Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I Heart the Chicago Marathon...#8 = Great!

Chicago Marathon It's been over two weeks since I ran the Chicago Marathon, and I was hoping to write about it before my first 50k at the North Face Endurance Challenge. Oops! Well, that has come and gone (race report is coming soon), and now I figured I'd better write about it before leaving with Brian and the rest of the CHUGS for Javelina Jundred this weekend! For the marathon, I didn't have a PR expectation as it was going to be more of a training run for the 50k, but gosh darn it, I was going to have fun running it. Also, after the TransRockies Run in August, running Chicago this year was going to be somewhat anticlimactic. In reality, it wasn't at all! This would be my 8th time running Chicago (12th marathon overall), and I still love this race, big crowds and all. 

The day before the marathon I started to get a little nervous. Marathons, even training ones, are a pretty big deal to me. I still wanted to do well and have a good run. Perhaps I was feeling some anxiety left from the horrible experience that was Chicago Heatathon 2007, I'm not sure. Anyway, my night of sleep was fitful because of nerves, so when the alarm went off at 4:45am, I was ready to get up and get going. Unfortunately while I was getting ready I started to have stomach issues and nausea so I took some Pepto hoping it would help settle my stomach. This was definitely not normal for me, but I tried to be laid-back about it and hope for the best.

Brian and I left at around 5:15am to go downtown. Brian needed to be at the 4k mark by 6:30am, so we allowed ourselves plenty of time. We got to our usual parking garage and after some good luck kisses we headed off in different directions -- Brian to his course marshal post (he had to hold a 4k marker for the elites as they ran through) and myself toward the start area. With plenty of time before the start and the fact that was barely 30 degrees, I took cover at a local hotel lobby on the way. There was a large group from France in the lobby, it is neat to see all these runners from all over the world that would take a tour of our great city.

After a while I got antsy so I decided to head over to the start. Luckily my stomach was feeling better but I was still a little worried about how whether I would have to make pit stops during the race. I found the 10:00 pace corral area (was hoping to run somewhere in between 10 and 11 minutes per mile) and got in position around 7:00. My toes were freezing and numb and I was regretting the decision not to wear any "throwaway" pants to cover my freezing legs. Ah well, it didn't matter as we got closer to the start because more and more people started coming in and soon we crowded in enough that I was actually pretty warm for the last minutes before the start. I shed my fleece pullover, listened to the national anthem, and then the race started. Not that we moved or anything. :-)

Start line
I finally crossed the start line about 15 minutes later and sent a text to Brian letting him know so that he could estimate when I would be passing through at different points of the course. We headed up Columbus and you could feel the excitement in the chilly air. My toes were still numb but I knew they would be fine after a mile or two. We ran under Randolph with the usual woo hoo's that make me smile. As we approached the river I actually spotted Ian and yelled hi to him as I was passing. I was glad to see him and was hoping I would see others I knew along the course. It's so crowded and bustling, though, so you don't expect to. A short while later I also saw another CHUG, Greg, who was one of the many course marshal volunteers that Ian recruited.

During the first few miles I just went with the flow of runners. It was pretty crowded and I didn't feel the need to weave through the crowd. Before the 4k mark I texted Brian to ask which side he was on but didn't get a response so I looked on both sides of the street to find him but unfortunately missed him in this spot. Oops! I passed by the 5k mark in 33:54 (10:54mpm pace), an easy pace I was hoping to improve upon further in the race. I headed up north through Lincoln Park, enjoying the crowds and bands along the way. I picked up the pace a little, but it was still comfortable. The sun was out and I was really enjoying the race. After passing the 10k mark, a guy yells out, "only 20 miles to go!" which those around us laughed at, shaking our heads. Gotta love those comments. ;-)

Then we headed through Lakeview, one of my favorite spots in the course with its vibrant and spirited spectators and volunteers . I knew one of my co-workers, Jim, would be at the mile 8 water station, so as I approached, I randomly picked the left side to look for him. Shockingly I spotted him and ran over to grab the cup of water he was offering, and yelled "Hey Jim!" He was stunned I was able to find him, "Kelly, go Kelly!" he yelled and I waved goodbye and ran ahead through the rest of the aid station. Now we were heading downtown again. I hear a fellow runner say "this is one of my favorite parts of the race, look at the view!" and I look ahead and see the high-rise buildings and I agree. I work downtown every day and many times I take for granted how cool looking it really is. :-) 

At about mile 11, I sent Brian a text letting him know I was on my way. It was right around here where two years earlier I started hyperventilating and suffered a mini-breakdown over how the heat was really affecting me. Not this year! I was still feeling good and chugging along just fine. Past mile 12 I saw Brian, he snapped a couple pictures -- always a boost to see someone you love cheering for you along the course. :-) I slowed down a little west of Union Station because the crowds were thick and spilling out into the street. It was a fun section, lots of spectators as we passed the halfway point (2:17:50, 10:31mpm pace). I was pretty happy with that split, and that if things continued to go well, I would finish well under 5 hours. That was what I was hoping for!

The miles continued to fly by, passing by the United Center, then coming back eastward with Sears, er, Willis Tower, in the background. Brian was at mile 16.5 on Halsted, it was great to see him again as I ran by.  

Mile 16.5
I still was feeling good with less than 10 miles to go. I ran through the Little Italy neighborhood and then Pilsen, which was lively with mariachi music blaring and enthusiastic spectators. My splits were pretty even, my legs felt great, and I was really enjoying the day. I could tell some around me were slowing down in this later part of the race.

Now we were approaching another favorite part of the course -- Chinatown. Crowds were in the streets again so my pace slowed a little from crowding, but I was having fun and I didn't mind. Every year I've run Chicago I always get the chills turning right onto Wentworth and under the Chinatown Gate. The excitement is like an electrical charge in the air, such a great feeling! I got a surge of energy and then as the crowds thinned out along the Dan Ryan, I felt more energy. This part of the race is probably the most desolate. It's strange to go from such a high through Chinatown to this. I didn't affect my pace, though. I kept chugging along, passing people regularly as we approached 33rd street and Sox Park.

By now I'm starting to speed up as there are only 3 miles left and I'm feeling great. I think about my upcoming 50k and how I could definitely run longer than 3 miles left based on how I felt that moment. The course brings us through the IIT campus and free beer, which I almost took but decided to pass on as I was on a mission now. :-) My mile splits are closer to 10:00 and I can't believe I'm almost done!

I'm getting really excited as I turn northbound onto Michigan. The final stretch, just 2.5 miles to go now. Even after getting "gator-splashed" by a guy who dropped his half-full cup of Gatorade on the ground in front of me, I still had a smile plastered on my face. (Ok, maybe I did a little eye roll at his lack of awareness of those around him. ;-)) At about mile 24 I saw Tina and Tom from the St. Charles CARA marathon training group that I had run with in the past. It was great to see them! They had both run great races at the Lakefront Marathon so they were out to cheer for the others in the program. I saw the "1 mile to go" sign and felt a rush of excitement. I did the math and knew I wouldn't be able to get under 4:30, but for sure would make it under 4:35. Not too shabby!

I take the right turn onto Roosevelt and the marathon's only "hill" on the course (an overpass above the south shore trains), and then left onto Columbus and the finish line. Instead of sprinting to the finish, I pulled out my phone to take a quick finish line shot and then ran in, taking in the glory of a marathon finish. :-)

Almost finished!
What an awesome, fun race! I crossed the finish line in 4:33:24, which, while not a PR, was definitely one of the most enjoyable marathon experiences I've had. It was my third fastest time -- can't complain about that! Oh, and it was a 2-minute negative split, too. Woo hoo! 

What made it even more special was that Brian was also volunteering at the finish and gave me my finisher's medal and a congratulatory kiss. :-) An excellent way to cap off a great marathon finish, that's for sure!

Finish line
My Marathon Splits (RunningAhead Log)

Friday, October 09, 2009

Tri-ing to be Pleasant in Pleasant Prairie

I did the Danskin Triathlon in Pleasant Prairie, WI, a couple of weeks ago. I decided to do this race because my sister, Cindy, signed up, and also because I thought it would be a good way to help curb a post-TransRockies slump. I thought by having a different type of goal, adding in swimming and cycling, would be a good idea to help me recover from the run. Well, as the weeks passed by, the slump was in full force and while I was running a little, I just didn't feel like getting to a spin class (my main form of bike training) and blew off swimming, too. So, aside from doing recovery (slow) runs, I had just one swim and one spin class under my belt for preparation. Niiiiiiiice.

Needless to say, I had very low expectations for this race, and instead of being excited about it, I was downright crabby about it -- like having that full-on dread, annoyance, and the feelings of a kid stomping his feet on the ground screaming "I don't wanna!!!" The only good thing was that Cindy was doing well in her training and I was looking forward to seeing her cross the finish line. I'm so proud of her getting back into running, post-baby, and reaching all sorts of new milestones.

On Saturday, we went to packet pickup, racked our bikes so we wouldn't have to worry about them in the morning, and then grabbed a bite to eat before heading back to Cindy's to spend the night. That night turned out to be a rough one because of noisy neighbors and the fact that I was pretty nervous about my lack of preparation. When the alarm went off at 4:15am, my crabby mood had not changed at all. Ugh.

We left Cindy and Mike's as a convoy to make the 40min drive to the race. We had to take a couple of detours because of blocked-off roads, but we finally made it to the parking area where they were shuttling everyone to the start area over a mile away. Cindy and I got on a shuttle and we left Brian, Cindy's husband, Mike, and their three kids there to take a later shuttle as time was getting a little tight. Cindy and I got our stuff set up in transition and then we headed over to the start to meet up with our cheerleaders.

The elite race started at 7:00am. My wave was scheduled for 7:37, and Cindy's was 7:43. The time flew by and pretty soon I was zipping up my wetsuit, putting on my swimcap and goggles, and walking over to line up with my wave, near the back. Alright, let's get this sucker done! I spotted Brian just outside the start area, waved and smiled, and tried to psych myself up a little bit. :-) After some encouraging words from the announcer, off we went!

Before the swim

Waving to Brian before the start

Swim - 800m, 17:32

The water was not nearly as cold as I remember it being a few weeks back. Still, I had to do a bit of breaststroke until I could get my breathing under control. Ugh, breathing! The wetsuit, which I haven't worn since 2004, fits just fine but I am not used to the compression feeling. I try to calm down and just move forward, towards the single tree at the swim finish that I use as a visual guide. I start going into freestyle, and I can only manage a handful of strokes before I lift my head fully above the water to swim the "freestyle with head above water" way of swimming (ick, bad freestyle). Oh well, whatever works. I alternate between decent freestyle and bad freestyle, making sure I stay ahead of the noodle swimmers. Yes, being a feel-good type of triathlon, there are "swim angels" and floaty noodles that racers can use to help with the swim. Luckily, in spite of my total lack of training, I didn't need these aids. :-) Finally, I get to the swim finish, run out onto the sand, hit my watch split and am seriously stunned that I swam under 20min. I thought it would be a lot slower!

T1 - 4:28 There I Fixed It
Now thankfully done with the swim, I ran to the aisle I thought my bike was in...only to be off by one aisle. Doh! Luckily I only lost a few seconds as I scrambled to get to my bike. Off with the swim gear, put on the socks, shoes, shirt, adjust my ponytail...SNAP!...goes my hair band. (Too bad I didn't have a twist tie like this gal, LOL!) Oops! Hmm, ok, I frantically twist my hair and stuff it haphazardly in my helmet. I then grabbed my bike and ran to the bike start. 

Bike - 20k (12.4mi), 48:48 - 13.5mph
I haven't ridden my bike since my last triathlon back in June 2007. A couple of days before the race I dug the bike out of the basement, filled the tires (luckily the tires remained at correct pressure), and replaced the battery in the bike computer. I knew that I would be slower and more cautious on the bike, so I just went based on feel and trying to aim for a certain range of speed using feedback from the computer. I was also fumbling with my helmet at times because of the way I stuffed my hair into it. The bike course was different from the last time I rode it, but mostly nice smooth roads. There were some inclines here and there but not too bad. I felt like I was going a pretty decent pace and passing pretty frequently. Little did I know that I would later find out that I should have re-calibrated the bike computer as it was off a bit and gave me a faster reading. I ended up finishing about 5 minutes slower than back in 2003, which was a bit slower than I expected. In spite of this, I was starting to enjoy myself a bit more and was definitely looking forward to starting the run.

Almost finished with the bike

T2 - 2:19
I dismounted and ran back to my stuff in transition -- this time going down the correct aisle of bikes. :-) I put on my hat (stuffed my hair inside), replaced my bike shoes for running shoes and then was off to the run start -- a quicker transition this time around.

Run - 5k (3.1mi), 28:00 - 9:02mpm pace
I felt a little stiff-legged starting the run but really happy to be doing my favorite part of a triathlon. :-) I passed by Brian (thanks for being an awesome cheerleader, sweetie!) along the path and gradually the stiffness lessened. Though I was passing people pretty regularly, I still felt like I was going pretty slow. As I passed by Mile 1, I was surprised to find my first split to be 9:12. Wow! I was expecting something over 10, so I was really happy to see that split. As I am going along, I notice that there are many women walking now, and I'm having a great time "blazing" past them. I get to the turnaround to go back toward the finish, approach Mile 2 in 9:16. Nice, steady pace. The lake is pretty and there is a nice breeze off of it which feels great. Just one more mile to go, and time is really flying by. I guess it would considering my last race was 6 days for a total of 30 hours. ;-) I pass by a older woman who is looking strong, and notice the number "73" on her leg, which was her age. Wow! I want to be as fit as she looked when I'm that age!

The final stretch
The final stretch, yay!

My legs feel great and I start to quicken my pace a bit more. Now it's time for the final stretch, the spectators are cheering for us triathletes along the path. I have forgotten about the crappy mood I was in prior to the race. I hear my name being called over the loudspeaker and sprint to the finish, the race is in the bag, finish time of 1:41:08 (last 1.1mi was 9:35), which was good for 536 of 1711 overall! Not too shabby for this back-of-the-packer. :-) I check later on and find that this year's time is only a minute and a half slower than back in 2003 when I actually trained for it. Not too bad! Having a great run and a decent swim definitely made up for a slower bike portion.

Loyal spectator
A very loyal spectator/cheerleader, my niece, Megan :-)

Once I walked out of the finish area, I met back up with Brian and my sister's husband and kids to wait for Cindy along the path. We cheered for her as she passed by onto the finish, coming in at just over two hours. It was great to see her finish strong! Afterwards, we got our stuff from transition and made our way back to the parking area, and then went out for a celebratory lunch. All in all it turned out to be a great day. I'm very proud of Cindy for doing so well, congrats to you little sis!! She Swims, She Bikes, She Runs, She ROX! :-)

Me and my lil sis
Me and my lil sis, Cindy -- so proud of you, girlie!

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