Chicago Half Marathon RR: my best race ever, and first-time flood evacuee :-) (Read 1342 times)

Right on Hereford...

    The last notes of the national anthem fell across the throng of soggy runners at the Chicago Half Marathon, and suddenly the crowd pushed forward in the pouring rain. I was less than 10 yards from the starting line, and I could feel the weight of 11,000-plus runners packed in for what may have been a quarter mile behind me. What the heck was I doing so close to the front? I had to tell myself that I belonged there. I'd been training hard for this race, and if everything went perfectly today, I had a shot at a 1:25 finish. I figured my real chances were about 1 in 10 of doing that well. Even the most optimistic race calculator predicted a 1:27:20 half marathon time, based on my best 5k. But I had a feeling deep in my gut that I might be able to do something today that, for me, would be very special. The music was pumping, and the energy level was through the roof as the announcer counted down to the start. Finally, we were off! I stepped under the start banner, started my stopwatch, and took off on a mission. Before the race, I had calculated that in order to break 1:25, I would need to run the first ten miles in at least 65 minutes (6:30 pace), and then run a sub-20 last 5k (6:26 pace) to finish. Earlier this year, I'd run a personal best 10k at 6:25 pace (39:54), and it was only last year that I'd broken 20 minutes for the 5k for the first time. Living and training in Boulder, Colorado, I did theoretically have an altitude advantage in Chicago, but honestly, 1:25 sounded out of my league right now. The first few miles of the race were a blur. I somehow missed the first mile marker. My sister-in-law, with my 8-month-old daughter Zoe in tow, yelled "Go, Mark!" but I couldn't pick them out of the crowd. [As an aside, I think the volunteers and spectators were the true heroes of the day. Running seemed far easier than standing out in the cold rain all day. Thanks, Michelle and all the volunteers!] We ran through Jackson Park and the University of Chicago, and I saw the 2-mile marker coming up. 12:49. A bit fast at under 6:25 per mile, I thought. But I focused on a detailed mental image of Sammy Wanjiru running the Olympic marathon, and tried to channel his rhythm, his stride, his fluidity. In my mind there was no question that it helped. The next mile went by in 6:26. I still felt ok, but had nagging doubts that I could maintain the pace. I hit 5k in 19:57. Wow, I was shocked that I had just run a sub-20 5k in a half marathon, but now I was really wondering if I was taking it out too fast. Mile 4 took 6:35. Was I already feeling the effects of a fast start, or was I just subconsciously slowing down to a reasonable pace? A few runners started passing me, which is never a good sign, and then I heard a little stampede coming up from behind. It was the 1:25 pace group, led by a guy named Bob. They went past and quickly opened up a gap. I was disappointed to see my far-fetched goal slipping away so soon. I knew I would still be happy with a 1:27, though. Then I thought, this is bullshit! I'm going to catch those guys and stay with them as long as I can! I was working hard, but I didn't care. Within half a mile I had closed the gap and caught the pace group. We crossed the first timing mat at mile 5 in 32:09. I'd needed to run a 6:19 mile to get there, and I was now breathing harder than ever. But I was committed. Running in a tight group like this was a new experience for me. It almost felt like running with the race leaders, but we were just the leaders of our own little group of ten guys. I tried to use tactics. I never ran out front. Instead, I let the others break the Lake Michigan wind as we ran along Lakeshore Drive. When approaching an aid station, if I needed water I would work my way to the edge of the group well before we arrived; otherwise I would stay tucked in right behind one or more runners. I looked ahead and aimed for the inside of every curve, so as not to run an extra yard if I could help it. I spied the 6-mile marker coming up. Did that say 39-something, or 38-something? God...it said 38:30! I would have killed for a time like this at last year's Bolder Boulder. I passed 6 miles in 38:48, and then 10k in 40:10. This was only 16 seconds slower than my all-time 10k personal record, and I had almost 7 more miles to go. But I was gradually becoming more confident. My watch split said 5:35 at mile 7, but that was because I'd also taken a split at the 10k (6.2 mi) mark. That meant mile 7 had actually taken 6:57, the slowest so far. Fortunately, I didn't do the math at the time, so I was blissfully unaware of this development. But the miles were now rolling by with an ease that surprised me when I briefly had a self-conscious moment. I noticed that I was no longer struggling. I felt fluid, almost effortless. Running was pure joy. I beeped my watch at mile 8 and heard Bob comment that we were now "back on pace." I looked at my split: 5:55. Apparently the mile markers had been misplaced. No matter. I could see racers in the opposite lane running past the 15k marker, and I focused on getting to the turnaround as quickly as possible. We caught the 6th place female. She was breathing hard, but wanted to fight. "Stay with us," I said quietly to her, but she dropped off the back after just a few minutes. Our own group had dwindled from 10 or 12 to half that number. Every now and then we'd catch someone else, but we were losing more than we were gaining at this stage of the race. Mile 9 - 6:46. Don't know what happened. Maybe it was a little uphill. I didn't know or care. We passed the 5th place female. The rain kept falling. 15k - 1:00:27, a new PR for me. I kept moving. The crowds running the opposite direction were getting bigger. Suddenly I heard an encouraging shout. It was my wife Molly! She'd been looking for me and it hadn't been hard for her to spot me in my bright red shirt. Later, she would say that she took one look at me running in our tight pace group and knew -- knew -- that I would do it. I gave her a big smile and waved back. 10 miles passed in 1:04:41, well under the magic 65-minute mark and another PR. I could hardly believe it. I performed a quick self-assessment and I did feel like I could run a 20-minute 5k. I was going to do it! Our group was down to three or four. Bob kept trucking along at a steady pace. I was really going to have to thank him after the race. I stuck with him. Mile 11 went in 6:09. Ok, it was ON. Time to see just what I could do. As if to offer a more worthy challenge, the rain fell harder. The 4th place female was just ahead. For the first time, I left Bob behind. It was definitely getting difficult now, but the pain was secondary. I had two targets: 1) break 1:25, and 2) beat this girl. I summoned Sammy Wanjiru again, as I had tried to do frequently throughout this race. Good posture, quick, long strides, RHYTHM. I caught her. She didn't like it. She sped up, and I matched her pace. With 1/2 mile to go (I missed the 12-mile marker), I passed her and kept going. The spectators were getting numerous and noisy. I heard the finish-line announcer and knew this was almost over. I made the right turn onto the homestretch and heard footsteps behind me. 4th-place-girl was down but not out. She threw down a wicked kick and passed me back. I tried to accelerate but my legs had no more speed. She crossed the line and I followed 5 seconds later. My final time: 1:24:26. Average pace: 6:26 per mile. 71st out of 11,053, and 7th out of 712 in my age group. I was dazed, in shock, and absolutely elated. Even now, after two days, I still can't believe it. I found Bob and shook his hand, and thanked him for his excellent work as a pacer. I congratulated Jill for taking 4th place and out-kicking me handily at the finish. A photographer said, "Let's get a picture of you two together!" I looked and noticed that I happened to be standing next to a guy, and the photographer thought we were friends. We looked at each other, shrugged, and said why not. The guy's name was Curtis. He'd started running at age 48. He was now 53 and had just run a 1:25:43 half marathon. I was in awe. We chatted for a few minutes and traded race stories. A new friend...cool. I exited the finishing chute with an armload of food and looked for a place out of the rain to consume it all. The race expo was the saddest I've ever seen. It was a huge muddy parking lot with tents all around the perimeter. Every tent was packed with shivering people trying to stay out of the rain. I went to the Nissan tent, picked a spot next to the left rear fender of a new Maxima, and ate my apple, 3 chocolate chip cookies, banana, and Quaker rice cakes. I saved my mixed nuts for later. It was time to look for Molly. I waded through the mud back to the finishing chute, and before long found her. She had done well (1:50) but wasn't overjoyed with her time. I thought she'd done an amazing job considering the past year's events (namely pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and juggling a career and caring for our child). We hugged and went to look for her sister and our daughter Zoe. After that high, the trip went straight downhill from there! First, I was borderline hypothermic. Next, we missed the train. Then, Molly's parents' place in Munster, Indiana turned out to be flood central. The levee broke, the whole neighborhood was flooded, and we were forced to evacuate. But, that's another story... Molly and me on the train to the race. Tiny race photos. Molly, Zoe, and Michelle hanging out at Istria Cafe after the race. Zoe. Watching the floodwaters advance steadily up our street.
      Wow, what a great story! You did an amazing job. I'm new to running, and I appreciated the details you included. Congrats to you and Molly. I live in the Chicago suburbs, and it was quite the memorable weekend. Extra cheers to you for the accomplishment in that weather! Wink
        But I focused on a detailed mental image of Sammy Wanjiru running the Olympic marathon, and tried to channel his rhythm, his stride, his fluidity. In my mind there was no question that it helped.
        Awesome report dude! I especially like what you wrote above. I do the exact same thing. It indeed helps to hold a recent racer's race in your mind. For me it just comes natural like when I watch Tiger play and go out and play golf better than I would have otherwise.


        —our ability to perform up to our physiological potential in a race is determined by whether or not we truly psychologically believe that what we are attempting is realistic. Anton Krupicka

        Outside Lane

          Congrats on a great race - and great race report. You rock!

          See how they run...

            That was an amazing race report. Congratulations on meeting a very impressive goal, and thank you for sharing! I hope all is well with your folks.
              Great race, great report, Dakota. This was a breakthrough in the truest sense of the word. And you've just recently started doing some half-decent mileage on a consistent basis. I believe that those miles and finally getting a crack at fast course at sea level made all the difference. I'm sure you have room to improve a lot more too. Congratulations!
              Age 60 plus best times: 5k 19:00, 10k 38:35, 10m 1:05:30, HM 1:24:09, 30k 2:04:33

              dork.major dork.

                WOW! That is just AWESOME!! I'm in awe and inspired and just so happy for you!!

                Reaching 1,243 in 2008 -- one day, one week, one mile at a time.

                  Wow, very inspiring post! Great job on making it under 1:25. Smile
                  ~Liz, single mama to K, L & C Pain is nothing compared to what it feels like to quit.
                    Nice report and time - good job.

                    Half Fanatic #846

                      Awesome report, Mark! I had to print that one out for inspiration and motivation!! Big grin Big grin Bill

                      "I don't always roll a joint, but when I do, it's usually my ankle" - unk.         "Frankly autocorrect, I'm getting a bit tired of your shirt".                  I ran half my last race on my left foot!                                  

                        Awesome job and great read. You've rendered a lot of your other PR's "soft" now. Go get 'em!

                        Runners run.

                          Nicely done! Congrats on a great race and thanks for sharing! (hope the in-laws are all good...)

                          First or last...it's the same finish line

                          HF #4362

                          running yogi

                            what a wonderful race report !
                              Congratulations on a fantastic race! And--WOW--that was the BEST race report I have ever read! Are you a "real" writer? If not, you should be.

                                fantastic race report and a great run! congrats to you!