That was ugly, kinda

That was ugly, kinda

That, of course, referring to Fleet Feet’s inaugural women’s half marathon in Chicago a few weeks back.

I had a premonition about this race that I stupidly chose to ignore: namely, that racing a half in June–and late June, at that–was almost assuredly a disaster waiting to happen.  I wasn’t expecting to best my 1:33 PR that I set in January or anything along those lines, but I also didn’t really want to spend the money to “race” a half (note the air quotes) in June when I knew in my heart of hearts that it would probably become more of a training run than a race.

Well… I guess I need to learn to listen to myself a little bit more.

The race itself was actually well done.  It was organized very well, as any Fleet Feet race is, and even for it being the inaugural year, there didn’t seem to be any hiccups in event management (like with having a sufficient number of porta-potties, fluids on the course, nice race swag, that sort of thing), and the race boasted a solid number of participants: about 5k in the half and another 1k in the 5k (I think).  Running along the southern lakefront path isn’t that big a deal for we Chicagoans who run it nearly every weekend, but I could definitely see how it’d make for some nice scenery for the suburbanites or out-of-towners (and really, quite frankly, I think the southern path is actually quite nice, so even I enjoy it when I’m down there).

Race day weather was fantastic for standing or lounging around outside, but it was definitely warm for running, probably around mid-70s and sunny at the start (7am) that only got warmer… but again, it comes with the territory of racing in June.  That made me nervous right from the get-go (forcing me to have a moment with myself… “Erin, why didn’t you listen?!”), but I figured it’d be ok and that maybe it wouldn’t be that bad.  I was more concerned with the fact that I hadn’t yet, uh, “relieved” myself pre-run and that it’d happen during the race, which would be a first for me (ever).

As the race was about to begin, I nestled myself among the first group of people, right up at the starting line, figuring that these folks were going to run around a 1:40 or sub-, times I thought I was capable of posting that morning.  Once the gun went off, I was with or immediately behind the lead pack, about runner #10-12 at any given time.  I was blazing at a pace that I knew I couldn’t sustain for 13.1 miles; in fact, my first two were in the 6:30s.

While it was an awesome feeling to be with or so close to the lead group, my body was beginning to have an F-U moment with me.  My stomach felt crampy–again, a very peculiar feeling, and one that never happens to me while running–and low and behold, my GI decided that it was a good time to pool blood and move my digestion along.  Between miles 3-4, the abdominal crampiness soon became sentiments of “ah shit, I gotta go!,” though fortunately I was able to make it to a field house in time for some during-the-race diarrhea.

Oh yea, the big D finally made its appearance during a race.

Only took six years and probably a hundred or so races to finally get to that moment.

Incredibly, my detour took less than a minute, but for the next several miles I felt like crap (ha, pun intended.  I couldn’t resist).  I wallowed in self-pity for a while and thought of what I read in Scott Jurek’s book, about the things he does when he’s racing and not feeling well.  I considered my options: DNF, which I didn’t want to do, and truly did not feel was worth doing; walk, which I didn’t think would make me feel any better either and, if anything, would only make the race longer because I’d still have to cover the same amount of distance; or finally, just run more slowly.

I chose that last one.

My 6:30s dropped to high 7s/low 8s, and then they hung around the 8:40s for a while, enough for me to drop from runner #11 at the 3-mile mark down to around runner 50+ at the turn-around.  The leaders were just a couple miles in front of me, so I figured I was still going to be pretty close to a 1:40something finish if I kept up at that pace, and it took a while, probably until about mile 8, for the 1:45 pace group to catch up to me.  The sun was in full effect now as I shuffled my way back north.  My desire to run a 1:40 became a desire to do a 1:45, which then became a desire to finish and to post a sub-2, which would make for a solid (albeit slow) training run for the day.

Around mile 10, I passed an aid station that was blaring some great 80s rock.  As I got closer to the station, I was passing south-bound runners who were considerably slower than me but who looked like they were just rockin’ out, having a great time.  Finally, some endocannibinoids kicked in, and I decided that even if I had finally gotten diarrhea during a race, and even though I had gone out way too quickly, and even though I was stupidly running a half marathon in the heat of a late-June Sunday morning in Chicago, I was going to have some fun with it and run a solid 5k finish, fatigued and possibly dehydrated.

It was finally around mile 10 of this 13.1 jaunt that I remembered that not every run or race is meant to be a PR and that sometimes, running is fun purely because it puts us in motion and allows us to reach beyond ourselves, to get over ourselves, and to overcome whatever challenges manifest that day.  Once the endocannibinoids got me to this realization–and the fact that I’d soon see Jack and Guerline around the finish line, waiting for me–I began to have fun again.

As I finished my 5k with sub-8s, passing up several other runners along the way, I saw around mile 11 or 12 that the race’s status had gone from being yellow-flagged to red-flagged, the race’s CYA measure to try to warn runners to slow down and not go for PRs or anything like that.  They could have said that around mile 4, as far as I was concerned! I saw Jack and Guerline as I was on Columbus Drive, about 50 paces from the finish line, and I gave them a thumbs-down, laughing, as I yelled “I’ll see you on the other side [of the finish line].”  The clock read 1:46 and change by the time I crossed the line, and by no means was the race a PR or a PW.  It made for some lively banter with Jack, Guerline, and Erin at the finish line, one of thosetype of race experiences that you chalk up to “well, just a training run, did the best you could.”  No anger, no frustration, no disappointment… just c’est la vie.

If nothing else, this race was merely an adventurous training run and an unofficial, “soft” beginning to my NYC training that I don’t have to formally begin until the week of 7/8.

A body in motion is a body always moving forward.