Halloween Hustle 5K Recap

That’s right folks…one Halloween themed race is and never will be enough!  Besides, after my disappointing experience at the Monster Dash and thinking about my upcoming races, I wanted to try my hardest for a shiny new 5K PR before the end of the year.  I have only one or two more timed 5K’s on my race calendar before the end of the year, one being the Hot Chocolate 5K this weekend and possibly a local Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving day.  The Hot Chocolate is not a good race for PR’s since it is so crowded (last year I ended up spending the first mile running on a sidewalk to get around the crowds) and the local Turkey Trot I’m planning to do is a little “short”.  Since the Halloween Hustle was a CARA circuit race, I knew it wouldn’t turn into a costume parade and would be a good opportunity to push myself for a PR.  Plus, a few of my run club friends would be running so I was guaranteed to have a good time no matter what!

After some hemming and hawing, I finally decided to sign up for the race at the eleventh hour, just barely making it before the online registration window closed Friday afternoon.  Knowing I wouldn’t have time to buy or make a new costume, I pulled out the pumpkin suit again and headed across the street for my block “book club” meeting.  Not wanting to be late for book club, I opted to skip my usual pre-race dinner of Noodles & Company Wisconsin Mac & Cheese, thinking I would find something to munch on there, or worst case, I would find something when I got home.  Oops!  I got caught up in good conversation with my neighbors and didn’t munch on a single thing!  I then lost track of time and before I knew it, it was after 9:30pm.  I knew I had to get up early the next morning so I said my goodbyes, went home, ate a Rice Krispie treat and went to bed.

I was surprised when I woke up the next morning at 5:30am and didn’t have my usual pre-race stomach.  Maybe this skipping dinner thing was a better idea than I thought?  Having laid out my gear the night before, I was ready to go with plenty of time left, so I took my time packing my bag and headed out the door.  I met my run club friends at our usual car pool meet-up spot and we began our trek to Palatine, a roughly 45 minute ride from Oak Park.  We were able to find the race location easily and I was pleased that we were able to park in the parking garage for free.  Packet pick-up was located on the lower level of the parking garage, which was also nice, since it was a bit chilly and the wind seemed to go right though me.  They also offered race day registration, which appeared to be super fast and painless.  Our goodie bag consisted of a nice long sleeve tech tee (unisex), a reusable shopping bag and a few flyers including one for their upcoming Santa Hustle (so sad I won’t be in town for that one this year).

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About 10 minutes before start time, we walked to the start line which was conveniently located only a block away from the garage.  The race started on time and before I knew it I was on my way to a potential PR.  I planned to keep the pace around 9:15 or 9:30/per mile and was surprised when my Garmin beeped at mile 1 with an 8:48 mile and I still felt good.  Somewhere around mile 1.5 I started to get a stitch in my side and could feel my breathing being thrown off as I attempted to struggle through it.  That darn stitch stuck with me for the rest of race and I pretty much hated life until I saw the 3 mile marker, but I’m happy to say that I didn’t give up and let Negative Nancy take over.  Thank goodness for my run buddies Jessica and Julie…they really helped me keep focused and pushed me to keep going when I really wanted to dial back the effort, or lets be honest, grind to a screeching halt.  We turned the corner into the final stretch and I dug deep for any remaining energy to sprint it in.

I crossed the finish line feeling elated that I had set a new PR, but the awful “I just raced a 5K and feel like I’m going to get sick” feeling that arrived shortly thereafter wouldn’t allow me to celebrate for too long.  After I finally got myself back together, I looked at my Garmin and realized that not only had a I set a new PR, I had finally blown my old high school cross country time out of the water!!!  Here are my stats:

Halloween Hustle

Overall, I thought this race was great and I will definitely be back next year.  It was well organized, reasonably priced and fun.  Here is a quick review:

Registration:

  • Cost – $33.28 (day before the race) with a $5 CARA discount. – Great value!
  • Online, fax, mail or in person day of. – Super convenient!

Packet Pick-Up:

  • Several opportunities for those who are local.  Luckily, for those of us who don’t live so close, they also offered race day packet pick-up.
  • Race day packet pick-up was fast and well organized by last name.

Perks:

  • Reusable shopping bag doubled as our goodie bag.  Participants also received a nice long sleeve tech tee (unisex).
  • Free parking.  – Always a plus!
  • Gear check was scary at first (they used giant boxes), but they found my friends vest very quickly and without issue.

The Course:

  • Flat and fast looped course.  Pavement was well maintained.  A lot of turns though.
  • For a course entirely within residential streets, there was surprisingly VERY little spectator support.
  • Not one, but TWO aid stations offering water and Gatorade. – Probably a little overkill for a 5K in the fall, but appreciated nonetheless.
  • Start and finish lines conveniently located within a block of the parking garage.
  • Finish line had bottled water, Kind Bars, bananas and soft pretzels.

The Field:

  • Definitely a smaller race for a CARA circuit race.  According to the official results, there were only 911 finishers.
  • Lots of speedy runners and lots of great costumes!

Until next time, happy running and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!  Candy Security is on duty tonight in Oak Park.  Zoe says “No costumes, no candy!”  :)

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Chicago Monster Dash 5K Review

Do you know what I love even more than running?  Holidays!  Any holiday really, especially if its a fun one like Halloween, New Years, Thanksgiving or St. Patrick’s Day.  I mean, holidays that include gifts are pretty awesome too, but any holiday that gives me an excuse to dress up like I’m a kid again, includes dancing – or food – or candy, and involves Guinness and the sound of bagpipes playing is way up there on my list of favorites.  Imagine my excitement when I came across an event that combined my love for running with my love for one holiday in particular, Halloween!

I heard about a little race (its actually a good sized race) called the Monster Dash a few years ago, and have a few friends who have run it in the past, but I have never run it since it always seems to fall on the same day as another local race.  When given a choice, I prefer to support the smaller local races over larger races downtown, especially when they benefit the community I live in.  The Monster Dash typically falls on the same day as the Frank Lloyd Wright races, which is organized by the Park District of Oak Park, and runs practically right by house.  I ran the 10K last year and absolutely loved it.

Anyway, back in January I ran a 5K, the Polar Dash, (organized by the same group as the Monster Dash, the Get Lucky race and the Women Rock races) and the lead bike turned around too early, causing the 5K runners to miss the 5K mark by almost a mile.  The 5K race wasn’t timed (they typically time only the longer distances, usually a 10K and/or half marathon option), but some of the runners put up a stink, and the company was kind enough to offer discounted registration to another event, to make up for their oops.  At the time I was already registered for the Get Lucky 7K, so I decided to register for the Monster Dash, thinking it would be fun to dress up in costume for a fun 5K.  After the discount, and various fees I paid only $27.64 for the race.

Fast forward 9 months and there I was, exactly one week post marathon, thanking my lucky stars that the race wasn’t going to be timed, so I wouldn’t feel pressured into trying to set a PR.  I was really looking forward to participating in a nice, fun, organized recovery run.  Here is my review.  Brace yourselves, this is going to be another long one.  If you don’t want to read the novel, feel free to scroll to the bottom for the brief overview.

About a week before the race I received an email with an update on the race, including packet pick-up times and locations.  I was surprised to see that they were offering two locations for packet pick-up, since they hadn’t for the two other races I have run with them.  Packet pick-up was to be held in Andersonville on Wednesday and Thursday; and downtown at the Congress Hotel on Saturday.  Knowing I wouldn’t make it all they way to Andersonville in time, I opted to pick-up my packet on Saturday.  Not wanting to fight traffic and pay a million dollars to park my car for five minutes, I chose to take the Green Line.  The Congress Hotel is only a few blocks from the Adams/Wabash stop, so it was pretty convenient to get there and back.

Super comfy hoodie!

Super comfy hoodie!

Packet pick-up was a breeze.  When I arrived around 4:45pm there were no lines at all.  I was in and out in less than 5 minutes.  I picked-up my bib and super comfy finisher hoodie and was on my way.  I have to say, Team Ortho races have awesome swag.  The race organizers even provide an opportunity to register or pick-up your packet and swag for their upcoming races as well.  This time, they were offering pick-up for the Polar Dash.  The convenience was an added bonus in my book!

Moving on to race day, I awoke to a brisk 30 something degree morning and was thankful that I could wear leggings and a black compression jacket under my costume without ruining it.  As an aside – can we can a conversation about women’s costume options?  OK, not everyone wants to dress up like a sexy this or a sexy that…come on, we need more modest options please!  Anyway, not wanting to show off my assets, I chose a simple Jack O’Lantern costume that left a bit to the imagination.  Black leggings and a black compression jacket worked perfectly under the costume and kept me warm as I waited for the L with my run club friend who was also running.

Boo!

Boo!

Once we got downtown we found the start line area quickly and checked out the medals for the different races.  My friend was registered for the half but wasn’t sure if she should do it or drop down to the 10K, as she was nursing a slight injury and has an important race coming up soon.  After checking out the medals, she decided to drop down to the 10K.  The registration table representative was very kind and made the swap quickly and painlessly.  We then headed over to gear check and were surprised that they were making everyone place their bags in a clear plastic bag.  I had a few problems with this.  1)  I get that you are trying to make things safer for everyone, but putting a backpack into a plastic bag without checking the backpack first is not going to make anything safer.  2)  Perhaps sending an email letting us know that we would be required to use your clear plastic bag ahead of time would have been a good idea.  Or heck, maybe give us the bag and/or say something to us at packet pick-up!

Anywho…on to the race.  From what I could tell, all three of the races went off on time.  The half marathon was first, followed by the 10K and then the 5K.  I lined up for the 5K about 10 minutes prior to the start and was surprised to see people with strollers and dogs in front of me when I was standing at the 9:30 min/mile pace flag.  I knew immediately that this was not going to be an event to “race”.  I crossed the start line and immediately started dodging walkers, strollers, little dogs in costumes and small children.  I know it was supposed to be a fun event, but it was still a fun “run”, not a fun “let’s walk six people across the Lakefront path with our dog and umbrella stroller”.  I know I probably sound like a crab @$$ but I really wanted to run, even if it was slow.  That being said, after the first mile things opened up a bit and I was able to run, though still weaving around people.  Obviously, this is not the race organizer’s fault though, so I don’t hold it against them at all!

The course itself was mediocre at best.  The first quarter mile or so was on the broken sidewalk around Avery Field and then merged onto a nice well maintained path.  Just after the 2 mile marker, we turned onto the lower part of the Lakefront path…the part that is right next to the water and consistently has broken or uneven pavement and potholes from the beating it takes from Lake Michigan every time the wind picks up a bit.  Great.  Needless to say, there was some careful stepping and leaping going on for fear that I would roll an ankle or trip.  The last quarter mile was back on the nice path and was full of spectators cheering participants in to the finish where their medals were placed around their necks.  Outside of the course itself, I have to admit that the “aid stations” were fun.  At just about every mile marker there were volunteers with big bowls handing out candy to the participants…AWESOME!  There was also one aid station distributing water.

The 5K medal!

The 5K medal!

By the time I finished this run, my knees and ankles were screaming again.  There was a short flight of steps leading to the gear check area and I winced as soon as I stepped down on the first step.  I felt like I had just run another marathon.  I met my friend at the gear check area so we could collect our belongings and head home.  The race offered a free PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon) and finisher party, but for me, it was just too early and too cold to drink beer.  The gear check volunteers found my bag immediately, but minutes later, they were still searching for my friends.  Afraid that they had given her bag to another participant, the volunteers were just about ready to give up when after about 15 minutes of walking up and down the aisles of bags, her bag was finally located.  What a relief!

Overall the race was pretty fun, but I think I’d rather stick to the Frank Lloyd Wright races and run another fun Halloween race that is timed instead.

As promised, here is the shorter version of my overall opinion of this race:

The Good:

  • Fun event with a variety of distance options.
  • Longer distances have a nicer course along the Lakefront path.
  • Candy aid stations!
  • Sweet swag…a super comfy sweatshirt and a medal for everyone.
  • Awesome participant costumes.  My favorite was a group of dogs and their owners.  One dog was dressed as a “Rufferee” (complete with a yellow flag in a pocket), two wore shirts that said “Wide Retriever”, two more were dressed as cheerleaders, and their humans were dressed in Chicago Bear’s jerseys.
  • Packet pick-up was a breeze.
  • The free beer was a nice touch.  If it was warmer, I probably would have taken them up on it.

The Bad:

  • The 5K course…broken and uneven pavement is just asking for problems.  I know there are logistical challenges that accompany a three distance race, but perhaps a new start/finish location is in order?
  • Gear check…lack of communication with participants, nonsensical “security” measures and misplacing my friend’s bag left me unimpressed and nervous to leave my bag at gear check ever again.

I did it…I RAN a MARATHON!

That’s right friends, after 6 months of panic attacks, 4 months of dedicated training, 456.49 miles logged over 82 hours and 46 minutes (and 7 seconds to be exact), 2 booze free block parties and a lot of early weekend mornings…I am a marathoner!  I cannot even begin to describe how awesome it is to be able to say that!

I’m a little (ok, a LOT) behind in my blogging, but better late than never, right?  Things have been quite busy around here since the race, but that’s a good thing, especially since I took a week off from running for recovery.  Taking time off from running makes me antsy.  I feel like a sloth, my sleep is thrown off and I’m generally crabbier and irritable.  Yes, I think I just might be addicted.  Luckily, between hosting an out of town guest (my Mom), catching up at work after a week off and catching up on my schoolwork I haven’t had time for much else, so I didn’t really have a chance to go through withdrawals too badly.  Sure, I missed the structure of training and I missed the “all is right in the world again” feeling I get during and after a good run, but there was just no way for me to get my fix last week.  I’m writing after a great 2 mile recovery run yesterday and I’m feeling inspired again.  So, without further ado, here is a review of my very first (but certainly not last) marathon!

Bank of America Chicago Marathon (10/13/2013) – aka The Best Day of My Life!

The day began like any other race day.  I woke up before the alarm went off with my usual race day nervous stomach, and in an attempt to get as much sleep as possible, I closed my eyes and tried to shut out as many thoughts as possible.  I must have been successful because the next hour and half flew by and before I knew it, the alarm began to sing it’s happy tune.  Not wanting to wake up the whole house, I immediately got out of bed and began preparing for the big day.  Having laid out my outfit and other race gear the night before, I finished getting ready with lots of time to spare.

I left the house at 5:15am so I could catch the 5:30am Green Line train to downtown Chicago, and thanks a series of red lights, I arrived to the station only a few minutes before the train arrived.  Once on the train I was able to relax a little – as much as a first time marathoner can before the big race.  I calmed my nerves by mentally going over my pacing, nutrition and hydration plan for the day.  The train had a few other runners on it, and I have to admit, eavesdropping on their conversations about their past Chicago Marathon experiences helped too.

By the time the train pulled into the Adams/Wabash stop I was more excited than nervous and as I reached the bottom of the stairs on the corner of Adams, I couldn’t help but feel the excitement in the air.  The city was still asleep, but it was very much awake with the buzzing and excitement of 40,000 runners.  After walking a few blocks I made my way through Gate #3 and into the Start/Finish line area.  As corny as it may sound, the combination of the excitement in the air and my nerves got the best of me and when the security agent who checked my bag said “you’re all set, have a great race”, I began to tear up.  All I could think was “Wow, I’m really going to do this.  They told me I would never run again and here I am.  I’m going to run a MARATHON today”.  For the next hour I sat on the sidewalk, watching the sun rise over the lake and then the city, listening to other runners excitedly talk about their months of training and plans for the race.  I helped a few fellow runners take photos and chatted with them about the weather, the course, and just about everything in between.  Here is a photo of me before I was brave enough to shed my warm-ups:

Freezing before the start.

Freezing before the start.

It was a cool morning but I knew that I would warm up as soon as I started running.  Knowing this didn’t make it any easier to take off my jacket and sweatpants and hand them over to gear check.  Concerned that I was placed in a much slower corral than I should have been in (due to my own stupidity when I registered), I wanted to be sure I was at the front of the corral.  To ensure my place at the front of the corral, I checked my gear about 45 minutes before start time and subsequently stood there freezing for the next hour and 7 minutes.  After about 30 minutes of goosebumps and constant shivering, I began to worry that I was wasting some much needed energy, but there wasn’t much I could do so I just put the thought out of my mind and tried to enjoy the start line experience.

Finally, 22 minutes after my wave started, I crossed the start line and began my journey to the finish.  As I said in my previous posts, my goal for the day was to run the whole race and just finish.  I was not concerned with meeting a time goal this time around, and more than anything, I wanted to savor the experience.  I heard that the crowd support at the Chicago Marathon was fantastic and I was looking forward to reading signs, high-fiving complete strangers and experiencing the on course entertainment.  Within the first mile I knew the rumors were true.  Every inch of the course was lined with spectators holding signs and cheering us on.

Running with the masses just after Mile 1!

Running with the masses just after Mile 1!

The first 9 miles of the race were great.  I kept to a slow and steady pace, taking in the sights as I ran under the BP Pedestrian Bridge, past the Chicago Theater, through Old Town, past the Lincoln Park Zoo, through Boys Town (my absolute FAVORITE part of the race…awesome entertainment and energy through that section!) and back through Lincoln Park and Old Town again.

Having fun at Mile 3!

Having fun at Mile 3!

My breathing was right on and my legs felt rested and strong.  I was cruising right along and really enjoying myself when I felt the first twinge of pain radiating from my big toe.  I knew exactly what was happening…my recurring giant blister was making its race day comeback.  I don’t understand how I can run miles and miles on my solo long runs and not have a problem, but when I’m participating in an organized event I always seem to end up with a large and very painful blister starting around mile 7.  I knew I should stop to get a band-aid from one of the medical tents, but it didn’t hurt that bad so I decided to just keep trudging along.

Meanwhile, my husband was running a marathon of his own.  He was a rockstar! By the time I got to mile 11, I saw Josh 3 times, and was looking forward to seeing him at least 2 more times before I finished.  He put together an awesome plan and seeing him gave me the oomph I needed to keep going strong.

Crusin' along at Mile 10.5

Crusin’ along at Mile 10.5

Mile by mile I made my way to toward the finish.  Somewhere just after the halfway point I stopped to walk through an aid station and when I began running again I noticed that my knees and ankles were starting to ache a bit, nothing serious though.

Still all smiles at Mile 14.5!

Still all smiles at Mile 14.5!

Moving right along, I saw my In-Laws and Mother cheering me on at mile 14.5, and I gave them high fives as I ran on by.  I was so glad to see Josh at mile 16.5, as he was holding two extra CLIF Shots for me since I couldn’t fit them all in my SPI belt and small water bottle pocket.

Wishing Josh had a new big toe for me instead of just CLIF Shots at Mile 16.5

Wishing Josh had a new big toe for me instead of just CLIF Shots at Mile 16.5

At this point, I really wished he had a new big toe for me instead of the CLIF Shots though!  I stopped for a quick shot transfer and a photo op and was on my way again.  This time, I noticed that my knees and ankles were getting really sore, but only when I started running again from a walking stride.

The next 4 miles are a complete blur.  I tried to “check-out” for a while and focused on my surroundings instead of the radiating pain coming from my big toe.  At mile 20 I remember feeling nervous about the next 6.2 miles but calmed myself by giving myself a once over, almost as if checking the system status of a car on a long road trip.  All systems were functioning well, and I knew I would make it to the finish with no problem.  My breathing was still nice and even and I still had plenty of energy.  I couldn’t feel the pain in my toe anymore, but my knees and ankles were still sore when starting back up from walking through aid stations, so I tried to run through them if I wasn’t planning on taking fluids since they were fine as long as I kept running.  I was amazed when I crossed mile 23.1 and realized that I still felt great and I only had a 5K left.  Easy peasy, I thought, I’ve got this in the bag!  I picked-up my pace a bit those last 3 miles, and determined to run the whole thing, focused on powering through the hill right before making the turn to the finish line.

Still going strong at Mile 25.5!

Still going strong at Mile 25.5!

As I made the turn for the final 400 meters of the race I ran into a friend and we ran to the finish together.  This is the same friend that helped me through my very first half marathon and inspired me to start running again in the first place, so it was almost poetic that out of 40,000 other runners I would run into her right at the finish of my first marathon.  As we sprinted (as fast a sprint as one can muster after running 26 miles) to the finish, I got a little emotional, but held the tears back and went for elation instead.  I raised my arms, yelled “woohoo” and crossed the finish line smiling ear to ear.  I did it!  I ran a marathon! 

Unofficial Results

Unofficial Results

We continued to walk through the finisher chute and I teared up again when a very kind lady placed my medal around my neck and said “congratulations, great job!”.  We then grabbed a banana and a beer as we walked toward gear check to gather our belongings.  I took about three bites of the banana and one swig of beer before tossing them both in the trash.  My stomach was not ready to handle anything just yet, it was too full of water, Gatorade and CLIF Shots.

The medal!

The medal!

I was never in such a hurry to take my shoes off and put on a pair of flip flops as I was after this race.  As soon as I got my bag from gear check I carefully slipped off my shoes and stared in awe at the size of the blister on my big toe.  Surprisingly, my feet were the only body parts that hurt immediately after the race, or maybe it was just the runner’s high and pride of finishing a marathon masking the aches and pains that would come later.

After finally locating my husband, we all boarded the L to head back home.  Walking was fine and I was surprised at how easily I was able to climb the stairs to the platform (sure, it wasn’t comfortable, but it wasn’t painful either).  Sitting on the train felt great and I began to feel a little tired.  By the time we reached the Oak Park stop I was ready for a nap.  We got off the train and as I took one step down the stairs I saw stars.  After what seemed like an eternity, I finally made my way to the bottom of the stairs and shuffled up the street to Gepetto’s Pizzeria where my run club was hosting a pizza party for runners and volunteers.  It was so fun to hear everyone’s story, and the pizza was pretty good too!  We left the pizza party about an hour later and headed home to relax.  The first thing I did was take a looooong shower and boy did it feel good!  I still felt pretty darn good, until I sat down for an hour and then tried to stand back up.  Every muscle from my lower back to my toes felt like it was tightening up and I started walking around like Frankenstein.  My hips were tight, my knees ached, my ankle was sore and swollen, and my toe was, well lets just say, angry.

Look at the angle of my ankle...no wonder it was swollen!

Look at the angle of my leg…no wonder my knees and ankles hurt!

While sitting down for dinner and looking at some of the pictures of me running, it dawned on me…the reason my knees and ankle were so swollen and sore was because I was constantly dodging and passing other runners (and sometimes walkers, especially at the end of the race).  I knew I was assigned to the wrong corral, but I certainly did not expect to be passing that many people.  According to  the unofficial results, 38,535 people started the race and I finished 29,553rd.  I was in corral “L” with only one corral behind me, corral “M”.  I would guesstimate corrals L and M held about about 2,000 runners total, since they looked pretty small.  This means that I passed approximately 6,900 people over the course of the race.  Even if my guesstimate is off by 2,000 people, that still a lot of people to pass!  No wonder my knees and ankles were sore and swollen!  Oh well, lesson learned for the next one!

Overall this was an absolutely amazing experience and I’m so glad I chose Chicago for my first marathon.  The crowd support is amazing, the course is scenic and flat (except for that evil and cruelly placed hill right before the finish), and if the weather is right, it’s hard to have a bad race.  If I could be guaranteed to have the weather we had on October 13th, I would do this race again in a heartbeat.  But alas, Chicago weather is so unpredictable, especially this time of year, I’m afraid to chance it.  I almost feel that because I had such an awesome experience, I would be tempting fate by running Chicago again.  I had such a perfect day and race, I’m afraid to ruin the memory.  Maybe I’ll see if I can get into New York next year.

Well friends, that’s it…”marathon” has now been checked off my bucket list.  I would like to take a moment to thank my family, friends, coworkers and all of my blog followers for your support and encouragement throughout this process.  You have given me the drive and have helped me succeed in reaching my goal.  You have gotten me out of bed at 3am to get my long run in before the heat of the day.  You have given me fueling, hydration and gear advice.  You have inspired me to run faster and even just to keep running when I wanted to quit.  You have all been an inspiration to me and I am forever grateful for your support, advice and encouraging words.

Now that the marathon is over, I will switch my focus to my next half marathon, which is scheduled for January 25th.  This time around, I’m going to try using a more advanced training plan and will work in strength training and yoga in the hopes of improving my speed and breaking my half marathon curse.  Training officially starts in a few weeks, but rest assured, I won’t be just sitting around in the meantime.  I have a few races coming up and I would really like to PR in a 5K and 10K before the end of the year.  On that note, I’m going to head to bed so I can get up early tomorrow and get a quick run in before work.  Tomorrow evening is girls night out with my run club friends, a sure to be good time!

Until next time, happy running!

Twas the Night Before the Marathon

Holy cow, I can’t believe the big day is finally here!  In just about 11 hours I will be making my way into my start corral to begin the biggest challenge of my life so far.  I am a ball of nerves and excitement, and just cannot wait to experience everything that is the great Chicago Marathon! 

The last two weeks have been interesting, to say the least.  My mind has been in overdrive, alternating between confidence and trust in my training, to fear and doubt.  Since I did my homework, I knew in the back of my mind that I must be experiencing a bit of taper madness, and this was all very normal.  Knowing that running extra miles wouldn’t help, and could potentially hurt my chances of a successful finish, I kept to the training program.  Because the runs were shorter and my endurance has improved so much over the last few months (especially since it has gotten cooler) I found a faster pace to be much easier, and had to keep reminding myself that I should be taking it easy and resting my legs for the main event.  Here are my stats for the last two weeks:

Image

Image

In final preparation for the race, I have laid out my clothes, gathered the rest of my gear including gels, ear buds, post race flip flops, compression socks and anything else I could possibly want or need tomorrow.  I feel as though I am prepared and am looking forward to a great day.  The weather is forecast to be perfect…high’s in the mid to upper 60′s, lows in the mid to upper 40′s, low humidity, no rain and a light breeze.  As I have said before, since this is my first marathon I’m not worried about meeting a time goal, I just want to get out there, have fun and finish feeling proud of my accomplishment.  That being said, after weeks of research, trail and error and practice, I feel like I have a solid pacing, hydrating and fueling plan that will hopefully get me across the finish line feeling good. 

Well friends, the next time I write, I hope to be able to count myself in the very, very small percentage of the U.S. population that has finished a marathon!  Until then, good luck to all of my fellow Chicago Marathon runners and happy running!

Trusting the Taper

What an amazingly inspirational, confidence building and scary week it has been!  When I last wrote I was making a slow recovery from a lovely head cold and upper respiratory infection.  I’m happy to report that as I write this, the head congestion is completely gone, I have my voice back, and my cough has significantly improved.  I was really worried about being sick during this very important week of training and was nervous that if I wasn’t able to run (or made myself even sicker by running through the illness) I wouldn’t be fully prepared come race day.  Thankfully, I was able to complete most of my runs (more on that below).

As much as I have thought about quitting a zillion times during this training, running a marathon has been a lifelong goal of mine, and the thought of failing when I’m this close to realizing my goal makes me want to try even harder to ensure that I am successful.  Through successful runs, this week has given me the boost in confidence I was hoping for.  Yes, I’m still incredibly nervous about “the big day”, but I know I can do it.  I’m going into this with only one goal…to finish.  I don’t care how long it takes me, I just want to run the whole thing (only walking through aid stations) and I want to finish strong.  I don’t know if I will ever run another marathon (or if I’ll even want to), but I will save time goals for the future.  This race is to prove to myself that I can do whatever I set my mind to.

Training for and running a marathon is no easy task.  It takes incredible amounts of mental and physical toughness, dedication, and perseverance.  I never realized how little I knew about running, especially long distances, until I started training for this marathon.  I have learned so much over the last few months.  I have learned what it takes to train for and run long distances, including nutrition, hydration, gear, etc.  I have learned that my body can handle so much more than I ever thought it was capable of.  I have learned that, for me, successfully covering long distances is more of a mental challenge than it is physical.  I have learned the skills needed to quiet the negative Nancy in my head that yells and screams at me, telling me that I’m weak, that I can’t do this, that I should just give up.  This has been an experience of a lifetime and I am forever changed.  I am stronger because of this, both mentally and physically, and I cannot wait to cross that finish line in a just over two short weeks!

Here is how my training has gone this week:

Wednesday, September 18th (Easy Run – 5 Miles):

As I drove home from work, it began to rain.  I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to go for a 5 mile run in the rain, given I was still pretty congested and my cough hadn’t improved much, but after walking the dog, it looked like the sun was trying to peak out from behind the clouds and the rain had slowed to a drizzle so I decided to give it a shot.  The goal was to run the entire 5 miles without stopping for a walk break.  As soon as I geared up and walked out the front door, I heard a clap of thunder in the distance.  Looking up at the sky, I thought the storm was far enough North that I would be OK.  I walked to the end of the block and began running.  At the quarter mile mark it started to sprinkle and by the time I got to the half mile mark it was full fledged pouring.  Taking cover under a garage awning, I pulled out my phone and looked at the radar.  The storm that appeared to be so far North, was growing and moving Southeast pretty quickly.  After a quick call to my husband, I decided I should get home as fast as possible and finish my workout on the elliptical (evil machine, as I like to call it).  I have never run so fast in all my life.  The rain continued to come down in buckets and the lightening was getting closer and closer.  After what seemed to be an eternity, I reached my front steps, and just in time.  As soon as I reached the top step I saw a flash and then there was an immediate crack of thunder.  Phew…that was a close one!  My heart was in my throat and I was glad to be home safely.  It was a good thing I didn’t try to wait it out, the storm lasted for quite a while.  All told, I got a mile run in, and ended up doing 4 more miles on the elliptical.  I know the elliptical isn’t exactly the same as running, but it got my heart rate up and my legs moving.  Here are my stats for the 1 miler:

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Thursday, September 19th (Mid-Week Long Run – 10 Miles):

I planned to meet a run club friend for some much needed catch-up/girl time after work today, which meant that I had to get up early to get my run in before work.  When the alarm went off at 4:30am I seriously considered staying in bed, but after some hemming and hawing I was successful in guilting myself into getting up, since it was such an important week in my training and all.  After walking the dog, I loaded myself into the car and somehow made it out to Oak Brook through my sleepy “it’s too early” haze.  By the time I got to the office I was awake and ready to spend some quality time with my new bud, the treadmill.  The run went well and I felt really strong, just a little bored the first half of the run, since I couldn’t really hear the TV and I don’t like to read while I’m running (I’m really susceptible to motion sickness from reading while bouncing).  Anyway, I started the run at a nice and easy pace, gradually picking it up the last few miles.  Here are my stats:

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Sunday, September 22nd (Long Run – The Big 20!):

I have to admit, I was more than a bit nervous about being able to complete this run, given my bad 18 miler experience, but I really needed this run to be “good” in order to boost my confidence for race day.  At the advice of my runner friends, and looking for a little company to help me through my longest run, I decided I would join the Chicago Area Runner’s Association (CARA) in their annual 20 mile fully supported training run.  For the bargain basement price of $38 (for CARA members) you get a fully supported training run that includes pace group leaders, multiple aid stations (water/Gatorade and one with Power Gel), gear check, a finish area celebration complete with a free beer and a finisher’s technical tee.  This was hands down, the easiest and best decision I have made with regard to marathon training yet.

What an amazingly awesome day this was!  I awoke to an absolutely perfect morning.  Low humidity and temperatures forecast to be in the 50′s and 60′s had me excited to get this run under way.  I arrived on-site with plenty of time to park, get to the race site and check my bag.  I was able to quickly locate my pace group leaders (I went with 12 min/mile since this was a training run and I wanted to prove to myself that I could run the whole thing without using intervals, plus I was unsure of myself after my difficult 18 miler), and we began chatting about the upcoming run and the best way to stay warm while waiting for the start on race day (she suggested a garbage bag or Tyvek painters suit).  Before we knew it, it was time to get started.  We lined up, said hello to other group mates and we were off.  I quickly found a buddy to chat with and we hit it off right away.  We chatted about everything from running to family and before we knew it 6 miles had flown by.  The rest of the run was much the same, slow and steady, I chatted with group members and leaders alike to keep my mind busy and off the miles I had left to run.  We even got a good laugh when we came upon a small two-seater airplane that had performed an emergency landing on Lakeshore Drive earlier that morning (thankfully, nobody was injured!) and about a mile later we saw the Oscar Meyer Wiener vehicle.  It was like we were playing long run bingo.  Oh the things you see!

The bottom line is, I felt great for this entire run.  I never felt winded and my legs were strong the whole way.  I am proud to say that I was able to easily run this 20 miler in its entirety (except quick walks through the aid stations to down a gel or a cup of water) and it was awesome.  I even had enough energy to pick up the pace a bit on the back half of the run and finished by sprinting up a hill and across the finish line…a far cry from the agony and defeat I felt just two weeks earlier at the end of my 18 mile run.  Sure, after “running” for 20 miles and pounding the pavement for almost 4 hours, my legs were tired and sore, I just never felt like I couldn’t go a step farther.  A HUGE confidence booster!  Also, I’m sure it was due to the slower pace, but I only ate 4 gels during this run and never really felt like I was running out of gas, and I didn’t experience the stomach cramping this time either.  Super YAY!  The only “bad” thing about this run was the beating my feet took.  I didn’t realize the extent of the damage until I got home and took my shoes off.  Apparently my sock had slipped below my ankle on my left foot, which lead to some pretty ugly chaffing.  My right foot fared much worse though.  I got my usual blister on my big toe, only this time the blister formed under the callus leading to a beautiful blood blister (can you sense my sarcasm?).  Luckily, the calluses on the top of my second and third toes saved my toenails from too much damage, but they sure were sore for a few days!

Overall, this was a great experience and helped me to get a better idea of what I should do on race day.  I now have a plan for race day, and am really looking forward to experiencing the Chicago Marathon and everything it has to offer.  Here are my stats:

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Tuesday, September 24th (Easy Run – 5 Miles):

It was another early morning for me today.  Knowing I had a 6pm appointment and wouldn’t get home until late, I decided I would get up early to get my run in before getting ready for work.  Since this run was just an easy 5 miler (hard to believe that just a few months ago, 5 miles was just shy of a long run), I decided to hit the streets of Oak Park instead of heading to work and running on the treadmill.  Luckily, the dog got me up at 4am so I had plenty of time to eat something before heading out.  I tried a PowerBar Performance Energy Blend (Apply Mango Strawberry flavor) for the first time, and I’m in love.  It was delicious and sat well in my stomach, leaving me with a fulfilled but light feeling.  The run went REALLY well, surprisingly well actually.  After running 20 miles just a day and a half before, I thought my legs would be tired and sore for sure.  Surprisingly, they felt great and again, everything just seemed to click.  My breathing was right on and I even managed to run negative splits (and the whole thing without stopping!).  It’s amazing what a good long run can do for breaking down mental barriers!  Here are my stats:

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Wednesday, September 25th (Mid-Week Long Run – 8 Miles):

Another solid run in the books!  The weather was great again this week, which is helping me get through runs a lot easier these days.  The low humidity and cooler temperatures really seem to help keep my breathing in line.  I felt pretty good again for this run.  Not nearly as good as I did on Tuesday’s run, but overall pretty decent.  Because this was a longer run, I wanted to be sure that I didn’t go out too fast and run out of gas after a few miles so I kept the pace nice and even at around 10:30 min/mile for a good majority of the run, choosing to pick up the pace for the last three miles if I felt good.  Happily, despite running consistently (no more intervals!) at this pace, I still felt good for the last three miles and ran negative splits for those miles (10:14, 10:12 and 9:45).  My legs were a little on the tired side today though.  Here are my stats:

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Friday, September 27th (Easy Run – 4 Miles):

Tonight was another good run for me.  It was a bit warmer today (close to 80°F), but not humid which helped to keep my breathing in line.  I felt pretty good as I set out on this run, a little tired, but nothing I couldn’t handle.  About a mile into the run my legs decided that they were going to rebel and give me trouble.  My quads felt heavy and my shins were sore, causing negative Nancy to make an appearance.  Instead of focusing on my uncooperative legs, I pushed through and forced myself to focus on and enjoy my surroundings instead (the trees are starting to change!).  I was so focused on everything but my legs, I couldn’t tell you when they decided to wake up, but they did!  The last two miles or so of my run felt effortless and I finished with a smile.  Here are my stats:

9.27.13

So this week was the official start of my taper.  They say that it is important to “trust the taper” and your training program.  I’m beginning to get a little stir crazy and as my mileage decreases, and have already worked out my post marathon training plan in anticipation for my next half marathon in January.  I am also getting more and more nervous as the big day approaches.  I got my official participant guide in the mail on Wednesday and just about hyperventilated when I saw it.  downloadThis is becoming very real for me, and I am wavering between confidence and fear of failure as the day draws closer and closer.  Last night was girls night out (GNO) with my run club friends.  It’s always nice to spend time with these ladies, but having an opportunity to express my hopes, fears and share encouraging words with other runners and friends, who have been through this before, helped ease some of my fears a bit.  By the time I left the gathering last night, I felt ready to take this monster goal head on, knowing that I had all of those lovely ladies standing behind me, just as I stand behind them as they strive to reach their goals.  Thank you for all of your support OPRC girls…and to those running Chicago with me, best of luck, you will do great!!!

While running my 20 miler last weekend, I found myself thinking about the movie Spirit of the Marathon.  When I first watched the film many months ago, I found it to be incredibly inspiring.  Being the dork that I am, I found myself tearing up and literally screaming at the computer screen, cheering Deena Kastor to the finish.  I remember thinking that I would surely break down in tears at the finish line, my body crumbling into a heap.  As the day approaches, I wonder what the finish line has in store for me.  Will I break down in tears, or will I cross the finish line the same way I crossed the line of the 20 miler…calm, encouraged, and happy?  Whatever the day has in store for me, I am growing more and more excited.  That being said, I leave you with this great Chicago Marathon inspirational video I found while perusing YouTube today (look at all that spectator support…awesome!!!).

That will be me in a little over two weeks…eeek!!!  Until next time, happy running everyone!

Oops…I did it again!

I’m so sorry for falling off the radar again!  A wise friend once told me that a “but” in an apology smells as bad as your own…but…school has started up again and I have been super busy trying to get ahead, in anticipation of the time consuming high mileage marathon training weeks ahead.

When I last wrote, I discussed my doubts and fears about being able to finish the marathon and my scheduled 18 mile long run after a failed half marathon race.  Thanks to a week and a half of good training runs, I’m happy to report that my confidence level is improving, but I still fear, and am awed by the distance that lays ahead of me.  I started a countdown to marathon day, which caused more anxiety than excitement, so I have since stopped looking at it.  My goal in the next few weeks is to work on the mental aspect of my training.  I need to train my brain to power through, to not give up when the going gets a little tough and to stop worrying about how fast everyone else is running.  I need to keep reminding myself that this is for me, this is my goal…I am not doing this to keep up with anyone or to beat anyone…I’m doing this to prove to myself that I CAN do this…and I WILL do this…even if it takes me 6.5 hours to do it.  Here is how my training runs have gone recently:

Tuesday, September 3rd (Easy Run – 4 Miles):

The first Tuesday of every month is my run club’s monthly meeting and I wasn’t missing this one for anything.  This month, Cary Pinkowski, Executive Race Director for the Chicago Marathon, came to speak with us and answer any questions we might have about the race.  Since this is my first marathon and first time even experiencing the awesomeness that is the Chicago Marathon (or so I’m told, and I tend to believe), I was excited to get a behind the scenes look and learn as much as I could about the race.  Not wanting to fall behind in my training, I decided I would run to the meeting and then run home.  Not exactly a true 4 mile training run, but I figured if I ran each half fast, it would make up for the rest time in between runs.  My run to the meeting was great.  I was surprised at how good I felt coming off of a horrible half marathon experience the day before.  I was expecting to be sore or tired, but surprisingly, I felt great…I’m sure the cooler and drier air helped.  The meeting was great and I left feeling both excited and incredibly nervous about “the big day”.  It might seem crazy, but I’m more nervous about this race than I was about my wedding day!  My run home was also good.  Here are my stats for these runs:

9.3.13

Wednesday, September 4th (Mid-Week Long Run – 9 Miles):

This run went reasonably well, considering my lack of enthusiasm and severe longing to vegetate on the couch instead of run.  By the time I got home from work, I was exhausted and the thought of running 9 miles seemed like the worst idea in the world.  Guilt got me out the door and soon I was looking at the silver lining…at least I didn’t have to do this mid week long run on a treadmill!  :)  I felt sluggish for the first few miles of this run, but my legs started to wake up a bit into mile 3 and I finished the run feeling strong and accomplished.  Of course, after a quick shower, I went to vegetate on the couch for the rest of the night!  Here are my stats:

9.4.13

Friday, September 6th (Easy Run – 5 Miles):

After Tuesday and Wednesday’s confidence building runs, I ended up being really disappointed in this run.  Right from the get go, I knew it was going to be mediocre at best.  Everything felt off.  My breathing was off and my legs were sore and felt like they were made of lead.  After suffering through the first three miles without my legs waking up, I decided it was time to run/walk the remaining distance.  Let’s just chalk this one up to a bad day and move on, shall we?  Here are my stats:

9.6.13

Sunday, September 8th (Long Run – 18 Miles):

My alarm went off at 3am and I rolled out of bed to eat before heading out for my longest run EVER.  While eating and staring blankly at the digital clock on the cable box in my living room, I contemplated the craziness of the situation.  There were days, not so many years ago, that I would just be going to bed after a night out on the town, but now, I was waking up (after going to bed at 9pm the night before) to go run…for several hours, because I WANTED to.  Perhaps my friends were right, maybe I am crazy!

Either way, knowing that this run would take a while, I wanted to get out early to get the bulk of the run in before the sun came up and things heated up.  It was a nice and cool morning, super humid, but at least the temperature was lower.  The first 9 miles of the run were great.  I felt awesome and my legs were cooperating today, unlike a few days ago.  The sun was starting to come up into mile 10 and I could feel it start to heat up.  After my third CLIF shot, I was starting to feel a little twinge of a stomach cramp, but I trudged on.  Things started to get a little harder around mile 11 and I had to give myself a little pep talk (“you can do this…don’t let your mind win…you’re not tired…quitting is not an option”).  Thank goodness it was so early in the morning and nobody was out, I felt crazy enough without having others hear me talking to myself!  I ate my fourth CLIF shot at mile 12 and immediately felt my stomach cramp up.  I was fine on my walk breaks, but as soon as I started running again the cramps were back.  I suffered through the next 3 miles and knew I had to eat another shot.  I pulled it out of my Fuelbelt at mile 15 and barely choked it down.  That’s it, no more Mocha CLIF shots for me.  The thought of them makes me nauseous.

Anyway, the last 3 miles of the run were a battle between my mind and muscles.  It was sheer determination that got me through.  The bottom line is, I didn’t quit, I just ran REALLY slowly those last few miles.  When my Garmin beeped at mile 18, I wanted to cry.  I wanted to cry because I was so happy that I had completed the 18 miles and that I hadn’t given up.  I wanted to cry because my body physically hurt so bad (my hips and quads were screaming).  I wanted to cry because I was mentally exhausted.  I wanted to cry because negative Nancy reared her ugly head yelling, “if 18 hurt that bad and was that hard, how in the HECK am I going to be able run another 8 miles”?!  But I didn’t cry.  I just flung my Fuelbelt off and walked limped the quarter mile back to my house where I promptly took a hot shower and collapsed into a heap on the couch for the rest of the day.  Looking back, I think I started out way to too fast for this type of mileage.  I need to start off much slower than I’m used to so I don’t burn out on the back half.  My strategy for the 20 miler and for marathon day is to stick with a much slower pace group for the first half of the race.  If I’m feeling good at the half way point, I can consistently pick up the pace a little for each remaining mile.  Here are my stats for my longest run yet (this includes traffic stops and “fueling” stops.  I wanted to get a better idea of how I would do on simulated race timing):

9.8.13

Wednesday, September 11th (Easy Run – 5 Miles):

It was another hot day in Chicago (high of 93°F with a heat index well over 100°F), which meant I would be spending some quality time with my friend the treadmill again.  The run went surprisingly quickly and I felt good for the last three miles.  My legs were a little tired and sore for the first two miles, mainly my shins, but that could have been a result of the surface change.  Either way, it worked itself out and the rest of the run felt good.  Here are my stats:

9.11.13

Thursday, September 12th (Mid-Week Long Run – 9 Miles):

The weather was finally starting to cool off a bit, and the fact that I got a later start than usual helped quite a bit.  There is just something about running at dusk and in the dark that makes it seem so much easier for me.  I’m sure it has to do with the lack of sun beating down on me, helping to keep me cooler.  Also, for some reason, running in the dark makes me feel like I’m running super fast (even if I’m really not).  I have no idea why this is, but I’ll take it.  Of course there are downsides to running in the dark too.  Obviously, it isn’t the safest thing in the world for a woman to do, especially by herself; and if you’re a klutz like me, extra caution has to be taken to ensure those darn sidewalks don’t jump up and bite you.  :)  Anyway, this run was great.  I felt good from start to finish and even managed to stomach another Mocha CLIF shot.  Here are my stats:

9.12.13

Friday, September 13th (Easy Run – 5 Miles):

What an absolutely perfect evening for a run!  The hot and humid weather had finally broken.  By the time I got home from work, it was a beautiful 60 degree evening with a slight breeze.  I knew I had to hit the grocery store in preparation for a mini road trip to cheer some friends on at The North Face Endurance Challenge at Kettle Moraine State Park in WI on Saturday, so I made a deal with my husband – I would run to the grocery store and meet him there so we could get our shopping done and he could give me a lift back home.  Since I started running to my in-laws house earlier this year, I find that I end up feeling like a slug if I drive to any store (unless I’m doing some serious damage) or meeting in town, instead of running or riding my bike.  Why waste gas when I can kill two birds with one stone – get to where I need to go and get some miles logged too!  The run went well, surprisingly well, actually.  This was the first 5 mile run I have completed outdoors, in what feels like months, that didn’t require at least a few short walk breaks.  Everything just seemed to click and I was almost sad when the 5 miles was up.  I felt like I could have gone on forever…another confidence boosting run.  Score!  Here are my stats:

9.13.13

Sunday (Long Run – 14 Miles):

Well, as much as I feel guilty for missing a “long” run, there was no way this run was going to happen.  After spending a fun day with friends in WI, I thought my allergies were really kicking up.  I had a tickle in the back of my throat all day, but I figured it was nothing that a Claritin couldn’t fix.  Hours after I took said Claritin, my throat was killing me, the tickle was still there…and I had no voice.  Yup…I managed to go and get myself sick again, and of course, it would have to be on arguably the most important week of my marathon training (boo, hiss)!  I’m not really surprised though.  I tend to get sick easily when my body is run down and the high(er) mileage I have been putting in these last few weeks surely has my body begging for mercy.  Add crazy Chicago temperature swings to the mix (upper 90′s to mid 60′s in two days) and…BAM…I’m sidelined with a lovely head/chest cold.  Hoping for a miraculous recovery, I opted to skip my 14 mile long run and rest Monday night.

Tuesday, September 17th (Easy Run – 5 Miles):

It is now Tuesday and I’m still congested, my voice is making only a slight comeback and my cough is enough to make someone cringe.  Since most of my symptoms are above my neck (above the neck = run;  below = no running), and not wanting to let a little cold derail my training, I decided I would do my 5 miler tonight, but keep it nice and easy, and reassess my training for the week depending on how I felt afterward.  The run went surprisingly well.  Again, everything just seemed to click.  Even though I’m sick, I still managed to comfortably hold a nice pace, took no walk breaks and finished feeling really strong.  I didn’t cough at all during my run, but as soon as I stopped…oh boy, I didn’t think I would ever stop.  About 15 minutes after I used my inhaler the fit finally ended.  I have a 10 miler on tap for tomorrow so we’ll see how I feel in the morning.  Here are my stats for the run:

9.17.13

A Tale of Two Races

Phew…what a weekend!  Have you ever had a weekend that was both relaxing and exhausting or fun and miserable?  Well, that was this weekend for me.  It all started with a nice 5 mile run on the treadmill and a trip to Joliet after work to get my hair done, which always makes me feel better.  That is until I got a text message from my husband saying that, thanks to a severe thunderstorm that rolled through, we were without power for the second time this summer.  Of course, it had to be one of the hotter days we’ve seen this summer.  Lucky for us, my in-laws live close by and were kind enough to offer us an air conditioned room for the night!   After checking the estimated restore time all night, I decided I would have to get up early to bring the pug to Camp Bow Wow (so she didn’t overheat) before heading out to have some fun at the Hell Run.  I was so relieved when I got a text from ComEd at 1am saying the power was expected to be restored by 4:30am…hooray, I get to sleep in on a Saturday for once!  I got home around 9am (yes, 8:30am is sleeping in for me these days) and had plenty of time to change into my team uniform, eat a little something and head out for the…

Hell Run (Hawthorne Race Course) = Fun!

As I was grabbing my bag to head out the door, I heard a clap of thunder.  Shoot.  I pulled up the radar hoping for a small cell and was happy to see that it was small and seemed to be moving quickly.  As soon as I hit the road, it started to sprinkle and by the time I got most of the way there, it was a torrential downpour.  I hated opening my car window to pay for parking when I arrived ($10, by the way), but then had to laugh at myself…really, I didn’t want to get wet from the rain, but I was going to be jumping into giant mud puddles in an hour?!  I can be really blond sometimes!  After parking my car, I met up with my friends and teammates so we could get our bibs and swag.  Unfortunately, due to lightening in the area, we were directed to take shelter in the Hawthorne grand stand building.  Thankfully, it was nice and warm inside so we didn’t freeze from being drenched head to toe.

Fast forward an hour and a half (apparently that small cell kept growing and growing)…we are still sitting and waiting for the event to be cleared to start.  The race volunteers and directors were all really great.  They provided an update every 15 minutes or so and were very apologetic.  Some participants were throwing a fit and demanding their money back…a lot got tired of waiting and just left.  Obviously, the race directors cannot control the weather, I will never understand why people demand their money back when they are the ones giving up on an event.  Anyway, instead of complaining or giving up, we decided to make the most of the situation by enjoying some conversation and time spent together.  I have to admit, I did get a little bored for a minute and felt compelled to entertain my friends with this scene:

Just call me Super Bather!

Just call me Super Bather!

Finally, after about 2 hours or more of waiting, the event was cleared to begin.  The lines for bib pick-up were surprisingly short and we were ready to go in no time.  Unfortunately, because the rain was so intense, the race directors and volunteers had to re-set-up the swag area and gear check on the pavement, since the infield was so wet and muddy (bonus mud!), so we played the waiting game for a little while longer.  After all of the volunteers were back in place and the course was cleared the race went off in two waves of mud filled fun.  Apparently the course sustained some damage during the severe thunderstorm the night before, but only one obstacle was rendered unsafe – the low crawl in a tunnel.  I wasn’t sad about not getting to do that one at all!  We had a great time and got pretty muddy (more pictures to come soon).  I was happy that I was able to complete all of the obstacles, despite the loss of gripping power in my right hand due to a broken pinky earlier this year that didn’t heal properly.

Though not the most challenging of the obstacle races, overall, this race was a fun one.  This was my second year doing this race and not much changed from the previous year.  Everything was pretty much the same, right down to the t-shirt, cape (fun!) and medal.  The obstacles consisted of several mud pits, barbed wire low crawls, wall climbs, a tire maze, and of course in typical obstacle race fashion, a fire leap at the end.   The obstacles were in the same exact locations as the previous year so I knew what to expect next, there were no surprises which took a little of the fun and excitement out of it for me.  The only obstacle that was missing from the previous year was “heavy metal” (scrap cars you climb over).  They appeared to have replaced “heavy metal” with an additional very lame fire obstacle.  There were flaming logs on top of metal drums spaced very far apart.  You could easily have walked right between them, so to make it more interesting, we weaved our way through them.

Like I said, this isn’t the most challenging of obstacle races, but if you are looking for fun more than a challenge, this race is for you.  I will likely do the race again next year, but I hope to see a bit of a change up in obstacles.  It would also be nice if the medals or at least the t-shirts were a different design next year.  I now have two sets of the exact same medal, t-shirt and cape…adding a year designation would be a nice touch.

HR

HRM

After a very long shower, I spent the rest of my Saturday enjoying conversation and delicious food at my neighbors annual pulled pork party.  Have I mentioned how lucky I am to live on a block with such awesome neighbors?!  Sunday I spent the day being lazy, lounging around the house and watching a marathon of Breaking Bad on Netflix, my husband’s new obsession.  I managed to get the laundry done in between episodes and mainly hid from the heat and humidity outside.  Of course, in preparation for my next race, I ventured out for my usual pre-race carbo-load meal of Wisconsin Mac & Cheese from Noodles & Co.  I went to bed pretty early, in anticipation of my next half-marathon, the…

Oak Brook Half-Marathon (aka the REAL Hell Run)

I woke up at 5am on Monday hopeful that I would have a good race.  The weather was forecast to be much cooler than it had been in the last two weeks, so I hoped that I could finally have a good half marathon.  I picked up my packet on Thursday after work (it was a breeze…I was in and out in 5 minutes and most of that time was spent talking to a run club member who was volunteering) and I had gathered my gear, bib, goo, etc. the night before so I was thankful for the extra few minutes of sleep that afforded me.  The race also offered day of packet pick-up, which was nice, but I feel so much more “prepared” for a race when I have everything ahead of time.  Anyway, I made my way out to Oak Brook, which was a breeze at 5:45am on a holiday.  I think it took me a grand total of 20 minutes, the majority of the time was spent getting through Oak Park to the Ike.  I work very close to the start of the race, which was part of the appeal.  Since I’m familiar with the area and have run on part of the course before, I thought I knew what to expect.  Oh boy was I wrong.  I’m telling you, half marathons are my kryptonite.  I have yet to have a “good” one, but that is more my problem, than a reflection of the race itself.  The race was very well organized and the course was beautiful, I just can’t seem to run a half marathon without feeling like total crap.  Instead of bashing this race because my failures, I will take a step back and review it objectively before getting into why I failed.  Here is the breakdown:

Price:

After learning about the race last year (I was training for a 10K then), I was on the fence about this race mainly because of the time of year and Chicago’s fickle weather.  Plus, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to spend $65 to run a half marathon (since they have historically been my worst races), but a run club friend sealed the deal for me when she passed along a discount code.  Imagine my surprise when I went to register and was able to use an additional CARA discount code!  All said and done, the race was very reasonable at $53.18 (with taxes and fees).

What I Got for the Money:

For a mere $53.18 I got a nice gender specific technical shirt, a bag full of goodies (that included a tennis ball, Chapstick and several flyers for future races), free parking, a well planned and executed chip timed race (B-Tag), a beautiful and challenging course, great on-course support (water, Gatorade and Energy Gels), super nice and energetic volunteers, a medal at the finish and a nice finish line festival.

OB

Packet Pick-Up:

As I said above, packet pick-up was a breeze for those who chose to pick-up ahead of time.  Day of packet pick-up was offered and the upon arriving to the race site 45 minutes prior to race start, there did not appear to be a line at all.

Course:

The course was absolutely beautiful and quite a challenge for those of us not used to running hills.  Having run part of this course before, I was aware that there would be a few rolling hills, but I was not prepared for the “mountains” that I met on Spring Road and in the Fullersburg Woods Forest Preserve (miles 6 through 10).  I firmly believe that the combination of these hills and the rainforest like humidity that I met in the forest preserve were my downfall.  More on that later though.  The course was a good combination of street, paved bike path/sidewalk and crushed limestone.  There was also a good balance of sun and shade, which is always nice.  The scenery was mostly forest preserve complete with nice views of Salt Creek, but there was a nice mix of residential neighborhood and the McDonald’s Hamburger University campus to break it up a bit too.

Overall Opinion:

Overall, this was a great race.  It was well organized and had a lot to offer racers of every ability.  That being said, I will never, ever run this race again…even if I were given a free entry!  I know it seems silly to give a race a positive review and in the next breath say that I will never run it again, but you have to understand just how much of an epic failure this race was for me (again, totally my problem and not the race’s fault at all).

Growing up and running in upstate NY, I have run my fair share of hills (the type of hills even your car has trouble getting to the top of), but I’m not 16 anymore and I haven’t lived (or run) those hills in a VERY long time.  I’m weak and hills can make my already 1/2 or 1/4 full tank drop below “E”.  Add in rainforest like humidity (you know, the kind where you can actually see the moisture rolling off the roofs of the pavilions in the woods, or heck, even the breath of the runners in front of you) a forgotten inhaler and a calorie deficit (yeah, I thought I was a genius and was trying to lose weight by cutting 750-1000 calories a day – not smart when you’re training for a marathon…duh) and you have a recipe for disaster.  After suffering a minor humidity induced asthma attack somewhere around mile marker 7 or 8, I was more than ready to give up and take my very first DNF.  Thank goodness for my run club friend, Ann, who ran the race with me (I use “ran” loosely, as I had to walk a lot for the last half of the race).  Annie, you got me through this race, as painfully slow as it was.  I would not have finished without your encouragement.  Thank you so much for sticking with me!!!  For anyone unfortunate enough to be running near me, I sincerely apologize for the many F-bombs that I’m sure slipped out of my mouth in those hilly mountainous woods.

Here are my stats for the race, and a picture of the medal I so do not deserve:

Capture OBM

Here’s to hoping the marathon goes better.  After this disaster of a race, I’m not feeling too confident though.  I’m really nervous to see how my 18 and 20 mile runs go too.  I know I can’t quit this close to the finish line (and I won’t), but I’m feeling incredibly unprepared.  The thought that the big day is only 37 days away sends me into a panic attack.  Fingers crossed that my 18 miler goes well this weekend and I’m able to keep negative Nancy in my head at bay!