Chi Town Half Marathon Race Recap

After twelve weeks of training my face off–well, eleven weeks of training my face off, plus one week of shin pain/paranoia-induced super taper–it was finally time to put my hard work to the test at the Chi Town Half Marathon.

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I got up at 5 a.m. and did my best to get my head in the game, listening to my favorite running motivational video on YouTube and even busting out my sacred I Run the Marathon to the Very Last Mile playlist on the Music app on my phone: a playlist heretofore reserved exclusively for marathon mornings (and the occasional time I need to warm up my dance class because my teacher’s running late, as that playlist and the Hamilton soundtrack are the only music I have on my phone, ha.). I was in a decent headspace heading out of the house, but I still only felt about 35 percent as confident as I hoped to feel when I left my apartment. Marathon Morning 2018 this was not.

I got a ride to the race and did a pretty good job of keeping it together until we got just past Irving Park on Lake Shore Drive, where we encountered an insane backup of traffic trying to get off at Montrose. I thought I had allotted plenty of time to get to the race, but clearly that wasn’t the case. After we finally got off the exit ramp, finding parking was impossible. People had parallel parked on Simmonds, even though you’re supposed to regular park on that road. All that parallel parking reduced the road’s parking capacity by nearly 50 percent, because now each individual car was taking up about 15 feet of parking space rather than the eight or so it should’ve taken.

I was freaking out about the parking situation. Like, literally crying in the car. I didn’t want to walk all the way (“all the way”) from the parking lot north of Wilson to the start line at the bend of Montrose (you know, that whole…half mile, maybe?), and I didn’t want to take off my sweats any earlier than necessary because I didn’t want to get too cold, but I also didn’t have anything to gear check them (since I planned to keep them in the car)…basically, I was a mess, to put it gently. Eventually I got dropped off close to the stop line, made a beeline to the portapotties, and got to the corral staging area about 10 minutes before the race began.

I haven’t done this race (or any other All Community Events race) in five years, so I don’t know how long they’ve handled corralling this way, but it was totally different from anything I’ve experienced at any other race. Instead of all of us lining up in a straight line behind the start line, there were three large corrals to the right of the actual start line: one for blue bibbed runners (“7:00-8:59 pace, no walkers, no joggers”), one for red bibbed runners (“9:00-10:59 runners, no walkers”), and one for green bibbed runners (“11:00+ runners”). I was a little offended that being in the red corral meant that I was considered a “jogger,” apparently, instead of a runner, because I would hardly consider a 9:00 pace to be jogging, but whatever. I guess if you normally run a 7:00 pace, 9:00 is jogging.

Anyway, I got into my corral and maneuvered my way forward to a woman holding a 9:10 minute/2:00 overall pace sign. I struck up some small talk with a girl standing next to me in an effort to distract myself from my nerves. She asked me if this was my first race, which I took to mean my first time doing this race specifically. I told her no, I had done it five years ago (to the day, coincidentally, though I didn’t realize that until much later that afternoon), and eventually asked if she had done it before. Turns out when she asked me if it was my first race, she meant my first race ever, because it was her first race ever. Holy cow! I guess she ran when she was younger, but had never done an organized road race before. I was so impressed that she was starting her road racing career with a half marathon! I had two 5Ks and a 10K under my belt before I even considered a half marathon, plus two more 5Ks and another 10K under my belt before I actually ran my first half marathon. Props to her! She ended up ditching my pace group, like, .25 miles into the race, so I have no idea how she did, but I hope it went well for her.

Two other pacers showed up before the race began, one of which was a very enthusiastic woman who seemed over the moon to be pacing us. She was asking us about our PRs (I was the only one she asked who actually had a PR, because the two other people she asked were doing their first halves that morning. Popular first time race, I guess!) and told us that a year ago, she had been told she’d never run again due to a cocktail of health problems, but here she was. I’ll admit, that made me a bit uneasy. I was hoping for pacers who bust out 1:30-1:45 half marathons every weekend and were taking it easy pacing the 2:00 group, not someone who, it seemed, hadn’t been running much over the past 365 days. But that’s what I got, and I wasn’t about to try to pace myself for 13.1 miles.

We got to the start line about three minutes after the race began, and we went out like bats out of hell. We came through the first mile in 8:56, which is not exactly the 9:10 I was promised. I felt surprisingly comfortable, though, and decided to consider it money in the bank for later on (knowing, of course, that there is no such thing as money in the bank when it comes to racing. Going out too fast is always and only a bad idea.) We hit mile two in 9:04, which was closer to 9:10 to make me not panic too much.

The pacer-with-something-to-prove and first woman pacer I found were towards the front of the group, so I tucked myself in behind the guy pacer in our group, who had said before the race started that he’s run the course thousands of time, because he paces CARA groups out of Montrose. I trusted his credentials more than I trusted the two women (mostly because I didn’t know anything about them), so I felt like he was safe to follow. He was keeping pace with the women in the front, though, and we came through mile three in 8:54.

Incidentally, I had spent a fair portion of the week before the race chatting with people who’ve done a decent amount of pacing, so I went into this race feeling like I knew a thing or two about pacing a race: specifically, that if you’re consistently off pace, you should make adjustments. But we just kept clicking off these way-above-pace miles: 8:52, 8:44 (?!?!?!), 8:57. The race is on the Lakefront Trail, so it’s not like you can really blame buildings for erroneous Garmin signals here. Aiming for a 2:00 half marathon made it pretty darn easy to figure out what time we should hit at the halfway point (1:00, obviously), so when we got to 6.55 miles and I looked at my watch and saw 58:30(ish), I was a bit concerned. Pacers are supposed to aim to finish within one minute of the advertised time (so in this group’s case, 1:59:00-2:00:59). Instead, we were 1:30 ahead of pace at the halfway point, which meant if we kept that up, we were going to finish three minutes ahead of pace.

Now I, personally, did not have a problem with finishing three minutes ahead of pace, because my goal was to break 2:00, not hit 2:00. But I planned on breaking 2:00 by running a 2:00 pace for the first 10 miles and then leaving the group to run faster, not putting a full minute and a half in the bank by the halfway point. I had run the first half of the race MUCH faster than planned, and while I was still feeling fine, I was concerned about how I’d handle that pace going forward.

The guy pacer was running with someone he clearly knew, and at one point, his friend asked him when we were going to start running a 9:10 pace (THANK YOU). The guy pacer consulted with the pacer-with-something-to-prove at a water stop around mile seven, and we finally slowed down and did a 9:08 mile for mile seven. About time! Of course, when you’ve been running in the neighborhood of 8:55 for six miles, 9:08 feels like quite the slowdown. I considered ditching the group, but I did not want to be responsible for pacing myself for almost the entire second half of the race, so I hung out behind the guy pacer again while we did a 9:10 and a 9:07 mile.

There was a water stop somewhere in the neighborhood of mile nine, and in the melee, I got ahead of the pacers. At that point, I was still feeling relatively decent, so I figured I’d forge on ahead on my own. Now that they had slowed down to the advertised pace, I was worried that the slowdown would somehow keep me from breaking 2:00, and that wasn’t a risk I was interested in taking.

So off I went. Only four more miles! I could handle this! How many times have I “only four more miles!”-ed myself? Too many times. So many times that I should definitely know better by now. “Four more miles” is my nemesis in long distance running. I consistently underestimate how long four miles is during long runs and the marathon, and here I was doing it again during this race. Sigh. Some day I’ll learn to respect the last four miles of a run, though Saturday was not that day.

I looked at my watch when I hit mile 10, and came through it in 1:29:xx (which would’ve been a 10 mile PR for me, had I been running a 10 miler). When we crossed the 5K mark a lifetime ago, I looked at my watch and saw 28:xx, so I spent the next bit of time doing some mental math to try to figure out my overall finish time if I, somehow, managed to running the last 5K as fast as I ran the first 5K. 1:29:xx + 28:xx is 1:57:xx. That wasn’t terrible, but, despite the fact that I only had three miles (and one tenth) to go, I was worried that I’d somehow slow down by three full minutes over that distance, so I refused to take my foot off the gas.

But don’t get me wrong. I was struggling, hard. I thought I had plenty to eat for breakfast that morning, but I was hungry throughout the race, and it was all I could do to only eat my chews at miles five and 10, per my usual protocol. (I didn’t have any extra chews on me, so I couldn’t fuel any more than that.). My hip flexors were screaming. My breath had moved from my comfortable three-step inhale, two-step exhale to a more labored two-step inhale, two-step exhale. I was pulling out every mental trick I could think of: mental math to calculate my finish time, reminding myself how I’ve run this exact stretch of the Lakefront Trail probably hundreds of times before, how I know it’s only about two and a half miles from the Barry underpass to Montrose (thank you, marathon training at Montrose!) and I can do that distance in my sleep, utilizing various mantras (“No bonk, no wall,” borrowed from Erin, who commented with it on my marathon post last fall, and “I will,” borrowed from myself during the marathon last fall). It was helping, kind of, but there’s really only so much you can do when you’re hurting like that.

I saw one of the girls in my dance class who happened to be out for a stroll on the trail just a bit before mile 12, so I said hi to her and tried to use that a motivation to get myself across the finish line quickly in case she’d ask me about the race on Tuesday. I hit mile 12 in 9:12, which was my slowest split of the day. My overall time at that point was 1:48:17, and I was really worried that another 9:12 mile + a 9:12 .1 mile wasn’t going to be enough to me home in under 2:00 (it would’ve been. It would’ve gotten me a 1:58:24.), so I did everything I could to find another gear. As I headed towards the Montrose underpass, I made a conscious decision to go into the pain cave, another phrase I borrowed from various other bloggers, which is something I don’t ever remember intentionally choosing before. But I knew the last mile or so was going to hurt, probably a lot, and I was going to have to just put my head down and power through it, because the sting of finishing in anything slower than 1:59:59 was probably going to hurt worse and for a lot longer.

So power through I did. I was gasping for air. My legs were dying. I saw mile 13 (turned in an 8:42 last full mile, which was my fastest of the day), thanked everything good in this world that for once, the distance between mile 13 and the finish line didn’t feel interminable, did my best to smile for the camera and appear triumphant at the finish line, and stopped my watch.

1:57:27.

I visualized my race three times in the week leading up to Saturday, and in all of those visualization sessions, I saw myself cruising across the finish line with tears in my eyes. In reality, I forced myself across the finish line with every iota of willpower I could muster, and by the time I stopped running, I was too spent to feel any emotion. I was worse-than-5K exhausted. I was 10K-PR exhausted, which, prior to Saturday, was my benchmark for feeling exhausted after a race. I made it through the finishers chute and found a French barricade to drape myself over while I tried to recover and process what I done.

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This was, hands down, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. It was so much harder than any of my marathons, even my first one. I really think only my 10K PR comes close to comparing to the difficulty I felt on Saturday. All I could think after I finished was, “I’m so glad I never, ever have to do that again.” Unless I magically get about a thousand times fitter, I am a hard one-and-done on the sub-2:00 club, thanks.

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Chi Town Half Marathon Training Week 12

Sunday, March 31: 60 minutes cross training (18 minutes strength – legs + 42 minutes bike)
I know I need to dial down the intensity on my strength training workouts this week in the interest of my shin and in the interest of taper. I did dial down the intensity on this workout, but man, I feel so silly using such light weights when I know I’m capable of lifting much heavier. I did my squats with two five pound kettlebells, for example, when normally I’d do them with a barbell at minimum, possibly a barbell with added weight. I don’t think anyone at the gym cares so much about me that they meticulously track how much weight I’m using (other than me, of course), so I’m probably getting worked up over nothing (if you can imagine such a far-fetched scenario as me getting worked up over nothing). But I do prefer to use weights that actually challenge me rather than ones that make it feel like going to the gym at all is a waste of time. As noted, I biked after finishing my strength training workout.

Monday, April 1: Strength training – upper body (AM) + 45 minutes cross training (bike) (PM)
Another day, another strength training workout with light weights. The benefit of light weights, I suppose, is that it doesn’t take me nearly as long to recover between sets, so I can get through my workout a lot quicker than sometimes. I was in and out of the gym in 21 minutes Monday morning, which was nice.

I had a four mile run on my schedule for Monday, but due to my shin pain/crushing anxiety surrounding said shin pain, I opted to bike instead. In a perfect world, my run would’ve taken about 45 minutes anyway (“perfect world” being one where I actually run slowly on my easy runs), so I got in the same amount of exercise from a time perspective. I FINALLY finished Native Son while biking. Well, mostly. I didn’t get through all of Richard Wright’s comments about how he created the character of Bigger, but I did finish the novel itself. What a powerful story.

Tuesday, April 2: Strength training – legs (AM) + dance (PM)
I had my final strength training session of this cycle Tuesday morning, where I accomplished incredible feats like deadlifting 10 pounds. I actually really wanted to bail on this workout because I could barely drag myself out of bed, but I hadn’t missed a single strength training workout over the past 12 weeks. Skipping the very last one because I was tired seemed like a dumb time to break that streak.

We had a sub in dance again this week (same sub as last week). At the beginning of class, he asked if we wanted to learn something simple or something challenging, and fortunately everyone voted for the challenging routine. I’m always interested in learning tough routines, and this one did not disappoint. It was to Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” and it was no joke. We make it through I think two eight counts. Ha. But it was really fun to have tough, fast, intricate choreography to learn!

Wednesday, April 3: 30 minutes cross training (bike)
I had a 30 minute tempo run on my schedule, so it was pretty easy to figure out how much time I should’ve spent running on Wednesday and spend an equivalent amount on the bike instead. I had a moment of shin pain when I biked on Monday, but nothing on Wednesday, so that was encouraging.

Thursday, April 4: Rest

Friday, April 5: Rest

And that’s it! Twelve weeks of training in the books. Now we just have to see what tomorrow holds.

Chi Town Half Marathon Training Week 11

Sunday, March 24: 4.97 miles in 40:24 for an 8:08 pace
Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K, by my official stats. My watch had me at something like 5.3 miles, but I know it was wrong based on the squiggles in the map. I’m sure I ran more than 4.97 miles, though – I’m not that good at tangents!

Monday, March 25: Strength training – legs (AM) + 40 minutes cross training (bike) (PM)
After having such a great race at the Shuffle, it felt like I should’ve had a day off. But the Shuffle wasn’t my goal race, and I have two more weeks of training to get in before my goal race, so back to the gym I went Monday morning. I did squats for the first time in a month, and I definitely felt it the next morning! This was the first workout in awhile that’s made my legs sore (my arms are a different story 😛 )

I did take the day off running, though, and went to the gym for a 40 minute bike instead. I hadn’t been to the gym after work in four weeks, so it felt weird to be there rather than running outside! I appreciated the break, though, and of course was glad to get some reading done.

Tuesday, March 26: Strength training – upper body (AM) + dance (PM)
I had some CTA woes Tuesday morning and got to the gym about 10 minutes later than usual. My Tuesday schedule is pretty tight, so I didn’t have a lot of flexibility and was worried about getting through my full workout. Fortunately, it was pretty straightforward (i.e.: not a lot of equipment changes or one-sided work, which can quickly add up in the time department) and I was super focused, so I got through everything and made it to the office on time. Phew!

We had a sub in dance Tuesday night. The sub is in my teacher’s dance group, but also used to take hip hop with us (and still takes break dance), so I know him fairly well. He taught us a piece he choreographed, which I thought was so cool! It was fun to learn a routine done by someone who was once a student with me.

Wednesday, March 27: 6 miles (with 10x.25 miles w/ .12 mile rest) in 1:03:27 for a 10:34 pace
This was my final interval workout of my half marathon training cycle, and I hoped to make it a good one. Once again, the goal was to do my “400s” (really 402s, since I was measuring in miles rather than meters) in about 2:00. To my great surprise and delight, I did a much better job of getting close to that pace on this workout than when I did 9×400 two weeks ago. My splits were 2:05, 1:57 (!), 2:00, 1:59, 2:01, 2:07, 2:01, 2:01, 2:00, and 1:55 (!!). That averages to 2:00.6 (so, fine, 2:01): a three to four second improvement/400 over my 9×400 workout. As it turns out, the secret to running consistent paces appears to be actually recovering during your recovery interval. Who knew! After my fifth interval (the first 2:01), my heart felt like it was about to beat out of my chest and I was gasping for air, so I thought instead of jogging my .12 mile recovery, I should walk it. I continued walking all of my recovery intervals after that, and I’d say, based on the 2:01/2:01/2:00 that followed, brisk walking seemed to be a much better idea than jogging. (I really pushed myself on the last interval since it’s the last one I’ll do until marathon season, most likely, hence the 1:55.) My shins didn’t appreciate all of the pounding involved in this workout, but I’m hopeful they’ll recover quickly.

I have no idea if the Yasso 800s idea scales down to Yasso 400s for half marathons (I assume not, because I’ve never heard of Yasso 400s), but on the off chance it does, it’s both encouraging and slightly anxiety-inducing that a full “Yasso 400” workout for me averaged a 2:00.6 pace. Running a 2:00:35 half marathon is not what I have in mind with this sub-2:00 goal!

Thursday, March 28: Strength training – legs (AM) + 6 miles in 1:01:11 for a 10:12 pace (PM)
Thursday’s strength training workout was tough. I wouldn’t say it was fun to start my day with a tough workout, but it was a really good reminder that I need to dial down the intensity big time on my strength training workouts next week while I rest and recover for the race on Saturday. My left shin was still a little touchy from Wednesday’s run, but my right shin felt fine.

UGH UGH UGH. Thursday’s run was a disaster. AccuWeather said it was 60 degrees (or so – it was definitely 60 or warmer) with a Real Feel of 61 or 62 when I changed into my running clothes, so I put on shorts and short sleeves. It took barely any time at all to realize I was woefully underdressed for the actual weather. I don’t know why I took AccuWeather as gospel truth when I had just been outside commuting home in my pea coat and knew no matter what any thermometer said, it certainly didn’t actually feel like 60+ degrees outside. The wind, unsurprisingly, only picked up and made everything colder the closer I got to the lake, so I ended up bailing on my planned route and putzing around further inland to get in six miles. However, my eagerness to finish my run made me run WAY too fast (see: 10:12 pace) for what was supposed to be an easy run, and that made me mad at myself, because nine days out from race day is really, really not the time to cheat myself on an easy run. On top of that, my left shin continued to bother me on this run, sending me into a panic over my remaining workouts (particularly the 10 miler I planned for Saturday) and whether or not it would be 100 percent by the race. UGHHHHHHH.

Friday, March 29: Rest

Saturday, March 30: 5.01 miles in 52:08 for a 10:25 pace
This was definitely not the final long run I had in mind for this training cycle. My shin felt a bit better on Friday and didn’t hurt at all when I woke up Saturday morning. I had already accepted that my planned 10 miler might need to be cut short, but since I hadn’t had much pain, I hoped I’d be able to get in all 10 miles. I got about .15 miles into my run before I started feeling some pain, and then spent the next 2.4 miles waffling on whether or not it was bad enough that I should throw in the towel. My plan was to go 2.5 miles out, reevaluate, and either 1) continue if I thought my shin could handle more distance or 2) turn around and go home for a five mile run instead of a 10 mile run. I was having a really hard time deciding whether or not I was in enough pain that it’d be smarter to stop than continue, and I felt like the fact that I was having a hard time deciding was evidence enough that I was not in enough pain to stop running. In my experience, when I am in truly incapacitated by injury or illness, there’s no questioning it. I don’t wonder, “Do I have a stomach bug?” or “Am I congested?” or “Does a part of my body hurt enough to stop running?” When something is genuinely wrong, I know. When I got just about exactly to mile 2.5, though, I took a step where the pain was bad enough that I stopped questioning whether or not I should continue and knew definitively that I should go home, so I turned around and plodded back to my apartment. Of course, my shin didn’t hurt quite as much on the way home as it did on my step at mile 2.5, so I got to spend the next two and a half miles worrying that I had made the wrong decision, beating myself up for making the wrong decision and/or allowing myself to run to the point of potential injury 10 days before my race in the first place, and generally feeling like I had failed myself both in that moment and preemptively at the race.

I haven’t had any shin pain since my run on Saturday, but I also haven’t run since Saturday and don’t plan to run again until the race (despite the strong temptation to do a short run tomorrow just to test it out). I did the hop test on Saturday and Sunday and passed with flying colors. That gives me a small amount of optimism, but if you think I’m not losing my mind convinced that I have a stress fracture, obviously you don’t know me very well 😛 I’ve been working to remind myself that I went through something very similar (same leg and everything) in the days leading up to the Shamrock Shuffle in 2015, and a couple of days off cleared that up nicely. I don’t like skipping my last two runs of training at all, but I’m also working to remind myself that nothing I do this week is going to make the race go any better on Saturday, and if anything, it’ll make it go worse. The hay is in the barn, as they say. I’m not going to reap any benefits from pushing myself to get in two more runs on a touchy shin. Of course, it’s one thing to say that and another thing to believe it, so if you need me this week, I’ll be hyperventilating in a corner.