Saturday was a tough day. I had high hopes to post a time under 1:45:59 in order to qualify for Corral C at the Chicago Marathon. After qualifying for Corral D but coming within 45 seconds of Corral C at Flying Pig at the beginning of May, I thought I’d take another stab at posting a faster time (what would have been a PR, mind you). I knew the day was going to be a scorcher and tried to not think about the forecast all week. I made sure to hydrate and prepare for what was to come. Regardless of what the weather was going to be like, I wanted to be mentally prepared.
I always like to eat a larger meal two nights before the race, rather than 8 or 9 hours before I get up to get ready on race morning. Having a heavy stomach is never a good idea. I didn’t really know what I was going to eat, but after briefly raiding the fridge , I thought up a yummy dish. I cooked some bow-tie pasta and topped it with baby arugula and roma tomatoes with a bit of lemon juice. I ate it so fast, but felt like I had the perfect amount of food to be prepared come race morning (with some additional grazing and munching throughout the day on Friday, of course).
Friday morning I slept through my early a.m. alarm, so I had to skip my pre-race shake out, which usually consists of an easy one-mile warm-up and 1-2 miles at a speedy pace. There’s not much you can do in the way of last-minute preparations for a long distance race, but the “shakeout” makes you feel in control and comfortable after a short week of tapering. “Taper tantrums” is an appropriate term for what a runner goes through before a race and this past week was no exception. All I wanted to do was hit the pavement for one more long run. You know, just squeeze in another 2 hour run just to see what happens? …bad idea! Retaining energy for race day is almost always worth it, though, and I was happy to oblige. I ended up grabbing a quick dinner on the patio at Blackie’s downtown before heading home to relax and prepare for the next morning. I devoured some light fish ‘n chips, hydrated, and tried to stretch as much as possible once I got home.
I rested easy and slept soundly for once in my life! I’m a really deep sleeper and don’t usually have an issue with restless pre-race nights, but this sleep was the best I’ve had in awhile. I was in bed before 10:15 pm (which is an anomaly for a night owl like me–my normal bedtime is around 11:30 or midnight!). The 4 a.m. wake up call sounded and I was ready to go. I drank a small cup of coffee, ate two packs of Cinnamon and Spice oatmeal, and hydrated with some Gu Brew. The train ride downtown was calm and peaceful, as they normally are at such an early hour in Chicago. We saw several runners board the train and gave them the classic ‘head knod’ which means “I know, I know…it’s damn early!”. The race organized shuttles to run from several locations in the city to the south side for the race, which was great. Getting down there so early was not ideal, but the commute would have been much more difficult for someone without a car if they hadn’t offered it. And besides, I hadn’t been on a real school bus since, oh, the 11th grade?! Weird…
The air was sticky and humid when we got off the bus. I had never been so far south of the Hyde Park neighborhood and was surprised by how beautiful the lake looked at such an early hour. The last time I was at the beach that early was probably after a party-filled night freshman year of college–when going to the beach at 6 am seemed like the best.idea.ever. But, really, there’s something about seeing the lake so calm in the morning before the city gets to abustlin’ again.
I sat with Manny, my cheerleader, and enjoyed the shade while I fueled up. I am really loving Shot Bloks right now. The sugar content doesn’t seem as high as some other options and all the flavors I’ve tried so far are yummy (especially the margarita one!). I managed to use the restroom two times before entering the corral–apparently I was properly hydrated! I hoped that the water I consumed that morning would burn off during the run and I could avoid a pit stop.
I met Tim, my pacer for the race, at the Fleet Feet tent and briefly warmed up for 10 minutes or so. I was happy to have met Tim at a #runnerd meetup in May when he offered to pace me. It was the first “pacing experience” for both of us. I typically like to train and race on my own, but I was happy to have someone help me work toward my goal of getting into Corral C for #CM11. I told Tim it was appropriate that we were going to begin the day’s race in Corral C, so that we’d both qualify for Corral C in October. (Note: Tim already posted a C-qualifying time prior to 13.1 Chicago—impressive). I did my last minute stretching and waited impatiently as most runners do in corral. I knew the heat was going to be a struggle and each minute would count when it came to posting a good time.
The first couple of miles, I felt great. The PR was in the bag. The first 4 miles went around Jackson Park and it was primarily in the shade. It didn’t really feel like I was in the city at all, to be honest. Ever since I moved to the city, I’m craving some trail running. Reconnecting with some old friends, like Jessica, have got me thinking about registering for a few in the coming year. It brings me back to my cross country days. I felt pretty smooth–I was controlling my breathing and keeping my form light. After Mile 4, the heat really set in and I prepared for full sunlight. This is when my legs started to feel fatigued. I normally don’t feel so heavy at this point in a race, no matter what the distance. I remember thinking to myself, “I do 4-5 miles on a easy day! Why do my legs feel like this?”. I walked through each water station, being sure to get enough water in my stomach and over my body.
Once we got to Mile 6, I began to break down mentally. The heat was really getting to me and I knew that we were losing sight of our goal. My phone, which I was using for music as well as GPS tracking through Runkeeper, decided to randomly turn itself off. Up until that point, I knew what our average pace was and where we were at time-wise. I can deal with running without music, but I’ve learned to depend on half-mile updates in order to be mindful of where I need to be pace-wise. I think I need to consider training less without these audio cues in the coming months so that I can learn more about my own body’s pace (a Garmin will probably help with that). After I turned my phone back on and restarted my music (not Runkeeper), I was thrown off. The heat in the middle section of the course was pretty unbearable. At this point in the course, we started to see more people slow down and take a rest on the side of the trail. No runner ever wants to see a fellow runner struggling so much with exhaustion. Every person I saw was being tended to by the aid workers, which is a tribute to how well-run the race was. Each mile, the next water station seemed further and further away. After each water station, it was harder and harder to stop walking and kickstart the legs again. I took a Gu at mile 6, when I started to feel woozy and dehydrated. (At this point, I popped a few Endurolyte caps by Hammer Nutrition as well). Despite having hydrated appropriately all week, I don’t think I could have prepared myself for the amount of fluid-loss on Saturday. It was just that hot. I’ve heard that the heat index reached 95 degrees during the race–and I believe it.
After Mile 8, I was mentally broken. I kept pestering Tim, asking for pace times. I’d say, “How are we doing?” or “Are we still on pace?”. And each time, it got harder and harder for him to answer me with a “YES!”. At the same time, it became more difficult for me to ask the question, knowing that we would have to push (and I mean, really push) for the last couple of miles if I wanted to post a time under 1:45:59. After coming to the realization that it was out of reach, I focused on listening to my body. It was telling me to stop–to slow down. I don’t remember when we found out that the course was red flagged, but it was pretty close to the finish line. Considering it felt like a desert, I wasn’t surprised that this happened. And it probably contributed to me slowing in the past 3 miles.
Overall, I posted an approximate 1:50:xx finish time, which means an 8:23 average mile pace. It’s not a time to be ashamed of, by any means. It’s not the time I wanted, but I am happy to have another race experience under my belt. I’ve run 3 half marathons in the past year, which is something I would not have believed a year ago. It’s kind of amazing how your own motivation can grow into something that teaches you about yourself & others in ways that you never considered. In October, I’ll run my first marathon and begin in a corral—-Irregardless of whether or not it’s C OR D, I’ll be happy I made it into one! My next (and last) attempt for Corral C will be at the Rock ‘n Roll Chicago Half Marathon on August 14th. Corral C wasn’t meant to be this past weekend, but it could still be in the stars!
Looking on the bright side and happy to be healthy after a scorching race this weekend…