Saturday, February 4, 2012

F^3 Lake Half Marathon

One goal for me this year was to do more introspection and recaps from each of my races.  They’re obviously great milestones to measure your progress and review where you are physically. Mentally, races are often much bigger challenges and all the more exciting to reflect on, be they good or bad.

After my last big race in November, I was really looking forward to running the F^3 Lake Half Marathon at the end of January. Although I’m well acclimated to training in the lonely brisk winter months, I’d never run a race in the middle of winter in Chicago, or anywhere else for that matter. I knew before registering the weather would be a big factor:  there might be snow, freezing wind, and be just plain cold. But that was all fine. I’d handle that. I suppose I got a little reckless with the mileage I put in during the month of December, so even though I thought I was being careful, the training was taking a toll on me. I took some days off and cross-trained a bit, and figured I’d still be able to pull off a decent time.  In December I ran a new half PR while training, so I was ready. Or so I thought.

The day was cold, and there was a brisk steady wind. What unnerved me was the ice. Before even starting it seemed like ice was everywhere, on the path, the sidewalks, etc. I debated whether to wear Yak Trax, but knew that would only help so much and not be comfortable at all on the clear, dry sections of path and concrete. Plus I didn’t think there’d be too many people with Yak Trax on at the race, so I decided to scrap the idea. As far as clothing, I just decided to wear enough that would keep me warm, and stash a gear check bag for the post-run, as I knew I’d be wet with sweat, and that turns chilly pretty fast out there.

Because of my previously submitted half marathon time, they put me in what they called the “elite” corral.  I felt far from elite, but it was certainly nice to be up front at the start of the race. I decided I’d try to be realistic and run 6:45’s for this one which would give me a new official PR, but essentially duplicate my training run of the prior month (given my shin issues, it seemed like a good balance of running fast but not so hard that it’d further injure myself). The race directors didn’t seem to have a powerful PA system, and it was cold enough that we didn’t take our hats off for the national anthem (I did feel somewhat guilty though), otherwise the race started without too much drama.

Immediately we were on ice.  Within the first mile I saw some runner fall on the ice, and that was not what I needed to see. Nevertheless, my first 4 miles were dead on my desired pace, so I thought it was the right decision. But then I was constantly dodging ice patches, running on grass to play it safe, and trying to keep my balance when I was on ice. I was not really having fun. In mile 5, I slowed my pace by 25 seconds. I saw another runner fall between that mile and the turnaround at 6.5 miles.  Miles 5, 6, and 7 were pretty slow. I kept thinking over and over, ‘as long as I make it through this race without falling, that will be good enough.’ So I changed my strategy from running fast to running survival. Maybe my heart wasn’t truly in it that day, but I didn’t need to do this to further injure my shin, and then sprain or break something else on top of that. Miles 8 and 9 I dropped it back down to a decent pace, but by mile 11 I was actually getting tired and feeling really bugged by the path conditions. I pretty much just wanted to be done and off the ice. There was a good wind blowing for much of the second half, which didn’t help either, but I was much less bothered by that. The last mile and a half wound around the area by the finish line (more than I’d like), and crossed over still more ice. I didn’t feel like I could kick it up a couple gears as I’d normally would in the last mile, and lost more time. In the end I finished with a 1:32:20 or 7:03/mile overall pace. It wasn’t terrible, but it was a slower pace than my last marathon, so to me that was slow. I was 30th overall and 11th in the Men’s 30-39 age group. I felt flat, and my leg wasn’t too happy with me afterward. The risk of falling on the ice seemed significant. It was cold afterward and I froze my tail off. But, something about completing that race in those conditions made it feel somewhat of an accomplishment.  I’d probably run it again, but if there’s ice like that again, I’m liable to back out at the last minute. It didn’t really seem worth the risk.

Despite all the obstacles, quite a few people I talked to ran new PR’s that day.  I don’t know how, but they have my respect. I also met up with several Dailymilers after the race which was nice to be able to put actual faces to photos, and take something virtual into the real world. Best of all, I got a great finisher’s medal that also doubles as a beer bottle opener, I mean Sweet.  Cannot beat that. It was a well organized race, and quite a new experience -- racing in Chicago winterland.

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