Monday, August 11, 2014

Chicago 10k

Pre-race with Ernest and Sam
First things first, if you ever want to feel like Mr. T or Flava Flav as you cross the finish line, this race is DEFINITELY for you.  That being said, here's a little run down of how my Sunday went.  Be warned, it may be a bit long winded.  I got up early like any other race day but felt pretty sluggish.  Not sure if it was the open water swim I did the day before or perhaps spending too much time at the beach laying out afterwards but I certainly didn't feel like heading towards Grant Park yesterday.  I went through all the normal pre-race motions and made my way to the train. 

The crew- me, Freddie and Sam

A few stops after getting on, the gentleman across from me asked about my race bib.  He was wondering what the race was for and I simply said "it's the Chicago 10k".  Once I realized his question was really about the charity I had to do a quick google search before letting him know it benefited the Special Olympics (not to self, must pay more attention to race charities).  I apologized for not knowing already but explained that I run about 40 races a year and its hard to keep them all straight.  He looked puzzled that someone would actually want to run that many races and asked if it was a passion for running or the charities that made me want to run that much.  I realized I didn't really have a good answer to that question, I have a love/hate relationship with running as most of us do but I can't really pinpoint what keeps me coming back for more.  Each race is different, sometimes it's to help a friend, other times it's to prove I can do it and some I just simply like the course or medal.  After a long pause he said, "Now I don't want to put a negative spin on things, but do you think that runners are less likely to do races or want to do marathons because of those bombings?".  This seemed like such an odd question to me, I immediately blurted out "of course not!".  I then followed up by telling him that if anything it brought us all closer as a running community and made us stronger.  We aren't deterred, much the opposite, it made us want to run MORE.  Whenever we're faced with something difficult it drives us to push harder.  I explained that deep down all runners have an unconquerable soul, we refuse to let anything hold us back and continue to persevere no matter what. 

Midwest Vikings
After that little chat with a stranger I was feeling surprisingly energized.  I got off the train and was ready to take on the day.  I met up with my fellow Midwest Vikings for our pre-race photo op and then did some socializing with other friends.  We really are a big family.  People think that running is an individual sport, and I suppose in a way it kind of is but the camaraderie you build is what keeps me coming back.  I look forward to those hugs and well wishes before we head to our corrals.  I relish in the moments of meeting new friends and swapping stories of previous races. 

The race was about to get started so we split up to find our respective starting groups.  Sam, Freddie and I hung back while most of the other runners headed to earlier corrals.  As soon as we were off I was feeling really great, took off out of the gates a bit faster than usual.  I was able to hold a strong and steady pace for most of the first mile and a half before things got ugly.  We hadn't reached a water station yet and I didn't see any in sight.  I started to panic a bit as I was really starting to get thirsty.  By the time we finally reached that first table the damage had been done.  I tried to refuel as much as I could but my body couldn't hydrate fast enough.  My mouth felt dry and I was starting hallucinate telling Sam that I thought my skin was melting off.  Each water station I poured some on my head, drank some water & gatorade then splashed more water on my face.  It helped to keep me cool but I was still struggling. 

oh hey, me running into the skyline!
Thankfully I had plenty of friends coming back after the turnaround to cheer me on as I was still on the front half of the race.  After I reached the turnaround I made it my mission to cheer on everyone coming towards me.  Most of them were receptive of my cheers but one woman did not look very welcoming to my clapping.  Perhaps she was having a rough day too.  Each one who smiled back at me though helped to push me just a little bit farther.  As we approached the last mile I finally felt a tiny whisper of a second wind coming on.  I tried to ride it for as long as I could to get me to that finish line.  Somewhere in the last 1/4 a mile one girl kept trying to pass me.  Nothing bothers me more than someone who continuously tries to gain on me and then slows down...either pass me or stay behind.  I finally had enough and decided to kick in that final drive to get me to the finish line.  I forgot this part of the course takes a slight uphill to the finish but it didn't matter, I was on a mission (see picture).  I crossed the finish line and applauded myself for passing 20 people in that last stretch of the race, hey it's the little things right?

beast mode: activated
I got my medal and turned around to find Sam.  We gathered our post-race snacks and ventured off to find our other friends.  As we walked towards the train I scarfed down all the food I had picked up and downed all my water.  Sam offered to stop for breakfast but all I wanted was a shower and my bed.  I was hoping I had hydrated enough to off-set my earlier distress, but much to my dismay my body body was still pretty upset with me.  Despite all my efforts at appeasing it, I felt like garbage the rest of the day and had one of the most righteous headaches in recent history.  It wasn't my worst race ever but it certainly wasn't pretty. 

I reminisced about how I did on this same race last year and realized it wasn't much better.  I made the mistake of doing a sprint distance invitational triathlon the day before and it showed as I cried coming across the finish line of the 2013 Chicago 10k.  There was a guy there perhaps waiting for a friend who snarkily asked, "Oh, is this your first 10k?" as if I wasn't capable of a long distance run.  It took every ounce of energy I had left to push down the rage I felt building inside of me to simply reply "no, I'm just a bit worn out after doing a triathlon yesterday".  That shut him right up and I walked away with my head held high.  You don't know me sir, and you have no idea what I've gone through...please don't make assumptions about me or my abilities.  All things considered, while it wasn't a 10k PR for me, it was a course PR so I'll take it :)  Now off to drink some more water...

Monday, August 4, 2014

Biggest Loser Run/Walk Chicago 13.1

Pre-race with my pacer sign
A first race for a runner can be pretty intimidating.  You don't know all the "race etiquette" and you're just hoping to make it to the end without a ride from the sag wagon.  I get it, I've been there.  Those of us at the back of the pack have a completely different experience than our leaders at the front. One of the things that keeps us from registering for a race is the fear that we won't make the cut-off time.  Then comes along the Biggest Loser Run Walk Series, geared towards making the race experience available to runners of ALL levels. 

Pre-race with Freddie
Yesterday I completed my 4th BLRW event and I have really mixed emotions on the experience.  Let's start from the beginning.  I had a few friends I was going to meet at packet pickup, but when they told me how ridiculous the line was I decided to grab lunch to wait it out and head over there later.  By the time I got to McCormick Place there weren't any crowds to follow to find my way but I did see a banner advertising the race and pointing inside the building.  I walked in and there were NO other signs to direct me.  McCormick is a big place so rather than walk around aimlessly I called Sam for some directions.  Finally made it to packet pickup and thankfully didn't have to wait long to grab my stuff and head out.  The other 3 races I've done all had really nice tech shirts so getting a neon cotton tee was a bit of a disappointment. 

Heather and I ready to start
Race morning I arrived early to meet up with friends and grab my pacer sign from the RD.  Now I've never paced a race before but I was really looking forward to it.  There weren't any corrals but I noticed I was the slowest pace group so I took my position at the back and prayed someone would want to join my group.  I ran into Heather (she ran the BLRW Alabama with me) and she decided to tag along.  We had a few people start near us but mostly everyone wanted to stay in front of us.  Typically my pace for a half marathon is between 12-15 min/mile and I was pacing for the 17 min/mile group so it was a bit tricky figuring out how to keep even splits at that pace. 

The starting line
First 3 miles felt great but we soon lost most of our group.  I was torn between the need to keep an even pace and wanting to help everyone make it to the finish line.  We kept pushing along, chatting as we went.  A woman pushing a young man in his wheelchair along with his guide dog soon passed us and I admired her strength for taking on the challenge.  I caught up with her later and she told me they also did the Chicago Marathon last year.  Here I am dreading my first marathon and she did all while pushing a wheel chair and holding onto a dog.  We also passed 2 gentleman, one who had some sort of physical limitation, charging down the path with a fierce determination that could match any front of pack runner. 

Shortly after the turn around is where things got really tough.  When we got the water station at mile 7 they were completely out of drinks.  BONE DRY.  Zip, zilch, nada.  I lost a small piece of my soul and felt anger boil up inside me.  I hydrate especially well the day before a race but there aren't enough gallons of water that could have made up for getting to mile 7 and not having a cool cup of water to at least splash on my face.  Now I was on full alert trying to find a nearby water fountain.  My heart was breaking for those behind me though, I can't imagine their reaction to reach that table and find nothing but scattered cups on the ground.  The woman pushing the wheelchair needed to keep the dog cool as well as herself and the man in the chair.  I almost cried at the look on her face as the volunteers told her there wasn't any water left.  We just kept trudging along.

Post Race sweaty selfie
A little while later I saw another pacer on her way to the back of the pack to act as a sweeper.  I told her about the water situation and she assured me someone would take care of it.  The next few water stations wouldn't let us take more than one cup.  I understood the rations but it was still rough.  All I wanted was for the race to be over.  We were in the full heat of the sun (the race start was 7:30 but we were closer to 8 at the BOP).  When we finally saw Soldier Field in the distance it felt like a mirage.  So close, but yet, so far.  It felt like an eternity to make it to that last turn before the final stretch to the finish line.  As soon as we got there I looked around to who was left in my group and said "OK here we go ladies, it's time to pick up the pace and finish strong".  One woman gave me a terrified look and told me she didn't think she could do it.  I looked at her straight on and said, "Run with your heart, victory lies just on the other side of those banners.  You have what it takes, we'll finish strong together.  No one gets left behind".  My assurance was enough because she replied "you got me this far, I trust you".  We all broke into a sprint and didn't stop until they handed us our medals.  I stopped to make sure we were all there and she couldn't thank me enough for helping her get through it.  That moment made it all worth it.

I have to say that after the beautiful medals we got in Alabama, this Chicago one was a HUGE let down.  I've come to expect more from this race series and getting a medal with a stick-on decal just isn't a part of that level of excellence they've previously shown.  They also didn't have the additional medals for those of us Legacy runners who were doing the Chicago race for a second year in a row or the Double Medal for completing 2 races in a series.  More than anything I'm disappointed that this was supposed to be a momentous experience for many first time runners, and sadly it didn't quite meet the mark.  I hope that they didn't let this experience tar future races for them and I will continue to see their faces at many races to come.