First Midwest Half Marathon (my perspective)

I think getting a race re-cap posted in under 7 days is a new record. For worst blogger. Wuh-wuh-wuh.

Run bud and snappy dresser Meredith, with me in my BAA colors. I feel guilty for enjoying that people even know what they stand for now.

Run bud and snappy dresser Meredith, with me in my BAA colors. I feel guilty for enjoying that people even know what they stand for now.

Last Sunday was my third half marathon this year. That sounds prolific to me, maybe even excessive. Regardless, I’m hoping to bag at least 3 or 4 more races at the distance this year. I think consistently nailing the half is one of the (many) keys to really whittling down my marathon time and sharpening that performance. Also, practicing how to recover while doing some serial racing will hopefully set me up for a successful (or at least not disastrous) fall when I attempt 3 marathons in 3 months. (I’ve updated my race schedule, so if you have no idea what I’m talking about, check out that page)

I was expecting a very poor performance, and to be in a good amount of pain. But I ran far faster and with more consistent splits than I thought I’d be able (1:31:47  finish. The course measured about .10mi long, so this was shockingly close to my PR). And my discomfort was way less than I expected. This race experience was far more challenging mentally than physically.

This Half, in Palos Heights, had several features that make it a great race in my (rather selective) opinion. First, and please forgive my self-indulgence, was that there were race photographers placed much as they are at any other race (at 3/4 the distance, the finish, post-finish etc) but because of the relatively small field (about 1,500 runners) and my particular pacing, there was plenty of space between myself and other runners at most points, and so I have several pictures taken where I actually look like I might be a competitive runner rather than a sardine in a running kit! I’m going to order prints for the first time in ages! (erm. next pay check)

Here’s a nice finishing sequence for you:

Palos Half finish

My friend Cindy shot a video clip of my finish as well, and my form looks incredibly stiff! And all the on-course photos confirmed that I was basically running like my knee’s can’t bend. Mostly I think that was a fatigue symptom and also from my efforts to guard my psoas injury and not trigger any stitches and cramps. I was mostly successful on that front.

I’m hoping to run both Boston and Eugene next spring, so I don’t know if I’ll be able to do the 2014 installment of this race, but I really want to! This course is perfectly designed for a PR if I were fit for it (and I’d argue, for anyone). Which right now I am not, my body is in a very strange place: mildly injured on two accounts, not exactly de-conditioned, but also not totally “recovered”, and yet not feeling hard training runs…I’m not super clear even on what to do right now. So a lot of snap judgements are being made day-to-day. Case in point: This week I’ve done the following: swim, yoga, total body class, spin, run…who am I? I’ve also done a lot of pity-party throwing with cider and lots of decidedly not training friendly foods.

But I digress, back to Palos, the course is out and back, which I love because I get a real boost both on the way out (seeing the top runners) and the way back (seeing everyone else). There are several rolling hills that are just enough of a challenge that you see people begin to drop off  just before the turn around. To date, all my PR’s, for every distance, are on hills, and most of my “podium” finishes are also from hilly courses. Now, Palos doesn’t technically qualify as hilly, which is why I think people probably struggled. If you’re expecting flat terrain, you’re probably not strategizing appropriately for the inclines and declines when they do arrive, and also, especially as you get tired, it can be really hard to switch gears in terms of stride length and cadence to keep an even effort of hills if you haven’t been practicing. Both Meredith (see photo at top of post) and I love hills, and seem to sort of intuitively know how to tackle them. It’s admittedly really satisfying to pass people on hills who previously blew past you on the flats.

I tried to make it all instragram-hipstery. Like? I think the ribbons are pretty excellent.

I tried to make it all instagram-hipstery. Like? I think the ribbons are pretty excellent. Photo credit: Action Sports Images

I hinted above that it was an emotional race. That might actually be an exaggeration, mostly I just could not focus, I couldn’t seem to block out intrusive thoughts about Boston, and everything that has come with it.

This is very unusual for me. The major appeal of running, and most definitely racing, is that when I’m doing it, there is nothing else. It’s the very definition of mindfulness, and escapism. Two things I typically really, really, suck at. Truly.

I actually did have a race plan: I was settled that I’d run a 7:45 pace (this is where I am usually most comfortable for a long run) and just slow down if it hurt.

As we were walking over to the start area we passed a few police SWAT (I think) officers (?) carrying military grade rifles. They looked EXACTLY like the men that were so kind to me when I needed to get out of my hotel room the morning after the Boston Marathon but was totally not OK being alone. At that time, seeing the uniforms, and even the weapons, was a comfort. It seemed to bring a level of order and sense to total chaos and confusion. But last Sunday morning, seeing them made me unbearably angry.

Military level security does not belong at road races. It made me feel like I should be expecting another terrible event like that on Patriots Day. And that infuriates me.

I understand that race directors are obligated now to increase security. And I understand that I am likely in a minority of people so passionately defensive of running that we don’t want the symbolism of the increased security measures to be there. I understand that, but it doesn’t change my reaction to it.

The national anthem was awesome, a high school girl I believe, I was grateful I was wearing sunglasses. And from the start to mile 5 I couldn’t stop thinking about those SWAT officers.  (I’m actually not 100% I using the right designation, but it conjures the accurate image)

I started the race still enraged, and it showed. My first mile split was a 6:36 which is somewhere extremely close to my 10k PR pace. Whoops. Mile 2 was 6 seconds slower….and mile 3  just under 7 minutes. At that point I had somewhat of a rhythm, and nothing hurt yet, so I decided to try to focus on keeping it there. I think I succeeded in focusing for about 2 seconds out of every 10.

At mile 5, I stopped thinking about Boston, and about how betrayed I felt running had been, and just thought about stopping. I was miserable, I didn’t have an ounce of desire to run, and I just wanted to stop, sit down, and eventually wander back to the start. Then I remembered that my friend was waiting for me, and she as going to interview me for a project for a class she’s taking.

And the symbolism hit me. I thought about how giving up because I felt heartbroken, which was because of the increased security, which was because of the terror attack…would be the exact opposite of what I stand for.

So I decided that to take another moment of running for granted, or to waste even another second of the opportunity to race, and soak up the race atmosphere (which I love!) would make me a complete fool. And although I could tell that my body would not be able to go any faster, I began to do what I would normally do in a race, I started to try to pick people off.

Once I saw the lead woman go by on her back half of the course, I counted each additional woman, and at the turn around I counted myself as number 20. I decided to try to get to 15th place for the finish. Sighting and then catching up to  the women in front of me took patience, which was exactly the type of project I needed to keep my mind off of ANYTHING else, and on running.

I finished as the 17th woman. And 100% smitten with running again.

Palos done

I had worried briefly at mile 9 that at the finish there would be a heavy law enforcement presence again. I was relieved when I saw none. About 20minutes later someone pointed out to me two snipers positioned on rooftops, and facing the finishing area. My heart went right back down to my toes, and I was again devastated, and felt hopeless, and thought I might just scrap my summer running plans and join a masters swim team.

By the time I got to a Monday morning recovery run, those precious 7 miles, where I was committed to running, and only running, and taking down a course and a few competitors piece by piece, kept coming back to me. And I feel so relieved. Those moments of hard work, of joy, of success, are way more powerful than anything else. And that is how it should be.

Between Boston, and this race, I’d only gone running 4 times, with 4 additional failed attempts. And each mile felt endless. Monday morning I finally ran 8 miles that felt like they took an appropriate amount of time. That is to say, it flew by.

So in the end, racing is still a symbol of all that it is to be free, and it is still a sanctuary. Just don’t look to the rooftops.


13 responses to “First Midwest Half Marathon (my perspective)

  1. Thanks for the post. Very informative for a newbie like me. I have registered for a half in September and a full marathon in October. My real goal is Boston in 2015, to be honest with myself.

  2. so much to say, but I’ll leave it for Ragnar. 🙂 very cool that you’re eyeing Eugene. we’ll talk.

  3. Eeek. It took me almost two weeks to write my Ravenswood 5K recap. Pretty sure I forgot everything I had wanted to say about it.

  4. This was a great post to read, and an interesting commentary on the aftermath of Boston. I wish I had something more intelligent to say in response to it. Um … I like your shorts?

    • I totally appreciate that! They’re my favorite shorts and the one and only item from Under Armour that hasn’t made me look like an over stuffed sausage.

  5. I agree with that spiral of emotions — security, comfort, anger, acceptance — it was a very strange day for all of us, and one that will definitely replay in our minds as we start new races. But at least you were out there, running free and safe. Also, you’re insanely fast. Is your half PR sub 1:30? If not, then it looks like we have the same painstaking goal.

  6. Pingback: 2013 Training and Racing Plan | Fluency's Folly


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