Race Report : Chicago Rock N Roll Half Marathon

In the interest of sanity and my fingers, I will not be reporting on the whole weekend. If you’re dying to know how the car ride went, or what I ate at a rest stop, feel free to email me. For everyone else, here are the highlights.

THE EXPO

Despite leaving early/on time, we hit the Chicago traffic entering the city and I was too late for the “official” meet up with my team. This crushed me to a degree, but I was happy to be there regardless.

Parking at the EXPO was 19 dollars; parking outside (seriously like a 5 minute walk) was 1 dollar per hour. We parked outside. Once inside I could feel the butterflies acting up in my stomach. I couldn’t believe I was finally there! I have run nearly 20 half marathons, a single full marathon and two 50Ks, but nothing the size of this operation. We found my # and I pulled out my signed waiver. Somehow (because it was about to rain) I convinced my Mom and sister to join me at the EXPO as official photographers. They were of course thrilled.

Walking through the EXPO I gathered a lot of free samples, a lot of junky literature, and interacted with a ton of games and prize winning contraptions. Becky and I had 3 different booths do “funny” pictures of us…which of course will take forever and a day to upload.

Moving Comfort was there, but they did not have my size in the new bra I wanted. Boo. Brooks was there, with a demonstration on the materials in the soles of their shoes. I stood there telling everyone how it works and why it’s good for a running shoe. I should have been paid. Becky and I won free tees from Brooks, Mom won a bandana, and we traded.

The biggest (and only) let down for me, was not seeing more of my team members. I was really hoping to see them walking around if not at the booth, this was a HUGE operation! I did run into Kyle and Rebecca, which was exciting. Something about seeing people face to face and helping represent a sponsor of the race made me feel important.

 It was also awesome to see the Heavy Medal Series; I wish I had the money to do more events. ) ;

This was the first EXPO where I didn’t walk away with a new Bondi Band. First, because I couldn’t find the color I wanted. Second, I was supposed to wear my Marathon Bars gear, so a headband for a race I couldn’t use seemed silly.

Overall we spent over two hours in the EXPO and one thing I regret…I didn’t hand out my business card. You read correctly, ROJ Running has a business card. The plan was to hand them out to the businesses when they gave me theirs, to try and get product reviews or at least exposure. When I realized the people at the EXPO were just “common” workers I decided not to do it. Then, leaving it occurred to me they would be the perfect people to give them to! People who aren’t getting rich off what they’re doing, but support the sport and runners? Those are EXACTLY the followers I want. I blew it! I did leave a handful on a few tables as I walked out. Eh, it’s a start.

THE RACE

The night before I barely slept. This is nothing new before a race, but it was also because the bed was uber warm and the pillows were uber too soft or too hard. Grrr.

A lil before 5:15 I got out of bed and started to get ready. I slipped into the bathroom with my bag of stuff and as quietly as I could, began the transformation.

As I walked out into the hotel hallway, I wondered how strange I would seem to anyone else awake at this hour. Of course the only other people I ran into were also decked out in various logos, headphones and black/red bib numbers. I smiled as the elevator doors shut, no one else saying a word.

Walking along the streets I could hear music in the distance and tried to settle my nerves. How would the race go? I’ve never had a time goal for a half before, was I being foolish thinking I should? Was it really only a month ago I stood in the parking lot waiting for the Buckeye Trail 50K to begin? I accomplished 30 miles that day, what are 13 on the flat roads? Oh, wait, that’s just it…roads.

More and more runners came funneling out of the hotels along Michigan as we all made our way toward the music. When I finally took the turn to see the starting corrals I was floored. People as far as the eye could see, squeezed into the road and up along the grass. This was only the starting corrals too, the “fast” runners. Places you had to earn. Ropes and gates guarded the precious cargo.

I kept walking, more and more and more walking. I wondered if I would ever find my section! At long last, at the end of the starting street the corrals broke off to the left or right, both sides equally flooded with bodies. My section was to the left. I joined people in line for the bathroom and tried to make conversation. No one felt like talking. I was given a free wrist pocket thingy and wondered if I should keep it? I realized it would have been perfect to store some cards in to give out along the course! Oh well. Maybe next time.

Gale is right about some things, such as, road races are totally different from trail races.  It’s hard to explain, it isn’t that people aren’t friendly, they’re just antsier and goal oriented. Standing around at the starting line it’s energy like nothing else in this world. I could seriously feel it on my skin and pulsing through my body. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to laugh, cry, scream or something else. I love it, but it wears me down too.

We could hear the start of the race and the elite corrals being released as the last few of us made our way into the bathroom. When I emerged people were slowly walking toward the intersection. I jogged along the edge for a while before cutting into the crowd. Our corrals were no longer being monitored. My assigned corral was #18, set for a 2:20:xx finish. Part of me wasn’t sure if I could do that, but I wanted to try my hardest and my hardest happened to have a goal of 2:15:xx, so I skipped ahead to the #17 corral and 2:15:xx pace bunny as best I could.

 It was nearly 10 minutes after the start of the race when I went over the first mat. I gave my best smile as I began trotting along with the crowd.

The BEST part of this race was the people. Crowds everywhere cheering, people running along with me. At times I wanted to pull ahead, but it was too congested so I kept my pace steady, this probably saved me from overdoing it more times than I can count.

Since it was a city and we did go in and out of tunnels a few times, Garmin had a major malfunction. OK not major. But annoying enough. My first two miles were in the 10:00 average. Good that’s what I wanted/needed. In fact if I could actually keep that for the whole race, I would blow my goal away! It was too early to worry about such things though.

However at mile 3 my watch went off and I looked and it said I ran a 7:27 mile or something to that effect. NO WAY did I do that! I know I sprinted for a while, because I couldn’t find the pace bunny, only to realize I was chasing down the 2:10 bunny before pulling back. Still, NO WAY can I run a sub 8 mile, especially after running for 20 mins already. Sure enough, their mile three showed up and I looked and I was about 30 minutes into my race, a steady 10/min pace, but Garmin was reading 3.4 miles. Lovely. Maybe all those other “long” courses weren’t long?

Aside from my annoyance with modern technology, I was sweating. It didn’t seem hot, but it must have been humid from all the rain the day before. Ugg. Luckily somewhere between miles 4 and 5 it began to sprinkle. Plus people were standing in the course with hoses if you wanted sprayed. Around this time I also realized I didn’t want or need my music and it might be chaffing my chest (where I tuck my earbuds when not in use). I was so thankful for the wrist pocket! With my ipod tucked away I was able to blast through the hoses worry-free!

Along the course they marked the miles, but also they marked other distances of significance, like the 5K point, the 10K point and 15K. At 5K I was around 31 minutes, which reminded me I forgot to do the virtual challenge for Amanda, and had predicted a 31 mile pace. Ha. At 10K I was at 1:03:xxx which greatly excited me, since my previous 10K PR was around 1:15:xx. Now I have to find a 10K to race and really punch it to see if I can grab a sub 1 hour race.

I can’t be certain, but it seemed every mile had a water stop and music. This helped to break down the time immensely. Since by mile 5 I was steady with being off .5 mile, each mile I had three things to distract me. 1) My watch, letting me know I was half way through the section, 2) the live band, which I could hear before and after getting there, so a few minutes of a song I liked and good memories, and 3) water. Since I was sweating so badly, I hit up every water stop; although so did everyone else and this eventually showed in my time. Still, water was more important. Some groups had little rituals at each stop, this only added to my entertainment.

Up through mile 6-ish I felt very strong and comfortable. Nearing 7, I started to feel a little tired, which bothered me until I realized I had just run SEVEN MILES at a 10/min(ish) clip! People around me were showing the miles on their faces too. In a half miles 7 through 10 are always the hardest for me. They’re awkward distances and it’s weird for me to care about them. I pushed onward and upward as best I could. But as I was passing 8 I knew I was starting to hurt.

When I crossed paths with the GU booth all I wanted was to grab one. Looking back I could remember feeling tired, eating a GU and feeling instantly refreshed! I kicked myself for not bringing fuel with me. Trail runs have spoiled me with their support! I talked myself out of it though. I knew if I kept going I could still beat my PR, even fatigued and slower than I wanted. Eating a GU I risk GI distress and if that happens and I walk…who knows how badly that could turn out. So with a heavy heart and feet I kept moving forward.

Near mile 10 faces around me perked up and the atmosphere went from “in the zone” to “party time”. I was able to pick it up a little, at least in attitude and when I passed the marker I looked down at my watch and almost peed my pants. 1:43:xx. It’s always been a struggle for me to break 2 hours on a 10 miler, this wasn’t “easy” per se, but it wasn’t as bad as anything in the past. My mind wondered to home and how everyone was doing at the Perfect 10 Miler. Then I was jealous, because those jerks were finished and I had another 5K to complete!

Around this point they had a sponge station. This was glorious. I took two soft pink sponges and drenched my face, back and head with the cool, but not icy water. Getting the sweat and salt off my face and neck was almost better than the cool down!

We ran past the area where the EXPO was held and through a rather lengthy tunnel. I knew from the course video this meant we were nearing the finish! Music filled the tunnel along with chants and footsteps. People made plans on when to start picking it up and what pose to do at the finish line. Two girls plotted how to get a jumping shot.

I was really hurting to keep going forward, if I had to jump over anything or if I started walking I was done for, for sure!

Mile 12 was a wonderful thing to see, and the clock read 2:15:xx I was devastated, until I realized I started 10 minutes after the clock! If I could run 1.1 miles in under 10 minutes I’d make my goal. Part of me knew that wasn’t going to happen, but I tried.

I looked at the crowd, looked at their banners and signs, looked forward to see the finish arch and trotted along. I swung my arms and tried to get a kick in. I was frozen in my pace. I ran under the MARATHON BARS flags and joined others as we crossed the mat. I saw a camera just before so I threw my arms up and yelled “Who-hoo”. I didn’t care that I wasn’t all too fast; in my book I just accomplished something spectacular.

Garmin came to a halt with the push of a button and I looked down as I hobbled around and caught my breath. 2:17:xx it told me. Not bad, and the results would confirm 2:17:43. Sure, part of me was bummed I didn’t break 2:15, but I didn’t let that get to me, instead all I cared about were the SIXTEEN minutes I took off my PR. And the FORTY-TWO minutes I took off my average. Per Athlinks and my own records.

After the race I was cold and wet. I received a free foam roll, which made it possible to walk again. I have no idea why, but I was beat up from this event. The worst part? My quads are dying. Also, for a few hours my toes and the front of my feet were bruised and I could barely put pressure on them. I thought it’s from wearing minimal shoes and going barefoot so much. The typical running shoe lifted my heel and put more pressure on the front of my foot, which I am not accustomed to anymore.

Despite planning to meet at sign J I couldn’t find my family. I hid under a tent away from the rain until they found me nearly an hour after I finished. It was OK though. I learned to ALWAYS have a drop bag. Always have a drop bag with food/water/phone/money and a JACKET. You never know what might happen.

I devoured my omelet at breakfast at the Grand Lux Café, stuffed with mushrooms, asparagus, artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes. I only made it a few bites into my red velvet cake pancakes.

In the past month I have PR’ed my 5K, 5M, half and 50K distances, and not just by a little. So, what’s next? Right now, nothing. Sure I have races; I have 3 more half marathons by the end of Sept! But I’m not racing them. It bothers me to think I may burn out and stop having fun. I want to run for the love of running and train for the sake of being active. I’m putting away my aggressive tendencies for a tad*.

*I will probably try for a sub 2:15 at VA Beach (this is why the Buckeye ½ a week before will be a “fun run”)

Looking at my FB and Twitter feed it seems this was a weekend full of new Personal Records, so congrats to everyone near and far who took it to the next level. Here are a few more personal photos.

4 thoughts on “Race Report : Chicago Rock N Roll Half Marathon


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  2. My Garmin got really wonky around mile 1 and between miles 2-3 (from what I've seen on Twitter and Facebook, everyone's did). I looked at the map in Garmin connect and it was all over the place, adding at least an extra 6 extra blocks to what we actually ran (which in Chicago is about 3/4 mile). Before the race, one of my friends suggested turning off the auto-pause and auto-lap on my Garmin, and manually lapping myself at the mile markers on the course. I did this and got a more accurate reading along the way of my actual pace vs. my Garmin's confusion.

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