Monday, October 5, 2015

2015 Chicago Half Marathon Recap

I'm finally getting around to writing my recap of the 2015 Chicago Half Marathon. I needed a little bit of time to decompress after the race and my family's visit to Chicago, which were followed by a whirlwind week of extremely long work days and then a weekend of feeling terrible thanks to a nasty cold. 

Anyway....

I ran my first ever half marathon at the beginning of September and then decided to run another at the end of September to see if I could run a better race if the weather was more favorable. 

My first half didn't go so well. You can read about it here. It was great in that I finished, but it was terrible in that I felt absolutely awful for a good chunk of the race and crossed the finish line feeling sick and dizzy. It was just too hot. I spent the second half of the race feeling ill and generally being miserable as my goal time quickly slipped away when I had to slow down. 

I finished the race, but I wanted to know if I could do better.

That's where the Chicago Half Marathon comes in. I wasn't really prepared for another half marathon so quickly after already running one, having pretty much stopped training after the earlier race, but I wanted to see if I could stay on pace if the weather was cooler. 

I was a little worried about what was going to happen on race day. Okay, I was a lot worried. But I knew that I would finish, even if it wasn't within my goal time. I set the same goal that I wasn't able to reach the first time around - 2 hours and 30 minutes. 

I woke up at 2:30am on a Sunday morning after never really going to sleep and was out the door by 3:30am. I had 13.1 miles to run, and I had to catch a shuttle leaving at 4:15am if I wanted to get to the starting line in time.

I realized after the race that I spent more time on this bus than I did running.
It was great that the race offered free shuttle buses for runners, but it was a little frustrating having to leave so early for a home town race that didn't start until 7am. You see, the week of the race, an announcement was made that they were shortening the time frame available for shuttles, with the final shuttle leaving at 5am instead of the initially posted 5:30am. This posed a problem for me because I don't have a car or a bike and therefore rely entirely on public transit. And, living on the brown line, which doesn't even start running until 5am on Sundays, made it a bit more of a hassle than usual to get to the Belmont el stop to catch the shuttle.

So I left the house at 3:30am, walked to Lawrence, took the Lawrence bus to the red line, and took the red line to Belmont to catch the shuttle.

Runners had the option of signing up for the shuttle at the time they registered for the race or signing up at the expo. Runners also had the option of purchasing extra shuttle tickets for family/friends. I'm glad I went ahead and signed up for the shuttle when I registered, because by the time the expo rolled around, all of the shuttle spots had been claimed.

Once they allowed us to start boarding the shuttles, I ran into a friend who had also done the Magnificent Mile Women's Half Marathon and trained for it with Chicago Endurance Sports. We chatted about the race, CES, and what our goals for the day as the shuttle took us down to the race site in Jackson Park.

There was just one problem, our shuttle driver didn't actually know how to get to the drop off point. He had directions, but the directions didn't take into account the various street closures that had already started in anticipation of the race. We drove in circles for a while, but we still had plenty of time, so no one was too worried. We finally made it to the drop off point only a little bit behind schedule.

It was still dark out, but there were already a good number of people ready and waiting for the announcement that corrals were open.

It was still pretty much night time. They had several spot lights set up to provide some light for all the sleepy runners.
I made my way over to the CES tent to say hello to some of the folks I knew who were also going to be running that morning. I also wanted to check out the pacer information, as I planned to runner with one of the official pace groups to make sure that I had a shot of reaching my goal time.

I'm really glad I stopped by, as they said that as a CES Alum, I was welcome to use their gear check and hang out with the other CES folks before and after the race (there were several people I knew from my spring and summer training). I got to chatting with some of the other ladies who had trained out of Lincoln Square this summer, and it was like a mini reunion.

Love my CES family!
I was anxious to get going, so I distracted myself with breakfast (a banana and half a bagel with almond butter). I also applied a couple of layers of sunscreen, applied my CES temporary tattoo, threw my bag with the other CES gear in their gear check area (a very nice perk, allowing me to avoid the regular gear check lines after the race), and made my way to the already long lines at the port-o-potties.

While waiting in line to pee, the sun started to rise and they made the announcement that corrals were open. There was a strict closing time of 6:45am, and anyone not in their assigned corral by that time would not be allowed to run the half marathon and would have to switch the 5k. I wasn't about to let that happen, so I headed to my corral as soon as I could.

Traditional pre race selfie.
More and more people started trickling into the corrals, which were all clearly marked, though they weren't quite as regulated as much as I had expected, and plenty of people moved to the corral they wanted into the one they were assigned based on estimated finish time (which you had to give at the time of registration). I was in corral L, and that is where I stayed, as it was also the corral for the 2:30 finish pacers.

Corrals slowly filled with people ready to run 13.1 miles for fun.
I was getting nervous as we got closer to the 6:45am closing time and the pacers hadn't arrived. Luckily, they were soon in their places, and I found the ladies who would be my new best friends for the day.

The pacers introduced themselves discussed their plan with the various folks who started to gather around them, explaining how they would handle aide stations, that if you stuck with them then they guaranteed their finish time (they always aim to be right on time with an over/under of only 30 seconds, which is super impressive if you ask me), and, to prove that the 2:30 group had the most awesome pacers, mentioned that they had some extra nutrition with them if anyone ended up needing it.

Just follow the sign!
After a few announcements and the national anthem, the horn was sounded and the race began promptly at 7am. I was in corral L, and it took us about 7 or 8 minutes to get to the start line.

Once on the course, things were actually pretty great. It was cloudy and cool, and we had a little bit of misting at the very start.

Within a mile, runners had spread out pretty well and there was a little room to breathe, even though the course always felt a little crowded, but thankfully not overly so. The pacers were great about giving cues for upcoming aide stations, mile markers, etc. We also got a few updates about an upcoming landmark that we should look for, including the occasional mini history lesson, which was pretty fantastic.

We had a great group of people running together, all aiming for a 2:30 finish, and everyone chatted and cheered each other on. It was pretty great seeing everyone supporting each other, despite being total strangers. Unlike my earlier half marathon, I didn't have any friends running my pace. All of the people I knew were either faster or slower than me, so it was really lovely the way everyone running with the pacers bounded so quickly.

There were a total of 10 aide stations along the course, which initially seemed a little excessive, but I was always glad to see one coming up, especially in the second half of the race. The aide stations were well stocked and well staffed and all had water and Gatorade. There was also at least one aide station handing out gels, but, having a finicky stomach, I stuck with my own nutrition (I had Swedish Fish and Honey Stinger chews with me).

The course itself was pretty awesome simply because it was a completely different route for me. We ran through city streets the entire race, with most of the race being on a closed down Lake Shore Drive. It was pretty much the best thing ever. We were lucky that it was cloudy, however, as we wouldn't have had any shade otherwise, and I think it would have been a little miserable running in direct sunlight the whole time with no shade.

I felt surprisingly good for almost the entire race. It was cool and cloudy, but it was also pretty humid. Even so, I never had to break out the inhaler. I was super careful about taking in fluids and nutrition regularly, and I didn't start feeling tired until the last two miles, but even then, I was able to maintain my pace. I ended up a little bit in front of the pacers after the final aide station, so I finished just a minute or so ahead of them.

My goal was to finish in 2:30, and my final time was 2:28. Hooray! I felt pretty great as I crossed the finish line. I was a little tired, but that was about it. To put it all into perspective, my earlier half marathon finish was 2:42, and I felt sick and dizzy and miserable as I crossed the finish line. Yay! Improvement!

After crossing the finish line, I grabbed everything that was handed to me: water, Gatorade, a banana, a bag of pretzels, and, of course, my ridiculously large finisher's medal.

I have no idea what to do with this, but it is beautifully designed. 
I made my way back to the CES tent, got a few congratulatory high fives, and then did some quick stretching while downing a bottle of water and my bag of pretzels. I felt great running. I felt fantastic crossing the finish line. But as soon as I stopped moving, my legs felt heavy and tired and started cramping. Stretching and foam rolling (thanks for having these on hand, CES) helped immensely!

I had been feeling a little down at not meeting my goal at the Magnificent Mile Chicago Women's Half Marathon, so I was elated to have met my goal this time around. I'm not terrible at running! I'm just terrible at running in the heat!

I think I may need to stick to spring and fall races from now on. Or at least I need to avoid summer when it comes to distance.

After stretching, getting a few photos in front of the CES background, and thanking the awesome pacers who helped me meet my goal, I wander the grounds until some folks I knew who were aiming for a 3 hour finish time crossed the finish line.

Yay! I did it!
My first stop was for pizza and beer. Every runner had a food ticket and a beer ticket on their bib. I was sad when I was handed my slice of pizza, especially when they told me I couldn't have a second one. I try not to be ungrateful when it comes to post race food as long as there is food and they haven't already run out by the time I finish, but I just ran 13.1 miles and I was hungry.

My pizza slice was just so tiny and sad sitting on its plate. It only took two bites to eat it. I guess I went to the wrong person at the pizza tent, because some people were walking away from the pizza tent with two or three or even four small slices, and other people had just one great big slice.
The saddest pizza slice.
Luckily, my beer made things right again. And my post race meal of a cheeseburger and fries once I got home helped, too.

I stopped at the results tent to make sure that my watch was right and saw that yes, I had finished a full 14 minutes earlier than my first half marathon. I considered getting my medal engraved, but I decided against it, not knowing what to do with the medal, as most of my finisher medals just sit in a box. I listened to the band playing, hung out with some fellow CES alumni, and once everyone I knew running had made it across the finish line and we had all congratulated each other, I gathered my belongings and made my way back to the shuttle so that I could get home. It was a looooooonnnnngggggg walk back to the shuttle bus. I was tired, but happy.

In the end, I am very happy that I chose to run this race. I really enjoyed it, but I don't know if I would run it again.

It had a good course that is different from all the other Chicago races I have run, it had a good expo that was easy to get to, things seemed well organized and aide stations were plentiful and well stocked staffed, and the volunteers and spectators were simply amazing. It was just too difficult to get down to the race site, however, and I was a bit thrown by some of the last minute things, such as the change in shuttle times (though very thankful that the shuttle was free). If I can figure out an easier way to get to the race next year and the weather is once again favorable, then I will absolutely run it again. So let me know if anyone has a car and is willing to drive!

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