Monday, July 21, 2014

Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon 2014 - Race Recap

Running this year's Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon was as much fun as I've had since the 2013 Chicago Marathon. The course, the celebrity sighting, and hanging out with friends made this race special.


This was my fourth time running the race. It is one of the largest half marathons in Chicago and it's my favorite half marathon course in the world. The one drawback is that it usually takes place on one of the hottest days of the year, but at least it starts at 6:30 am, so the first 45 minutes of the race is usually in the shade. This year the forecast for the first two hours of the race called for high humidity, but lower than normal temps (upper 60s to low 70s). 


Goal(s):
Time goal: I ran the Indianapolis Mini Marathon back in May, and I was close to breaking 1:29, so I wanted to go sub 1:29 at the RnR Half. However, the Rock 'n Roll Half would be at least 10 degrees warmer than Indianapolis, so I needed to factor that in. So:
My "A" goal was go sub-1:29.
My  "B" goal would be to go sub 1:30 (especially if the conditions on race day weren't favorable)

Age Group goal: I noticed that a sub-1:30 would have gotten me at least a top 4 AG placement in last year's RnR Half, so I thought that if things played out like last year, I might have a shot at at least a top 10 AG placement.

Pre-Race:
I woke up at 3:30 am. After breakfast, I packed my race bag and drove four houses down to pick up my neighbor Stacey then drove two more houses down to pick up my neighbor Tad. We all drove down in my car and parked in the usual $14 lot about 1/2 mile from Grant Park. I used the ample facilities, got a start line picture...

Pre Race Photo near the RnR Start line
...and then checked my bag. I milled around for awhile looking for familiar faces. As the race start time got nearer, I needed to go to the facilities once again. So I used the bank of porta potties on the north end of Grant Park and worked my way in front of the start line where I got a glimpse of olympic bronze medalist Shalane Flanagan doing her pre-race strides up and down Columbus drive. It was kind of a goose bumpy moment watching her warm-up and knowing that I was going to run the same race as the best marathoner in the U.S.!  Anyway, I ducked under the corral fence about three rows from the start line. After the national anthem, Shalane ducked under the rope and stood about 10 feet in front of me. How cool! I made a last minute decision that I would try and bolt out with her for the first 100m just to say I ran a bit with her! The gun sounded and we were off!
Start of the race (I'm at the tip of the red arrow).
The Race:
Miles 1 through 3:  Well, my decision to start fast with Shalane ended about 2 meters into the race as she completely blasted out of the gates and left me there as if I were standing still. You can see the gap she opened up on me in the first 100m:
Shalane (green arrow) hauling and Me crawling (red arrow)
Despite seeing her disappear quickly over the horizon, I was running too fast for the first few hundred meters until I spotted Ken. So I made my way up to him to say "hi". We chatted about goals for about 30 seconds. Since he is a much faster runner than me, I said goodbye to him and he took off ahead of me. At about mile two there were some people dressed like clowns standing on stilts, yelling encouragement to us! Where were the rock bands? Anyway we ran down State Street, over the river then west on Randolph. 6:51/mile
Under the L tracks (still have my water bottle)
Miles 4 through 6: This was the western-most portion of the race down Madison, over the bridge a couple of blocks there and back. More people and clowns on stilts cheered us on as we ran down Madison St. Still no rock bands. I took the last sip of my water bottle and threw it to the sidewalk. We made our way down Harrison where I saw Xaarlin and Vicky who cheered me on. I guess my GPS was a little off because of the tall buildings. 6:24/mile
Running through the Loop 
Miles 7 through 9: I really started to feel the humidity. My shirt was essentially soaked through. Luckily, the sky was covered with clouds and I could feel a slight breeze as we headed south.  We left the loop and ran by Grant Park down Michigan Ave. This is one of my favorite parts of the course as it covers some of the last three miles of the Chicago Marathon in reverse direction. Did I mention I love this course? I had my first sighting of an actual rock band.  6:45/mile
Out on the course
Miles 10 through 12: I began to notice that I was in a pack of about three or four guys who were all graying around the temples, which meant that there was a good chance they were all in my age group. I figured that I needed to get by them before the finish to improve my age group standing. One of the guys (who I found out later was from Germany) was knocking out rhythmic 6:52/miles like a metronome. That strongly indicated to me that he too, was gunning for a sub-1:30 finish. He looked very solid, like nothing would slow him down. I on the other hand, was starting to feel the heat and humidity and was losing confidence that I could keep up with him and thus would not make it to the finish in a sub-1:30. I actually started to tell myself that a 1:31 wouldn't be so bad, since I felt the 1:30 was slipping away with each step. We ran on LSD (with traffic coming towards us two lanes away) and then onto a grassy patch to get to the Lakefront Trail. I guess that is my least favorite part of the course - having to run on grass (I guess I can ignore it because it's only about 20 yards of grass). Anyway, as we headed northbound on the trail, we caught great views of the skyline. I grabbed a wet sponge they were handing out just before McCormick Place and put it under my hat. Note to people who don't race in hats: Hats are great when people are handing out sponges! We started to ascend up towards the McCormick Place tunnel. I decided that I would try and shake off the wolf-pack of older runners including Mr. Metronome. I ran fast up the hill leading to the tunnel entrance. I pulled ahead of them, and they did not challenge me. I was in the clear! But the "clear" was not clear for long as I entered the dark McCormick Place tunnel. I had to remove my sunglasses so I could see in the semi-darkness. I didn't trip on any of the 100 filled in potholes. 6:46/mile

Miles 13 and 13.40  I did some mental calculations and realized that I could not afford to relax at all, as I would have to cover the last 1.1 miles at about a 6:52/pace to score a sub-1:30. Just before Soldier Field we had to run up a time slowing exit ramp, then run down it and then go up another one. I could tell that my pace had slowed to about 7:10/mile on the ramps, so I would have to really, really haul through Grant Park where the course flattens out again. 
Running up one of the two ramps
in front of Soldier Field
After cresting the last hill, finally in Grant Park, I could see the finish line straight ahead, way in the distance. Once in Grant Park, there was the awful aroma of fresh cow manure in the air, and I had to stop from gagging as I sucked in desperately for some clean air. Luckily about a quarter mile from the finish, like a breath of fresh air there was Xaarlin and Vicky (again!) shouting encouragement (and taking pictures - see below). 
During the last quarter mile sprint through Grant Park. (Credit Xaarlin)
I could see the finishing clock in the distance and it read almost 1:29:00, and along with a few other runners who were also desperate to get in before the clock read 1:30:00, I staged a suicidal 400m sprint:
About to pass three guys all gunning for sub 1:30s
 (guy in white shirt is off camera to the left)
Making my move to go through the middle (time is ticking, hurry!)
Making my pass just a few yards from the finish.
 I was starting to really hurt (5:01/mile pace)
The mini "track meet" was over and I crossed the finish line with 13 seconds to spare! 6:31/mile

Results:
Official Time: 1:29:46  ("B" Goal accomplished!)
Official Pace: 6:51/mile
Garmin Pace: 6:41/mile

Place Age Group: 6th out of 542 (AG Goal accomplished!)
Place Overall: 191 out of 13,754

Analysis: My splits were somewhat uneven and I probably did not run perfect tangents. I blame the fast start on Shalane! Just kidding. It was worth it just to try and keep up with her for 2 meters. It was muggy during the last half of the race. If it had been a little less humid, I probably could have gone sub-1:29. In any case, I reached my "B" time goal and accomplished my age group goal!
Source: Vicky
Post Race: 
After catching my breath for about 30 seconds, I slowly walked down the finishers' chute and collected my medal. I spotted Ken who had finished a few minutes in front of me and we got a pic:
Ken and Me reppin' the "BRC"
I left Ken and walked to gear check, got my bag, changed my clothes, then headed back to watch my neighbor Stacey finish. Then I went over to meet Ken at the finish line beer garden:
Ken and me enjoying the post-race party
We also saw Eric and I chatted with him briefly before he went to yet another beer expo!

That morning, I sent out a tweet which got favorited by Shalane Flanagan. It was something about the spine tingling start with her 3 rows ahead of me. Xaarlin also got a couple tweets favorited by Shalane. How cool is that?

All in all it was yet another fantastic race. This race is as close to the greatness of the Chicago Marathon as you can get without running a full marathon. The course, the crowds and seeing lots of running friends was fantastic! The final surge at the end to get my goal time was totally rewarding/exhilarating. I was feeling tons of post-race endorphins all day until I passed out on the couch watching NY Med at about 10pm!

The Future: 
Now it's time to really kick my Chicago Marathon training into high gear. I need to up my miles and learn to hold a fast pace for about 16 miles before I will feel confident I can set a course PR in October. So, it's getting serious folks, but it was great to have a little bit of racing fun yesterday.

So, Grant Park starting line: I'll see you again in October!
The End!

27 comments:

  1. ROCK ON, Pete. You are a superstar!!! SO cool that you had so many brushes with Shalane, too! It is very cool that our local races here in Chicago draw some of the best runners in the world! I feel your pain on those ramps near Soldier Field and the McCormick Place tunnel towards the end. So brutal, especially at that point on the course. But I loved seeing the pictures of the full-on sprint in the final 400M. It felt like I was watching the action unfold live in front of my eyes. Congratulations on a super strong race!

    P.S. I giggled a bit at the woman doing her stretches in your "The End" picture. Too funny. =)

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    1. Thanks Emily! Yes, it was cool that Shalane interacted with me, a mere mortal! Watching her warm-up was probably like watching a racer car driver warm-up before the Daytona 500. I felt like I run like slow turtle compared to how speedy she is! Anyway, I'm glad the photographer captured the action near the finish line. Glad you liked "The End"! I just thought I was getting a skyline picture, but noticed the background person later! :)

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  2. Congrats Pete!

    I saw Shalane on 31st street and then again after the turnaround heading back to the finish line. So cool!!

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    1. Thanks! Yes it was very cool to see Shalane. I wish I could have spectated her racing from the sidelines. Oh well, at least I got to see her warm-up!

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  3. Awesome time, Pete! And way to place in the top 10 in your AG. Super impressive for a race this large. We stalked your race results on the train ride home, haha.

    I was in the back of the pack with my friend, and we'd look at our running time on our watch and go, "Oh, Pete's done" "Oh, Pete's having a beer" "Oh, Pete's drunk." (We were out there a long, long time, lol.)

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    1. Thanks. In the beer garden I was stalking your results as well to see if you guys had finished and were possibly in the beer garden. However, when I realized that you would be longer than normal, and the heat was getting to me, I decided to leave with my neighbor. I guess there will be other races or WRCE parties to meat up again at. Ha, ha, I like your "Pete's done" jokes! :)

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  4. Fantastic Race Pete! I love how you can just pour it on to reach your goal. I'd be dying. For real. Love all the action shots and how cool to go gunning out with Shalane!

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    1. Thanks Marcia. It was not easy to hit my goal, I thought about giving up and slowing down at least a few times, but for some reason I stuck with it and gave myself a shot at a sub 1:30 with a mile left then was able to finish it off!

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  5. Wow! I'm bowing down to your race performance! (virtually, anyways!) Great job! See you at the marathon...

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    1. Thanks! Yes, we'll see you at the marathon!

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  6. Boom! Great time, 6th AG Dayum! Congrats!! Sounds like you've got some speedy wheels on you that will continue to get speedier as the temps and humidity drop :)

    It was awesome seeing you on the course twice. Way to kick it in and beat out all those age groupers in the home stretch. Maybe road races should start putting people's ages on the backs of the runners calfs like triathlons so you know who to pick off or not :)

    Congrats again on a strong race! Can't wait to see how October goes for you :)

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    1. Thanks. Fingers crossed for the humidity and temps to drop soon! Yes, it was awesome seeing you twice as well. You are a dedicated spectator! I would like the age on the back thing. It it might give a slight edge to runners who tuck behind the leaders until the end and make a "surprise" move. Anyway, I am looking forward to October too. Just need to get more miles in... :)

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  7. What an awesome race you had! Kinda weird about the circus act thing-- thought it was an RNR race-- but it sounds like you had a really great experience on a tough July day for racing! Way to go. And way to do the BRC proud!! :)

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    1. Thanks for your kind words Erin! After I posted this, I read something about the city not giving the race music permits in time or something like that - hence the circus acts. Happy to represent the BRC, and looking forward to wearing my Singlet in October!

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  8. So cool that Shalane favorited tweets that you all put out!!!! Congrats on the finish! It really was very humid on Sunday so nice job hanging on to your B Goal in that weather!

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    1. Yes, that was quite nice of her. Thanks!

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  9. Nice job out there! I was completely drenched from the humidity as well. Sounds like you would of destroyed the 'A' goal if it would of been a little less humid. We need a cool weather race on the same course.

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    1. Thanks man. I shouldn't expect accomplishing too many "A" goals in races near the end of July! I would love for the Chicago Half Marathon to be on the same course as the RnR in September!

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  10. Nice "end" shot, har har!! Congrats on the awesome AG placement!!! Speeeedy! Now, if you had walked about 1/4 of the course like I did, you would not have felt hot!! The weather didn't bother me at all yesterday, haha. Until afterward when I was waiting for my husband. Then I wanted to be in the shade.

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    1. Thanks! Yeah, sitting in the beer garden area became kinda uncomfortably warm once the sun came out which is one of the reasons I left somewhat early. Also, for being out on the course a little longer than I was, I'm surprised you didn't feel hot despite the walking. You must be better acclimated than I am. :)

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  11. Wow nice job!! And 6th in AG is so awesome in a large chicago race like this! Great job! I was disappointed in the lack of bands (I mean...it's a Rock N Roll event!!). But really to tell you the truth, didn't notice it in the beginning. The humidity was awful too. I agree!

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    1. Thanks! Yeah, I heard other runners talking about the lack of bands during the race. Hoping the humidity is a lot less for the Chicago Marathon! :)

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  12. What a great accomplishment. 6th in your AG for such a big race is amazing. You are a beast! I'm glad you stopped trying to run with Shalane after two meters...going out too fast can destroy you. You ran a smart race! I don't remember running on the grass last year. Did the course change?

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    1. Thanks Sara! I'm glad I did not try and run with Shalane. If I did, I wouldn't have made it very far and I would have had to lie down for a few minutes to catch my breath! Yes, going out slow is key for half marathons! Anyway, I think it was a new course this year. I've heard other bloggers say that last year we didn't run on grass. I wonder why they changed it?

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  13. Congrats on the finish and hitting your B goal! The circus acts sort of freaked me out...the guy with the giant balls under his shirt to look like a big butt came running out to me and asked me to "bounce my buns and twerk with him" on the plus side that did make me run a little faster to get away from him haha.

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    1. Thanks! Yes, the circus acts were a little over-the-top with their encouragement, but I guess that's what they do. Maybe they motivated runners - like you said - to get away from them! :)

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  14. Great race! Congrats on the sub 1:30 and top 10 in AG! That means a lot for a Chicago race!

    I love that you started with Shalane and got that pic "with" her. And totally LOLing at the graying around the temples comment ;)

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