Sunday, September 9, 2012

Chicago Half-Marathon Race Recap

1/2 mile w/u
Target: 13.1 miles @goal MP (5:55-6:05); ~1:18-1:19 and WIN
Actual: 13.2 miles @1:18:21; 5:58 pace; 1st place female
Total: 13.5-14 miles
Chicago Sun-Times Article

Going into this race, I ruefully joked that it would be an excellent simulator for racing half of a marathon--the second half, that is. Instead of running 13.1 miles beforehand, I spent virtually every waking hour from Thursday morning until Saturday night immersed in all various and sundry aspects of executing a successful 20,000 person race expo: booth setup, product preparation, selling, standing on my increasingly swelling feet on a thinly-carpeted concrete floor for three days straight, being incessantly and unfailingly nice to people (undoubtedly the hardest part for me), then breaking said booth down and whisking it away into the night like the ringleader of an exceptionally fit band of carnies. The fact that it barely even registered to my body that I was somehow managing to execute another 100-mile week--any fatigue or tiredness from running was little more than an afterthought when compared to rhythmic throbbing of my lower legs due to the demands of remaining bipedal at all times--gives you an idea of how worn out I was leading into this race.

And yet, as Jordan and I darted from the Karhu booth to the starting line at the last possible minute (my warmup would wind up being virtually the same distance as my cooldown, which is to say nonexistent), a cool breeze rippling through the air as the sun rose powerfully over a shimmering Lake Michigan, I found myself--at least for a few minutes--feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and borderline giddy at the prospect of toeing the line of a real live race for the first time in several months. Though I'd envisioned this as a marathon-paced run, I was prepared to press if necessary in order to attain the victory. There was no prize money on the line--even though the speedy results from last year, particularly on the men's side, had initially caused me to think otherwise--but winning an event of this size and magnitude in front of quite a few coworkers, friends and acquaintances from local accounts was definitely something worth aspiring to. Quite simply, I wanted to make them all proud.

From the gun, I settled into a comfortable clip and found myself trailing only one female, a brunette wearing bun-huggers. For the first mile I watched her gradually come closer to me, then shortly after the first mile marker (which I split in 5:50, the only exact split I would consciously register for the remainder of the race) she began to fade behind me. Almost immediately thereafter I found myself next to a group of guys, including former Karhu Bear-suit wearer Dan McDowell. They were clipping along at a pace similar to my own, so I asked if I could join them for a bit and they immediately agreed. A mile or so later we were passed by my other friend Dan Kittaka, the footwear buyer at Fleet Feet Chicago, and one of his teammates. I latched onto them for several minutes before determining that their pace was quickly spiraling out of my comfort zone. At that point I had a choice to forge ahead alone, slightly behind Dan K. and slightly in front of Dan M.'s group, or to ease up for a few strides and allow myself to be absorbed by the latter faction. Knowing that we would soon be turning north onto Lakeshore Drive and facing five miles into a direct northerly headwind, I instinctively chose Option B. As we turned into the dreaded gusts, I immediately tucked in behind Dan & Co. and focused on staying as loose and relaxed as possible. Over the ensuing miles their presence would be invaluable, as the benefits gained from not fighting the wind preserved me mentally and physically for the majority of the race. At one point, in fact, I realized I'd zoned out so much that I'd allowed myself to fall in step behind a member of their party who had slowly but surely been getting dropped. When I finally snapped to, Dan and his core teammates had put at least a 15-meter gap on us. I knew I needed to make up the lost ground but almost couldn't bear the thought of charging after them into the headwind alone--but, in a rather uncharacteristically definitive move on my part, I made the break and began reeling them in. "This is why," I told myself. "This is why you've been running 100 miles a week all summer. You may not feel fast and you may not feel fresh, but dammit you're strong enough to put in a mid-race surge and close the gap." Several minutes later, I did just that.

Safely ensconced in the Flying-V formation

Once that excitement subsided, less than a mile remained before we reached our much-anticipated turnaround point, which consisted of a short and steep incline up an exit ramp, a sharp left turn onto a short overpass, and another sharp left and downhill on the on-ramp back to Lakeshore in the southbound direction. From this point onward, while I was running one way on Lakeshore there were throngs of runners, literally thousands and thousands of people, passing toward the turnaround from the opposite direction. This meant that in addition to the sporadic encouragement from spectators along the side of the course, I was now greeted with wave after wave of cheers and applause from runners passing in the outbound direction, many of whom were actually shouting for me by name. I've rarely experienced anything this empowering and humbling in a race before, only eclipsed by the fanfare of the Olympic Trials. As the wheels threatened to come off during the final 5k, the cheers and shouts of encouragement from the other competitors pushed me to keep pressing. That, and I was running scared with little awareness of the proximity of any potential female challengers. I would've been beyond frustrated if I'd led for this long and then allowed myself to get passed in the final few kilometers, a fate I was determined to keep from happening. Finally, as I made the final turn off Lakeshore with less than half a mile to go, I allowed myself to relax a bit and tried not to flail around like a total spaz in an awkward dash toward the finish line.

Okay, I still sort of look like a spaz. But the photo itself is awesome, and courtesy of Matt Sands.
Shortly after breaking the tape I saw Jordan, who had himself put on a respectable performance to finish 7th in one of his first competitive races in many, many months. My co-worker Jeff also informed me that while I was en route to a somewhat unremarkable half-marathon time, our costume-clad Karhu Bear had bested the unofficial previous "bear world record" with a stellar 18:25 showing. And one of our newest Karhu employees, fresh off the plane from Finland, had also clocked an all-time personal best of 1:14:50. (I would also find out later that our other new employee, coming in at 1:36 and change, would finish within a minute of his personal best as well.) All in all, a spirited display of sisu from the Karhu contingent on a beautiful Chicago morning!

Carrying my flowers as I ran my victory lap. Yes, that happened. Photo credit Matt Sands.


jayloh said...

I'm guessing you won't be advertising "don't sleep" and "stay on your feet for extended hours" as the keys to your success, though. ;)

Anonymous said...

The last photo, of your victory lap, is AWESOME.