It’s been about a year since I started taking my running seriously again, and what better way to celebrate than with a half marathon that I felt undertrained for?
If you’re new, I “got into running” (i.e., started following training plans and signing up for races and not just hopping on a treadmill for 30 minutes when the mood struck me at the gym) back in 2010, when I signed up for my first half marathon. For the next 4 years, I ran pretty regularly, eventually getting into the habit of running 20-25 miles per week as part of my normal routine, and running roughly one race per month. Then in 2014, I got sidelined with runner’s knee, went to physical therapy (and “graduated”) but was ready to take a break, and didn’t do much running in 2015-2016. Last year, I was ready to get back into it but was cautious about my runner’s knee coming back. I ran the Soldier Field 10 in May, but due to things like other hobbies, budget, and a dearth of good fall half marathons in Chicago, it took me awhile to commit to a half marathon. The F^3 Half has always been a good one, I assume because the race is managed by actual runners, and also it’s mostly just die-hards (and therefore experienced runners) who will sign up and show up for a race in January. Plus when I signed up it was only $50.
Anyway, my training for F^3 started well. My weekly mileage and long runs were progressing nicely. But then my knee started bugging me, around the same time it started getting cold in Chicago, and I slacked off. Well, I did start going to more strength classes, but my mileage dropped off. I adjusted my training plan, but at one point, I debated dropping down to the 5K rather than try to figure out how to fit in a long run during a busy weekend, plus I was also worried that since I would likely be taking walk breaks during the race, I would freeze during a half. But when I realized there was a fee to drop down to the 5K, I stuck with the half marathon. It seemed like more of a declaration of “I have given up on my goal” to pay a fee to switch races rather than do it for free.
So, given that it was my first half marathon in over three years, and I was a little bit undertrained, I went in with zero expectations. (But I always like to beat my personal worst.) I wanted to run a conservative pace (and allow myself to take as many walk breaks as necessary) so I could make it to the finish line smiling.
But first, packet pick-up. Because Erin was coordinating it, I volunteered a few hours on Friday. So if you picked up your packet between 2-8pm at Fleet Feet, I was there, and probably grabbed your shirt for you. You’re welcome.
Erin and Annabelle at the end of an exhausting week. I believe they both worked every single packet pick-up.
I don’t know about you, but standing for over 6 hours the night before a race is a great idea. LOL. I was pretty tired when I got home, and according to my Garmin, I got 9 hours of sleep. Wow. But not before I attempted a Flat Runner photo. Chance the Foster Cat was super interested in what was going on …
I realized it was going to be impossible to get a photo without him in it so eventually, I gave up and went to bed. He’s a curious little guy who likes to be around humans, that’s for sure.
Because the race started at 10am and I don’t live too far from Soldier Field, I was able to roll out of bed around 8, make coffee and oatmeal, feed the cats, get dressed, hop in an Uber, and get to Soldier Field by 9:15. And I avoided traffic by having the Uber drop me off on Calumet Ave by the 18th Street Pedestrian Bridge. (It also helped that I was coming from the west and could completely avoid Lake Shore Drive.)
Unlike the last time I did this race, gear check, restrooms, etc, are all indoors (at the United Club inside Soldier Field). And the start line was literally right outside the nearest gate, so time spent standing around outside was very minimal.
Ran into Annabelle (working) and Pete (racing) on my way to the corrals
The start corral was self-seeded by pace (7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12-minute miles), and since I was planning to run conservatively and like to start races more conservatively than my goal pace, I lined up in the back around 12. We were the last group to cross the start line, about 10 minutes after the gun.
The course did a loop around Soldier Field and then out on the Lakefront Trail for an out-and-back. Easy peasy. There were aid stations every few miles, with water and KRā (an all-natural sports drink – no HFCS or dyes), and one station had Clif Shot Blocks (well, two, since it was an out-and-back, so you hit each station twice). I brought my own Honey Stinger gummies, so I stuck to water on the course. Annabelle warned us that there were a couple muddy spots on the course, in my opinion, they were not bad at all. I was expecting puddles of mud and really it was just one spot that was a little dirty and another where we had to very briefly run across grass that got muddy. I don’t even think my shoes got dirty.
Anyway, I monitored my heart rate to keep my pace conservative. I’m still getting a feel (again) for my heart rates and what’s doable – plus it’s been 4-5 years since I paced myself via heart rate, so I’m 5 years older and thus should aim for slightly lower HRs. Plus I know my mileage going into this race was low, so I probably wasn’t in shape to maintain higher heart rates for two hours. I kept my HR in the 140s for the first half, around 150 for the second half and let it creep up in the last few miles. That seemed to work pretty well, my last 2 miles were my fastest. Looking over my splits, my pace during the second half was about 20 seconds faster than my first.
And while my knee never bothered me (!!!!), my hips started to feel really tight a few miles in. Gee, could it be because I’ve only done yoga like twice this year and I don’t stretch after my runs??? Oops. (So, I have to do regular strength work to keep my knee happy, and now more yoga to keep my hips happy … when am I supposed to run? Gah. Getting older is awesome.) Anyway, I did stop a few times to stretch out my hips, which did help.
My finish time was 2:26:35, which is an 11:12 pace. I got my sweet medal, water, KRā, banana and bagel and went back inside to grab my bag and say hi/bye to Erin and Annabelle at the race info table.
I walked over to the post-race party at Kroll’s (at 18th & Michigan), ran into Pete pretty quickly and enjoyed my complimentary beer (there were 4 local beers to choose from) with him before heading home. I was supposed to go to rehearsal later in the day, but was too exhausted and didn’t want to be on my feet anymore, so I bailed.
So, I’m really glad I didn’t drop down to the 5K. I wanted to finish the race pain-free and ideally smiling, and I did both of those things, so I’m pretty happy. My last half marathon was a disaster that ended with me accepting that I needed to go to the doctor. Now I know that if I stick to strength workouts (especially ones that target my glutes), and apparently stick to regular stretching, I can keep running. I’d love to be able to push myself to improve in terms of mileage and pace, but if I’m already dedicating at least 1-2 hours per week to strength and 1-2 hours per week to yoga, that doesn’t leave much time to add more miles. And there’s really only so much you can improve running 20 miles per week.
Anyway, thank you to everyone at F^3 Events for putting on another great race, and thank you to Chicago weather for being beautiful.