Sunday, November 2, 2014

Chicago Lakefront 50/50 50k

Well - it's official. I ran an ultra. I finished, I got in before the cut off, and I survived.

 TL;dr, I finished in 6:43 and change. Not the time I'd been hoping for, but I finished.

So backing up, I managed to miss online registration. I waffled so much over whether or not I was really confident enough for this that I didn't verify the registration date; I'd been told 10/31, but the date for online reg was 10/30. Oops! So I blew $10, but race day registration was easy. My husband and kids dropped me off and then went home (hour drive both ways, but hanging out in the car because the weather sucked wasn't really ideal either.) There was, of course, a cold snap, and despite having not run in anything under 50 lately, race day was 30ish with strong winds. (Like, really, really strong winds.) I busted out winter gear, tights and layers and neck gaiter and gloves, oh my.

I'm under there somewhere, I swear. The orange coat got stuffed in my drop bag, but the rest stayed.

The course was 3 laps of 10.47ish. Waiting at the start line, a random woman shouted "Who's running a 12 pace? Let's find this woman a pace partner!" Well, the woman needing a pace partner turned out to be a very nice woman named Beth, who was from Alpine Runners. Her running partner had apparently gotten injured just before the race - what a bummer! Going into the race, I had planned to be about 11:30ish, but 12 sounded just fine for me and I told her I could at least do the first lap with her. If I felt good I'd want to speed up. (Spoiler: That didn't happen!)

We started the first lap and right away the winds felt horrible. They weren't coming head on but from the side; strong enough to take my breath away and push you to the side. I wasn't too cold because I had enough layers on but even with the gaiter I was struggling with the wind. My chest felt really tight and I was hoping as I got used to running in the wind it would loosen up. Despite that we came in at an 11 average for the first lap, but I knew something was either wrong with me or the conditions were much harder than I bargained for. My chest felt super super tight, and I couldn't get a deep breath - it hadn't loosened up at all. I wasn't struggling with the pace but I was feeling short of breath - I've never felt like that on a run before. I told Beth I needed a bathroom stop - she said she'd go ahead and I could catch up but I had a feeling that wasn't going to happen. In the portopotty back at the race village I had a heart to heart with myself; not being able to get a deep breath was a bad sign with 21 miles to go. I had 3 options - DNF right there, push through the run and have a DNF looming over my head, or swallow my pride, suck it up, and walk/run so that I wasn't pushing my lungs. I was irritated, but I had not hauled my butt out of bed early on a Saturday morning and paid $65 to walk away with a DNF unless I was in danger.

So, I spent the next lap running for 2 minutes and walking for 1. It felt weird to walk/run, I hadn't done that in a long time. But walking didn't make my chest feel as tight as running did. I had some fits of feeling sorry for myself ... all that training and I had to walk a third of the way?! All that training and build up and air of mystery and I had a day of lousy weather? I was a real joy for a while here! But I kept slogging on. At the turnaround point of the second lap (25k!) I texted my husband to let him know I was halfway through to give him an idea of when he'd need to leave to come get me. He gave me a pep up that I was doing great - I told him I'd text him again at the end of this lap to give him a better idea when to leave, since I was struggling unfortunately. The waves were high, the winds were really tough, and the spray left me damp at times. Breathing was still tough. But I finished the second lap. (I may have had a few "I hate you!" moments for the runners who got to hit the finish line...hahahah.)

By midway into the third and final lap, I felt better - the winds had cut down and I felt like I could breathe again. But after walk/running for two hours I couldn't get in a good groove to run; with 22 miles behind me I was footsore and achey. I figured as long as I could make the cut off time no long mattered, so I kept up my walk/run pattern and did my best to enjoy the crashing waves and surf spray. The wind had slowed down enough to be more tolerable and the sun had come out so it wasn't as awful as it was earlier. As the miles ticked on I started getting into a really positive place, exactly the opposite of the marathon where I got progressively more negative in my own head. It helped that the sun was coming out and the waves were starting to look more picturesque than frightening.

Hey, that looks like a beach instead of a mythical monster out to swallow me whole.

I was definitely tired though. At mile 25 I remember thinking, "If this were a marathon, I'd practically be done! Why couldn't I find a marathon to do instead!" Haha. This thought proved pervasive and when I hit 26.2 I actually walked for a third of a mile. "I ran a marathon, I can be done!" After that third of a mile I was like, "No wait, that's dumb. This is still a race. Onwards!"

Not the marathon time I'd been hoping for, but better than Chicago!

I hit the last aid station, around mile 27, and then it was just a matter of getting it in. I was slowing down - my chest felt tight again and I was beginning to suspect that the reason I was having breathing issues was that I was coming down with something. I felt off in a way that had nothing to do with the race. I slowed down a lot the last 5 miles, logging my slowest miles of the day - but I logged them. And then it was over - I was an ultrarunner. 2 1/2 years ago if you told me I'd run a a half marathon I'd tell you you were crazy. Now? I ran a frigging marathon - and a 50k. I ran a 50k.

And then they fed us a bowl of red beans and rice.

So, a lot of this recap was mental, but the race was also interesting so I thought I'd throw a couple things about it here -

  • Combo 50k/50m - so while the 50k was relatively small, it being 3 loops of 10.4 for 50ks and 4 loops of 12.5 for 50ms you never really felt alone on the course because there was usually someone going one direction or the other wearing a race bib.
  • Aid stations were not what I expected - the website said every 2.5 miles, which is a little further than the Chicago marathon but not much, but in practice, there was one at the start, one 4 miles into the loop, and one at the turnaround point. So there were the correct number of aid stations but the placement for 50kers was  a little awkward, because you hit one at miles 4, 5.2, and then 6.4...and then not another until 10.4. I assume this was a bit better for the 50milers though. 
  • Race day weather was lousy, but if the race had been the day before there was talk that it would have had to be cancelled - it was so bad that a section of the trail was literally ripped up, with chunks of asphalt and rocks strewn about. Definitely made me grateful for how much less intense it was Saturday versus Friday! 
  • The price was definitely right. If I had my crap together this race would have been about $50, or 1/3 what Chicago Marathon cost. 
  • The only thing offered after the race was the rice and beans that I could see. I had brought my own protein bar and protein shake for recovery but I was a bit confused. I know it's a very different atmosphere for ultras but I have to wonder if I just missed something, because for so many miles I was hungry! The rice and beans were good, though. 

Edit two days later: Yeah, I pretty much have the worst chest cold ever. No wonder I was struggling to breathe. My daughter has the same thing. That makes me feel both better and worse about the race - it explains the unpredictable struggle, but how would I have done if I were healthy? I dunno - but either way - I finished!


  1. so proud of you! You finished! Much more than many other people will even try to do!

  2. Congrats!!! Gah, what a weekend for a long run along the open lakefront!

    I am surprised that is all they had for food at the finish. Usually ultras have a buffet! Maybe trail ultras are different, though. I'm not familiar with paved ones :)

    1. Thanks! And...I know! It's too bad it wasn't today, the weather is so much nicer! Haha!

      I am surprised too! I really think maybe I missed it, it just seemed so weird.

  3. I would have expected much more food. Trail runners know how to eat (and drink, haha).

    Congrats! I can't believe you did that race with a chest cold. WOW!

    1. Yeah, I really wonder if I just somehow missed it. It seemed really strange at the time too!

      Thank you!! In retrospect I can't either, I sound awful today.

  4. Congrats Heather! Way to push through horrific weather not to mention the onset of a cold. Weird how limited the finish food was. Hey was the Alpine Runner lady Beth Onines? Petite with curly hair? In her 50's?

    1. No although I think she was there, the RD was Pat Onines so the name fits!

      And yeah it was weird. Have to think maybe I missed something because the aid stations were well stocked.