Monday, July 17, 2017

Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon 2017 - Race Recap

Last year at the Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon, I broke my long held "Unbreakable PR" when I ran a 1:21:54. It was a monumental run, and marked the peak of my running fitness. Ever. This year's RnR Half Marathon would be the longest distance I've raced since I ran the Chicago Marathon in October. Since October, I have gravitated to shorter distances in order to give myself a break from the constant grind of marathon training. 

Many people ask me why run a half marathon in the July heat? Well, I can only think of four races with courses mainly in the Loop (RnR, Shamrock, CM and Hot Chocolate) and I make it a point to try and run them all, since the setting is second to none! Unfortunately, it seems like attendance at the Rock 'n Roll Half keeps getting smaller every year.

I did manage to meet Kathrine Switzer at the expo on Friday which was very cool. The people in front of me were in tears as they met her. When it was my turn to meet her, after a couple of hugs, I asked her about her Boston effort ... in 2017. Since she has probably recounted her 1967 Boston Marathon about a million times, I think she was excited to talk about her phenomenal Boston Marathon this year (8th in her AG). She told me she trained in New Zealand for it. So maybe I need to take a trip over there and do some hillwork?
After chatting about her legendary race...
Boston 2017
Time goal: This year I was going into the race having run about 30% less miles in training than last year. Therefore, my "A" goal to a seemingly reasonable 1:25. If the weather wasn't agreeable, then my "B" goal would be 1:27 and "C" goal 1:30. The weather was a humid 70 degrees, so I thought my "B" goal would be more realistic.

I woke up at 4:45. After a spoonful of sunflower butter and a few swigs of water, I packed my race bag and met my neighbors Tad and Stacey and we headed downtown to the race.
Waiting for the race to start in Grant Park
We split up at bag check and I then used the ample porta potties. As race start time got closer, I headed over to the first corral for the race to start.
Last year's start (src)
A few minutes later our corral started and we were off!

The Race:
Miles 1 through 3:  I was carrying a water bottle - that way I could blow through the aid stations early on and drink whenever I wanted. Plus, I wanted total control of my fluid intake due to my six food elimination diet. No reason to drink some unknown fluids from a random source! Anyway, my goal was to start the race at a relaxed 6:45/mile clip, which I was on track to do, but it seemed way too difficult for me for some reason. Maybe it was all of this slow training, maybe it was my new diet, but it was a struggle to crank out a relaxed mile and I felt like I was "forcing" things. Usually, I like to start slow and feel like I'm holding myself back, but I didn't have that feeling and I knew that any hope of speeding up later in the race was gone. In any case, I hoped that the endurance that I'd gained over the last four weeks would help me hang on. 6:35/mile

Miles 4 through 6: Running through the Loop is so much fun. As for pace, I just focused on how I was feeling and modulated my pace accordingly. Fortunately, these miles were all in the shadows of the buildings so the temps were tolerable. 6:44/mile

Miles 7 through 9: I knew Xaarlin would be cheering me somewhere during mile seven, and sure enough, there she was in the middle of Michigan Avenue snapping pics and giving me a high five simultaneously! 6:44/mile
Mile 6.5 still with water bottle (src: xaarlin)
Miles 10 through 12: There is a hairpin turn on MLK Drive to start mile 10. On the return trip going north, you can see the other runners who are behind you going south. I was shocked to see how close the 1:30 pacer was behind me, and I was determined not to let him catch up with me which would mean I would even miss my "C" goal. I laughed when I remembered that I'd heard someone call the pace leaders running behind you "the grim reapers of racing". It's truly a deflating feeling to have a pace group pass you mid-race! Anyway, we made the turn northbound on Ft. Dearborn Drive (which runs parallel to the Lakefront Trail) and into the sun and heat. I threw down my water bottle at the "cold sponge" station and really dialed all of my focus on holding pace. We joined forces again with the 10k runners/walkers and we all had to squeeze through the McCormick Place tunnel. If I had been gunning for a PR, all of the swerving around the walkers would be irritating, but since I was just trying to finish ahead of the 1:30 group, I didn't stress too much. 6:51/mile

Miles 13 and 13.17  We crested the last on-ramp to get back onto the mile long straightaway on Columbus Drive. I was really noticing the heat and each step was a struggle. After what seemed like 20 minutes, I finally got close to the finish line.
Finishing up
At the finish line, I threw my arms overhead which the announcer noticed and commented on. However, it seemed like all of the race photographers were over at the 10k finish line, so we may never know how I looked! 6:41/mile


Official Time: 1:28:19
Official Pace: 6:45/mile
Garmin Pace: 6:35/mile

Place Age Group: 5th out of 441 
Place Overall: 107 out of 9,796

Personal Analysis: Six minutes slower than last year and over a minute slower than my "B". goal. It was frustrating, as I know I have more speed in my legs somewhere, but it wasn't to be on this day.

Race Analysis:
The Chicago Rock 'n Roll Half marathon keeps getting smaller from year-to-year:

2010: 19,000 finishers
2011: 15,000 finishers
2012: 15,000 finishers
2013: 14,000 finishers
2014: 14,000 finishers
2015: 12,000 finishers
2016: 11,000 finishers
2017:   9,800 finishers

I know they recently added the 10k and some runners are likely choosing that distance instead of the half, but I'm hoping they can somehow stem the outward flow of runners from the half. I fear that one day they will make the whole thing a 10k and then move the whole shebang over to the Lakefront Trail. Then we will lose one of the only four glorious races that run mostly through streets in downtown Chicago.

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. I went back to the course to cheer on my neighbors and Wendy who was looking strong. Then I met my neighbors in the beer garden and I drank the gluten free beer I'd brought along while they enjoyed the free Michelob Ultra.

The Future: 
I'm feeling a little burned out now, since I've been running pretty high mileage weeks the last four weeks. I think I need a week off of running to get my legs and head back in order.  Maybe I'll do some light lifting and yoga then reassess what I want to accomplish running-wise for the remainder of the year.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Rock and Roll

On Sunday, I'll be running my sixth Rock 'n Roll ("RnR") Half Marathon. I know it will be a long, hot race, but I can't pass up running on city streets in the Loop (for the first half at least). Since I don't have a marathon planned this year, this is turning out to be my "goal" race, so I'm pretty pumped.
Lakefront Run on Sunday
Last year, I set a two minute half marathon PR at the RnR. However, I don't anticipate getting anywhere close to that mark this year, as my YTD mileage is 30% less than it was last year. However, the last three weeks have all been 70+ mile weeks so I might have some newly acquired endurance to hold a decent pace.
PR finish at RnR 2016
That pace will definitely be weather dependent. If the weather is cool, my "A" goal would be a 1:25. If it's just hot, I'd "B" happy with a 1:27. If it's a hot and humid, I'll "C" about running a 1:30. As of this morning, the forecast calls for 70 degrees and 84% humidity at the start. So, we might be looking at a "B" or "C" kind of day.

In other news, I've been following a six food elimination diet. That means I haven't had any eggs, dairy, wheat, seafood, nuts or soy in over four weeks. I've been learning quite a lot about alternatives to the foods I can't eat. For example, you can either buy egg substitute in a package or use apple sauce when a recipe calls for an egg. There is also rice milk, which although it doesn't pack the nutritional wallop of a glass of whole milk, does a decent job when poured over a bowl of wheat-free cereal (e.g. Chex, Cheerios). I've also discovered a line of GF cookies and chocolate called "Enjoy Life" which have been a life saver in the snack department. I've also learned that some wines may contain egg, so I need to either drink cider or vegan wine.

So, for the time being, I'm vegan that can eat meat. My nutritionist was thinking I might need to cut back on my miles while doing this diet in order to make sure I'm getting adequate nutrition. However, I told her I can do without the eggs, yogurt and milk as long as I can eat unlimited meat to get my protein, fat and vitamins. In fact, my mileage has actually increased since I started the diet! Most days, I cook an entire package of sausage or bacon for breakfast and wash it down with a bowl of oatmeal and berries. For lunch it's cold cuts or chili and a salad. For dinner, I eat hamburger patties with Daiya vegan cheese or a steak with sides. Four weeks in, I'm feeling better than I have in a year. My sinuses are clear (I can actually breathe through both nostrils at all times) and I have almost no acid reflux, which helps me to sleep a lot better/longer so my energy levels are higher all day. I'm starting to think that my Chicago Marathon 2016 "crash and burn" was due to low energy levels related to eating one of the foods above. In a few weeks, I start adding the six foods back in one at a time. When I begin to feel sluggish again, I'll be able to pinpoint which food was the culprit.
Yoga Class at Belmont Harbor on Sunday (as seen on my run)
As for cross-training, I'm still swimming three to four times a week, strength training three times and yoga twice. A good combo I've found is to swim in the morning and then do yoga in the evening. My muscles seem to really loosen up on those days! Unfortunately, my gym's pool will be closed next week, so I might have to find an outdoor public pool to for post-race recovery.

Anyone else doing the RnR?