Sunday, July 22, 2012

Rock N Roll Chicago Half Marathon Recap

Half marathon #5 completed this morning!

The 2012 Rock N Roll Chicago Half Marathon finisher's medal

After doing 12-mile long runs three of the last four weekends, all in uncomfortable heat and humidity, I was feeling as prepared as I've ever felt going into a half marathon.  Unfortunately, my left knee was feeling a little off in the days leading up to the race.  It felt fairly good this morning when I got up, but I was still praying that it would hold up throughout the race.

I got up this morning at 5:15 AM and had my usual prerace breakfast of cereal and a banana, plus an enormous glass of diluted orange juice.  I had laid out my gear last night, so after finishing breakfast I went to get dressed.  For some reason, it was a struggle this morning to get my bib pinned on straight.  First it was off center, then it was too low, then it was too high, then it was crooked.  Sigh.  Thankfully I had allowed myself plenty of time to get ready before the race.  Lesson learned: When laying out your gear the night before, get your bib pinned on your shirt, too!

These can be very tough to deal with at 5:30 in the morning.

As usual, Adam willingly and very graciously woke up at an ungodly hour on a weekend morning to be my chauffeur.  He is truly amazing.  He has never once complained or showed any signs of grumpiness at having to deal with my crazy running antics.  It must be so hard for him to keep doing this when he works so hard during the week and doesn't sleep much on weeknights to begin with.  God bless him for being so giving.  Lesson learned: It's a good idea to be considerate of others who may be impacted when you decide to run three gazillion races that all start at 5:00 PM Tbilisi Standard Time (i.e., 7:00 AM CST) or earlier.

Tbilisi (near Russia)
When it's evening there, I'm starting an early morning race in or near Chicago.

Adam dropped me off near the start of the course downtown, then very unfortunately got caught in a maze of race-related road closures going back home.  =(  Meanwhile, I was meandering around the race start area, which was quite large (easily 12 square city blocks).  I was battling the crowds, trying to find paths to cross through the starting corrals, trying to find the portapotties, trying to find water.  I missed another Chicago Running Bloggers photo meetup, argh.

THERE WAS NO WATER TO BE FOUND.  I saw several booths with big "Water" signs on them, but there was no water at any of the booths.  There were no water fountains.  I asked a few volunteers and they just directed me back towards the booths that had no water.  I passed by one of the medical tents and even stopped in there to ask if they had any water (I just needed a few sips so I could take a prerace GU), and was met with blank stares.  Unbelievable.  Finally I broke down and asked a fellow runner with a sports bottle if I could get a quick squeeze of water.  Sigh.  Lesson learned: Don't take for granted that the race will have water available before the start.  Bring your own water just in case.

I was in Starting Corral 18, but I decided to forgo my corral and go with one of the 2:30 pacers, which were in Corral 23 or 24.  I'd never run with a pacer before, but decided to give it a go with the 2:30 run/walk pacer (5:1 run/walk ratio).  My goal was to break 2:30, and hopefully 2:28.

I felt good for about the first six miles or so.  The streets was pretty packed with runners and unfortunately I was weaving a lot to get to water stations, cooling stations, etc.  But the weather, which was supposed to be very hot, actually didn't feel too bad, and the crowd was great.  I was having fun high-fiving lots of onlookers, and the pacer was cracking jokes and doing a great job keeping us pumped. 

The course passed right in front of my condo building once, and then again a few miles later on the course just a few blocks south of the building .  It made it easy for Adam to cheer me on along the course at those points, and it was great to see him.  The course even ran past the Hilton Chicago, where the 2012 Blackhawks Fan Convention was being held this weekend.  I enjoyed seeing all the onlookers there wearing their Hawks attire.  (A bellowing "Go Blackhawks!" cheer may have come from my general direction as I ran past...)

The crowd inside the Hawks convention.  This isn't what I saw on the street in front of
the hotel, but it gives you a sense for what the crowd looked like in their Hawks attire.

Around mile 7, it started feeling like the pacer was going too fast during the run portions.  I couldn't tell how much of it was just me getting tired versus if he really was going too fast.  I know that my Garmin is not completely accurate, but I kept looking at it and seeing paces as fast as 8:20 per mile (WAY too fast for a 2:30 half-marathon).  I started having trouble keeping up with the pacer, so I had to run an extra 15-20 seconds during each of the walk intervals just to keep up.  Mentally, it was frustrating that I kept falling behind and literally having to run to catch up, but I kept at it.

Around mile 10.5, I passed the pacer while everyone was slowing down at a water/cooling station.  I decided to try to keep ahead as much as I could, figuring that he would quickly catch up to me anyways.  But he didn't.  I was buoyed by this, and kept trying to push it a little bit more while resisting the urge to look back. 

Miles 12 and 13 were tough; we were going up some inclines and the sun was beating down.  I could see the finish line from about the 12.4 mark.  It looked so far away, but at least it was in sight.  I tried to just keep my focus on the finish line.  I knew that I was ahead of the 2:30 pacer and that if I could keep it up, that I would make my time goal.

My official finishing time was 2:29:04.  And very thankfully my wonky knee and hip ended up holding up throughout the entire race.  Huge relief!

I was happy that I had run with the pacer, otherwise I am not sure I would have met my time goal.  However, in looking at my official splits, there was definitely some pickup between the 10K mark and the 10-mile mark.  So it turns out that I wasn't just imagining what seemed like an uncomfortable pace for several miles.  Lesson learned: Pacers are a good guideline for an overall final finishing time, but they do not necessarily run completely even splits.

Final thoughts:
Overall, this race was enjoyable and they did a lot to make sure that the runners were well-hydrated and kept cool and comfortable to the best extent possible.  One of the medical tents even had big jars of Vaseline out in case anyone had forgotten to put on BodyGlide, which was very thoughtful of them.  The cool sponges, towels, ice, and sprinklers provided along the course were very well appreciated.

Also, out of the five half marathons I've run, this was the first half marathon that provided GU along the course.  Fantastic.  I also really enjoyed all the post-race refreshments offered - chocolate milk, popsicles, Jamba Juice smoothies, Dole fruit cups, popsicles, chocolate protein bars, and Chobani yogurt, in addition to the usual bananas, pretzels, Gatorade, and water.  I forgot to mention earlier that I enjoyed the race expo very much, as well.

In short, while this race is on the pricier side compared to most half marathons, you do get a LOT for your registration fee.  Therefore, it's all the better when you can take advantage of a great discount code to run this race at a reasonably competitive rate!

Final final thoughts:
I still find the half marathon distance to be challenging, even after pretty significant training and running my third half marathon in five months.  I am still having trouble comprehending the idea of doubling this distance for a full marathon... and I only have 2.5 months left to get myself up to that level for the Chicago Marathon.  I still have a lot of training ahead of me. 

Time for a stepback week to try to get my wonky knee under control again.  Then, back to work!!!


Closing side note: I have had a very busy week with a few more coming up, so I am behind in reading some of your blogs and responding to comments, etc.   But please know that I am not ignoring y'all - I do hope to catch up with all of your blogs as soon as I can!


  1. Congrats on completing your 5th half marathon with the time you wanted! Amazing. I totally agree with you about the water issue before the race. I walked around for a good 20 minutes searching for water in panic. I finally just stopped by the X-Sport Fitness tent and asked them (luckily they gave me a water bottle). Ridiculous but lesson learned: bring your own water bottle!

    I was very happy with the water stations (and ice!) as well, although I still found myself wishing that I brought a small water bottle of my own.

    I saw the 2:30 pacer man! That means I was running very close to you :)

    1. Thanks so much, Irina - and HUGE congratulations to you, too!!! YAY!!!!!!!

      Wasn't the lack of water unsettling? Good call on stopping by at the X-Sport tent and I agree with you that it would have been nice to have a small handheld water bottle throughout the race. Although, for me the debate is that carrying a water bottle sometimes feels like extra weight at the end of a long run - so it can be such a double-edged sword, no?

      Yay for the 2:30 pacer man! I wish we'd already met before the race so I could have looked for you amidst all the race action!!!!!

  2. Woot woot! Congrats on finishing #5! It seems like you ran a smart race and listened to your body. And I'm especially happy your knee and hip held up for you :)

    It also seemed like you learned some good lessons from this race. I usually bring my own water and carry it with me during the race so I can avoid the congestion at the water stations.

    You'd be surprised, but it's not so much about doubling the distance from 13.1 to the full- I bet you could easily get to 18 or even 20 miles- its those last 6-8 miles that always are tough, mentally and physically in the marathon. You have plenty of time to get yourself and that wonky hip and knee to a good place to set you up for success in the marathon. :)

    1. Thanks so much, Xaar - and congratulations to you, too, and adding yet another half marathon to your list of races dominated!!!!! You are right about the congestion at the water stations - it would probably save a good couple minutes to be able to avoid the slowdown at those point!

      Thank you so much for the pep talk regarding the latter stages of marathon training - that helps a lot! It's taken me SO many months to get from running 6 miles to the 13.1 miles - so going from 13.1 to 26.2 in just another 2.5 months seems insane. But clearly it can be done, since experience from great folks such as you is the best determiner of success!!!! Please do continue to share the marathon-training wisdom!!!!!

  3. You will be ready for Chicago! Just stick with your training :)

    Congrats on your marathon and meeting your goal time! I have heard lots of stories of pacers going too fast or too slow. And someone told me that pacers often finish alone. I have never stuck with one for an entire race (okay, I have only tried using one once :). Lost them when I stopped to use the bathroom).

    I have never been to a race where water was available before for the runners. That would be great!

    I cannot get my bib on straight when I try the night before a race. Or the morning off. I need shirts with built in bib slots (not a spi belt).

    1. Thanks so much, Kim!!! I still think about all the nuggets of wisdom you shared with me that first time we had lunch - SO helpful!

      Yeah, I think the pacers are a double-edged sword! I personally prefer to start out slowly and then speed up towards the end, so running even splits for long distances is tough for me. And likewise - I've heard most pacers do finish alone since folks either can't keep up, or they speed up once the finish line is in sight. =D

      Wow, I guess I am surprised about the frequency in which I've experienced water being available prior to the race! Regardless, though, lesson learned to always bring your own just in case!

      A shirt with a built-in bib slot would be AWESOME. You should patent that idea - you would make MILLIONS!!!!!

  4. Congrats on your strong finish. It was a fun race despite the heat and the popsicles were definitely a nice touch post-race!

    1. Thanks so much, Pete - and congratulations to you, too, on running such a fantastic race! It was indeed a great time and those popsicles and the Jamba Juice smoothies in the end were LIFESAVERS!!!!!!!!!!

    2. I need to fill out the feedback survey for the Rock 'n' Roll Half I just got in my e-mail. I should give them a big "thumbs up" on the post-race cold treats! Plus it looks like I can get $10 for next year if I fill it out.

    3. I just filled out the feedback survey yesterday! Just in case you don't feel like going through the trouble yourself, the $10 discount code is CHI12ROCKSTAR. The code is good through sometime in October (October 17, I think?)

      I gave them a big thumbs up on the cold treats and requested that water be available prerace!

  5. Congratulations on a supoer strong race in not so great conditions! And you have described perfectly my hesitation in running with a pacer. So glad you were able to stay ahead of him at the end - great job!

    1. Thanks so much, Bobbi! Indeed - I've definitely learned that pacers can be a double-edged sword! But it was really nice to have a guideline towards the end towards being able to achieve my time goal. =D

  6. Nice job on running smart! I always wonder where they get pacers because it seems like they tend to go too fast or too slow.

    Glad your leg behave itself, too!

    1. Thanks so much, Erin! Agreed, I wonder how people become pacers, especially at huge races like this where so many people are relying on them. Is there "pacer" class out there!?!?!?

      How is your hip doing?!?!?

  7. Congrats on a great race! It was tough out there yesterday.

    1. Thanks so much, Maggie! Congratulations to you, too, on running a strong race under those unideal conditions! I can't wait until the fall - we are all going to become instant speed demons as soon as cooler temps hit!!!

  8. Congrats on coming in under 2:30 on a hot day! I did a half on Saturday in the burbs and woo it was sunny.

    I guess I never think about water before a race, but I don't think I've ever seen any before. Not at a big race like RnR.

    1. Thanks so much, Lauren! Congratulations to you, too, on your half! Which one did you run and how did you enjoy it?

      I have a love-hate relationship with water before a race... I like it because I always try to be good about staying hydrated, but I tend to drink too much too late and then end up having to use the portapotties mid-race. Still trying to find that balance!!!