I decided to arrive late to avoid a long and cold wait in the 1st start wave. (With over 40,000 total race participants they had 20 different start corrals divided into two waves.) I didn't know for sure if it would work out to do so - if I would be allowed to move into a different corral or have to wait till the very end instead - but it also allowed me to leave the house later. I like leaving the house at 5:35 a.m. instead of 5:10.
I had an extra pair of pants with me to wear on the way there and for afterwards, and a hoodie to throw away at the start (all throwaway items get collected and donated to local charities).
I've been more carefully timing my nutrition and liquids before races since reading Matt Fitzgerald's book "The New Rules of Half-Marathon Nutrition", both to make sure I have enough fuel for the event and to avoid needing a porta-potty during it. I ate my usual oatmeal with raisins and walnuts at home before leaving, with a small cup of coffee (if I'd left earlier I would have brought these with me and eaten them in transit). Then I brought just enough water with me to wet my mouth occasionally and to take with a Vega gel fifteen minutes before starting, and gum to chew on right before the beginning if I felt thirsty. For this race I didn't need to worry about super-hydrating the day before, since it was cold and not so long.
I got to the race site and found a porta-potty. Once I was there and could see what the weather conditions by the lake were like, I swapped out my usual running hat for a beanie so I wouldn't have to worry about my hat being blown off if we encountered serious wind (which we did).
It was well organized this time (I've done it three times before and each time there was something poorly planned). No lines at gear check, barely a line at the first porta-potty visit and NONE at the second, amazing. With no one else to worry about I took my time at the second porta-potty stop, taking a little shelter from the wind.
I walked over to the race corrals and then continued walking around the park, I didn't want to get in a corral any earlier than I needed to and wanted to just keep moving so I could stay relatively loose and warm. Once I was sure the first wave of corrals was closed and the race had started (so I wouldn't be directed to enter my actual, assigned corral, the last one of that wave) I started walking over to the 2nd wave to see if I could get into the first corral there. No problem! I entered 5 minutes before the official closing time (for a wait of 25 minutes before starting vs. a hour) and was even able to move right to the front. Sweet.
The announcers did a good job of keeping us entertained while we waited and the race officials did a good job of keeping us moving forward, reminding people to move to the side if they slowed down or stopped for water, and not to run more than two abreast, and then we were off.
I started quickly and wondered if maybe I was going too fast, but figured I'd check myself at the mile splits and see if I needed to adjust. There were also a couple of downhills right at the start as we went under streets and so I just went with the flow. I had turned on my Garmin, not to keep strict account of my mile splits but more as a timer. I compared their time against mine when I hit the first mile so I would know approximately when I crossed the starting line and how fast I took that first mile. It was a good thing I wasn't relying on my Garmin since we spent a chunk of time underground during that first mile and it doesn't handle that well, though it seemed to have adjusted itself by the end of the second mile.
So first mile done, okay, finished that in just over 10 minutes. All right, if I can keep this up with no bathroom breaks, and then push it at the end, I should be able to to break 1:30 overall. But better still would be to make every 5k split under half an hour.
When I race, as I pass each mile marker I set myself a clock goal for the next one, based on how fast I took the first mile and what my overall goal is. So for instance, in this race, I crossed the first mile marker at 55:40. Knowing I started at 45:16, I set myself a goal to cross the next one at 1:05:40 or sooner. And so on and so forth. And then I don't think about the rest of the distance much, just that next mile. If I go over (or under) my goal in that next mile I still give myself the full amount for the one after that - I don't start making adjustments to each individual mile goal until I'm a ways in and can more accurately gauge how I might perform going on.
Anyway, first mile done, going fast but not uncomfortably so. (I can still clearly remember the first time I ran a mile in 10 minutes and what an amazing thing it was to me. And how much effort it took!) Can I keep this up? I'll have to - and then some - if I want to make my goals. So I kept on for another mile. And then another. And then I was fully warmed up and crossing the first 5k in just under 30 minutes and I thought, I really could do this.
The course started in Grant Park, went north and underground to head over to the Loop, then south on Clark St., then jagged over to Michigan and then again to Lake Shore Drive where it stayed until heading over to the lake and then turning back north. There were some odd in-and-outs to make up the total distance so some tight turns, and it eventually ended by going around Soldier Field and the Museum Campus (the west side of the campus - the hillier side) and then back into Grant Park.
I'm pretty familiar with much of this terrain so there was nothing noteworthy per se. There was a lovely sunrise over the lake when I arrived at the park in the morning. It was interesting to see some bits of the South Loop that I hadn't before, especially the Columbia campus. And I knew the last mile would be surprisingly hilly and hard. So while I enjoyed my surroundings, my focus was on keeping as steady a pace as I could.
At mile 5 I took a walk break and had my second Vega gel. I'm still trying these out - I love the taste, and they go down easily, but the texture is a little gritty and I think I would want to switch things up if needing more than one gel. Any recommendations for vegan gels? I don't like Clif Shots. GU works well for me but their amino acids are from animal sources. I did just see that their VP of research and development was featured in the latest Runner's World (former Olympian Magdalena Lewy Boulet) - I may write to suggest they find plant sources for their amino acids to make them vegan friendly.
I took walk breaks at miles 2, 5 (for the gel), and 7 miles. I think these breaks make a lot of difference in being able to maintain a consistent effort - they refresh my legs, changing up the muscles used. I don't ever walk for long, maybe a minute, tops - but it's enough. And all the while I kept an eye out for those mile markers. I kept coming in consistently under 10 minutes, sometimes by a little, sometimes by a lot.
The second 5k split came and seemed pretty even to my first, maybe a little faster, so I knew unless the wheels fell off completely I would be able to make my 1:30 goal. And potentially then some! I was still feeling good but aware of the hills coming up which would slow me down, so I started speeding up a bit, both to bank some time against those hills and to see how much under 1:30 I could potentially go. I started passing people more deliberately and going down the hills more aggressively to get my legs used to the quicker turnover. It started getting a little crowded on the course, at times I had to push past people especially at the bottom of hills when I was going fast and couldn't easily slow down to avoid them. Watching the miles move by at closer to nine minutes pace than ten.
Then the last mile, with all those uphills. My goal here was just to keep moving, to keep a steady effort and not to worry about speed. Only a mile, now, only a mile. It was the longest-feeling mile on the course, though.
And then I was at the mile 9 marker, and there was the straightaway to the finish line just after (somehow it was still a very long feeling three-tenths of a mile). Could I pick it up again? Yes, I could! Once I got started I was just going too quickly to stop and had to push through two people running close together - a quick "Sorry!" and then through.
And then I was past the line and stopped immediately. Whew! I always feel for a moment that I might throw up. Then walking, walking. Yes to medal, thank you. Yes to water to save for later. I had a single goal at that point: gear check. There I would find warmer clothes to swap into or layer on, a change of shoes and socks, my home-made sports drink (water, lemon juice, agave nectar, cayenne, salt, and chia seeds) and food. I tried to find my group in the Runner Reunite section but couldn't, and it was just too cold to wait. Grabbed my free sample of blue corn chips and left. SO many people! I walked over to the restaurant where we would be meeting up but it wasn't open yet, so I stopped by a Starbucks for a decaf americano to warm me and to get some spicy seed mix and a banana, since the food I brought wasn't inspiring me, and then hopped on the train and headed home.
Final time: 1:27:44 (nearly 5 minutes off my previous best).
- 5k - 29:41 (9:34 pace)
- 10k - 59:08 (9:31 pace)
- 15k - 1:27:44 (9:25 pace)
213th of 1118 in my age group - top 20%.
I'll take it!