2012 has been dubbed the year of the half marathon in my house! I’m aiming for a half every season and hoping to maintain a strong enough base to take advantage of at least one more half if the opportunity is right. This past weekend was my spring half marathon, the aptly named Chicago Spring Half Marathon. I signed up for this one just 10 days ahead of time. I have not been training for 13.1 but I have kept myself in comfortable range of 10 miles so I knew I had the distance in me. I am also running very well right now so I thought a personal record might be in reach – even without the training. I had played with the pace calculators; looked at my average pace on my 8-10 mile long runs this spring; and I was excited about the potential of a big (BIG) PR. Did I get it?
5am: I picked up my friend who was coming along to keep me company and race the 10K. I love driving into the city that early in the morning – no traffic and there’s something peaceful about a big city being so quiet and calm – like it’s holding its breath waiting for the hustle of the day to start. The weather was overcast with a chance of rain, temps in the upper 60s. I’ll run in that any day of the week over a hot, sunny day. We found the packet pick-up, ate some oatmeal that we had brought along and checked our gear. I brought along a visor to keep any rain drops out of my eyes and laced up.
My race started at 7am. The course ran on the lakeshore path which is a great place to run – Lake Michigan on one side, the cityscape on the other. It was a fairly small race – approx 3,000 runners – so the path was never too crowded. I was pretty focused on maintaining a strong pace so I started using my Garmin right away. I use my Garmin a lot in my training but in a race I typically just use it to monitor my pace. For this race, I was planning to use it heavily to keep myself on track. I was at a sub 10:30 through four miles, even with walking the water stop. Around the four mile mark is where it started raining, not hard but there was thunder in the distance. I thought the thunder was far enough away that it wouldn’t matter, so I didn’t really give it a second thought.
I felt very comfortable running and was having a great time. It started raining harder somewhere in the 6th mile but I didn’t think it would last long… though that thunder was getting louder. My 6 mile split was my fastest time ever for that distance, I crossed in 1:02 – which meant I held a 10:29 through 6. I was very excited.
And then the skies let loose. Lightning was all around. The wind picked up and was gusting off the Lake pretty strongly – just in time for us to turn into the wind and head back north. On the way south, there were very few waves in the Lake. On the way north, there were white caps. I commented to a runner next to me that this was not quite as much fun any more – she agreed. On I pushed – I was slowing down a little but was still on a strong pace. I started struggling as I got close to mile eight – and it was still storming – but I told myself I could walk at the water stop. I did just that and when I looked down at my Garmin to start running again it said “lost GPS signal.” It was raining so hard that my Garmin couldn’t pick up the GPS which meant no more pace monitoring.
I tried to shake it off. But now instead of focusing on my pace I found myself focusing on the rain being blasted into my face… my toes squishing in my socks… and how hard it felt to push into the wind gusts. I walked again somewhere in mile nine – not for long mind you, but I wasn’t planning to walk at all except at those two water stops so I was feeling really discouraged. Somewhere in mile 10 I stopped to stretch because my hamstrings were a mess. I almost cried as I stopped. I was so upset with myself. I had started so strong and seemed to be falling apart. I didn’t know how to shake it off.
I started running again and tried to find that comfortable pace but I could tell that I was running very inconsistently. I looked up at the mile 11 split and realized that if I just gutted it out, I could still break 2:30 – something I’ve never done before. It wouldn’t be my 15 minute+ PR but it would still be the accomplishment of a big goal. I became very determined.
Somewhere around mile 12 my friend Lisa… who had just crushed the 10K with a strong 57 minute finish… was waiting for me. Even with the wind and rain (which had lightened up around mile 10) – she was waiting for me. She ran along my side. She boosted me up and agreed that the wind and rain were indeed awful. She kept me going and while my legs were so tired of running, mentally I felt so much stronger.
When we entered the finish chute the announcer called out “Who’s going to beat 2:30 today? Barb is! Way to go Barb!” I looked up at the clock and realized I was indeed coming in under 2:30 even by gun time. I pushed all out and I’ll admit it – I sobbed at the finish. (p.s. It’s hard to tell in that photo but I do believe both feet are off the ground at the finish line, so exciting!)
I know I can do better (which is kind of exciting). But that day, after feeling like I quit on myself for miles 8-10… that day the finish felt like redemption. I worked so very hard for that finish.
Official time: 2:28:03 – a PR by almost four minutes.
Would I do this race again? You bet I would. I like small races and this one was well run. I got a nice wicking shirt and a medal. It was in a great location: a sweet little park in the middle of the city. AND we had a full catered breakfast afterwards. Yes, you read that correctly – all runners picked up a plate and were served potatoes, egg burritos, pancakes, sausages, fruit… and I got a free stretch at the PT tent before we left. For such a small race (at a reasonable price too) I was really impressed with the perks. Plus, I love an excuse to run in the city. This might just be my new spring tradition.