Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Chicago Women's Half Marathon - Race Report

This report is a few days delayed, owing to a delayed flight to Toronto which brought me home to a very sick Scooter. After a trip to the emergency vet clinic, I was up for over 24 hours from waking up on race morning to finally getting to bed. Greg took Scooter into the living room and slept on the couch with the poor, restless guy.

But, with Scooter resting (seemingly) comfortably beside me, I can now delve into the happy memories from the Chicago Women's Half Marathon.

Thanks to an airline credit of about $500 (and an additional $200 in taxes and rebooking fees - holy expensive, Air Canada) I had a good excuse to zip down to Chicago for this race.
And when I say "zip", I mean it.  As much as I love Chicago, we will only be at home for about 3 weeks between contracts, and I wanted to spend as much time as possible at home. That meant I'd be spending just over 24 hours in Chicago.

I landed in Chicago around 10:30 am, took the CTA into the city and walked from the Loop up to my hotel (W Hotel - Lakeshore). My progress up Michigan was held up by the drawbridge.

A different kind of gridlock.

All this fuss for one little sailboat.

A little Manifest Destiny art.
Boy, that angel and soldier sure are protecting those helpless settlers against those terrifying Native Americans.
Yeah, this isn't biased.
 I finally moseyed my way to the hotel, and got checked in. The W Hotel - Lakeshore is alright, I suppose. A very small lobby/check-in area and they seemed to be super-busy. From what I could tell, there were groups checking in, and a wedding getting settled. Add to that the busload of NHL players that arrived while I was heading out to pick up my race kit (Game 6 of the Stanley Cup was taking place that night in Chicago) and you've got a ram-jammed hotel.

My room at the W Hotel - Lakeshore.
Do you think the wall looks like 70's panelling? Me too.
Also, it sounded like that's all the wall was made of.
Fortunately a room was ready immediately, and I headed up to get unpacked. I decided to lay out my race-day attire before I left to pick up my race kit, just in case I forgot to pack something. That way, I'd have a chance to pick up any missing items while I was at Fleet Feet.

Nope! Got it all, and then some!
Packet pickup was a breeze. I went to the Fleet Feet Old Town location (they had also done packet pick up at another location for 2 days), and was greeted by a table full of enthusiastic volunteers who looked up my confirmation for my bib number and got me my bib and shirt in no time flat!
I put on some blinders to push myself past the sale bins that Fleet Feet had strategically placed in the women's section, and made my way out of the store to get something to eat, finally.

I headed to a place nearby that a friend had introduced to me a couple of years earlier. I wanted some nice carb-y pancakes, so I headed to Elly's.

It's almost healthy!
Buckwheat pancakes, turkey sausage and scrambled egg whites with a glass of orange juice.
 I opted to walk back to my hotel, and have a little nap in the nice cool room.

The beautiful Chicago lakeshore trail. A perfect place for runners and cyclists.
I got back to the hotel and asked if I could be moved to another room, since I could hear my neighbours so very clearly when they were just talking at a normal conversational level. My plan was to go to bed at 8, and I knew that if I was woken up by a room full of late night partiers, I was NOT going to be happy. The best the hotel could offer was to have security talk to the girls in the next room and ask them to be quiet. Not fun.
In the end, they did wake me up when they came back to their room at around midnight, as did the family in the hallway who enjoyed letting their children run up and down the hallway. Not the best soundproofing. Not the best pro-active response to an inevitable problem. Not my favourite W Hotel. I don't think I'd stay there again.
Before I tucked in for the night, I went to Trader Joe's, got a sandwich, some Fage Yogurt, a pretzel roll and some coconut water for after the race. I also grabbed some Gatorade and a banana from a 7-11 on the way back to the hotel, and polished off the Gatorade before bed to compensate for all the walking around in the hot sun I'd been doing that day.

Race day looked like it'd be a doozy.

Did I mention I don't do well in the heat?
 Despite the several disturbances through the night, I still managed to wake up reasonably refreshed at 4:30, and got all my things together. I was glad I laid everything out, and left myself the note "coconut water" on my skirt, reminding me to grab the coconut water from the fridge before I made my way to the elevator and down to the lobby.

And then back up to the room. Forgot my hydration belt!

Then back down to the lobby. I was asked immediately if I needed a cab, and I replied that I would in a minute, but that I was going to run to Starbucks and get a coffee first (I also planned on getting a breakfast sandwich). I was pointed in the direction of the free coffee in the lobby, so I grabbed a cup and hopped in the waiting cab. I hoped that my pretzel roll, greek yogurt and banana would be enough.

I was dropped off at Michigan and Balbo, and walked my way with the many other women towards the race site. Tents were still setting up, music was pumping, an announcer was reminding us that the EAS status of the race was Red (potentially dangerous), and to be careful.

I crouched down to eat my breakfast, finish my coffee and stretch my achilles tendons all at the same time. I got organized and dropped my bag off at bag check - very easy, no line! Then the pre-race pacing began. I headed over to the portopotties, there were a good number of them, and the line moved quickly. Once that was settled, I ran a few short warmups and did a little stretching, ate a Clif Shot, took some tylenol and Enduorlytes and tried to focus.

I noticed that my tank top was on inside out, but decided to leave it. I'd already pinned on my bib and wrapped the cord for my headphones around the strap of my tank to get it out of the way, so it seemed like too much trouble to correct the shirt.
Lots of portopotties!

Suddenly I realized I should probably make my way to the race start. There were no corrals, just pace signs. I was not at all surprised to find that I'd be in the back of the pack. I still wasn't sure how I was going to tackle today. I knew I wanted to try and get as many miles in at a quick pace as I could before the sun got too hot. In a perfect world, I'd run a 2:45 - which would be a significant PR for me.

That's when I spotted this:

A run/walk pace group with a 2:45 goal? Yes please!
I spoke to the very sweet pace group leader who told me they were doing 5/1 run/walk with a pace of 12:30/mile. Well, I've never attempted a 5/1, and 12:30 sounded ambitious for me... I figured I'd stay with them as long as I could in keeping with my "get as far as you can before it gets hot" strategy.

Before we knew it, it was go time. Pear HRM, on! Garmin, Go!

We started running up Columbus Drive, towards Wacker.
We headed into a tunnel pretty early. There goes my satellite signal...

This is my first attempt at taking mile marker photos.
There's a reason why Greg usually handles this.
 Once we exited the tunnel, we started running along the lake in Grant Park. Seeing the boats in the marina reminded me of Toronto. And Bermuda. And the fact that everywhere that I run seems to be on or alongside water and boats.

Mile 2
 As we ran, I was relieved to find that the 5/1 intervals were turning out to be easy for me, and I frequently positioned myself behind runners who would hold me back from running out ahead of the pace group. It was a beautiful morning, it wan't too hot yet, my legs felt great and I wanted to RUN!
A view of Chicago from the Shedd Aquarium.

Mile 3: still going strong.
 After the first 5k, I started to wonder if I should stick with the pace group, or try and get ahead. My brain kept telling me to "run your own race". The pace was feeling slow to me, despite it being pretty much a perfect 12:30. I decided to stick with them for the first 6 miles and re-evaluate at that point.

This was supposed to be the Mile 6 marker.
Again, Greg is a better photographer.
10K Split: 1:17:30 - that's only a minute and a half slower than the 10K I ran in August 2012!

Here's where I started running into a little trouble. I passed by a restroom when I shouldn't have. A quarter of a mile later, I had to pee so badly that I had to keep slowing to a walk. So frustrating! The pace group kept getting farther and farther ahead of me, and I kept telling myself that I could still catch up.

By the time I got to the portopotty at around 8.5 miles, they were long gone. I hit the lap button on my Garmin and got started with my pre-programmed 2/1 intervals for lack of a better plan.
From here on, I slowed down. It was getting HOT. I was getting dizzy. I was very grateful that I'd been running in Bermuda to acclimatize to heat a little bit. I took another Clif Shot and some more Endurolyte tabs. When I hit water stations I took Gatorate and water and mixed them together and took a few gulps.

Everywhere around me were signs of fatigue and heat wearing on people. I watched 2 ambulances hurry to and away from situations.

I stopped obeying my Garmin and started obeying my body. Which meant a lot more walking.

Hey look - Soldier field!

 The race organizers very wisely added another water station at 12.5 miles. Also very appreciated on the course were the multiple misters. Even the ones that were out of water at least provided a big fan.

This was a frustrating several miles, admittedly. But even with the frustration came the joy of knowing that my legs and my head still wanted to - still COULD - run. The only thing stopping me was my body's reaction to the soaring temperature and stifling humidity. I wasn't walking because I was tired. Not by a long shot.

And as I approached the corner leading me to the finish line, my iPod Shuffle did the most amazing thing. It started playing "Stronger" by Kelly Clarkson.
That was the halfway point song at the Princess Half Marathon - my first half marathon - and it holds a special place in my heart because when I heard that song, and knew I was half way, I knew I was going to be able to finish. My legs were strong enough. I was strong enough.

To be reminded of that while I looked at this sight: so very special

What an amazing city.

What a welcome Mile Marker!
In true "not good with a camera" form, I thought I turned on my iPhone's video camera and taped my final .1 mile run to the finish line.

Apparently, I did no such thing. So my finish line photo will show me holding up my iPhone like a goofball.

I happily accepted a bottle of water from one volunteer, and an ice towel from another (right onto my head, thank you very much!) before making my way to have my medal placed around my neck.

I grabbed a banana and a bagel (which I devoured immediately) bypassed the very long line to take photos in front of the backdrop (thought I'd come back later when the line was shorter - smart move, cause it was!) and made my way to the celebration.

A look back through the finish line chute.

Best move I made for this photo? Taking off my Fuel Belt.

A panoramic view of the park.

My first 8.5 miles, achieved while running with the pace group.
Those pacers knew their stuff!
The Muscle Milk recovery tent was popular.
I was so happy to see the Muscle Milk recovery tent - we always drink Muscle Milk after our P90X workouts and long runs, so my body was ready, willing and able to handle the bottle that I gulped down.
They also had yoga mats down with foam rollers, which people seemed to be very grateful for!

The only thing that bummed me out was that my Pear HRM ate my run. And by that, I mean that when I stopped my run, it vanished. I have no record of it at all on my iPhone app.
That was very frustrating, I really wanted to have a look at what my heart rate had been doing.

This DJ was amazing.
The best thing to do after running 13.1 miles?
The Cupid Shuffle, of course!

Brooks sponsored ice cream!
 I ended up getting my medal engraved. I wasn't going to initially, but I figured I earned the PR - or at least I assumed it was a PR. I still had no idea of my official time.

When I got the medal back, I was happy with what I saw: 2:50:56

I headed back to the hotel, filled the tub with cold water, called for a bucket of ice (note: next time I will stress "lots" of ice. One little mini-bar's ice bucket didn't do much for my bath.) and had a quick ice-ish bath, and a warm shower before packing my things, resting for 20 minutes and checking out at noon.

When I finally did get to the airport, I saw I had at least a 2 hour delay. So dinner became this:

I need carbs, right?
I had a great time at this race. It was only my second time racing alone, and I liked that part of it, too. I love running with family and friends, but there is also something to be said for the quiet contemplation and personal satisfaction you gain from doing it for yourself, by yourself.

I also liked the support for this race a lot. The race kit wasn't some big bag of "stuff", it was simply the race shirt (very nice Brooks shirt), a race-specific Sweaty Band, and the race program (and the bib, of course). They also had a basket of mini-Luna bars at packet pick up, so you could grab one of those if you wanted.

On course, there was a Luna Cheer Station at Mile 3.7 and 11 which gave a much needed boost (and some more mini-Luna bars) as well as the Clif Energy Zone at Mile 7.7 where I grabbed a Vanilla shot (I brought my own Mocha, but it seemed a little heavy for my taste in that heat). Once you include the 8 aid stations on course (7 planned, 1 added at the last minute), and some water fountains dotted along the course, you've got a well planned event that was more than ready for the weather.

The course was picturesque, going through Grant Park along the water for much of it, and passing Shedd Aquarium and Soldier Field, it also seemed to be easy to access for the many cheering supporters. Although the course wasn't closed to public (so you'd get the odd non-race runner or cyclist coming through) it didn't seem like a big deal.  Some people don't like an out-and-back route, but I like them. I like the perspective and the context you have when you're in the later miles and suffering from "runner's brain".

The course did seem a little narrow for the field at times, and there were the ubiquitous runners who don't have the best runner's etiquette, but if you've run a runDisney event, you're well prepared for those eventualities.

This was a very happy, well organized, supportive environment. I didn't see very many male runners - although those who were there were welcomed and appreciated. My favourites were a pair of guys running in yellow cheerleader outfits. Fun times.

A well run race like this, in one of my favourite cities? I'll absolutely consider running this race again.


  1. Congrats on the PR! That sounds like it was a great race. I heard of this race last year, and it is on my bucket list. It's good to hear how well organized it was.

    1. Thanks! It really was a wonderful time. The organizers were certainly very proactive in dealing with the heat, and the post-race environment was super fun.

  2. I love Chicago, and this race sounds like the perfect destination race for me and my peeps. I'll have to keep it in mind for next year.

    1. Oh, if you love Chicago, this is definitely a good excuse to visit the city. They had some nice hotels to choose from for the sponsor hotels, too.
      As much as I loved running it alone, I really want to run it with friends, too. My sister and I are hoping to make it next year.