLY, and #2, is before the Brown Line even starts running on Sundays–which is an issue, considering that the Brown Line is one of the trains that services Belmont. I ended up having to Uber it to Belmont (with surge pricing 😦 ), which was an annoyance, though INFINITELY cheaper than Uber or cabbing it all the way down to Jackson Park, which I bet would cost close to $30, or $60 round trip.

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I still didn’t like getting up at 3:50 to go run a race, though.

I got to Jackson Park laughably early due to the shuttle situation, so I sat around for nearly an hour before I started getting ready to run, checking my gear, etc. There was a bit of drama by the portapotties, as I guess the biggest collection of portos happened to be right by a bees/wasps/hornets/yellow-and-black insect that stings, nest, and the bugs, unsurprisingly, were none too pleased to have us in their territory. A couple people got stung, so I’m really glad I made it out of there unscathed!

For all my talk about how 13.1 miles is nothing to me at this point of the year, I was actually pretty anxious at the start of the race. It was SO crowded in our corrals and a bit warmer than I would’ve liked, and that was making me all sorts of nervous for whatever reason. I had originally hoped to go out with the 2:10 pace group, as my “A” goal for the day was a sub-2:10, but they were in the corral ahead of me, so I figured I’d see what I could do on my own.

Actually, my real “A” goal for the day was to negative split the race. After last week’s fantastic 20 miler, I really feel like I have a grasp on how to run long distances, and I wanted to use the Chicago Half as practice for negative splitting–particularly, practice for going out slow by feel and not getting caught up in the excitement of the start line. I didn’t do quite as well on this as I had hoped–my first mile was a 10:04, by my watch (which, as always, did not match up with the official mile markers)–but I was able to rein myself in after the first mile and settled into a nice 10:30-10:45 range for the following four miles.

I didn’t necessarily consciously make a decision to speed up after I hit the mile 5 mark, but I sped up a little nevertheless, turning out a 10:23, then a 10:16, then a 10:10. I was feeling pretty great when I hit that 10:10 at the mile 8 mark, and, trusting that I could hang on for another five miles, decided to see what I could do. I didn’t want to get too carried away and planned to stay in the very low 10:00 range for quite some time, and decided I wanted to run the last mile at a sub-9:00 pace: anything 8:59 or faster would be fine by me. Only once in my life have I ever run a sub-9:00 mile during a half marathon, so this was a pretty ambitious goal for me.

So, as I said: the plan was to run 10:xx miles until mile 12, and then throw down the hammer for the last 1.1. As it happens, I may or may not have dropped a 9:42 ninth mile, sooo…. 🙂

I was feeling GREAT on the return trip down Lake Shore Drive. Just great. Maybe not quite as great as I felt during the last three of the 20 miler, but super great considering that I was in the back bit of a half marathon. I briefly wondered if I could PR, but realized around mile 10 that that was out of the question, unless I could manage a 15:00 5K (LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL). As I got closer to the finish line, I realized a sub-2:10 wasn’t going to happen, either. My backup goals were 1) sub-2:15 and 2) sub-2:13, which would give me my fastest half of the year, and would also be my second fastest half ever. Those both seemed fairly attainable.

My only complaint about the course this year was that, unlike in 2012 when U.S. Road Sports owned this race, there was no signage in the last 1.1 miles to let you know how much farther you had until the finish. That signage saved my life in 2012, and I was banking on having it again this year, so when it wasn’t there, I struggled a bit with trying to figure out when to really give it everything I had. (I could’ve used my watch, in theory, but it was measuring ahead of all the official mile markers, and I wasn’t entirely sure exactly how far ahead it was.) As a result, I turned dug into my reserves a bit early, and the final straightaway was ROUGH. I could feel my form collapsing for the first time all day, and I was sucking wind big time. I desperately wanted a sub-2:13, though, since 2:10 had already passed, so I tried to muster up everything I had and crossed the finish line in 2:12:31.

While I’m decently happy with my time (it was in the mid-60s on Sunday, which was warmer than I expected for this time of year, and a solid 20 degrees warmer than my ideal PR conditions [though it was overcast, which made my day]), I am OVER. THE. MOON. with my mile splits. From mile six on, I negative splitted every single mile.

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(with a 8:35 pace for the final .3 that my watch measured [according to my watch, I ran 13.34 miles)

YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I was so happy with how I ran the 20 miler in terms of negative splitting, but this is 100x better. This is exactly how I want to run the marathon in two weeks. This is exactly how I need to be running if I want to turn in the times I’d like to see. Going out slow is a challenge, of course, but MAN does it pay off. The fact that I ran not one but TWO sub-9:00 miles to finish off the race, the last of which is the fastest mile I have ever thrown down in any of my seven half marathons, fills me with joy. It makes me feel like all those intervals, tempos, burpees, and 5.9s I’ve struggled through this summer have worked. It makes me feel strong, trained, and capable of tackling the marathon effectively on October 11. I got passed by everyone and their running buddy for the first three or so miles of this race, but it was MORE than worth it for the energy and speed I had left at the end.

After I caught my breath and downed a water bottle, I got my race medal, which is, without question, the most absurd medal I’ve ever received.

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This thing is ENORMOUS, you guys. For comparison, here it is with my 2014 Chicago Marathon medal, which is sized about the same as any medal you get at any other race:

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Yeah. It. Is. Ridiculous. And so heavy! I love the design though–the statue pictured is the statue in Jackson Park, which is right next to the finish line–and the back, once again, features the El-like numbering.

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Because this medal, which could eat most of my medal collection alive, obviously was not enough, I got an additional 26.2 medal for completing the Chicagoland Half Marathon Series, which began with the Spring 13.1 back in May (where I did NOT feel anything resembling good for the last three miles. Even though I only ran this race about a minute faster than that one, the overall experience was so much better during the Chicago Half due to how I went out.)

chicagolandhalfseriesmedal

This medal is also big, though not quite as bad as the race medal.

I’m so, so happy with how things went on Sunday. Not only is it really fun to see how far I’ve come in three years (I did a 2:22:34 on this same course in 2012), but Lifetime events are just top notch. I’m so impressed with their organization and style, and I’d recommend one of their races to anyone. Even more importantly, however, this race served as the perfect tuneup for Chicago. It helped me work on pacing myself, it reinforced the importance of going out slow, and it boosted my confidence in my training even more than the 20 miler did. I feel ready to tackle the marathon, and I really hope I can keep this momentum going for another two weeks.