This past weekend I ran the Zooma Chicago Half marking my 6th half marathon finish and second fastest half. It was also one of the most heartbreaking races I’ve run. Here’s the story…
Back in May, Mindy put out a call on Twitter:
— Mindy Nienhouse (@grmindyjean) May 15, 2013
I had a Muddy Monk half marathon scheduled for the day, but since I hadn’t formally signed up yet, I decided to forego it in favor of running with friends! Kelly was also coming down to the do 10K, and Aundra was coming from the east coast for the half! I decided to stay downtown Friday night, and make it a little stay-cation with the girls.
I met up with Mindy and Kelly Friday after work. I checked in to the hotel room Mindy and I were staying in, and we headed to the expo. The expo was small, but it was a nice little event. They had several speakers throughout the day and a mocktail party (that we ended up skipping) later in the evening. We met up with Aundra at the expo, and the four of us went to dinner at Sweetwater Tavern & Grille at Kelly’s suggestion. I’m lucky enough to be able to eat pretty much whatever I want the night before a race without it negatively impacting my run so I had the grilled cheese with tater tots (I love tater tots!) and a Sweetwater Bottlenectar. Bottlenectar is a beer brewed by a Chicago-area brewery that is, as I understand it, only availabel at a limited number of locations in the city. I’d heard it was amazing so I was excited to get one. Afte dinner, we headed back to the hotel to hang out for a little bit before calling it a night around 9:30…if it was even that late!
Alarms went off bright and early and we headed over to the Langham to attempt to get on the shuttle which was leaving at 6am. This shuttle is the first of three “big” complaints I had about this race. The Langham was the host hotel. It’s a gorgeous hotel, but it’s not cheap. So when we booked out hotel in early June, we looked at other hotel options. The race website indicated there would be a complimentary shuttle to the race site. At the time, the website did not indicate the shuttle would only be available to guest of the Langham. As a result we decided to stay at the Hyatt which was notably cheaper, and walking distance from The Langham so we could hop on the shuttle in the morning. A couple days before the race, I noticed the race website now indicated the shuttle was for Langham guests only. We decided to give it a try anyway figured they wouldn’t actually enforce it, but sure enough they were checking room keys before you could board the bus. We ended up cabbing it to the race site which was certainly not the end of the world but was definitely an irritation. Would we have stayed elsewhere if they had indicated upfront the shuttle was for Langham guests only? Maybe not, but we would have been well aware and considered it in our decision making.
(photo from Mindy)
Anyway, since Mindy and I keep a similar pace, I decided when I signed up to make this a goal race, and shoot for a new PR. Mindy is a smidge faster than me so I thought if I could stick with her a PR would be easy peasy. Plans were laid and the best of intentions were set. Of course, as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions…My training was a joke. I started off strong, but then the heat of summer and general laziness took hold. I ran about once a week. Long runs were pretty much non-existant. Needless to say, by the time race day rolled around, I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to PR. My only goal became being able to drag myself across the finish line. Despite that, I actually had one of my best races in a really long time.
Mindy and I started off together at a good clip. We averaged between 10:00 – 10:30 for the first 5 miles or so. We both knew we were starting out too fast, but since neither of us were expecting to PR, we wanted to get a strong start and keep it up as long as it felt good. Around mile 4, I was really starting to fade. I was still feeling great physically and mentally, but a 10 minute mile is a quick pace for me when I’m well trained so I was definitely out of my league at that pace. Honestly, I attribute my ability to even make it that far to the fact that I was running with Mindy and I always push harder when running with someone quicker than me. A mile 5 I knew I wasn’t going to make it much further at that pace and that I needed to slow down. I took a 30 second walk-break to “reset” my pace at mile 5.
Mile 1 – 5 Splits per my MapMyRun app – Mindy’s splits are notably closer to 10:00 than mine are which is interesting…
Mile 1 – 11:03 (this included the walk up to and across the start line)
Mile 2 – 10:13
Mile 3 – 10:28
Mile 4 – 10:26
Mile 5 – 10:16
I was still doing well maintaining a pace of around 11:00 and realized that with my quick start, a PR was totally doable as long as I could maintain an 11 – 12 minute pace for the remainder of the race. Unfortunately, even though it was only in the 70, the sun was hot and not much of the course was shaded so around mile 8 the heat really started to get to me. My arms and legs were getting cold which I was pretty sure was an indicator of heat exhaustion. This is where the race changed for me. It got really frustrating because I was still 100% in the race mentally and physically, but I knew if I needed to be careful if I wanted to make it across the finish line at all.
Mile 6 – 9 Splits
Mile 6 – 11:04
Mile 7 – 11:10
Mile 8 – 11:34
Mile 9 – 12:01
I knew a PR was not totally out of the question. I might not be crushing it, but shaving off a few second at least was still feasible. Unfortunately I also knew I was treading a very fine line as far as how much I could push myself. I made sure to take some walk breaks and allow myself to cool down a little bit. I told myself I could walk 60 seconds at the start of each mile, through each water station, and if I absolutely needed additional breaks I could have them.
The course had a lot of twists and turns and looped back on itself in a few places. This meant that on our way out we saw mile markers 10, 11, and 12 which is always annoying/ frustrating. However, that was the only time I saw mile marker 10; I never saw it on my way back in. This promptly lead me to panicing about how far I’d gone and whether or not I was still on the course. This was big complaint #2. The course really was not very well marked. There were several places where you could have easily turned off the course if you followed someone that wasn’t actually a race participant. On top of that the mile markers for the last 3 – 4 miles seemed really off compared to what my app was telling me. Since I was using my phone instead of my watch, I had no idea where I was in terms of distance or time or whether or not a PR was still achievable. I pulled out my phone around mile 11. When I saw the distance and my time, I realized a PR was no longer feasible – especially given my increasing struggle against the heat. This is where my spirit broke. I all but gave up mentally at this point.
Mile 10 – 13 Splits
Mile 10 – 11:57
Mile 11 – 12:21
Mile 12 – 13:17
Mile 13 – 12:26
Despite my realization that a PR wasn’t going to be possible, I did manage to pull it together again mentally and decided I was still going to finish strong. Unfortunately I was fighting a losing battle against the heat. I ended up having to walk much more of the last 1.5 miles than I wanted to because I was starting to feel nauseous from the heat.
In the end, my official chip time was 2:26:35 – a mere 2 mintues and 13 second behind my PR. All things considered, I’m pretty damn proud of my finish time. First of all, it’s a huge inidication of just how much I’ve improved my overall fitness level in the last year. When I set my PR in Dallas in 2011, I worked really hard for that time. My training was impeccable. It was easily the best training cycle I’ve ever completed. The fact that I was able to get so.close. to that time despite my mediocre at best training, it undeniable proof of the strength and fitness I’ve gained in the last year. It’s also a huge motivator for me. If I can come so close to my PR with mediocre training, image how well I could do if I trained properly…so I’m going to be looking for a new goal race – some time in October or November maybe – and this time I will reach that PR!
One other complaint I had about this race was a lack of sports drink and Gu that the race website indicated there would be. The website said there would be aid stations with water, Cytomax, and portable toilets will be located about every mile and a half along the course and that Gu would be available at mile 8. There was plenty of water available which was great given the heat, but most of the aid stations did not have Cytomax available. I think it was only offered at two, maybe three, of the aid stations. If a race site tells me sports drinks will be available, I plan accordingly and rely on that. Had I known it was going to be mostly water, I would have been sure to bring some Gatorade or something with me. Also, I never saw a Gu station. Honestly this wouldn’t have mattered much except I dropped half of my chews at mile 3 when I opened the package and ended up really needing that non-existant Gu station.
However, despite this and my previous two complaints about this race, I would definitely consider doing this race again. I’m not a big fan of the huge races so the fact that this was only about 1,000 runners is a big selling point for me.