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.....

1 comment:

  1. Congrats on the PR. Now that I think about it, I wonder if there was a different stairway to get down to the start line? They probably should have opened another set of concourse doors to the outside. That alone would have cut the traffic jam time in half. Anyway, the weather was perfect for the race!