Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon 2016 - Race Recap

I had long ago filed my half marathon PR of 1:23:53 in my "Unbreakable PR" folder. In a single race in May 2010, I annihilated my half PR by taking 14 minutes off of my previous time of 1:37:29. I have vivid memories of running the last mile of the 2010 Indy Mini with my legs feeling fresh and flying down the long final stretch. In fact, that moment was so euphoric - it's my favorite running memory ever. It was one of those rare moments in life when the impossible became possible.

Celebrating my impending PR
at the Indy Mini 2010 (1:23:53)

For the past six years, I've been chasing a new PR, but come up short in the 20 subsequent slower half marathons since.

Before my 21st PR attempt at the 2016 Rock n Roll Half, my chances of a PR were looking good. Coming into the race I had trained more than ever before, and I knew from the race conversion tables that a PR was within reach. In fact, the McMillan site predicted a 1:22:00 half based on my most recent 10k time. So, I knew I needed to just arrive to the starting line rested and in one piece, and if I played the pacing game correctly, I could likely cross the finish line and do what I hadn't done in six years and 20 attempts at the distance.

It didn't hurt things that the course is my favorite half marathon course which I look forward to tackling. The main drawback to RnR Chicago is that it usually takes place on one of the hottest days of the year. However, it does start at 6:30 a.m., so the first 45 minutes are usually in the shade. Luckily, this year the forecast called lower than normal temps - it was "only" 70 degrees at the start.

Time goal: First and foremost I wanted to PR so I knew I'd need to run a 6:21/mile pace at the slowest. I also knew the McMillan predicted time might also be in reach so I could allow myself to run 6:14/mile at the fastest.

Age Group goal: I noticed that a sub-1:28:00 would have gotten me first place in my age group 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 3 AG placement.

I woke up at 3:45. After breakfast, I packed my race bag and drove down to "my" parking lot about 1/4 mile from Grant Park. I used SpotHero for the first time and only paid $10 for a parking space. Anyway, once I walked over to the race, I used the more-than-ample facilities, got a start line picture...
At the start line before the race
...and then checked my bag. I did a 3/4 mile shakeout run on the sidewalk along Lake Shore Drive. As race start time got closer, I headed over to the first corral for the race to start. The "wheels start" went off a few minutes before the general 6:30 start and I noticed there was a woman pushing a baby stroller in the wheels group! I would see her later on during the race.
Start of the race (I'm at the tip of the red arrow with the green hat) (src)
A few minutes later our corral started and we were off!

The Race:
Miles 1 through 3:  My goal was to start the race at a 6:40/mile clip. However, this year there were 10k runners mixed in with the half marathoners, so loads of people shot out in front of me. It was tempting to speed up and join the fun, and I probably did a little bit of that as my first mile was around a 6:20. I was carrying a water bottle - that way I could blow through the aid stations early on and drink whenever I wanted. 6:19/mile
Mile 2 over the State St. Bridge
carrying my water bottle
Miles 4 through 6: This was the western-most portion of the race which leads down Madison Street, over the bridge a couple of blocks there and back. There were lots of spectators cheering us on as we headed down State Street, but once we veered onto Lake Street under the Green Line tracks, it became pretty quiet. I was enjoying the relative silence since I never experience the Loop without noise (except for this race). 6:13/mile

Miles 7 through 9: Did I mention the sky was covered with clouds and there was a strong wind blowing from the South? Probably not, because I didn't notice how strong the wind was until this section. It was a headwind, which meant if I played it safe now, I would be able to take advantage of the tailwind for the return trip to the finish. We left the Loop and ran by Grant Park southbound on 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. I finally took the last swig from my water bottle then ditched it at an aid station. Just like the Hot Chocolate 15k course, this race burns up a mile by running a boring out and back down MLK Drive before heading out to the lake. So much for course creativity! At that point, I noticed that the woman who was running with the stroller was ahead of me and really flying at a fast clip. I was amazed that she could go so fast pushing a stroller. Lots of people were yelling encouragement to her since it was surprising to see a stroller moving so fast. After about a half mile of following her, I slowly passed her and she shouted out "nice job!" to me as I passed! I could only muster a hand wave back to her as my breathing was labored. I would find out later that not only was she Julia Webb, wife of racing legend Alan Webb, but she also broke the stroller half marathon world record at the race! 6:17/mile

Miles 10 through 12: I was super happy to make the turn northbound on Ft. Dearborn Drive (which runs parallel to the Lakefront Trail) because now the headwind was a strong tailwind out of the south. I started to really push myself to speed up as we joined forces again with the 10k runners once again. They were supposed to be in a separate lane marked by pylons, but I did have to swerve a couple of times as some of them ran or walked around the pylons and into the half marathon lane. Anyway, I was slowly gaining on a woman running the half marathon, but every time I would think I was gaining on her, she poured on the speed and remained ahead. I dumped a cup of water on my head and it got my sunglasses' lenses wet, so I took them off and carried them. 6:09/mile

Miles 13 and 13.17  I was trying to figure out how I was doing relative to my goals, but my math skills were mostly out the window at this point so I focused on maintaining a decent pace. I felt like I could fade at any moment, so as a confidence boost, I thought back to the 100 mile week that I ran 14 days before and told myself that the fitness gains from that week would help me maintain my pace over the final stretch. In fact as we crested the last on-ramp to get back onto the downhill straightaway on Columbus Drive, I started to really speed up. The woman who was in front of me also turned on the jets and we both flew down the final stretch, although she continue to maintain her 20 yard lead. 
Totally serious as I run the last few yards...
finally starting to celebrate...
and finished!
Elated after six years and 20 attempts -
 a new half PR!
I threw my arms overhead and was finished! 5:53/mile


Official Time: 1:21:54
Official Pace: 6:15/mile
Garmin Pace: 6:13/mile

Place Age Group: 3rd out of 480 (AG Goal accomplished!)
Place Overall: 46 out of 11,016

Analysis: PR by two minutes! My "unbreakable PR" has finally been broken! The McMillan table was almost spot on again. There was only a six second difference between their predicted time and my actual time! Here are some other stats I cobbled together:

  • First 6.55 miles were run in 41:15
  • Final 6.55 miles were run in 40:39 (sweet negative splits, how I love thee)
  • First mile was a 6:20
  • Final mile was a 5:57
  • First 5k was run in 19:51
  • Final 5k was run in 18:36
All-in-all I think I ran as fast as I could given the conditions and my one week taper. If I had tapered longer or it had been 10 degrees cooler, maybe I could have run 30 seconds faster, but that's about it.

Post Race: 
I slowly walked down the finishers' chute and collected my medal.

After exiting the finisher's chute and getting my bag at gear check, I changed into dry clothes. Soon thereafter, I bumped into Annabelle and we walked over to the beer garden. Not more than a few minutes after getting our beers from the bar, the band on stage announced lightning was headed our way, so instead of pressing my luck with possible electrocution just to drink a can of Michelob Ultra, I decided to leave and offered Annabelle a ride home. We got into the garage just in time, because as soon as we drove out onto Lake Shore Drive, it started to rain cats and dogs.

The Future: 
Now it's time to focus solely on training to set myself up for a great Chicago Marathon. I just need to keep doing what I'm doing and I should be able to do well there. So, Grant Park - I'll see you again in October!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Dennis Krzykowski Memorial 5K (aka DK5K) Run 2016: Race Recap

On the Fourth of July I ran a hilly race called the DK5K in Cedarburg, WI. I've entered the race several times over the past seven years and it's the hilliest 5k I've ever run. The first mile has an uphill start then a long descent before another uphill jaunt into mile two. Mile three has several steep uphill climbs lasting a few blocks which lead back to the start. In any case as I've mentioned before, this race is a treat -  it's undulating terrain is a welcome change from flat-as-a-pancake courses. The race also pays dividends to runners who play it smart the first two miles in order to keep some fuel in the tank for the final uphill mile. I didn't have much hill training prior to the race but I hoped that the high mileage training I had done over the previous two months would pay off for me.
Cedarburg Mural
Elevation Chart: Note the two big hills in mile 3
The morning of the race, I drove from my hotel through downtown Cedarburg where residents had lined the streets with hundreds of empty lawn chairs in order to reserve spaces for their three hour 4th of July parade spectacular. I parked about 100 yards from the start line and went for a 4.5 mile warm-up run. During my warm-up I ran part of the course and tried to take the downhills and uphills gradually to condition my legs for the race. After I started to work up a decent sweat, I slowed down and ran up to the registration desk where I plunked down $30 in cash for my race entry and t-shirt.

This is a no-frills race and as such, there were no timing chips. So in order not to give away seconds - I lined up right at the starting line. The gun sounded and we were off!
Balloon start line at the DK5K. Yes, it is an uphill start!
Mile 1:
The first two hundred yards is up a steep hill, followed by a long descent of about a half a mile. A few high school speedsters shot out in front never to be seen again. Another seven runners were between them and me. I had to be careful and hold back once we started downhill because I did not want to over pound my legs (especially my shins). I injured myself in the 2010 version of this race by flying too fast on the downhill portions. I was in tenth place. 5:59/mile.

Mile 2:
This mile is the flattest on the course, and actually probably a net downhill. I began to slowly hopscotch a couple of runners. I may have sped up just a little too much at this point, wasting energy that I should have been saving for the big inclines ahead. But since this mile is relatively flat I didn't fear pounding my legs into an injury so I let them fly. I was in sixth place.  5:48/mile.

Mile 3:
This is the "Mile of Doom" as it's 3/4 of a mile of uphill running. There are two uphill stretches - one 1/4 mile and the other 1/2 mile that take runners near the finish. There was a group of four of us running dead even as we turned up Spring Street for the start of the final half mile of the race. I knew that it was going to be a war of attrition up the hill. As a confidence boost I told myself that I would beat the other three on the hill because I doubted that any one of them had also run 100 miles the week before. Advantage = me! I contemplated when I should make my move and try to shake the other three. I slowly sped up at the halfway point of the hill and only one of the three guys answered my surge and he kept right along side me. I didn't want to chance a finish line sprint with him, so I mustered all of my fading energy into a second surge and turned on the jets right before the top of the hill. Then I kept pouring on the speed when things flattened out. Suddenly I was alone. I couldn't hear the footfalls of the other runners. I had passed an intersection so I thought maybe I had mistakenly made a wrong turn!?  If I had taken a wrong turn, it was too late to go back, so I kept chugging along. 6:01/mile.

Mile 3.1
Still by myself, I made another turn and saw the finish line ahead. The last 175 yards are entirely downhill. I made a mad dash down the hill lest someone come out of nowhere to challenge me. I crossed the finish line and I handed a race official the strip from the bottom of my bib and was done!  5:05/mile.

My Results: 
  • Official Time: 18:20
  • Age Group: 1st out of 12+
  • Overall: 3rd out of 183
This was by far my fastest DK5K since the I started running it in 2010. This isn't a PR course so I was basically gunning for overall placement and I did well in that regard by coming in third. I'm also happy that my fitness basically carried me up the steep hills despite have little or no "hill muscles". I guess having lots of endurance training can help conquer hills. Anyway, I love this race just for the challenging topography alone. It's fun to mix things up (occasionally) when racing!

Post Race:
After stopping momentarily in the finishing chute to hand a race official the strip from the bottom of my bib, I continued to run. In fact I ran another 3.5 miles as a cool down. By the time I stopped for the awards ceremony I had logged a total mileage of 11 miles for the day. At the awards ceremony, I got my age group medal and then went back to the car to return to the hotel. All-in-all it was a great way to kick off my Fourth of July festivities!

Next Up: Rock 'n Roll Half Chicago on Sunday!