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!


  1. Do you have rocket propellers in your running shoes??? You never cease to amaze me, Pete. HUGE CONGRATULATIONS!!! What is this, your 7th PR of the year? You must feel like an enormous weight has been lifted off your shoulders to finally break the unbreakable PR! And to do it in mid-July? WHO PRs ANYTHING IN MID-JULY!?!?!?!? Imagine how well you could have done if this was a fall race! Way to completely tear it up!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Thanks Emily. Please don't tell anyone about the rocket propellers, lest other people try to steal them from me! :) Yes, I think it's my 7th PR of the year! I just need to run a 15k this year (Hot Chocolate?) and then I'm pretty much out of distances to PR! Yes, it feels fantastic to break my unbreakable PR. I was actually excited to change the PR on the right hand side of my blog! I really lucked out with the weather. If it had been 10 degrees warmer (like it has been in the past) it would have been a different story. Thanks again!!

  2. Congrats on beating the unbreakable PR! Freaking rockstar! We got so lucky with the cool weather..definitely a nice surprise! Awesome job Pete!

    1. Thanks! Yes, the weather was as good as can be expected for mid-July in the city. Thanks again! :)

  3. Woohoo! Congrats on the outstanding PR!!!

  4. Dude!! Major congratulations. You are working so hard and making so many great decisions in your training, so it's awesome to see it all coming together. Lucking out with favorable weather is also pretty wonderful :) seriously - so happy for you. So happy to support you!

    1. Thanks man! It's really fun to see all of my training miles pay off. Yes, the below normal temps played a huge part in helping me maintain pace over the last 5k. Thanks again, and thanks for your support! :)

  5. Incredible! I want what you're eating. I cannot wait to see what you do at Chicago!

    Curious what RnR gives it's AG winners...

    1. Thanks. I'm eating lots of fruit, full fat yogurt and salads for breakfast and lunch, yet I still eat pizza, burgers and brats for dinner! I'll let you know when/if I get an award for my AG in the mail!

  6. It has been so exciting watching you have this breakout year, Pete! Congrats on yet another amazing PR. I agree the conditions were the best I've seen for RnR ever and I'm glad you were able to capitalize on them. I also agree that McCormick Place is almost impossible to access quickly/cheaply. I even tried to snag a free shuttle from the Palmer House alas no-go. Sigh.

    1. Thanks Marcia! Yes, the conditions were about as good as could be expected for mid-July. Sorry to hear about the free shuttle not working out. I guess we'll have to live with the McCormick Place bib pickup location for the foreseeable future!

  7. I am amazed at everything you've accomplished. I love your dedication and desire to go after what you want. Congratulations!!

  8. You are simply amazing!!!!!! Congrats on your well deserved PR!!!!!

  9. Yay! Congrats, Pete! I am so excited for you! And awesome AG placement and negative splits!!!!

    I'm really happy you had a somewhat "cooler" day, for July, anyway! What do you think helped you run in the heat? Cause 70s are still "hot" to me!

    1. Thanks! Yes, proud of the negative splits, but it was a bit easier to do than it usually is since we had a tailwind for at least two miles! It was exactly 70.0 degrees at race start and I don't think it got much hotter than that. We also had a nice breeze for the entire race. I really started to heat up for the last 3 miles (no headwind), but drank water and splashed a couple of cups on my head. Also, I just kept telling myself that it was almost over, which helped! I think doing a couple training runs per week around noon (when it has been typically above 80 degrees) helped prepare me for the heat, so 70.0 degrees didn't feel so bad!

  10. Crazy negative split.. awesome and congrats! Loved that you had the lady "rabbit" ahead of you.. definitely love when you have someone on the same page without planning it!

    1. Thanks. Yes, I love negative splits! Yes, the lady "rabbit" was helpful in getting me to push my pace late in the race. :)

  11. That is freaking awesome, congratulations! This has been the year of PRs for you! Are there any you haen't broken?

    1. Thanks! I have broken every PR (that I track on this blog) this year, except for my 15k PR. I hope to break that in November at the Hot Chocolate 15k! :)