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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.

Bah-stun 2010 … revisited

Bah-stun 2010 … revisited

The past week or so has been quite the whirlwind.  Pre-Boston, work was hoppin’; we signed a new lease and knew that we’d have tons of move-related stuff to do; and did I mention that the thesis is still under construction?  Oh yeah, and we went to Bah-stun for a little vay-cay and so I could run my 13th marathon on 4/19.  And since we returned to Chitown on 4/20, we’ve had all the aforementioned tasks ahead of us, times a million (or so it seems).


Well, as my previous abbreviated post indicated, the vay-cay and the race were equally awesome and much better the second time around.  The weather was pretty lackluster for Friday-Sunday, which made for some creative “what can we do that doesn’t require romping around outdoors?” plans.  From seeing KickAss (awesome!), to doing a DuckTour (amazing!), and then discovering an ancient Egyptian Tomb over in Fenway (5W!ts = loads of fun), it was a ball.  The pre-race dinner with the FF BB group was lovely (thanks, Filippo’s, for accommodating my no-meat-no-cheese-nothing-fried wishes), and come Sunday night, I actually got a healthy amount of sleep.

This year’s Boston experience was similar in some ways to last year’s.  The FF BB group also chartered a private, bathroom-laden bus out to Hopkinton, so we had the luxury of chillin’ on it for several hours pre-race.  Unlike last year, I actually ate quite a bit pre-run, so I think that (and the sleep factor) got me off to a good start …

Here, I’ll mention that I really despise reading running-related blogs when the author recounts every single mile split, or tree, or child, or whatever she saw on the course.  I’d rather pluck my eyeballs out than read that stuff.  That said, I’ll spare you the mile-by-mile details (especially since you know the ending already!) and list what I think, in one way or another, contributed to my improved performance.  (I bested last year’s Boston time by 7 minutes, didn’t crash and burn, and managed to BQ for 2011 by the skin of my teeth… not that my skin have teeth, but whatev):

  1. Food: I already mentioned that I consumed a fair number of calories pre-race.  During the race, I threw my fear to the wind and took oranges, bananas, popsicles, and maybe a couple other food items from perfect strangers.  I still ingested water and Gatorade, but I barely made it through 1 gel since I instead ate the “real food” that was available.  I think this kept my energy levels high and allowed me to stay one-step-ahead of depleting my glycogen stores.  (Seriously, the course is like a traveling buffet and could put Old Country Buffet to shame.  There’s a lot of food out there).
  2. Pacing: Experience is the best teacher out there.  Last year taught me to a) slow the fuck down for the first 16 miles and b) be patient.  For much of the first 16 miles, I didn’t hit my exact splits, sometimes missing them by as much as 20 seconds (plus or minus).  I’d begin to mentally fret for a second before I remembered that the hardest was yet to come (miles 16-21) and that whatever I “lost” by not hitting right on, in the beginning of the course, would more-likely-than-not be to my advantage later in the race.  Learning how to pace Boston is something that, I think, only really comes from running the course at least once before.  Again, experience is the best teacher out there.
  3. HAVING FUN: Taking food and drinks from strangers is probably only socially acceptable on race courses… a bit dangerous, sure, but fun as hell.  I’ll take a sugary popsicle over a gel any day of the week.  Giving high-fives to all the kids on the course also makes running 26.2 miles willingly a bit more entertaining.  The kiddos think you’re a celebrity, so let them revel in the fact that your sweaty, sticky paw and their little hand made contact.  Hearing them brag to their parents afterward (“She gave me a high 5!”) is worth it.  And finally, though I didn’t smooch a Wellesley girl like I had planned to, I did it by proxy (smooch hand = touch smooched hand to cheek of girl requesting smooch).  It still got a heightened scream 🙂

I think all these factors compounded to make me run really relaxedly—so much so that, in the first part of the race, I had to have a mental moment with myself to remind me to be NOT so relaxed.  Seeing the race as “just another training run” that was fully supported gave me a healthier perspective on it, allowed me to have fun, and when I realized that I could BQ for 2011, let me lay the pedal-to-the-metal (or my foot to the floor, I guess?), knowing that, in my mind, I had already had an awesome time that day… regardless of what the clock told me at the end.

A corollary to point 3, about having fun, which made this year’s Boston experience so lovely was the company of folks with whom I dropped many a Wednesday night and Saturday morning (hello, gang!).  For many of them, this year’s Boston was their first, and their nerves, anxiety, enthusiasm, and excitement were mega-contagious, to say the least.  Last year, I think I was more nerves than excitement, which, in retrospect, probably seeped into my race + travel weekend experience.  You’re only as good as the company that you keep, and my company was friggin awesome.  So thanks, friends 🙂

The marathon was the icing on the cake of a wonderful vay-cay with C.  I’m not certain if I want to run Boston again—of the 13 races I’ve done now, I’ve only repeated about 3 of them (Chicago, Akron, Boston)—but I guess I have time to decide.

Next up: Sunburst Marathon in South Bend, Indiana in early June, followed by the San Francisco Marathon in late July, and finishing off the year with the Chicago Marathon.

Happy trails to you and yours.  Sorry for the longish post.