Another race weekend come and gone! The Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon was my fourth half marathon since May of last year and by far my most prepared, steady race yet. I think I’ve really learned what works for me and what doesn’t in the past couple of months. For example, I like pasta, but not a heaping plateful with sauce that gives me acid (See: Flying Pig Half Mary). And I like Gu Chomps but only to snack on and never on race day (see: everyday!). And I’m becoming severely addicted to Nuun–so much so that I my work day doesn’t seem complete without it. Beyond these things, I’ve learned to relax the night before a race and not be so jittery about getting up on time or fueling properly. It’s becoming second nature which is always a plus.
This Saturday I spent relaxing at home and in my favorite neighborhood coffee shop. I slept so well on Friday night and slept in later than I have in months only after shooting up in bed for fear that I had turned my normal “long run Saturday” alarm off in my sleep. After realizing that I didn’t have to get up to run and I could sleep in, I nuzzled into my pillow and slept for a few more hours. Ahhh yes, it was bliss. I did a fair amount of reading, apartment planning, and movie-watching (luckily Harry Potter was on t.v. for a good portion of my evening). I foam rolled and worked some last minute kinks out of my legs and went to bed around 10:30 pm. And while I had difficulty getting to sleep, I felt surprisingly rested when my alarm went off at 4:15 a.m.
I ate my 2 cups of Cinnamon Spice oatmeal, drank one cup of coffee, and put my race outfit on. I don’t always wear the same thing on race day, but lately I’ve been gravitating towards my Saucony singlets and lightweight shorts. I bought the shorts before 13.1 Chicago because I knew heat was going to be a problem and I’ve enjoyed how weightless they are on race day all summer. I had plans to meet up with Sara to get some warm-up miles in before heading to corral (she was in Corral 2, but she graciously started in 3 with me.)
As of Thursday of last week, I was still planning on using Rock ‘n Roll as a training run. It would have been my first time using a race as a training run and I was unsure if I could be as carefree about it as I needed to be in order to be conservative with my pace. I went to bed debating whether or not to race it. But when I woke up, I knew it would be a great day to run my heart out. It was 65 degrees when I left the house and walked to the train. There was a fresh breeze in there and the humidity was refreshingly low. Sara and I chatted during a short warm-up and the excitement of the race seeped in. I decided I’d race it.
I wasn’t nervous. I was calm. This year has been a milestone year for me and I have never been so prepared for a race. I crossed the start line, said good luck to Sara, and got goin’. Everything clicked. My legs wanted to go faster. I stayed cool. Dialed back my speed and remained mindful of keeping my feet moving at a decent cadence. Kept my arms loose and low. Swinging comfortably. Music pumping through my ears. Perfect tunes for a breezy morning. Breath steady and controlled. Surprisingly calm. Dedicated. Gaze 10 feet in front of me.
Around mile 2, I spotted a friend, Chanthana. We waved hello and told each other good luck. What we didn’t know was that we’d be within 20 feet of one another for the next 6 miles or so. We were both running our own race, but it just so happened that we were in sync. It was nice to have a friend near and be able to remain focused and determined on the race inside my own head. We ran our own races and were happy for one another.
I remember thinking that my legs felt good–strong, quick, light. For a brief moment I tried to find a pain, a twinge or ache in my knees, my hamstrings, anything! But I never found it. I thought “alright, this feels great. let’s keep this goin’. I looked down at my Garmin every mile and gauged where I was at. Even though I was racing it, I honestly didn’t even know what pace I needed to run in order to run a personal record. (My previous record was 1:46:45 at the Flying Pig Half in Cincinnati.) I just knew that I was running a steady pace somewhere around 8:00 min/mile and I could pick it up the last 3-4 miles to test my limits.
I usually don’t remember a whole lot from a race. I get inside my own head and don’t really snap back to reality until I cross the finish line. But here are some of the things I do remember:
- “Think Twice” by Eve6 is an amazing running song. It matched my cadence at mile 3 perfectly!
- The smell of gyros through Greektown was torturous at the time. And I think I’m still craving one.
- Espresso Love Gu never tasted so good. (Saved the best flavor for last!)
- The breeze blowing south on Michigan Avenue from miles 7-9 was absolutely amazing. It began to sprinkle and I was propelled forward by the wind.
At mile 9 I started to open up the legs. I took small, quick steps up the slight inclines while heading north to Grant Park. I fueled for the last time at Mile 10 and wondered how I could only have 3 miles to go. The race was coming to an end already?! The tunnel at Soldier Field felt hot, sticky, and claustrophobic. It was dark and I wanted the breeze back. I picked up the pace and felt a stretch in my hips. At the 12 Mile marker, I started to push even harder. I knew I was going to PR (despite some Garmin issues) and kept my sights on the 1:45 pacemakers ahead. I ran a speedy last mile and crossed the finish line with more energy than I ever have in a half marathon.
Which makes me wonder: what if I had decided to run it faster than I did? I know for certain that I could have. But the sights are on the Chicago Marathon for now and what could have been “just a training run” turned into an energetic half marathon, a surprising PR, and a beautiful race day with my running buddies.