Sunday, June 26, 2016

2016 Soldier Field 10 Mile Recap

Last month's Soldier Field 10 Mile was an interesting event. It was a sort of anniversary for me, as last year's Soldier Field 10 Mile was my first real distance race. I was hoping for a similar experience, having fond memories of last year's run (I ran with one of the pace groups last year) and finish (yes, I cried last year as I crossed the finish line).

We meet again, Soldier Field!
This year was the first that RAM Racing was in charge of the race, having taken control of the former Fleet Feet race series, of which Soldier Field 10 Mile was one of the highlights. I was a little nervous, as I'm not too sure how I feel about RAM or RAM taking over all of my favorite races (a few changes to future races leave me less than impressed, but that is for a future post), but I went in with a positive attitude and hoped for the best.

Packet pick up was thankfully simple. A quick stop at Fleet Feet's Old Town location saw me get in and out of the store with no trouble, packet in hand. Packet pick up was very well staffed with friendly and helpful folks, and, as a little bonus, Fleet Feet was having their Memorial Day Sale, so I may or may not have left with a few extra items that day. What can I say? I love a good sale!  

I dig the shirt design this year.
Race day conditions were less than ideal for running 10 miles. It was a beautiful day, with beautiful blue skies, the sun shining, and warm temperatures, but that temperature and humidity wasn't great for running when you've been training in 50 degree weather all season.

My awesome friend Karen was also running, and she was kind enough to give me a ride to and from the race. Soldier Field isn't the easiest location to get to on public transit, especially very early in the morning on a weekend, so having a ride literally saved me hours that day. Thanks, Karen!

Parking was surprisingly easy, and we were soon heading towards the starting area. Beyonce's Formation Tour was playing at Soldier Field Friday and Saturday nights, and it was a little hard to miss that fact while in and around the stadium.

Beyonce! She was everywhere!
Soon, we were hanging out with our friends from Chicago Endurance Sports. I was in wave 1, thanks to having a previous race finish time that made me eligible for preferred corral assignment. and my nerves were already on high alert, so I tried to distract myself my talking to people, applying and then reapplying sunscreen, triple checking that I had my inhaler, and pinning and unpinning my bib number.

I was a little bummed that all of my friends who run a similar pace were going to be in wave 2, and a couple of them suggested I move back to run with them (you were able to move back corrals, but not move forward). I almost took them up on it, but I decided that with the forecasted heat, I wanted to start as soon as possible, and moving back would have meant waiting a minimum of 30 extra minutes to start, so I chose to stay in my assigned corral.

When it was time, I made my way to my corral and waited for the start. They were strictly enforcing the rules regarding corrals, and the opening for each corral was manned by folks who were tasked with keeping folks from jumping up to an earlier corral than what they were assigned. There were definitely a few folks who were surprised by this and weren't too happy with being told that they couldn't move forward.

In the corral. Waiting to start. Getting nervous. 
Before the race officially began, the national anthem was sung, and there was a brief ceremony to honor the troops, both past and present and to remember those who have fallen. Having grown up in a military family, it was actually a really touching moment.

Soon, the race had begun, and my corral slowly started inching towards the start line. I had butterflies in my stomach and was genuinely worried about the race and my ability to run it. I've not been having a great year and have actually been regressing when it comes to running. I've been getting slower, running has become less pleasant and even a little painful, and I've had to accept that run/walk intervals are my only option, right now.

As I got closer and closer to the start line, my nervousness took over. I didn't have a pace group to run with this year, as the run/walk pacer I would have followed was only in wave 2 and not in wave 1. I sucked it up, though, put in one earbud, and decided that the Hamilton soundtrack would be my companion for 10 miles. I was here, so I might as well finish the race, even if I had to walk it. I set my watch for run/walk intervals, and then it was my corrals turn to start.

I was seriously freaking out when I took my ritual pre race selfie.
The course was pretty much the same as last year's race, up until the very end (more on that shortly). It is a nice, flat course, heading south from the stadium on a closed Lake Shore Drive before turning around and head back north on the Lakefront Path to finish inside Soldier Field. This makes for a simple, easy to follow course. It is also incredibly boring and offers little to no shade. After the turn around, you have the Chicago skyline to run towards, which was a much more enjoyable view.

There were five aid stations on the course, all of which were stocked with water and Nuun. There were also port-o-potties and medic/first aid tents at the different aid stations. I always run with my own hand held water bottle because a.) I like to drink by thirst, b.) I usually run on the North Channel Trail, which doesn't have many water fountains, so I almost always carry my own water during training runs, and c.) it has a pocket that is the perfect size for my inhaler, which I like to keep with me, just in case.

I made sure not to go out too fast this time and started at a slower than usually 11:30 pace, with plans to pick up the pace later on. I tried a different lacing technique on my shoes, in hopes that it would alleviate the problem of my feet going numb that I experienced at the Chicago Spring 10k the week before, but, sadly, I didn't have much luck and began experiencing tingling and numbness in my left foot at mile 2, with the right foot soon following right before mile 3. Planning for run/walk intervals helped quite a bit, though, as it made it easier to stay on pace while still getting at least a little bit of feeling back into my feet during the walk breaks. By the turn around point, my calves felt like they had rocks in them. I was less than thrilled with the situation. At least I didn't have any of the stomach problems that plagued me during the Chicago Spring 10k! So...numb feet and painful calves are a less than ideal way to run, but, hey, I was feeling better than the week before!

Because I had my trusty water bottle, I didn't really take advantage of the first couple of aid stations because I didn't need to refill my bottle, and I'm not a big of Nuun's new formula. By aid station 3, however, I was grabbing water to dump over my head in an effort to cool off, a bit. I really started to feel the heat and was getting pretty toasty by the turn around, and I noticed a lot of other runners taking walk breaks.

At some point during the race, the alert level was raised to red, making this the second race that I've run where we were at a high alert level, the first being the Magnificent Mile Women's Half Marathon. I kept hoping that they would have ice or cold wash cloths at the last two aid stations they way they had at the Women's Half, but there was no such luck this time.

At the 4th aid station, I had to stop to use the facilities. I always hope that I won't have to stop during a race and lose time, but...how should I put this? When nature calls, you have to answer.

After my pit stop, I was back and running again. I was at a place where I was just ready to be finished. I was hurting and hot, and I started counting down the remaining miles and reminding myself that this was easy and that I had done it before and could do it again.

Finally, I was in the home stretch and was soon running right by the stadium. This is where I noticed the change in course. Last year, you entered a tunnel and went straight out onto the field and ran down the field to finish at the 50 yard line. This year, due to the concert stage on the field, there was a lot of running through the inner concourse of the stadium before finally making it out onto the field, basically right by the finish line. It was a good solution to the problem of having the concert and race the same weekend, and I know that the race organizers had no other option, but it just wasn't the epic finish that I was hoping to experience.

Thankfully, what hadn't changed, was the service men and women at the finish line handing out the finisher medals. This was by far my favorite part of the day.

I finished in 1:56:14, which gave me a PR. It wasn't much of a PR, but I'll take what I can get.

I finished!
There were bottles of water at the finish line, but they were just piled up on tables, with no one handing them out, which made it a struggle to reach them, as everyone crowded around, trying to grab a bottle. There was no Gatorade or similar drinks available at the finish line, as RAM partners with Nuun, which doesn't come in handy dandy individual bottles, so it was a very long walk to get outside the stadium before any sort of electrolyte drink was available.

Heading out, you walked quite a ways before finally getting outside the stadium to the runner refresh area where food was available. I was very sad to see that the snack bags were just plain plastic bags instead of the fun and sturdy reusable bags from last year (I still have and use last year's bag all the time). The snack bags were also not quite up to snuff compared to last year's goodies, containing one piece of fruit (a horribly bruised mushy banana, in my case), one bag of chips, and one mini Clif bar. The highlight of the food line was the cold wash cloths being handed out right after the food line. Finally! Something cold and refreshing!

The other cool and refreshing thing was the water slide that was meant as an advertisement for an upcoming race and was quickly becoming the most popular part of the post race festivities.

Best. Thing. Ever.
The post race party was already hopping when I arrived to meet up with friends. There were the usual sponsor tents with various freebies, a live band, and general merriment. The most important thing as far as I was concerned, however, was the food and the beer. 

Every runner got one free beer, and the beer being offered was Goose Island (score!). And Chicago Endurance Sports gave those of us who trained with them this spring a coupon to use at one of the food tents for a free sandwich after the race. They had either sausages or hamburgers. There was a lot of grumbling from folks that there was no vegetarian option this year. Don't get me wrong, this meat eater was happy with her food, but I do think that it was a bit of an oversight to have zero vegetarian options, especially when a veggie burger would have been super easy to provide.

Nothing like a sausage, chips, and beer before noon.
Ultimately, I was happy with my effort at the race. I didn't run the pace I wanted or have the finish time I wanted, but I did my best given the conditions and I finished. Sometimes simply finishing the race is an achievement.

I wasn't as thrilled with the race this year as I was last year. Maybe it just wasn't all shiny and new for me the way it was last year. Maybe completing the race didn't feel like the huge achievement it felt like last year. Maybe I've just officially run enough races that I've become a little jaded and they don't have the appeal that they once did. Even after having some time to think things over, I'm still not able to place exactly what was missing for me.

Sure, there were several little things that irked me, but most of those things weren't actually a true problem. The Nuun, for example, is just a personal preference thing - I'm just not a fan of their new formula and would rather have a different option. Also, I was bummed about the change to the finish, but I recognize that the race did the best they could when they had no control over the concert or its setup that took over the stadium for the weekend.  

I do really miss the reusable bags, though. Please bring those back.

Peace out, Soldier Field! I'm sure I'll see you again!

1 comment:

  1. Just reading this now (in July!)... I was way too jazzed to have finished my first longer-distance "continuous run" race at the time, but as the euphoria of that has worn off, I'm bummed that the finish wasn't the "finish on the 50" experience. I don't know if I'll run it again next year, but I hope they bring that back!!!

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