Saturday, November 29, 2014

Schaumburg Half Marathon 2014 Race Recap

This was my second time running the Schaumburg Half Marathon, but the first time running it on the new course layout. I was excited to run my last half marathon for the season and see what I could do time-wise.

Goal: Since I had just raced the Lincolnwood Turkey Trot 10k less than six days ago, my expectations for this race weren't too high. I did low mileage all week in order to try and recover from the 10k and despite that my legs were still slightly sore. I knew it was going to be a tad on the cold side for this one, so the extra layers plus the cold air might slow me down a little. So, my goal was to run a smart race (i.e. negative split) and see if I could flirt just under 1:30:00.

Getting To the Race: On Sunday morning, I drove on an almost empty Kennedy expressway and made it from my house to the parking lot in Rolling Meadows in under 30 minutes.

Pre-Race:  After getting out of my car, I headed over to the yellow school buses (aka "shuttle buses") which would take us to the starting line. This was a point-to-point course so our checked bags would have to be shuttled back to the finish line.
Waiting for the bus
On the bus
The total time from the parking lot to the start line felt like it took about the same amount of time it took me to drive from Chicago to the parking lot. Oh well, I had plenty of time to spare so it was NBD.

I got my packet and made my way over to the bag check area. I spotted Zoe, and after twittering and blogging back-and-forth for a few months we finally met IRL.
Me and Zoe waiting for the race to start
Around that time, I realized I had lost one of my gloves, so I backtracked around to look for it. I did not find it, but I did find another lost glove on the ground and just assumed that the person who lost the one I found had found mine. So, the karma evened out, I hope!

Zoe and I made our way over to the start corrals. It would not be a 2014 Chicago-area race if I did not see Lynton, and of course, there he was calling my name near the starting line! Seriously, I have seen Lynton at perhaps every single race this year (either spectating or racing). Unbelievable. Anyway, I met Mark H. and Adam stopped by and said hi as well So it was one big happy family. Lynton warned us all beforehand that the course had plenty of ice on it, so we would have to watch our footing.

Miles 1 through 3: Temps were comfortable considering it was in the 30s, perhaps it was the sunshine? Anyway all of the aforementioned people took off ahead of me and I settled into a nice groove somewhere above 7:00/mile. There were several ice patches which we had to navigate around. On the first big hill of the course I caught up to Zoe again and we ran together for about a mile and a half, chatting and chilling. 7:04/mile.

Miles 4 through 6: After mile three, Zoe and I parted ways and I ran somewhat alone through scenic Busse woods, picking off runners here and there. There were a few hairpin turns which afforded me glimpses of Lynton and Adam as they were coming back towards me. I think we passed an Elk pasture. This picture shows kind of what the trail looked like:
The scenic Schaumburg Half course
Also we ran on a few hundred yard stretches of snow covered grass. 6:44/mile.

Miles 7 through 9: I was finally able to see the 1:30 pace group up ahead and thought it would be cool to catch up with them and then hang with them until the finish. I spotted Lauren's husband Mike, but he seemed to be running faster than the 1:30 group and breaking away from them. 6:38/mile.

Miles 10 through 12: I finally caught up with the 1:30 group and tucked in the middle of them. The pace leader asked if any of us were attempting half marathon PRs. One woman in the group said this was her first half marathon! A first timer was running smoothly in the 1:30 group. It took me years of 1:40s and 1:30s to finally break 1:30, so that was cool. Anyway, looking at my Garmin, I knew they were going a little faster than the 1:30 pace (6:52/mile) they needed. So when they finally slowed down to 6:52/mile, I thanked the pacer and took off ahead of the group. Some guy in the group shouted "smart race" to me, because he knew I had been playing it conservatively up until these last 3 miles. 6:37/mile.

Miles 13 and 13.22: I was basically on my own, just picking off runners willy-nilly. The final stretch was downhill, but it was on the snow-covered grass. I started shouting "the finish is on grass?" over and over. For some reason it ticked me off, but I am better now. I think I wanted a faster kick and was slowed down by the snowy grass. Oh well! 6:10/mile.

I crossed the finish line and got my medal about 2 feet later!


Overall: 35/1,620
Age Group: 7/110

Official finishing time was 1:28:47 for a new "Schaumburg Turkey Trot PR" by over a minute! My main goal of finishing sub-1:30 was accomplished. The course was icy, grassy and had lots of turns, so I'll take it.

Post Race:
I picked up my gear and headed back to the finish line. I spotted Lynton who had just set a massive PR. I believe he keeps PRing in Schaumburg. I also spotted Erica fly through the finish line and she came by and said hi.
Me and Erica
I cheered on Zoe near the finish line, then chatted with Lynton and Mark before heading back to the car.
Me, Lynton and Mark
Once I got near the city my "check engine" light came on, so I dropped my car off (with smoke coming out under the hood) at the mechanic and walked/jogged about a mile until I found a cab home! Looks like I'll need a new $150 oil valve.

Great sunny day, race PR, and another race where I got to see so many race friends!

Next Up: I might run the Jingle Bell 10k in December. If not it will be the epic "It's S-NO-W Fun Run" in January with the Wurst Running Club Ever!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Lincolnwood Turkey Trot 2014 10k Race Recap

This was my sixth Lincolnwood Turkey Trot. Today's version had favorable race temps of about 50º, yet the occasional rain made it feel a little colder. Maybe the slate gray Victorian skies kept some people at home as the 10k attendance was down slightly. As I mentioned in my last post, I had no dreams of winning another turkey trophy (due to lack of training), so I was just going to try for a slow start then try to negative split and see if I could eke out a sub-40.

Luckily, I had picked up my bib on my way home from work on Thursday, so I didn't need to get there early for packet pickup. I left the house at 8am for the 8:45am start. 15 minutes after leaving home, I scored a street spot, then waited in my heated car for a few minutes. I soon left the warm confines of my car and went to look for Erin and her husband Jason. After looking for them for a few minutes with no luck, I went over to the start corral and chatted with Lynton K and John B. Lynton mentioned he was not going to go for a super-speedy time since he had done his long run yesterday. John was running the 5k, so we would all just run our own races. Anyway, the starter this year told us to start running on the sound of the horn (since last year no one moved last year when he just said "GO")! The horn sounded and we were off...

The Race
Mile 1: Luckily, I started near to the front, so I did not have to weave too much in the beginning like last year. I was trying to hold back, but it's tough when you start with the 5kers. Pace 6:35/mile.

Mile 2: I spotted Lynton up ahead of me about 100 yards away. As we wended our way into the suburban houses of Lincolnwood the 10k split from the 5k (at least until mile 5). I was still on target for my sub-40. 6:30/mile.

Mile 3: We ran into quite a headwind, which I knew would be a tailwind for the final mile or so, so I kept telling myself that I should relax and save some juice for the homestretch. 6:24/mile.

Mile 4: Since the headwind was strong, I tried tucking behind runners to "draft" behind them. Each time I did that however, the runner I was drafting off of was slowing down while I wanted to speed up, so I just kept hopscotching from runner to runner finding a new, faster runner to tuck behind every 30 seconds or so. 6:17/mile.

Mile 5: There is a hairpin turn at this mile around a sawhorse. I was about two paces behind Lynton at this point and started to draft off of him momentarily. Then I passed him on the straight away and he said "nice job" and I said the same to him. Erin's husband Jason snapped a picture of me and cheered me on as I ran past him. 6:16/mile.

 Trottin' around mile 5.5 (credit: Jason)
Mile 6: There was good news and bad news for the last mile. The good news is that I had a nice tailwind. The bad news is that the next mile ahead was almost wall-to-wall 5k walkers. Many of them walk three abreast and there was no separate lane for the 10k runners who are barreling through. As I gently brushed passed a few 5k walkers, I also passed a few more 10k runners. As we neared the 6 mile marker, my lungs and legs really began to hurt for the first time in a race since my 5k in April. I realized that I was red-lining, but I kept telling myself:
1) I have been through worse
2) There is only a short distance left, and
3) I am capable of finishing this thing off strong. 6:09/mile.

Mile 6.28: Down the homestretch, I saw a guy ahead of me who looked like he would be in my age group, (turns out he was), so my final "reel-em-in" mission was to pass him and hope that I would finish 3rd in my age group and snag a turkey trophy. After weaving around a few more walkers, I was in extreme red-line territory, it felt like I had been holding my breath underwater for two minutes and I still had to hold it for 30 more seconds. I got very close to passing him, but could not close the deal. However, I had a nine second buffer of clock time vs. chip time, so I figured I likely "beat" him since I was sure he started ahead of me because no one passed me the entire race (spoiler alert: I beat him by one second according to our chip times).  5:39/mile.

Race Summary: 
My 1st and 3rd place TT trophies
  • Official time: 39:47. Average pace: 6:25/mile
  • Overall Place: 7th out of 468
  • Age Place: 2nd out of 56 (these are 10 year age groups).
  • Turkey trophy attained! I am now four for seven getting turkey trophies. From trots past I have a large 1st place and a small 3rd place, so it will be nice to get a medium 2nd place to put between them. I will have to pick it up next week.
  • Note: I did not get passed at all in the race, not even by a 5k runner. That's always a nice confidence boost during a race.

I almost collapsed after I crossed the finish line, but somehow kept things together and caught my breath after a few seconds. Lynton finished shortly thereafter and John B met us both outside the finisher's chute. Lynton got 2nd in his AG and John B got 3rd. Nice job guys! All three of us went in the post-race tent and grabbed some Little Caesar's cheese pizza and soup courtesy of Lou Malnati's. We talked for about 15 minutes and then Lynton left us to get a free massage/stretch. I will see him again on Saturday for the Schaumburg Half. I said goodbye to John, then went outside and spotted Erin in the finisher's chute and then she, Jason and I walked together back to our cars. 
Erin and Me post-race (credit: Jason)
Race Takeaway:
Super excited to break 40 minutes on such minimal training. I am apparently still living off of residual marathon fitness. I am happy with my negative splits. It feels fantastic to be able to pour on the speed near the end of a race. Anyway, I would like to stay injury-free this winter and get in some solid base mileage for a marathon PR attempt in the spring. I have not been able to stay injury-free over the last two winters so that will be my goal this winter!

Next up:
Schaumburg Half Turkey Trot on Saturday!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Case of the Turkey Trots

It's that time of year when I try to win one of these:
Two of my Lincolnwood Turkey Trot age group trophies (2012 trophy not pictured)
Yes, once again (tomorrow), it's time for the Lincolnwood Turkey Trot 10k, one of my favorite races of the year. What makes it so special? Well, the course is only a few miles from my house (15 minutes door-to-door) and has these awesome turkey age group awards. The hard part of winning one, however, is that the age groups are ten years (instead of five), so I have to fend off the young "turks" in order to claim my prize. That said, I actually don't expect to be in the top three this year. My mileage has been only about 20 miles per week since the Chicago Marathon, so this one tomorrow will be for fun.
Nearly empty Lakefront Trail yesterday morning
Six days after the race in Lincolnwood, I will be attempting the Schaumburg Half/Turkey Trot. I last ran it in 2010, so it will be interesting to see how it's changed since then. I believe there are now shuttle buses to the start line. Anyway, I am hoping for a decent finishing time, but have no expectations.
In the midst of my 10 miler yesterday
I'll probably try for a slow start, something like 7:20, 7:10, 7:00 and see how I feel. If I'm feeling okay by mile six I will start running in the sub-6:50 range and see if a sub-1:30:00 is in the cards. If not, I will back off and cruise through the woods with a smile! After a close call with my Achilles a couple of weeks ago (which necessitated about 10 days off of running), I should probably just focus on having fun at these races.

Is anyone else "turkey trotting" this week?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Hot Chocolate 15k 2014 Race Recap

Since I didn't start running 15ks until a few years ago, the annual Hot Chocolate 15k gives me an opportunity to use some of my residual marathon fitness for a potential PR. However, approaching this year's race, I had run barely any training miles, which made me less confident that I could PR.

The Expo:
The expo for the race is somewhat inconveniently located at McCormick Place. This means I need to drive 22 miles round-trip, through city traffic to get my packet for a race distance that amounts to an extended 10k. But since the Hot Chocolate 15k/5k is such a popular race (the 5th largest race in the nation in fact), "The Hot Chocolate People" could probably hold the expo in another state and they'd still get people to come in droves.

Anyway, as background info, the expo in 2012 was a disaster as people were waiting for up to three hours in the bitter cold in a parking lot just to pick up there race bib and hoodie. Last year, the packet pickup was indoors at McCormick Place, and it was spread out over three days instead of two. This year's expo, was even better. They used the closest exhibition hall to the parking garage, so it was an easy in-and-out.
At the expo with the marshmallow people
Want chocolate-related wear? This expo is for you!
After picking up my bib, I needed to find a race official so I could change my assigned corral.  I was assigned corral C, which is pretty far back for this race. Luckily, I found a booth at the expo where I could plead my case to a race official for a corral change. Unfortunately, the woman in charge of corral change requests said that no one could not move up corrals, only back. With 14,000 15k runners and 20 corrals, I'd estimate there were 700 people per corral. Last year I finished in the top 150, so theoretically, I would have to pass about 1,000 runners to get to run with people my speed. So, unless I got lucky and was able to sneak up a corral or two, I would be stuck in "C" and have to do some major weaving early in the race.

Pre Race: 
I was all set to take the 45 minute "L" train to the race, but was running slightly behind schedule, so instead, I hopped in my car, and with LSD completely empty, made it to my $15 garage just north of Grant Park in just over 15 minutes. I exited the parking garage and took this picture:

Looking down at Columbus Drive before the race
I then met up with a random woman from California who was lost, and we chatted for about 10 minutes as I walked her to the race entrance to the race in Grant Park. Once we parted ways, I used one of the thousands of porta-potties they had set up. Seriously, this is the most porta-potties I've ever seen at a race! Why so many? My guess is that due to past foibles, the race organizers have now gone out of their way to make the race weekend as pain-free as possible.

With ten minutes before the corrals closed, I made my way over to the "C" corral. Apparently, lots of other runners had the same idea, and unfortunately, there were just as many runners headed towards us, perhaps headed to bag check. So, everyone stopped moving completely, no one wanting or able to let the other go the way they needed to go. It was a complete cluster. So, as the announcer said "five minutes until the corrals close" and the urgency built for us to move, people behind me were shouting "push, push!" because they were afraid they'd be locked out of their corrals. Pushing in a large crowd is never a good idea and luckily no one did. Finally, a race official with a bullhorn saw the massive log jam and somehow expanded  the passage way just enough so that we could head slowly, in single file towards the corrals and the other people could go the other direction. Disaster avoided. Whew.

I entered the "C" corral and made my way to the front to see if I could "sneak" up to "B". As luck would have it, a course marshal lifted the rope for me and I was soon in "B". So I made my way up to the front and another marshal lifted the rope for me and voilà! I was in "A"!  I knew Lynton was running and figured he was up front somewhere. I spotted him right away and we stood and chatted for the 15 minutes before the horn sounded. I spotted a few runners who climbed over the eight foot fences to break into the "A" corral. Coincidentally, it was in the exact same spot that I saw people jumping over the porta-potties to crash Lollapalooza this summer!

Race Strategy: 
I averaged 15 miles/week of running over the last four weeks. I did not run at all for the previous 10 days due to a sore Achilles tendon, so I had little idea of how to pace myself, or even if my Achilles would even hold up pain-free for the 9.3 miles. I figured if all was well physically, I could at least average 7:00/miles for the entire race, so my strategy was to run 21:xx for the first 5k, see how I felt at that point, then either maintain that pace or speed up for the remainder. I thought it would be nice to break my 15k PR of 1:02:38 (6:44/mile), but I would not concern myself with hitting that pace. My only goal was to run an honest pace and see how I would hold up over the distance.
Did I mention how massive this race is? src
Mile 1 to 3.1 (First 5k):
I've said this before, but the main thing I love about the Hot Chocolate race is that it's a chance to revisit parts of the Chicago Marathon course only a few weeks after the marathon. So, while the memories of the race are still crisp, and the painted "blue line" from the marathon hasn't completely faded on Michigan Avenue, you get to line up at the same start line, run along the same 3 mile stretch of Michigan Ave. and then end up at the same finish line. For me that's a huge bonus. Anyway, the national anthem was sung and I chucked my disposable clothing and we were off! Lynton took off ahead of me, and I ran up Columbus Drive to Lower Wacker by myself. This is the least exciting (and darkest) part of the course. I let all of the fast 5kers speed by me and chilled. We ran up on Clark St. and through the middle of the Loop where the first "aid station" were kids handing out bags of chocolate. I saw one guy take a bag, I guess he had to carry it the rest of the way or throw it on the ground when he tired of holding it. Then it was over to Michigan Ave. where after we parted ways with the 5kers at Mt. Roosevelt, I found the "blue marathon" line (that follows the tangents) and decided to run on top of it for awhile. My Achilles was feeling okay and would remain so for the rest of the race. 21:15, 6:49/mile.

Mile 3.1 to 6.2 (Second 5k):
I continued running on the blue marathon line for as long as possible, until we veered off onto the eastern edge of Michigan Ave and the line veered off to the west. As we ran on MLK Drive, we did a sharp turn north again for about a half mile, then did a hairpin turn around a pylon and headed south again. This is different from last year, but I think the crazy hairpin turns were created so they could avoid having us run on LSD. During this stretch, some woman who had apparently forgotten her headphones, had turned up the music up on her phone speaker! This was a quiet part of the course which was ruined by her music. Everyone around her could hear whatever crap song she was listening to. Way to break the chill race atmosphere in an uncool way! Please people, if you must play music, wear your damn headphones. No speaker phones on the course! 20:55, 6:45/mile.

Mile 6.2 to 9.3 (Third 5k):
As we headed eastward at the 10k mark, the lake appeared. Then the course heads north again along the access road along LSD. At this point, I was completely sick of hearing the music blasting from the runner's phone, so I decided to speed up by doing a mini-surge. Within a few seconds, I could not hear her music any longer! Whew! We did another short hairpin turn (apparently to burn up more miles), right before the McCormick Place tunnel. I took my sunglasses off for the trek through the "Smelly Tunnel" and then headed down the hill. I glanced at my watch and realized a PR would be within reach, so I started to slowly lower the hammer and speed up. One more hairpin turn and a hill was to be had before heading back up to Columbus for the homestretch. I heard Ken yelling "Go Pete", but had already run past him before I realized it was him. I sprinted full-tilt down the hill, towards the finish. 20:05, 6:28/mile.

 They posted videos of the race finish and I took some screen grabs:


PR accomplished by 29 seconds!
Basking in my PR by a huge mug of hot chocolate!
Note, the cool "candy bar" medal

Time: 1:02:09
Overall: 102/14,178
Age Group: 5/384
Official Pace: 6:41/mile

 5k Splits:
1st 5k: 21:15
2nd 5k: 20:55
3rd 5k: 20:05

If there is one thing that the Hot Chocolate delivers for me is PRs! This might be my only PR for the year, so I am happy to take it home. I had little expectations from this race since I haven't really run much over the last four weeks and I was not sure how my legs would hold up with my injury. Anyway, I am hopeful that with a little more strengthening and a resumption back to normal training, I can at least get a decently speedy time at the Schaumburg Half Marathon.

I searched in vain for Lynton in the finishers' chute. He had run a sub one hour race so he was likely long gone before I finished. I collected my gear and could hear the announcer say, "last call for 15kers to start the race"! So, there were still people starting the same race I had just finished! Anyway, I waded through the thousands of people in the after-party area...
Thousands who ran for chocolate get my fondue and hot chocolate:
Finisher's Fondue Mug
The chocolate fondue was nice and messy and there was chocolate all my face and jacket, so I won't be posting any pictures of my slovenly ways. Note to self: For next year's race, I should bring a flask of Peppermint Schnapps to help "flavor" the cup of hot chocolate. Anyway, after throwing out my mug, I walked back to my car and and left Lower Wacker, just as they were starting to unload the trucks for yet another Batman vs. Superman filming.

Again, this is one of my favorite races of the year. Easy parking, thousands of porta-potties, beautiful finisher medal, and a chance to run through downtown and Michigan Ave. are huge bonuses. However, the new course with the several hairpin turns near the end, leaves a lot to be desired. It's like the race organizers can't figure out what to do with the runners after they get south of the Loop and so they just run us in loops! Also, they need to figure out how to prevent the mob scene cluster of people trying to get to/from the corrals. If this happens next time, and it turns into a shoving match, things could get ugly. Anyway, the majority of the race was awesome, so I'm looking forward to next year's edition and another PR (hopefully)!