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.

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.

2013 At The Races

In preparing for this weekend’s I-Challenge, I realized I never posted ANYTHING here about all of last year’s running. Which, given last year’s running, is a serious omission.

January 2013: Polar Dash half marathon in Chicago

Fired up?

Don’t ask me why, exactly, it seemed like a good idea to run a half marathon in Chicago in January. Maybe Megan and I just weren’t thinking when we signed up in the early fall? Thankfully, we were blessed with unseasonably good weather – in the low 50s! in January! in Chicago!. In the two weeks leading up to the race, I was also blessed with some sort of chest cold that I simply couldn’t shake, which made the race challenging. I felt great for the first portion, picking up a pace buddy somewhere around the 6 mile mark. We stayed together until miles 11-12, when I started having trouble breathing. A buddy of his had jumped in around mile 8, and the two of them encouraged me to stick it out, but I eventually told them to go on ahead, and took a short walking break. I’d hoped to catch up with him at the finish line to thank him for keeping me going, but I never saw him again. Thanks, random pace buddy! You got me through a tough spot.

I finished in 2:04:19, 5 minutes off my Monster Dash finish in October, but not bad for being sick.

Silver and blue

April 2013: Illinois Marathon I-Challenge 5K and half marathon in Champaign

My second year doing the I-Challenge, and my second year with back-to-back PRs. I rolled into Champaign with an incredibly full bladder and just enough time to get through the race expo and queue up for the 5K Friday night. A 5K has the potential to feel like small potatoes, particularly after distance training for the half, but it was a great way to start off the weekend. I started off on the slower side, but as I rounded the corner from Green to head back to the stadium, I punched the Go button and kicked up to a pace that I didn’t know I had in me. I ran the last half mile with a woman who was also doing the I-Challenge – the marathon for her – and while we agreed that neither of us should be going out that hard with a race in the morning, that didn’t stop us from powering around the corner and into the stadium. I finished in 24:55, taking more than a minute off my PR from the previous year.

With a 7am race, there was no time for fun – just a quick beer and a grilled mushroom sandwich at the Esquire, then an early bedtime at my Airbnb. I was out the door not long after 6, but still barely made it to meet Stephen at the starting line Saturday morning! We were both aiming for a 9:15 pace, so did the first half of the race together – through campus and into Urbana, where I spotted my friend Lucy taking photos in her front yard. At around mile 6.5, I got a side stitch and dropped back a bit. Water and a gel perked me up, but not enough to catch Stephen as he went on to finish the marathon. The most joyous part of the race for me was the trip through Meadowbrook Park which, while congested, provided a brief glimpse of a deer bounding through the prairie grass. I noticed at mile 10 that I would easily PR, but didn’t use that as an excuse to slack when, as usual, my energy flagged around mile 11. Thankfully, the music and the crowds spurred me on as we reentered campus, and I powered through to another PR: 1:56:59, nearly 3 minutes faster than the previous year.

Back to back PRs.

Fucken medals

May 2013: Rockford half marathon

This race was a totally different animal for me. Instead of pushing myself to PR, I was supporting my sister in her first half. The race started and finished downtown, weaving along both sides of the river through both affluent and modest neighborhoods. We ran the whole thing at her pace, enjoying the rare occasion for solo sister time. At one point, we were heckled by an older woman, who observed as she passed us that I was barely running! When we approached the heckler again, Jenn suggested that we gun it, and so we blew past her and kept up the pace for a few more minutes, eventually slowing back down to a comfortable finishing pace. The heckler caught up with us again, and I mentioned that Jenn had given birth less than a year previously, and that this was her first half marathon. We parted ways without further heckling. With the finish line in sight, Jenn picked up the pace, and we were happy to see our family at the finish line, though Jenn’s husband and kids were still on their way. We earned every last bite of the belated Mother’s Day picnic enjoyed that afternoon. Finishing time: 2:29:57

Running

After

June 2013: Rock n Roll half marathon in Seattle

Annette and I decided earlier in the year that we wanted to do a destination race, and Seattle provided a beautiful destination! I don’t think either of us were really prepared for the hills or the sun, but that didn’t stop us from having an enjoyable race. I didn’t have a goal in mind, but as we walked to the starting line, I decided I’d aim for two hours, a relatively reasonable goal given the last few races. I’m not super familiar with Seattle’s geography, but I can tell you that we ran through Chinatown with Mount Rainier looming in the distance, along two beautiful bodies of water, and on a couple of highways normally closed to pedestrians. I felt great and was on track for a PR until mile 12, when I suddenly got a crippling side cramp and had to walk. And walk. And cry. And walk. So much for my goal. It was a bitter finish, but not the end of the world, particularly since I hadn’t set a goal for myself until shortly before race start. We spent the rest of the day getting sunburned in Fremont with a grade school friend, watching a naked bike ride, and destroying giant burgers at the top of Queen Anne Hill. I finished the race at 2:04:27, and finished the day with a ridiculous sunburn.

July 2013: Rock n Roll half marathon in Chicago

I’m not sure what to say about this race exactly. In June, shortly after returning from Seattle, I took a hard fall on my bike which left me badly bruised for several weeks after, which made it hard to really train. I was averaging 20-25 miles per week, including a few long runs with N and speedwork with a running group, but I wasn’t making any improvements in pace or distance. Of all of the races, this is the one that I should have skipped. But I didn’t! Megan and I queued up on a beautiful summer’s morning, and the race got off to an interesting start, as my Garmin struggled to get a satellite lock between the skyscrapers and tunnels downtown. The course was great, covering both city and lakefront, and several of our friends came out to cheer at different points, but as the race went on, the mercury rose, and the sun became a little unbearable. At mile 10.5, crews were handing out sponges soaked in very cold water. I think you were supposed to squeeze the water on yourself and then toss the sponge, but I didn’t. In fact, the sponge became my lifeline. When I bonked half a mile later, I held the sponge to my face, cooling my forehead and inhaling the moisture. The sponge makes a prominent appearance in all of the official race photos, and in the group photos taken by friends later. I don’t think I set the sponge down until we got back to the car. It is my new lucky charm. The following photo should tell you everything you need to know about this race. Finishing time: 2:02:23

An accurate representation of today's half marathon as taken by Nicolas, and featuring my new best friend, the sponge. #project365 10/365

September 2013: Chicago half marathon

Megan and I were up and out early, arriving in Hyde Park as the sun was still coming up for our third half marathon in a third season in Chicago in 2013. I had sincerely hoped that after a 6 week break from racing, I would be in better shape for this one. I’m not sure exactly where I went wrong, but my energy started flagging as we made our way up Lakeshore Drive to the turnaround at 31st St. I kept telling myself that I couldn’t walk until I saw Annette, waiting at the top of the bridge with high fives and a slap on the ass. I made it to about mile 9 before I had to slow down a bit, and to mile 12 before the pain in my hip really kicked in. I swore LOUDLY as I slowed to a walk, despite the encouragement of the pacers I’d been running with for awhile. Another 2 hour goal slipped away as I limpingly ran through Jackson Park to the finish line, coming in at 2:01:41.

Go time.

September 2013: Women Rock half marathon in Chicago

This was really the right way to finish the racing season: a just-for-fun half on the lakefront with my sister. After the frustration and injury of the last two races, it was great to enjoy the scenery and her company on a beautiful fall day. I don’t know if it was the pace group or the fact that the race was only open to women, but it was definitely the most friendly race I’ve done, with lots of smiles and encouragement from other runners. I was only minorly bothered by what would later be diagnosed as a hypermobile SI joint. The post race swag? Necklaces (instead of medals) and a flute of cheap champagne. Finishing time: 2:32:37.

Untitled

A girl, her sponge, and post race cheap champagne.

2013 at the races: 7 half marathons and 1 5K in 4 cities and 2 states with 3 PRs. Not bad, but definitely too much for one year.

Burn It Up (or: April at the races)

5K Pigtails

My wide eyes tell you everything you need to know about how I was feeling before April’s races. Tired. Overwhelmed. Undertrained. In need of a hug, a pep talk, and a lucky charm.

Motivational Speech

I already told you about my race plan for the CB10. I stuck to it for the most part, though the sun didn’t cooperate with #14, and there were no space blankets (#18) on offer. Instead, I shaved five minutes off last year’s time, even with stopping for an Oreo and 2 oz of Yuengling, even with cold weather, even with the the wall I hit between 8.5 and 9, just like last year. Jeff brought us sweatshirts, and Tina’s friends provided a sun-drenched brunch. And I logged a new PR: 1:33:56. Two days later, I moved into my new apartment in Chicago.

Medals and Swag

A couple of weeks and a new job later, I drove down to Champaign for 24 hours of races – the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon weekend, with races ranging from a 1K fun run up to the full marathon. I was registered for the Half I-Challenge – a 5K Friday night, and the half marathon Saturday morning.

My feelings for Champaign are complicated, as I’ve explored here before. It felt like home from the time that I first moved there, and no place has quite replaced it in my heart. Between the race expo and the 5K, I went to Kopi and worked on my laptop at one of the small tables just like I did for years and years, with the same people ordering the same drinks as they have for years and years, and the same music on the stereo as has been playing for years and years.

When I moved to Champaign, it was on the heels of the end of my first marriage. I was alone for the first time in my adult life, making choices that would establish my new life independent of the person on whom I’d based my world. It was scary and overwhelming, but also so full of possibility. It got easier than in those first days, and what made it easier – and what made Champaign feel like home – were those anchors – like Kopi, like the regular customers, like the park at night, like the family of friends that surrounded me.

I mention this because when I queued up for the 5K in the cold and the wind, totally alone in the crowd of thousands south of campus, I looked to my right and saw one of my favorite regulars from the years I worked at Aroma. I don’t know his name or anything about him beyond his regular order – a small coffee and a brownie – but every time he came in, he made me smile and think of my dad. I have no idea if he remembered me – hell, I lost him in the crowd almost as soon as I spotted him – but it was a moment of grace, and gave me energy for the cold, rainy, windy race ahead.

5K PR!

We went down First past the Stadium, turned right on Green, and then up Sixth, where I blew a kiss in the direction of GSLIS. The rain started as we turned right to head past the art museum, but it hardly mattered at that point. Down into Memorial Stadium and onto the field, where Jill spotted me and yelled out a cheer that pushed me to the finish line with my last burst of energy. Another PR, this one by 20 seconds: 25:58.

Dinner with Erin and Jadon, one of the last of my GSLIS crew still left in town. We had pizza – maybe not the best race fuel, but damn, was it delicious – and I slept fitfully on their very comfortable couch, concerned about oversleeping, concerned about the race, concerned about the weather, concerned about everything.

Up at 5, and out the door by 5:30 because I was anxious about road closures for the race. I sat in my car and listened to music and blasted the heat and prayed for the rain to stop. I dug out a permanent marker and wrote Keem’s cheer on my hand: YOU’RE DOING IT. I stretched at Assembly Hall, then hopped in ahead of my designated wave, hoping to pace at 9:15 and beat my Detroit time.

I can’t really explain the race – I couldn’t then, and I can’t really now, a few weeks later. The course was easier but the run more demanding than in Detroit in October. It was cold and windy. It never seemed to end. We ran through campus, past Hendrick House, where Mark lived for years. Maybe I took too much water. Maybe I didn’t have enough water. My nose wouldn’t stop running, but my legs felt like a million bucks. We pushed on through Urbana, passing the street where Amy and Adam lived, past the turn to go to Sarah and Hannah’s house. We hit the edge of town, turned south, and ran through Meadowbrook Park. I hung with a couple of guys, laughed as others challenged each other and ran off the edge of the path to get around slower runners. I felt strong and steady. I had no problem hitting my pace.

We turned north to head back toward campus, and I hit a wall. 10.5 miles and I felt like I couldn’t possibly go any further – and then, on the sidewalk, just walking, not paying attention to the race, I saw Rick Powers. I used to see him occasionally when I was dating Shawn and going to English department events – and then once in a while around town – but hadn’t seen him in years. That little burst of happiness helped, though not enough to get me through the side cramp a mile later, or the complete and total exhaustion to come. The latter would come in the form of two marathoners who came up beside me near the Meat Science lab and stayed with me for a few blocks, encouraging me about my time, telling me that I was lucky that I was almost done.

A hairpin turn, and around the corner into the Stadium. I looked down at my watch, and poured everything I had into the last minutes. As in the Cherry Blossom race, I repeated over and over: All the pain. All the sadness. All the hurt. Burn it up. Use it as fuel.

I crossed the finish line, hit the stop button, and saw this:

Half Marathon PR
Under two hours. 1:59:09. A PR by almost six minutes. I got my medals, sat down, and immediately lost it, crying hard enough that another runner came over to check on me. No, I didn’t need help – I was just overwhelmed. Overwhelmed to finish, much less PR, much less break two hours. So very thankful for every person and emotion and thing that had carried me through the miles and through the last few months. So very much, all in those miles, in those medals, in my aching body and heart.

I fucking did it.