Race Recap: Presence Health Illinois 5K

Fortified by a late lunch at Za’s and a nice day wandering around Allerton Park and other favorite spots*, I felt reasonably ready for the 7:30 start time of the 5K. The weather had been iffy for most of the day – overcast, breezy, a little drizzle – but nothing terrible. I grabbed two cookies on my way out of the hotel, leaving at 6:40 for the 10 minute drive to the race.

That was my first mistake. I got to campus just as they were starting to close the roads. With literally every turn, I was hitting newly closed roads, and being redirected away from the starting line and back into the terrible traffic that had caused me to try to detour through campus in the first place. I ended up driving several miles out of my way, then doubling back and finding parking just in time to hustle to the starting line. At least I got a warm-up?

My second mistake was low-balling my pace when I registered. Of course, I registered back in September, so I had no idea what my pace would actually look like, but I could have given myself more credit! I was in the second wave, and I blame my missed PR on that entirely, because by the time I got to the starting line, people from the first pace group had already slowed to a walk.

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, let me briefly explain: when you register for races, you’re often asked to estimate your pace/finish time so that the race organizers can group you with people of similar abilities. This should prevent traffic jams at the starting line by putting the walkers with the walkers, the elite runners with the elite runners, etc.

My estimated finish time put me in the 27:00-30:00 group – roughly a 9 minute mile. So everyone up ahead of me would’ve been running less than a 9 minute mile. Now, a 9 minute mile isn’t all that fast (the top 15 finishers ran a sub-6 minute mile), but it is fast enough that you should be able to assume that the people running at that pace are runners, not walkers.

All of this is to say that when I crossed the starting line with the 9-10 minute pace group, I should not have hit a wall of walkers. But that’s exactly what happened. It took me the first half mile to get around all of the walkers in order to get up to pace – a significant setback when you’re only running a little over three miles! So that was maddening, but there was nothing to be done except focus on the rest of the race.

I almost never intend to race this race, given that I will have another race to race in the morning, but it always ends up happening. Running through campus, often in gorgeous weather right at sunset, gives me such a high that I just can’t help myself. The course was reversed this year – I assume to fix an annoying hairpin turn – so we went past the rows of undergrad housing earlier in the race – always an energizing point. We sailed down Green Street, up 6th, and back towards the stadium.

I had set a pace alert, but didn’t feel it after that first frustrating half mile, so I assume I was doing well, though I didn’t think a PR was possible. I was mostly focused on beating last year’s time, though I’d written both – my time from 2015, and my PR from 2013 – on my arm next to my watch.

I crossed the finish line at 24:59, easily beating the previous year’s finish time of 25:56, but coming in four seconds over my 24:55 PR from 2013. How frustrating to have done SO WELL and then come up just barely short of a PR!

Tired, hungry, and grumpy, I grabbed a little post-race food and hobbled on my newly sore hip back to my car. On the way home, I picked up more Za’s, and returned to the hotel aghast at my missed PR.

Presence Health Illinois 5K by the numbers
Finish time: 24:59
Placing: #508 overall, #103 out of all women, #12 out of all women aged 35-39.
Average pace: 8:01
Splits: 8:18, 8:04, 7:44, .51

*It’s impossible for me to talk about these races without also talking about the places that bring me back to Champaign. But for the sake of brevity, I’ll keep that to another post.

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Race(s) Recap Precap: Illinois Marathon Weekend

I’m attempting (again) to throw myself back into blogging. We’ll see how long this lasts.

This was my fifth year running races during the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon weekend. The race weekend includes everything from a 1K youth fun run up to marathon challenge (5K + full marathon). I did the half I-Challenge for the fourth time – 5K at 7:30am Friday night followed by the half marathon at 7am Saturday morning.

These races are my favorites, hands down. The races are just great – great course, great communication, great gear, great people – and it’s always wonderful to have an excuse to go back to C-U for a weekend. I get such a rush running through all of these places that are so familiar and so special to me. It’s no wonder that I’ve broken my own records in nearly every race nearly every year.

Despite running a ton of halfs, I’ve never really had a “race plan” or a race strategy. I generally plan to do what I’ve done before, and roll with what comes my way during the race. This was easier when I was racing more often – now I have to try to remember what it was that I did 6-12 months ago? and did that thing work? etc. These blog posts are part of my strategy for remembering.

The last two weeks of training

I faithfully followed a training program for the last few months – for the first time ever. I did the technical runs. I used pace alerts and my heart rate strap. I trained in all kinds of disgusting weather. I went in hoping to break 2 hours in the half – not a PR, but pretty dang good considering that I’m still not getting much sleep, still breastfeeding, and only really training during my lunch breaks plus a long run on the weekends.

I didn’t run much for the two weeks leading up to the races. This wasn’t on purpose – I had an unexpected trip come up about 10 days out, and running just didn’t fit in the agenda while I was there. I got in a 12 mile run the weekend before the races, but very little the week of. My last training run was a lousy 2.5 miles on the indoor track due to bad weather.

I’ve had persistent groin issues since my toddler was born (via c-section) in 2014. Perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise considering that they cut through all the layers of my abdominal muscles – those enormous sheets of tissue that connect to many other major muscle groups. Anyway, that started acting up around the time I went out of town, and had me hobbling after every run for the two weeks leading up to the races. So that was a source of anxiety going into the weekend.

Nutrition

I feel like the clean-eating part leading up to races is actually harder than the tapering part. I’m terrible at following a specific diet. It bores me to death. My general plan is to cut dairy, fat, fried things, and fiber in the 2-3 days before a big race. Anything that might be hard to digest is out. In a vegetarian-mostly household, that tends to result in a lot of garbage carbs. This is something I need to change for future races!

My go-to pre-race meal place in Champaign has become Za’s. In fact, I’ve eaten there twice over the race weekend the last two years – dinner/dinner last year, and lunch/dinner this year. Their combo meal is an easy way to get exactly the veggies, protein, and carbs that I want, and nothing more. My pre-5K lunch was a salad with chicken, pasta with chicken, veggies, and marinara sauce, and garlic bread. My post-5K, pre-half dinner was pizza with veggies and no cheese, pasta with chicken, veggies, and marinara sauce, and garlic bread. Next time I’ll skip the pizza – it was too heavy on my stomach, and I regretted it all night.

Oh, and water. About 3-4 days out, I start hydrating like it’s my job. I don’t know exactly how much water I tend to drink, but I fill up two water bottles at a time, multiple times throughout the day. It’s a good idea, even if it means lots of pit stops in the days leading up to the race.

Travel

Our strategy the last two years has been to drive down to Champaign Thursday afternoon, giving us all of Friday to hit the race expo and do things around town. We made this decision last year due to rain in the forecast, but in general, I think it’s a much better idea than rushing down Friday and then trying to do things Saturday on race-trashed legs.

We stayed at a different hotel this year, which I hope we’ll be able to do in the future as well. For the price of a regular room at our normal spot, we got a suite at Country Inn and Suites – totally worth it with a toddler who goes to bed at 7. Other bonuses: better and more extensive breakfast options, and coffee and snacks (including fresh cookies) available around the clock. Don’t underestimate the importance of around the clock snacks when you’re running two races in 12ish hours.

In my next post, I’ll actually talk about the races. I promise.