IM Louiville

IM Louiville
Bikes racked at Ironman Louisville 2010

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Chicago Half Marathon 2006

The familiar sound of my Treo alarm came all too quickly. The alarm on that thing sounds like the music they play on Sports Center. "Na na na na." As I got up to go across the room to turn off the alarm, I wished I wasn't doing this race. I don't get enough sleep as it is, and getting up at 5:20am is early! Almost like a work day.

When I parked, I was over a half mile from the race site. It was still very dark outside and I had pants, a throw-away shirt on, a buff to cover my ears and gloves. I hustled a bit to the race site, as I was trying to meet up with a couple of friends before the race. It definitely felt warmer than the 47 degrees it was outside.

I stopped at a bank of porta potties about a quarter mile away from the race site, as I felt the lines over there would be quite long. The grass was very wet and I tried really hard to keep my shoes dry while walking across the grass, but that didn't work well. I had participated in this race 3 years ago, my first half marathon. That race was also my FASTEST half marathon and for the past 3 years, I've struggled to try and beat that time.

Now I've been a CARA (Chicago Area Runners Association) member for the past 3 years. I originally joined because I was doing a lot of 5K races and CARA offers a discount for many of them. However, the last couple of years, I join mostly because of the marathon training program, of which I am a group leader, so CARA membership is required. The nice thing about this membership is that CARA has special member tents and gear check at some of the most popular Chicago area races. So today, they had a big tent for gear check (which aves TONS of time as opposed to going to the normal gear check. They also had Clif Shots and vaseline out on tables for any member that needed those items. Most importantly, they had 2 porta potties inside their gated area. Now this was fabulous as I had to "go" 3 more times before the race started and I never had to wait in line! That right there was worth the price of membership!

I caught up with a good friend and we hung out by the CARA tent looking for one more person who was supposed to meet us there, but we never found her. As we watched the pace group leaders head on out to the course, we quickly jumped in line to follow them. It was definitely warming up and I wondered whether or not I should have packed my buff and gloves into my gear check bag.

We lined up just behind the guy with the 1:50 pace marker. For a half marathon, 1:50 pace is about 8:23/mile. Now, I didn't think I could run that fast, but I wanted to be somewhere near that pace. And who knows, if you're feeling good on a particular day, anything is possible! We chatted as we waited for the start about everything from our families, our businesses and even discussed the apparel choices of some of the other runners. As the start time approached, we wished each other good luck and said we'd meet up somewhere after the finish.

I never even heard the start, but everyone started running, so I guess that was my cue to go! I've run several marathons and half marathons, and I've never tried to align myself with a pace group. After today, I remember why I don't do that. Almost immediately, it was like work to try and keep up with my "rabbit". He was jetting in and out of the crowd and I felt like I was expending a tremendous amount of wasted energy to try and stay with him. But in the back of my mind, I knew that if I let this guy get away, I could kiss my PR (personal record) goodbye. I had no one else my pace to run with and I knew I would give up if I didn't try to stick with him.

As painful as it was, I darted around the crowd with this guy and his little entourage. None of the women in this group were particularly friendly. I tried striking up a conversation with 2 of them and they didn't seem to want to talk. Whatever! At that point, I just kept quiet and tried to stay focued. I kept hitting the splits on my watch and we were a bit slow for the first two miles. After mile 2, Mr. Jack Rabbit 1:50 Pace Group Leader turned on the steam! Almost immedately, I started breathing heavily and started to think I was out of my league. "What am I doing here?" I thought to myself. I can't do this, we're not even to mile 3 and I am struggling. I reminded myself that this kind of self-doubt would surely be detrimental to my race if I kept it up, so I tried really hard to just catch my breath while keeping the pace. I took off my throw-away shirt and threw it on the side of the road. I ripped the buff off my head and wrapped it around my wrist. I took the gloves off and carried them, wishing I had left all this stuff in my gear check bag at the beginning of the race. I could now see the mile 3 marker coming up and as we crossed that line and I saw 7:53 on my watch, I now knew why I was struggling. Mr. Jack Rabbit Pacer Guy was going WAY TOO FAST! He toned it back a bit for the next mile and I clocked our 4th mile around 8:23...just where he wanted to be. And that pace was OK for me. The group of people that started with the 1:50 pace group was certainly dwindling down. Sure, you left all those people back there when you decided to crank it up to a sub-8 minute mile!

I wondered whether this obnoxiously fast mile was going to bite me toward the end of the race, but quickly decided to let that thought go. After all, what's done is done, I can't go back and re-do the mile! As the sun was rising over Lake Michigan, the brightness made my eyes hurt. I wondered why I didn't bring sunglasses and then remembered that it was pitch black when I got to the race site. I wasn't even thinking about how sunny it was going to be today. I quietly kept pace with the Jack Rabbit and decided that he smelled. Why don't guys put on deoderant before races? And then they wear sleeveless shirts for all of us to smell their lovely arome with no sheilding! I made the conscious decision to run next to him, but not behind him.

The next mile was 8:04. OK, I thought, this is fast, we'll slow down a bit now. But no. Jack Rabbit backed up that mile with another mile at 8:03. That was it. I moved over to the other side of the street and decided to let this group go. As much as I would have loved to be able to hold an 8 minute mile pace for this race, I was not physically nor mentally prepared to keep that pace for an entire 13 miles. It was a bit depressing as I watched the bouncing 1:50 sign head off into the distance, but I felt it was for the best. I probably could have ran maybe a few more at that pace, but then what? Bonk at mile 10? No thank you. I tried to convince myself I was doing the right thing. I needed to slow down, but not too much!

At mile 7, I told myself I was more than half way done. But you know, 6 more miles is still pretty far when you are pushing yourself hard. I could do a 13 mile training run at a slower pace and it could feel great. But today, I was leaving it out there. I had already run a few miles too fast and I was tired. I reminded myself that EVERYONE is tired, keep going. Besides, it's not like I could just turn around and go back to the car. I pressed on. My legs felt heavy, but I kept cranking out the better-than-expected splits. I played games with myself and talked the miles down and tried to picture myself doing those miles on the all too familiar roads that surround my house.

The runners were pretty spread out by now and I passed time by "picking" runners off one at a time. OK, I'm going to pass the guy with the yellow shirt. Then it was the girl with the 2 long, brown braids, then it was the girl that was running like she had a potato chip up her butt. And it was working...I stayed on pace. When I got close to mile 11, I was catching up to a woman about my height with a Valpo Half Marathon shirt on. Hmmm....I thought I recognized her as another good friend that I've done triathlons and swim meets with. As I came up to her, I smiled and said, "HEY, I didn't know you were running today!" She said yep and that her boyfriend was up ahead. Our breathing was labored and we struggled to get those words out. One thing about this woman is that she is one tough chick! And even better is that our running abilities are so close, it makes us fantastic running partners, though we never have the opportunity to train together. As I ran with her, silently, I thought about how she pushed me at a half marathon last year that made me want to push her in a ditch. We had planned on doing 2 hours at that race, but she really turned it on from mile 1, so I dug deep that day to stay with her to the end...only to find out she was doing the same to keep up with me. We both had stellar performances that day, and I know that if I had not been running with her that day, I would not have pushed so hard.

I didn't run next to her for very long. We had just 2 miles to go, and I was on a mission. I wanted that PR so bad, I could taste it. Your mind starts to play tricks on you, though, as I felt I was running at a snail's pace. I hit the next split on my watch, faster than the last mile. Are you serious??? Sweet. Just one more mile. Oh, but that one mile hurt. I was trying so hard to go faster, but I didn't have it in me. People started passing me and it wasn't fun. I knew that if I could just keep my pace, I would have that half marathon PR that I have coveted for a couple years now. I didn't have to go faster, but just stay on pace. WHERE IS THE DAMN FINISH LINE???? Come on, I can't keep this up much longer! I don't even hear music or crowds yet. OK, STOP thinking that way. Just go. Run. Find someone to "pick off". Focus. Stay steady. You can do it.

And I did. I finally cracked my long-standing half marathon PR. OK, so it was only a minute or so, but WHO CARES, I did it. I ran faster than I expected and I'm elated with my performance. I wasn't able to achieve very many PRs this year, so I'll take them where I can get them. And this one meant a lot to me. It was the same exact course I did just 3 years ago and I was faster. It feels good. What a perfect day for a race!


BB said...

Push me in a ditch, come on now! We did have a great run that day. But today we both beat that time. Great time today, 70/840 in your age grp not too shabby. This was a PR race for me as well.

KK said...

Great job MJ - your time was awesome. Congratulations! Nice medal!

John from Grand Haven, MI said...

yeah, way to make the rest of us feel like slackers! nice work.

Anonymous said...

Thats it?

Anonymous said...

good job mj

RunBubbaRun said...

Great job in the race. Nice hardware too.