This Sunday is the First Midwest Half Marathon (formerly known as the Southwest Half Marathon, also known as the Palos half, since it starts and ends in Palos Heights).

I ran this race in 2010 and spectated it in 2012, so clearly I am an expert. Some pointers:

Parking – there are some professional buildings along Route 83, just east of the start/finish. Parking there is free and a short walk to the race site. I’m not sure if it fills up. Probably not. I’d recommend getting there an hour before the race starts to find parking, walk to the start, use the port-o-potties, find your friends, take pictures, check gear, etc. (Bloggers and FNRC – meet at gear check at 7am.)

Course – it’s a relatively flat out-and-back along Route 83. The only “hill” to speak of is when Route 83 goes over Route 45 (La Grange Rd). You go over that twice, just before mile 3 and just after mile 10.

Some people complain that the course is boring. It cuts through a forest preserve for most of it, and the second half looks just like the first half, but in reverse. Personally, I think it is peaceful. Route 83 is wide, so there isn’t any crowding (maybe a little for the first quarter mile, but nothing terrible). The only “turn” to speak of is the turn around at the halfway point.

However, even though the course cuts through a forest preserve, it’s not very shady, especially since the trees don’t have leaves yet. Wear sunscreen, and a visor and/or sunglasses if that’s your thing. I will be wearing all of the above.

And the nice thing about an out-and-back is that you can see all of your other friends running the race. And this race attracts some fasties – last year’s winner finished in 1:06. Keep an eye out for local couple Jamie and Lynn Parks. They are always inspiring to see at a race. (I only assume they are running it.)

Southwest Half Marathon 2012 Southwest Half Marathon 2012

Southwest Half Marathon 2012 Southwest Half Marathon 2012

Photos from last year: The head car; the race leaders; Jamie & Lynn Parks; spectators at 104th Ave

Spectating – Last year, I parked in a little lot off of 104th Ave, just south of the course. You can get to it via 123rd St, turn north onto 104th Ave/Willow Springs Rd (you will likely have to go around a “road closed” sign – that is indicating that you can’t cross Rt 83, due to the race), and right before Rt 83 is a lot on the right side of the road, or park on the street. If you are there, your runner will see you around mile 3.75 and 9.4.

After your runner passes you on the way back to the finish, you can get in your car and head to the finish. There should be street parking available on 76th Ave, south of the finish area. It’s only a 5 mile drive, and then you might have to walk a few blocks, but you should be able to make it in time to see your runner finish (unless s/he is really fast).

Pace Groups – This year they are adding pace groups. Personally, I don’t run “with” pace groups. I prefer to run at my own pace, and it might fluctuate throughout the race. Also, sometimes pace groups aren’t very good pacers. Given that this is the first year this race is doing pace groups, I’m not sure what to expect. There is a good chance many of them were pace group leaders during last summer’s CARA marathon training, in which case, they can keep a consistent pace. Anyway, even if you don’t run with a pace group, seeing them on the course can give you a good idea of where you are in terms of pacing.

If it rains: Bring a change of clothes, socks and shoes to keep in the car. Wear a hat with a brim. But dress as you would normally dress. If you have very new shoes, I’d recommend not wearing them, if you have a suitable alternative pair to wear. (If not, when you get home just remove the insoles and stuff your shoes with newspaper.) I’ve survived a half marathon where it mostly poured on us, and it wasn’t too terrible. I was never so happy to take off my shoes and socks though.

Post-race – Bring cash if you want beer. And results will be posted at http://theracershub.com.

First timers: If this is your first half marathon – relax. Focus on finishing, not hitting a certain time goal. Don’t try anything new on raceday, other than a new playlist. BodyGlide anywhere that you even think you might chafe. Remember that the training is the hard part, the race is your “victory lap.” Enjoy that your body can even do this. Thank the volunteers, wave at your spectators, high five any small children along the way (if you can … if you are in the zone, just stay there). Don’t forget about hydration and fuel until it is too late – come up with a plan and stick to it. (My plan: take at least a little water at every aid station [there will be 8 stations on the course], carry Clif Shot Bloks and at the very least, take one around miles 4, 6, 8, 10 – try to eat them right before a water station. I might also take one right before the race starts and around mile 2. For a frame of reference, 3 shot bloks = one GU.)

Any other tips for this race?