Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Chicagoland Spring Half Marathon - Recap

Let's have a quiz! Let's say your two longest runs are 7 and 10, and it's supposed to be hotter than you're used to running in and more humid. The smart thing to do for your long run that weekend is -

1) Easy long run
2) Run a half marathon spur of the moment

If you picked two, congratulations! We might be soul mates. (Sorry though, I'm married!)

Anyway, as you might have guessed I ran the Chicagland Spring Marathon/Half Marathon this past weekend, on May 17. I knew I was not adjust to running in the heat and it was supposed to be 70 and humid - well past my comfort zone and temps I'd only run in a couple times since coming back post injury. "It's okay though self, it will be completely cloudy and it might rain!"

I'm not sure why I decided to do the half - I'm undertrained for it and I promised myself I would never attempt one like that. I knew I could finish it, but I also knew I could end up as much as 20 minutes off of my PR if the conditions ended up poorer than predicted. I guess I'm jealous of my husband; he wings not just half marathons, but fulls - does no training, hits maybe a run in or two in the month leading up to the full, and then goes out and runs a full. And while that kind of undertraining doesn't appeal to me especially, he does them! He finishes them. He's run 6 marathons now and I can't help but be jealous - so I thought to heck with it and signed up on Saturday to run on Sunday. Faulty logic, but hey. Got myself a cute little spring tech hoodie for my troubles, too.

Photo courtesy of All Community Events. 

When I arrived at the race site the next day, I will admit that I wibbled a bit - there were tons of portopotties but the lines were massive, and like every runner ever, quietly panicked at the thought of starting a race without peeing one last time. Fortunately the lines moved quick and before I knew it I was lining up - with tons of butterflies in my stomach. "I'm so nervous!" I told my husband, at which point he raised an eyebrow. "Why?" "I don't knowwwww!" I whinged, causing a woman next to first laugh, and then turn away when I glanced at her. Haha.

Starting line nerves!

After waffling over where to line up, I finally smacked myself right in between the 10 m/m corral and the 11 m/m corral. My 10 miler had been a 10:30 pace, but it'd been 30 degrees cooler...I felt funny lining up by 11 since none of my long runs have been that pace.

We finally got to start .. sort of. For whatever reason they funneled the start line, so despite us being in corrals maybe 8-10 people wide, only 2-3 of us could get through the start line. It made starting a really long process and was pretty silly, but eventually I got through and I was running - and grinning. I was running a half marathon! Hell yes!  I even got to see my husband and kiddos about 1/3 of the mile in, with my 6 year old waving a cowbell she got from the Chicago expo last year. And then it was time to get into a groove - I attached myself to the 2:20 pace group. I figured there was 3 possibilities - either I was going to find that was too easy, in which case I'd take off at the 10k point, it'd be too hard, in which case I'd drop back whenever that assessment came, or it would be perfect, in which case I'd stick with them. Either way, I knew I had a lot more to lose timewise by starting too fast when it would get hotter faster, and the pace group seemed like a good way to prevent overexcitement from burning me out. The first couple miles went down the high way to end up in the forest preserve after going up an ugly bridge.

Mile 1: 10:25
Mile 2: 10:29
Mile 3: 10:35

I felt okay after the bridge but knew it was going to be ugly on the way back. I was feeling okay though, and it was misting - if the mist kept up I knew I'd be okay. I had a rough guess that if this kept feeling okay I could go after a 2:15.

Mile 4 saw us in the forest preserve and crossing a timing mat (I asked the pacer what that split was since it was weird to see one in the fourth mile and he instead told me what splits were useful for, haha. I later figured out that we were in a mini loop and would cross that mat again at the 10k point.) I ate half a pack of honey stingers and plodded along. For 5 and 6 we were running along the path, and it got really cramped; we were running into the loop but the faster runners were running out, and it was the width of a normal bike path, which meant that I spent a lot more time than I liked avoiding stepping on the person in front of me and avoiding being stepped on. I'm not really sure how it could have been avoided but dang, it sucked. I felt way more crowded than I ever have at much much bigger races. Worse though, the fine mist that had been going ended in the 6th mile...which I knew was bad news, since it was still getting warmer.

Mile 4: 10:29
Mile 5: 10:45
Mile 6: 10:35
10K split: 1:05:39

I took off at the 10k point because I realized I needed to pee. Annoying, because other than while pregnant I've never had to stop for a bathroom during a race. I knew if I waited til one came up - the next one was around mile 8 from what I remembered - I'd lose the pace group, so off I went. And for the most part those miles were okay, not being in the group felt a little less crowded although honestly, not by much. After a couple minutes to pee (seriously, it is so hard to readjust your pants when you're ridiculously sweaty - I've never taken that long at a portopottie, lol!) I took off again, knowing by then the pace group would have passed me because I hadn't gained much time in the past two miles. There were only 5 miles to go but without the rain I could feel the heat creeping up on me. I ate the other of my pack of honey stingers and on I went; I was pretty sure going after any kind of time goal was going to be stupid because the heat was smacking me. I was having fun anyway though - I was running a HALF MARATHON! Can I get another hell yes?!

Mile 7: 10:26
Mile 8: 12:09 (potty)
Mile 9: 10:09
Mile 10: 10:23

By mile 10 I'd found the pace group again, so I decided to just match my pace to theirs and turn off my head, but we hit that big bridge in the middle of mile 10. They ran it - I walked it. My HR was struggling and I knew I just hadn't dealt as well with the heat as I wanted. I could be stupid and push when I knew I was nowhere close to a PR anyway, or I could do my best to just enjoy the run. At mile 11, I caught myself shivering and stopped running. Hot and shivering was bad, so I let the pace group go and decided it was time to let time go completely. My goal was to finish happy and healthy - I knew going into this I could not PR, and that was okay. I was going to finish, so for the last two miles I ran when I could and walked to get my heartrate under control. I was bummed, because I couldn't remember the last time I'd walked during a run, but I'd known both that I was undertrained and that I was under-adapted for heat. So it was what it was! I was going to finish anyway.

Mile 11: 11:09
Mile 12: 10:51
Mile 13: 10:44
13-13.2: 1:37

Running down the finisher chute was something else. Someone yelled at me that it was a great finisher kick and "way to finish strong" - I poured my heart into that final quarter mile. I crossed the line in 2:20 and change - almost 10 minutes off my PR, but you know what - so what? I finished a half marathon! I can do this running thing again. Screw you, stupid mud that twisted my knee and knocked me out for months - I'M BACK AND I CAN DO THIS THING!

And yes, the caps were necessary.

Why yes, that IS the marathon finisher medal and not the 13.1 version. 

Apparently, they ran out so started giving us marathon finisher medals...supposedly, the right medal's in the mail. I just hope they had enough marathon medals for the marathoners!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Loop the Lakes 5K Race Recap

Hey, this one's not even late! Well, later than I used to write these, but hey.

On 4/25 I ran the Loop the Lakes 5K in Vernon Hills. It's a small 5K put on by my local park district; it's so close that I sincerely thought about running to the race site and at $25 ($20 if I'd signed up sooner) the price was right. I'd never run it before but it'd been on my radar for a couple years; it just never quite worked out because either we were out of town or booked the past few years, but the benefit of not registering for any races in advance is the ability to wing it - this year there were no plans.

I wasn't totally sure what to expect going into it - I'd run the Egg Shell Shuffle a few weeks earlier and PR'd but I also knew that despite only having a few more weeks under my belt, I'd...remembered?... a lot more fitness than I had at the prior race.

Wait, I worded that weird. What I mean is, I was still getting in the swing of things at the easter race, still trying to find my groove. I haven't regained all the fitness I lost when I was forced into time off, but I'd worked back up to running 5x a week and was feeling much more...normal...when running than I had been then.

But while I'd even done a little bit of speedwork and wanted to PR, I knew this would be a harder course than the fairly flat ones I'd been racing. According to the course map, the race was two identical loops and the last 1/3 of the loop was "hilly". When I talked to Marcia she told me it was irritating but not horrible, which was reassuring but I also knew it was going to add a layer of difficulty. My goal going into the race was just to sub 30 and I thought I might...just might...get a decent PR, too. It was supposed to be cold and rainy, which sounded just perfect to me - I love running in the rain.

Race day rolled around and despite having a nightmare that I'd forgotten to go to the race (does anyone else have race-day nightmares?), the race was tiny so packet pickup was a breeze and the shirt, though not a tech shirt, is actually one of my favourite race shirts. It's that thin soft kind of cotton and a pretty blue. Add this one to the column of "ones I'll definitely wear" - I only wish I'd gotten a smaller size, but it's cute!

Picture not representative of how nice the shirt really is.

I hopped into the bathroom line around 8:45, which should have plenty of time (two real bathrooms - perk of a park district race, you get to use their bathrooms!) - except that one toilet was down. While I got out in time, I ended up having to run to the start line that was much further away than I thought - which wouldn't have been a big deal if the toilets weren't down. As it was, I got there as the gun went off, with no time to recover from my sprint there. Whoops, but we were off! (Sort of - I didn't get a chance to get myself started in front of the walkers and the little kids running, so I had an awful lot of dodge/weave to do at first.)

For the first mile, my goal was to go out a little fast but not ridiculous; since the course was two loops, I knew I'd be repeating the course but also knew from the map that the hard part was going to be in the first part of the second mile and the last part of the third mile, so by Heather logic that meant the first mile was easiest and should be the fastest. I was expecting to come in in the mid-9s, but when 9:11 showed up I decided not to watch my time - I wanted to run hard and not math myself out of a PR. I figured if I ran hard and didn't PR, I couldn't fault myself. I had also forgotten that the bridges in this park were steeper than the ones in the parks I usually run in, so I definitely felt like I was running hard.

The first aid station came in about 1/4 of the way into the second mile - I opted against getting water, I didn't feel like I needed it and was pretty sure it would throw me off my groove, especially with the hill coming.

But the thing was, the hill never came. Some steeper bridges, yes, because the biggest ones hit in the last part of the course (which I realized as I ran over them meant I'd hit them right at the end of the race...fun), but I didn't really notice anything that felt like anything more than going up or down a big bridge. Which isn't too say the course was flat - it wasn't - but I guess having run in Springfield and Highland Park, I was expecting something worse that never came, because right at 1.55 we were back at the start line. Go figure. I passed the second aid station here and opted against water; I was in a painful groove and loathe to disrupt it. Suddenly the second mile was beeping in. Only one more!

At the start of the third mile I knew I was getting tired, but I also knew it was the last mile and I was strong enough to get through it. I had read a blog post recently about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, and while I was definitely uncomfortable - I was running pretty close to maximum effort - I talked to myself about how I could endure anything for a short time. Around me, people were walking up the bridges, but I ran every single one of those irritating things. There was another aid station (actually the first one, but we hit it again) - the course was really well managed for a 5k, and I recognized the park district staff member who was running it. At the very end of the third mile we ran up that big bridge I'd mentioned earlier - the guy in front of me that I'd been running near almost the whole race walked it, but I  was determined to beat that *cough* thing. Third mile beeped in and the finish line was in sight, so I booked it, running hard and chanting "almost there" as I gasped out my breath. (The people I passd who were finishing their first loop must've thought I was bonkers, I don't know if I was talking out loud or not but I suspect I was).

When I crossed the finish line and stopped I was so confused, haha. I had to hand them a tag off my bib but I didn't understand that at first because I'd left my brain about a half mile behind and my stomach was trying to escape my body, but I eventually figured it out and walked out of the finisher chute. I finally remembered to stop my watch and saw 28:50!

My official time ended up being 28:35 (I was late stopping my watch since I'd forgotten about it in the tag confusion) and while my splits don't look pretty, I actually think they're pretty even - miles 2 and 3 were much more challenging than mile 1. I ended up fifth in my age group, and am very happy with how the race went. I'm glad to see I'm getting back up to speed, and while hitting those paces is harder than it was last fall, I don't feel like I lost too much. I still have some fitness to regain, but I'm pretty happy - especially considering this is the most challenging 5k I've ever raced!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Egg Shell Shuffle (kinda late) recap

So only April 4, I ran the Egg Shell Shuffle 5k. It was my 3rd year running it (first while I was pregnant and then the next year I'd PR at the time, with 29:56 - my first sub-30). I had no idea how I would do going into this; I'd been off running for months and had only been running for a couple weeks post injury. I'd gone as far as four miles so I knew I could finish, but my runs had all been slow, I wasn't running very far, and I will still only running 3-4 times a week. My husband was running the half and encouraged me to go for the 5k, telling me he didn't think I could PR but it would still be fun. It felt weird because the year before it had been a goal race and this year I wasn't even sure I was up to racing, but I thought it could be fun.

And you know what? It was fun. I convinced my best friend to do it with me, which was great. My husband started earlier than us for the half, so he left to go to the start line while my friend and I drove my kids to their grandparents house. By the time April and I got to the race there was zero parking, so we parked literally a mile away. (Hey, it was a nice warmup!) We cut getting to the start line so close that I was worried there wouldn't be time to pee first, but fortunately the portopotties were adequate and lines were fairly short.

And we had time for a pre-race selfie, which is what it's all about, right?

The race started very promptly (as I was still magneting my bib on, eep!) and we were off. I had no idea how I was going to do so my mantra was "Run easy...not too easy...but don't kill yourself okay?" Despite what my husband said, I thought it was possible for me to PR. The first mile clocked in at 9:49, and this was I think the first sub-10 mile I'd done since my return. Not too bad, but I knew the second mile was slightly uphill. I was pretty happy though, I'd run nice and evenly - I hadn't burned myself out in the first mile like I'd done the year before, and more importantly, my knee didn't so much as itch. I was doing okay!

The second mile became a head game, and I dunno why. "I'm okay" was my mantra here, but when this mile came in at 9:59 - still sub-10, but barely - I had this little mental blip where I'm like, "Oh, well, I can't PR. Wah wah, but I knew that was likely. That means I can slow down a little." I had completely forgotten that this mile was the opposite of the first; whereas the first was a slight decline almost the whole way, this was a slight incline the whole way. Nothing bad, but enough that it will slow down a little...and runner's math has never been my strong point during a run. In retrospect while it was slower, it was probably a fairly even effort.

Running hard! Pic courtesy of Egg Shell Shuffle FB page.

About half of the way through the last mile, I realized a PR was actually still possible. And I ran hard. "Almost there" became my mantra...along with "I do NOT need to walk, I'm fine, I'm almost there" Have I mentioned before I have never had a full race where I didn't need to walk? (Well, technically I didn't need to walk at the Hyatt's Angel 5k, but that course was 1/4m short) I was breathing hard and running hard, but the third mile beeped at 9:30 and I knew I had it in me if I blitzed - I could see the finish line. And I ran harder than I have in ages - to cross the finish line in 29:50, which meant a 5 second PR. And a race I'd run from start to finish, never burning myself out from starting too fast, which for a full course was a first.

Post race selfie!

I need to stop math-ing in races. I have talked myself out of running hard too many times based on time and really, not every race will be a PR so I need to stop that and remember to always give it my best. I did PR this time, but considering how narrow the margin I could have very easily mathed myself right out of a PR. And how silly would that have been!