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.


  1. Congrats on your race, Pete! It sounds like you went into it with the smart plan of an A, B, C goal and went by feel throughout the race. It stinks that you couldn't hammer as much as you knew you could, but no doubt you'll be able to put your speed to the test again in the near future. Even trying to run fast and long in Chicago in July is awesome in my book :) and so cool you met Kathrine!! Wow!! One of my teammates finished Boston alongside her. (You can see the Wolfpack orange singlet in her finishing pictures!)

    1. Thanks! Yes, I do love to hammer it during the second half of a race and it's not as much fun when you realize early on that it's not gonna happen! Oh well, at least I fell somewhere between "B" and "C" and didn't let the dreaded grim reaper catch me! Anyway, I was more than happy just to be running through the streets of Chicago. Ha, yes, I just googled it and can see the Wolfpack singlet in the finish line picture of Kathrine. Very cool! :)

  2. It's interesting that you mention the declining finisher totals - I mentioned that in my race recap that's going up tomorrow, too. As I say there (and will say here), I think it's reflective of the trend in local (and, based on Running USA's annual reports, I would guess national) races in general: there just aren't as many people running races anymore as there were a few years ago. For Illinois races, at least, every single race I've run so far this year has had fewer finishers than it had in years past. This race has been around for awhile--it was the Chicago Distance Classic before Rock 'n' Roll bought it--so I'd be a little surprised to see it disappear entirely, though Rock 'n' Roll drops races all the time, so who knows. Even if Rock 'n' Roll did drop Chicago, I think someone would swoop in on that (or a nearby) weekend and do a different half marathon during that time slot. It lines up so well with Chicago Marathon training (technically, it should be one week later, because last weekend was a cutback weekend for Hal Higdon (aka CARA) runners with seven miles on the schedule, but this coming weekend calls for 12 miles, which I'm sure is close enough for most people to do a half marathon instead) that I don't think anyone would allow that to go un-monetized for too long. That being said, you'd still need to have enough participants to justify closing downtown streets. I don't know what that threshold is, at least for closing as many streets as RnR does.

    1. Looking forward to reading your take on the declining finisher totals. Yes, I'd be surprised to see it disappear totally, but if attendance drops much more, maybe it will change into a 10k run mostly on lower Wacker or a Half/10k combo run mostly on the LFT and lower Wacker. Hoping that RnR's corporate sponsors step in and make up the difference in the drop in entry fees so it can keep the same course despite falling numbers. I actually bought my entry on Groupon and saved about $30, so a lot of people (like me) weren't even paying full fare!

    2. I remember the Chicago Distance Classic! That was my first half marathon in 2006! But I was under the impression that it was bought by Banco Popular and then now it is the Chicago Half Marathon. But now that I think about it, I remember the course being similar to what is now the course of RnR Chicago.

  3. I am so surprised at the declining finisher totals for this race. It makes me sad. Once again, I realize what an amazing city we live in. I'm finishing up my recap (I'm posting it tomorrow). I was SO happy to see you in the finish chute--I 'm glad you thought I looked strong. I felt like I was going to vomit at any minute. I was disappointed in my finish-- I started out feeling pretty good. But the humidity took a toll.

    I did sign up for Hot Chocolate (the 15k). Hopefully you'll be there...

    1. Yes, I hope they can figure out how to attract more runners for the half! Yes, you definitely looked strong. It was pretty humid out there! Yes, I usually run the Hot Chocolate. I think I have a 5 year streak!

  4. Congrats on a well run, while hard and slower than you wanted, race! Bad planning to have the half marathoners finish up with the 10Kers. Bad, bad, bad planning. Good thing you weren't gunning for that PR, like you said.

    I am not surprised by the lower attendance of the HM, especially with more races added at this event, and at other events, and with more "specialty" races out there, too. People seem to be more choosy. I hope they do keep it, since you like it so much.

    And I hope you feel better this week! I missed your post on the elimination diet. It sounds like you have it all figured out, but let me know if you need ideas on the vegan front. My husband owns a company that sells a bunch of replacement baking/cooking items (for no dairy, no egg, and to an extent, no soy).

    1. Thanks! Yes, I think that we will be stuck with the Half/10k combined course unless they close down LSD or send one set of runners onto the LFT. Yes, I looked at the Fake Meats website when I first started on the diet looking for a vegan whipped cream substitute. I was thinking about ordering some SoyaToo, but it had coconut oil, which I thought I couldn't have. Now my nutritionist has cleared me for coconut oil, so I'll have to get back on your hubby's site.

  5. Way to stay ahead of that 1:30 pacer Pete! I'll bet your diet may have had an effect on your speed. That attendance drop is stunning. Remember back in the day when RnR added celebrities to the field? In wonder if no longer having them has an impact. It's a well-done race and I love the course. I was bummed to miss it this year.

    1. Thanks. I'm thinking the diet may have something to do with it. No eggs for five weeks can't be a good thing! Yes, I remember the days of Al Roker and celebrity bands back in the glory days of the RnR. Maybe you'll make it next year?! :)

  6. Congrats Pete!

    I am not surprised at the declining numbers. I am one that will not run it (unless it is free) because of the weather.

    That finish line is ridiculous. Such a tease. I think it is worse than going up Roosevelt at Shamrock Shuffle and the Chicago Marathon.

  7. Congrats! I'm sad to hear about the declining numbers and the finish. I'm not really surprised by the declining numbers because this race tends to be on a very hot day.

    I hope you're feeling better this week and focusing on your diet.