Wednesday, January 27, 2016

2016 F^3 Lake Half Marathon Recap

On Saturday, I ran my first race of 2016, got my first PR of 2016, and just generally had a good time. 

I initially signed up for the F^3 Lake Half Marathon to give me a goal to work towards during the winter. I was worried that I would become sedentary as the cold weather descended upon Chicago, so signing up for a race gave me that little extra bit of motivation I needed to keep running during the colder months of the year. Unfortunately, I may have trained a little bit too hard, as I found myself dealing with an injury a couple of weeks before the race. I foolishly chose to continue training, despite the pain, which obviously didn't help matters. I was determined to finish the race, though, even if it meant slowing down and walking part of it. 

As race day grew closer, I started obsessively checking the weather report, reading and re-reading all the race information, and planning for race day. Communications from the race organizers was pretty great, with email reminders filled with pertinent information sent on a regular basis, as well as emails detailing any changes (specifically about shirt availability).

There were plenty of advance packet pick up opportunities (race day pick up was also available for an additional cost) both in the city and the suburbs at Road Runner Sports, which happens to be conveniently close to one of my jobs, so I was able to walk over and pick up my packet one day before work.

Pick up took no time, at all. I was in and out in about 10 minutes. It would have been even faster had I not taken the time to peruse the merchandise at the store (I was handed a coupon as I entered). The race packet included my bib number, some number fasteners, and a very generous sized bag.
Love the bright green bag. It is big and hold a lot of stuff!
An email had gone out earlier in the day stating that shirts and hats would be available to pick up after the race, something that was reiterated at packet pick up. Sure, this was a bit unusual, but I didn't see it as a problem, as I rarely wear the race shirt on race day, unless I change into it after the race.

Just in case someone hadn't heard.
Race morning dawned to unusually wonderful weather for a January day in Chicago. 30 degrees, sunny, little was perfect! We really got lucky, as I had heard some horror stories about the weather on race day in previous years.

The first awesome thing about this race is that it didn't start until 10am. 10am! That meant that I could sleep and wake up at my usual time instead of having to set multiple alarm clocks. It was pretty great.

The second awesome thing about this race is that my friend Karen was also running it. She and her family were nice enough to offer me a ride to the race, so I didn't have to wait around for the train or bus. Her husband drove us down to Soldier Field and dropped us off right outside the entrance we needed.

The third awesome thing about this race started right outside Soldier Field, and runners had access to the United Club, giving us a warm place to hang out before and after the race and access to indoor restrooms. 

Pre race prep - making sure I have eaten, filled my water bottle, and pinned on my race number.
Gear check, vendor tents, restrooms, and everything else that was needed before the race was inside. As it got closer to race time, more and more runners started to fill the United Center and the bathroom lines got longer. Once it was announced that it was finally time for half marathoners to head outside to the start (there was also a 5k, which started a little after the half marathon), everyone started moving as a giant mass of humanity.

So many people all trying to leave through the same doorway.
It felt like a giant human traffic jam and seemed to take forever to get to the stairs, down the stairs, and out the door, but when I checked my watch, it was really only a few minutes. The race was small enough that instead of assigned corrals, runners were asked to seed themselves according to estimated pace. For me, that involved walking by all the fast runners to find my place somewhere towards the middle of the pack.

Fast people at the front! The fast runners tend to wear less clothing than the rest of us.
I lined up with Karen in the 10 minutes per mile area, which is what I was originally planning on running. I knew I would end up slowing down considerably after a few miles due to my leg, but I wanted to at least start the race with my friend.

After the national anthem, the race began right on time at 10am. They staggered the start time, though, giving a minute or so in between each corral to try to avoid creating too much of a traffic jam right at the start of the race.
Prerequisite Pre-race Selfie!
Once my corral was released, it felt great to be running! I had been taking it easy all week, getting in my cardio via spin classes and other things that didn't upset my leg too much. We looped around Soldier Field before moving over to the lakefront path where we began heading south.

The course was the standard out and back, with the turn around right around mile seven and the finish line on the path next to Soldier Field.

There was a negative side to using the path for a race. It was pretty crowded and hard to maneuver around people for the first few miles of the race, as well as a few chunks in the middle of the race, due to the path being narrow in places. It can be frustrating getting caught behind a group of slower runners, but I tried my best to suck it up, wait for hole, and then make my move. This is also a problem when someone decides to start walking without first moving to the side. Take it from this run/walk fan, if you have to walk, move to the far right before slowing down so as not to cause problems for the runners right behind you. Also, as the path can't be closed to the public even when a race is happening, there was the occasional runner, walker, or cyclist who ended up caught in the mass of people wearing numbers and all heading in the same direction. Sorry, folks!

There were also some positives, though! I rarely make it this far south on the path, so it was fairly new territory for me, making for a really lovely run and a change of scenery. The views of the lake were gorgeous, and running towards the sky line on the way back was gorgeous.

The lake was so pretty! It was a perfect winter day!
Back to the race! I hit mile 1 in exactly 10 minutes and still felt great. My leg only ached a little, but I knew that I needed to stick to my strategy and slow down and do run/walk intervals if I was going to finish the race. By mile 2, Karen was in the distance and I had settled into a comfortable 10:30 pace, which I was able to maintain for a good part of the race. The sun was in my eyes for the first half of the race, and I found myself wishing that I had worn my contacts so that I could wear sunglasses, so I was really excited to draw close to the turn around, knowing that once I was running in the other direction, it wouldn't be as much of a problem.

By the turn around at mile 7 my leg was no longer just a mild ache. The sun was no longer in my eyes, but my leg was hurting. I was over half way through the race and knew I could finish, though, so I slowed down a bit more and just focused on moving forward and keeping my head up.

I had originally planned on a PR when I signed up for the race, but I abandoned hope of that when I realized that I would be running injured. When I checked my watch at mile 8, though, I saw that I could still possible get a PR, though it would be tight. This gave me the little extra motivation needed to keep going. This...and my bladder. I hadn't timed things as well as usual before the race and ended up visiting the restroom too early. I just hoped I would make it through the last five miles, but I knew that I still had another aid station left if it wasn't possible.

Hello, Chicago!
As I was drawing close to the final aid station, I knew I wasn't going to make it to the finish line unless I stopped to use the facilities. Luckily, the line for the port-o-potties was nice and short (there were only two other people waiting), so my pit stop didn't cost me too much time.

It was hard to get moving, however, once I had stopped. Now my left hip and knee were hurting just as much as my right leg thanks to overcompensating for the pain in the right. Luckily, there were only a few miles left, and the nice volunteers at the aid station were cheering for all the runners as we passed through. I put in my headphones, threw on my power song, and got moving!

I'm not going to lie. Those last couple of miles were a struggle. But I finished! HOORAY! I grabbed one of everything at the finish line: a bottle of water, a bagel, a banana, a mini Clif bar, a cup of hot chocolate, and, of course, my finisher's medal.

I don't run races for the finisher's medals (I never know what to do with them), but this time, I actually feel like I earned it.
I was ecstatic! I was really worried about not being able to finish, but I did it! And, best of all, I managed a PR, finishing in 2:27:11. I know that I am capable of better, so I can't wait until my leg heals and I can tackle another half.

I slowly made my way back to the United Center to meet up with Karen again before heading to the after party. Back inside, there were the usual announcements, as well as an award ceremony to announce the winners for overall and age groups. 

Post race, there were various recovery tools, such as foam rollers, available for runners to use. We were also able to pick up our hats and shirts. Well, some of us were. Basically, the shipment of shirts got stuck in customs, so there were only some sizes of shirts available. Although everyone could get their hat after the race, many people would have to wait to get a shirt a week or two later, when they would be made available for pick up at Road Runner Sports - the race would alert everyone via email once they were available for pick up. 

I was in luck, and the size shirt that I had requested was one of the ones available, so I was able to pick up my shirt before heading to the post race party. The shirt is long sleeve, which is always nice, and because it fits a bit looser than expected, I'll be able to use it over a base layer in the future.

Time for the party! The post race party was actually held at a different location, but there was a bus to take everyone there, which worked out well. The bus had just left when we got outside, but it was back soon. A group of us all piled on the party bus, and once it was full, we were off to our next destination: Reggie's Music Joint.

Time to party! And eat! And drink! Woohoo!
Upon arrival, we were greeted, our ids were checked, and we headed inside to the bar. There was a band of young people (damn, I sound so old) playing onstage. Every runner got one free beer, and there was also an optional all you can eat buffet available for $12. I was hungry and thirsty and ready to sit down, so we headed upstairs to the food.

Live entertainment.
Upstairs was a record store, and more importantly, at least on this day, the buffet. I paid my $12 (this is one of the reasons you should always have cash at a race), got my wrist band and got in line. I realized that I was still wearing my medal, but I figured that I actually earned it, so I just kept it on until I got home that afternoon.

If I hadn't been so focused on food and drink, then I would have bought all of the records.
Beer never tastes quite as good as it does after a race. Throw some wings, mac and cheese, fries, and other deliciously unhealthy foods into the mix, and I was in heaven. It was nice to sit and eat and drink and chat and just hang out for a bit, now that the race was over.

When it was time to go, I slowly hobbled down the stairs. Once I was home, I stretched again, foam rolled, showered, and took a nap.

My legs haven't been happy the last few days, but they are slowly getting better. The plan for the next few weeks is to focus on rest and recovery. I'm still working out, of course, but I'm focusing on cross training and trying to do more activities that don't aggravate my leg. I'm happy I ran the race, but I don't really want to run another half marathon while injured, so it is time to get smart about training and not skip those rest days.

I really enjoyed the F^3 Lake Half Marathon and was thrilled to get a PR. Aside from the shirt situation, things were well organized and clearly communicated, which made for a great race day experience. Having an indoor space available before and after the race is a wonderful idea for a winter race and something that I hope they continue doing. Now, if they could just guarantee such beautiful weather every year on race day.....

Sunday, January 24, 2016

First PR of 2016

Yesterday's F^3 Half Marathon was a lot of fun, and I'll be posting my full recap tomorrow. The weather was pretty great for a January day in Chicago, I saw a lot of folks I knew at the race, and I finished, despite the pain in my leg.

Even though I had to slow down due to my leg, I still managed a PR, finishing in 2:27:11. I would have had an even better finish time if I hadn't needed to stop to use the restroom at one of the aid stations in the second half of the race (trust me, it was a necessary stop).

Today's focus has been on rest and recovery: I went for a walk this morning, took a nap this afternoon, made sure to stretch and foam roll, and I've been icing my legs (my left hip and knee are hurting from overcompensating for my injured right leg during the race). Now that the race is complete, I'll be taking it easy and focusing on cross training for the near future.

I'm looking forward to a hopefully quick and full recovery and many more awesome runs (and hopefully another PR or two) in 2016.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Discount for 2016 Soldier Field 10 Mile

Image Source
Soldier Field 10 Mile was my first distance race AND my favorite race last year. It had pretty much everything going for it: a great shirt, a cool medal, an awesome distance, a great finish (right on the 50 yard line of Soldier Field), well organized, wonderful volunteers, fun after party, etc.

Yeah...I'm a fan. I'm looking forward to running it again this year and will be working this spring (once my leg heals) to increase my speed so that I can PR.

If you've been wanting to run this race, or even just thinking about running it, then I highly recommend you sign up. In fact, I can offer a slight discount! By using the link below, you can save $5 off your registration for Soldier Field 10 Mile.

This is a race that I recommend wholeheartedly! I loved running it last year and can't wait to run it again this year!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Throwing Advice to the Wind

My leg is still bothering me a lot, but I'm running tomorrow's F^3 Half Marathon despite the pain. 

Yes, I am well aware that this isn't the smartest move. Yes, I know that I could cause more damage to whatever is going on with my leg. Yes, I know I am being foolish to run with an injury. What can I say? I'm incredibly stubborn. 

I picked up my packet yesterday - my bib number, a drawstring bag, a coupon, and some number clips. Apparently the race shirt and hat will only be available for pick up AFTER the race.

Even though I'm running against the advice of many people, I'm going to do my best to do so as safely as possible, considering the circumstances. I've been focusing on cross training this week and running very little to try to give my leg a little bit of rest. And I've abandoned the hope of a PR at my first race of 2016 because I'll be running slower than usual. I'll also be doing run/walk intervals during the race, running for only five minutes and then walking for one minute. 

I'm not sure if I've ever been this worried about a race before. I always get pre race jitters, but this feeling is different, somehow. I will, of course, let you know what happens. 

Wish me luck! 

Saturday, January 16, 2016


I'm a little worried that I may have a real injury.

I tend to be really careful when I'm training in order to avoid injury. I build mileage slowly when working on distance. I pay attention to how my body feels before starting a workout and adjust my plans, if needed. I've had the occasional ache or pain, the occasional injury scare, but I've never had a real injury that meant I shouldn't or couldn't run.

Some of my other friends who run have told me how lucky I am to have never really been injured. luck may have run out.

My lower right leg is killing me. The pain started several weeks ago and, but it wasn't too bad and would go away quickly, so I pretty much ignored it and kept up with my training plan. Yeah...that all changed in that last couple of weeks. The pain has just continued to slowly get worse, and now it hurts all the time instead of just hurting while I'm running. I've started using the elevator at work because going up and down stairs just hurts too much.

I'm still planning on running my next half marathon, which is coming up really quickly (next weekend), even though I know I probably shouldn't. I plan to get things checked out once my race is finished.

Right now, I'm trying to rest, and I'm icing my leg several times a day. I've moved my focus this week to cross training, as activities with little or no impact don't make me want to chop my leg off the way that running does right now (I got a killer workout in yesterday in a spin class with little to no pain in my leg).


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Moving Forward

How that we are solidly in the new year, it is time for me to look ahead and make some plans for the year.

Setting a goal of losing 50 pounds is, for me, setting myself up for failure. However, setting up smaller goals, such as working out X days per week or focusing on eating more whole foods and less junk, helped me lose 30 pounds in 2015.

This year, I have a few things that I want to work on, all of which build on the work I did last year.

Focus on rest and recovery. I've been feeling pretty tired and worn down lately, and I've starting having random aches and pains after workouts, especially after long runs. Though I am thrilled with the progress I made, I recently realized that I may have pushed myself a little too hard in 2015. I've basically been training non stop, jumping straight into a new training program as soon as completing a goal race. On top of this, I've never been a good sleeper, and I became pretty lazy about stretching and foam rolling in recent months. I don't want to end up injured or sick, so I'm going to take rest and recovery just as seriously as I take training.

  • I will give myself a real rest day once a week. 
  • I will start and maintain a regular sleep schedule by having a set bed time (no more Netflix marathons until 3am) and wake up time. 
  • I will stretch and foam roll after every workout. 
  • I will allow myself a few weeks of recovery after each big goal race instead of jumping straight into training again.

Continue working on nutrition. I did much better in 2015 when it comes to food. I could, however, do even more, as I'm still falling into the junk food and take out trap due to poor advanced planning. I also tend to going overboard on special occasions and still have the occasional problem with portion control. There are several things I plan to do to help set myself up for a successful 2016 when it comes to nutrition:

  • I will limit my restaurant purchases to no more than one meal out per week. 
  • I will spend at least one day each week preparing and packaging healthy meals for the week so that I will have home cooked meals in the refrigerator that are ready to grab and go for work lunches.
  • I will immediately put away leftovers so there is less temptation to go back for seconds (or thirds or fourths).
  • I will choose my splurges more carefully. Would I rather have popcorn at the movie or have dessert after dinner? I won't be having both any longer, but will instead be choosing which I desire more and will find more satisfying.

Remember the joy of running. I focused so much on training and running races in 2015 that I often forgot about the joy that running can bring. 
  • I will run because I want to and not because I feel that I have to. If I wake up one day and truly don't want to run, then I will give myself a break and find something else to do that day. I don't want running to feel like a chore.
  • I will unplug and run without technology at least once a week. No music to distract me. No GPS watch to obsessively track pace/distance. 
  • I will continue running with others. I've come to really look forward to Chick's Night at Fleet Feet. Although I still prefer running solo and being able to go at my own pace, I've come to rely on group runs every now and then as a source of camaraderie, inspiration, and motivation.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Reflecting on the Past

2016 is officially here! The start of the new year always brings excitment for what lies ahead, but first, I want to reflect on the previous year's accomplishments.

2015 had it's ups and downs, but I'm pleased to say that I saw a lot of improvement when it comes to running, so let's take a look at the goals I set at the start of 2015 and see how I did.

Take Days Off. This time last year, I vowed to take one day off every week. Yeah....that didn't always happen, but I didn manage to take more days off during the year than I think I ever have before. Although some months saw me working my usual seven days a week, I did manage to get the occassional day off here and there. I also cut down a bit on my workload, so even when I was workin seven days a week, it wasn't for nearly as long each day.

I often used my days off to take long walks around my neighborhood.
Try New Things. I set a goal to try something new each month, and I feel that I was pretty successful. I tried some new to me workouts (yoga and spinning), tried a bunch of new recipes, ran new distances and different routes, and made some new friends. I really enjoyed challenging myself to break free of my usual routine. By really striving to break out of unhealthy habits and trying new, healthy activities, I've managed to lose a total of 30 lbs this year, which has a huge impact on my overall health.

Yoga. Outside. In downtown Chicago. It was pretty great.
Run More Races. Not to blow my own horn or anything, but I blew this goal out of the water. In 2014, I ran 8 races. In 2015, I ran a total of 15 races (17 races, if you count the two virtual races that I ran). How's that for achieving a goal? I also set numerous PRs in every distance I ran. In fact, I ended up repeatedly setting new PRs throughout the year, beating my previous PR at almost every race. I did feel that I ran a few too many races and was feeling a little overwhelmed in months where I had multiple races back to back, so I in addition to achieving my goal, I learned that there can be too much of a good thing.

Run for the Zoo 5k gave me the first of many new 5k PRs during the year.
Tackle Longer Distances. In 2015, I ran my first 10k, my first 15k, my first 10 miles, and my first half marathon. Mission accomplished! I've discovered a love of distance running that I hope never goes away, and now that I know I can cover greater distances, I've found more peace with my slow pace. I'm not sure if I'll ever go much beyond 13.1 miles (some folks are urging me to do a full marathon), but I'm happy to know that consistent training really does pay off. It was fun testing myself, and my future race schedules won't be full of 5ks anymore.

Achievement unlcoked!
Run with Others. This was one of my most daunting goals for 2015, but it was also one of the most satisfying things to achieve during the year. I tend to be a very solitary person. I don't really go out much and spend most of my free time alone. I do really enjoy running alone (I can go my own pace, I can zone out, I can reflect on my day), and I'm not usually bothered by my solitude. Every no and then, however, I find myself feeling the pangs of loneliness. I really wanted to meet other runners, so I did two things: I started running with Fleet Feet's Chick's Night and I signed up for training with Chicago Endurance Sports. I have to say, it is pretty fantastic knowing other runners. I now see familiar faces at every race. I'm greeted by other runners I know when I'm running along the lake front. I have people to turn to when I have questions or need advice about running, and I have also had people turn to me for advice and answers. I finally feel like part of Chicago's running community.

Me and the awesome ladies I trained with over the summer.
I'm very pleased with my progress in 2015, and I look forward to seeing what I can do in 2016.