Thursday, July 16, 2015

Chicago Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon Pre Race Thoughts: Heat and Race Strategy

Recovering from the heat under
 the post race water mist machine (RnR '13)
So, the big story for the 2015 Chicago Rock n' Roll Half Marathon is (as usual) the hot temperatures/humidity in the forecast. I could sit here and moan about how I don't like running in the heat and how I especially suffer when it's muggy out, but I won't. The race on Sunday is a tune-up race. My main goal is to PR the Chicago Marathon and as such, I need to learn how to deal with all sorts of conditions - including those that I'm faced with on Sunday. Come October if the Chicago Marathon is a hot one, and I have been avoiding racing in the heat all summer, I won't be "battle tested" and will probably struggle to figure out how to deal with the heat during the marathon itself (not a good thing).
RnR '13 Finish
As far as race strategy goes, McMillan puts my current fitness right at a 6:30/mile pace for 13.1 miles. That will obviously need to be adjusted by 10 or 20 seconds per mile upwards based on the heat index. The most important thing is for me to run a nice, consistent pace throughout the RnR in order to simulate running a consistent pace similarly to what I will need to do for the marathon. I will probably start the race at 6:50 for the first 6 miles then try to drop down to 6:40 for the rest of the way in. However, if I'm not feeling it at the halfway point, I will try and just stick with 6:50 and be happy. Since the Rock 'n Roll course runs down many of the same streets as the marathon and even starts and finishes on Columbus Drive in Grant Park, I won't have much better opportunities to simulate the marathon.  A nice consistent pace will be difficult to maintain as the temperatures rise during the race, but again, maintaining a nice consistent pace here may teach me a thing or two how to do it in October when things get tough.

Hamming it up with Xaarlin and Sara
(RnR '13)
To make the race slightly more comfortable, I may wear a bandana and look into purchasing arm coolers at the race expo to see how much they help to keep me from overheating. I am going to wear a hat which will come in handy when they hand out cold sponges, so I can stick the sponges under my hat and get a cold water drip for a mile or two.  Other than that, I will try to hydrate and run in the shade, wherever possible. One more thing, if it is extremely, dangerously hot, I will definitely drop out. No use causing heat stroke and having to take days off of marathon training to adequately recover. I may be acclimated to 75 degrees at the moment, but am not acclimated to anything north of 80 degrees.

Who else is running on Sunday? What are your strategies to stay cool during the race?

Monday, July 6, 2015

4 on the 4th 2015 Race Recap

For me, races on the Fourth of July are about one thing - having fun. In the past few years I've run races featuring an uphill final mile 5k and a 5 miler where I ran up and down a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. Neither course was laid out for a PR - but for these "holiday" races it's more about interesting courses and/or unconventional distances which are a nice holiday from standard flat and fast ones.

This year I would get both an interesting (re: hilly) course as well as an unconventional distance (4 miler) by running the 4 on the 4th in Elmhurst. For the first in a long time, I found myself in the city for the Fourth of July, so I wanted to find a holiday race nearby. Since the 4 on the 4th is a CARA race and I could score some points for the BRC, I decided to make the trek to Elmhurst to set an instant four mile PR.

Entering my latest 5k time into the McMillan Calculator it said I should be able to run 4 miles in 23:50 for a 5:57/mile pace. So, factoring in the tangents, I would need to run a 5:54/mile pace at the slowest. So my planned splits looked something like this:

5:58, 5:56, 5:55, 5:52

Yes, another daunting goal, but I really did want a sub 24:00 since it's what I can do and well, it is a nice round number. It would also mean I would have to run a sub six minute pace for four straight miles (which would be a first). As if that weren't enough, pushing myself to run fast and actually racing all-out is pretty much the most fun thing on the planet. And wait, there's more! - The post-race endorphins that last for the entire day are fantastic as well!

I woke up at 4:45 am for a two mile shakeout run around Welles Park. People were still lighting fireworks off at the time in the park. So that got my heart racing early as I feared if bottle rockets would fly in my direction. When I returned home, I had my standard pre-race fare: a cup of coffee, and a bagel with peanut butter. I jumped in the car at 5:55 am and with literally zero traffic from Chicago to Elmhurst, I pulled into the race parking lot an hour before race start at 6:20.

Pre-race on the beautiful Elmhurst College campus
I picked up my bib and packet, ran another mile or so, then bumped into Zenaida and chatted with her. Then I spotted Erin and Jason and we chatted. Erin told/warned me of the three hills on the course - the first and second hills were down and back up again through a railroad underpass, and the third was over the last quarter mile with an incline twice as steep as the dreaded Mt. Roosevelt finish of the Chicago Marathon. 

Soon enough, the national anthem played. After that I made my way into the start corral where I spotted Zoe, who was running as part of the Oak Park Runners. Suddenly, someone yelled "Go!" and we were off!

The Start
The Race:
Mile 1:  The first quarter mile was downhill so we were all flying. A quick glance at my Garmin showed a 5:20/mile pace. I knew things would slow down once the course leveled off. Once things got back to normal I glanced down and realized the 10-pack of runners I was in the middle of had slowed down too much and we were chugging along at a 6:20/mile pace. A couple of guys from our "group" peeled off and shot ahead. I decided to follow them instead of hanging back.  5:59/mile.
Video grab from mile 1 (src)
Mile 2: The dreaded railroad underpass arrived and we ran down then back up it. My pace suffered a little, but it makes the course interesting right? At the two mile mark there was a hairpin 180° turn. 5:58/mile.

Mile 3: Running briefly through downtown Elmhurst, Erin spotted me as she ran the other direction and yelled "Go Pete!". I waved at her then descended and ascended the underpass for the last time. I started picking off runners as I was feeling good and ready for the final mile kick. 5:57/mile.

Mile 4: The good feeling I had was gradually turning to pain as my lungs were hitting their max capacity. Soon enough, we turned a corner and the dreaded quarter mile uphill to the finish was in front of me. I knew I had run some decent splits up until that point, but I realized I would need a tremendous surge to ensure I got my sub 24:00. I let my legs fly and and with the incline pushing back at me - made my way sprinting up the hill. I seemed to be faring well as I was passing several runners. The course became a blur of running store singlets and the finish line ahead.  I could see the finish line clock in the distance and it was counting up and at 23:30. 5:45/mile.

Mile 4.07: I poured everything I had into the last stretch. Cresting the hill there was a last 100 yard flat out sprint to the finish line which I crossed right as the race clock hit 24:00. 4:43/mile.

Official Finish Time: 23:57
Official Pace: 5:59/mile
Garmin Pace: 5:53/mile

Place Overall: 80th out of 925
Place Age Group: 5th out of 46

Since I didn't cross the start line until three seconds after the race started, my chip time was three seconds faster than the gun time. So I broke 24:00 with all four miles under 6:00/mile pace. Mission accomplished! Also it was an instant PR since it was my first four miler.  As far as my running goes, I like that my first splits were pretty even. My desperate charge up the hill as I watched the clock tick to 24:00 as I finished will be a lasting memory from this race. Thanks to Erin for the pre-race warning so I could mentally prepare for the hill!

Hanging out post race with Erin and my free snow cone

Post Race:
I laid out on the grass after the race for a couple of minutes to catch my breath. Then I staggered over to the course again to watch Zoe, Erin and Zenaida finish. I chatted with Erin and Jason and we got free snow cones from a vendor. Then it was back to the city for the Fourth of July, even though the real fireworks for me had already happened in the suburbs. Nothing beats a fast race!

Next Up:
Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon in two weeks!