Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Turkey Trot Chicago 8k 2017 Race Recap

Until this year, the only race that I've ever run on Thanksgiving Day was 10 years ago at the traditional 8k race in Lincoln Park. My memories of that race were mostly bad. I paid $72 for the experience ($50 for the race + $22 for parking). The parking spot was at the southern tip of the Lincoln Park Zoo lot. This meant that by the time I got out and locked the car, it was super close to race time. So, I had to sprint a mile north to the start line only to be completely out of breath and to find the race already underway. Once I crossed the start line, I was mostly prevented from actually running for the entire five miles due to being blocked by masses of walkers and joggers. Since I didn't know anyone else there, I left right after my 5 mile "walk/jog", $72 poorer and sporting an 8k personal worst.

I decided, this year's Lincoln Park 8k would be different/happier. Not only would I leave early enough to find a free street spot, and be able to start near the front, but I would also be attending the race with my dad (he was doing the 5k). So I had three things going for me this year vs. 2007!

We arrived in my car near the finish line just off of Diversey and Cannon at around 8:15 am for the 9:00 am start. After making a couple of sweeps up and down the streets nearby, my dad spotted an empty spot that was near a fire hydrant. Luckily, I was able to squeeze the car in and was happy to park so close without paying. While waiting in the car, we took a look a look at the course map and realized that the start line was actually a few blocks south of the finish line, so we decided to head on over at about 8:30 so we would have enough time to take a leisurely stroll there.

Once there, the race emcee announced that the combined races were sold out with over 8,500 runners! That is an astounding number for a little race along the Lakefront Trail. No wonder I got blocked in so badly 10 years ago. Anyway, after checking my bag, we walked to the start corrals, which despite the posted mile/minute splits for each wave seemed to be somewhat of a free-for-all since there was no one monitoring the entryways. The "A" corral was only about 1/3 full, and despite it being for runners of sub-6:00/mile ability, I surmised that a decent percentage of the people queued up in the corral were likely not even sub-7:00/mile ability. So, I parked myself at the very back of that corral since I was shooting for around a 6:30/mile and knew it wouldn't be a problem.

The national anthem was sung and we were off!

Starting the race
 (Notice that I'm at the very back of the sub 6:00 first wave src)

As we headed north along the Lakefront Trail, I passed about 30 people who obviously had started in the wrong corral. In any case, we had a nice tailwind so my first mile was a little fast, but not too bad. Since the course was an out and back, the race did a fairly decent job of keeping the northbound runners hugging the lake via the sidewalks around the harbors and the southbound runners on the Lakefront Trail itself. About at mile two along the LFT, I spotted Declan who was out for his casual morning run, heading towards me. Luckily, we were able to make a successful side-five, which was very cool. At mile three we turned around and I once again saw Declan who was no doubt returning home for his Thanksgiving breakfast feast!

Mile 4 (src)
Up until that point, I hadn't been passed, but somewhere between mile three and four some guy who was breathing heavily started to pass me. I sped up a little to keep pace with him and he started complaining to me that the mile markers were off by 0.15. I agreed with him, but also realized that some of that was likely due to us not running the tangents perfectly. I could tell by how loudly he was breathing that I could put him away, so just after mile four, I stepped on the gas and he dropped back. Then it was a mad dash to the finish line and before I knew it it was done!

Dash to the finish (The 8k and 5k courses were together at that point)!

First half: 16:10
Second half: 16:04
Total: 32:14

Not my fastest by any means, but not a bad outing since I had just raced a half marathon five days earlier. I kept the splits pretty much even-steven despite the headwind at the end.

Post race
After I picked up my bag, I returned to spectate for my dad and got to witness him finishing 1st in his age group in the 5k! It would be another hour before the awards ceremony, so we decided to bolt. On our way out, we bumped into Kimberly, who had also finished 2nd in her AG. All-in-all it was a nice day for a run, a much better experience than 10 years earlier, and it was a good way to spend the morning working up an appetite for the Thanksgiving feast later in the day!

Next up: ??

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Big Easy Half Marathon 2017 Race Recap

It's been awhile since I've raced. I've been taking easy and haven't had a training plan since before the Rock 'n Roll Half in July. After the last few years of non-stop training cycles, I was constantly tired and my leg muscles were extremely stiff and sore. So, I decided I need to approach running differently. I took a few weeks off and then began running low mileage and doing more walks instead of runs. Eventually, the fog started to lift and my energy levels gradually improved. To help my legs regain flexibility, I kept up my yoga practice and strength training and also switched running shoes from stability (which I've pretty much always worn) to neutral shoes. That made almost an immediate difference in getting my legs back to normal.

But, as always happens after some time off, I started getting the itch to race. It was probably when I watched Shalane win the NYC Marathon that got me thinking that I'd rather race sooner than later. I wondered how I would I fare now that I'm doing much lower miles 20 to 30 per week. My longest run in four months was 11.5 miles. Extra weight wasn't too much of an issue since I've also been pretty good following a HFLC diet and only put on about 5 pounds from my lean marathon weight last year.

As luck would have it, I found a race. After planning a vacation to New Orleans, I decided to poke around the interwebs to see if there was a race taking place during my stay. I stumbled upon the "Big Easy Half" which would take place only 1.5 miles from my hotel at the Superdome during my stay. So it was decided, I would make my "comeback" in the Big Easy.

On Saturday, I left my hotel at 6:00 am for a walk down Bourbon Street where several of the bars were still operating with their doors open. Music streamed out of the bars and I could still see a few patrons enjoying their favorite "breakfast" beverages. On the sidewalk, I had to swerve around a few "reminders" left by people who had perhaps too good of a time partying a couple hours earlier!

After about a 15 minute walk I arrived at the plaza outside the Superdome at the start line.
Waiting for the race to start
I took a few pictures and then we were called over to the start. The announcer was trying to get people to line up at the start line, but just a few of us did, and so I got in one of the official race pictures:

A clap to get the race started (src)
The national anthem was sung and we were off!

I was one of the first runners across the timing mat, but was immediately passed by about 40 speedy runners. It was hot and I had only an inkling of what my half marathon pace should be, so I held back. I thought that a 7:30 to 7:45/mile pace was realistic so targeted that for my first few miles. We headed out of the Superdome plaza and ran under the expressway a trail that led us to City Park. Then it was up and over a bridge about 3x as high as Mt. Roosevelt in Chicago. At one point we could see the lead runners coming back towards us. A "triathlete" dude running in front of me was yelling at the runners ahead that he was going to catch them because he was running negative splits. I thought that that was cool, because that's what I usually do. So I tucked in behind him and let him pull me along, however that lasted only about a mile before he faded and I passed him.

Making my move
To my surprise, I kept on passing a couple of people every mile as my pace held rock steady at an also surprising 7:05/mile. I was in a groove and knew I could hold that pace the whole race. Since I was just running by feel, I think perhaps I've developed a decent "central governor" which gives me a good feel for pacing? In any case, it was nice not to be constantly glancing at my watch and to be just to be running freely. Soon enough, we turned around and ran back over the hill and I stepped on the gas. After passing a few more runners, I found myself running alone but also so far behind the next runner that I couldn't see anyone ahead of me. So, I had to rely on markers and the smattering of course volunteers to make sure I didn't make a wrong turn! Luckily, I soon spotted the Superdome on the horizon and made a beeline towards it. One final turn and I was back at the Superdome plaza. I appeared on the jumbotron and an announcer called my name at the finish I put on one last surge and ran the final 0.13 at 5:03 pace.

1st Half: 46:34
 2nd Half: 45:52
Final Time: 1:32:26 (7:03/mile)

AG: 3rd out of 40, OA: 15th out of 779

With the Big Easy Half medal
Not my fastest half marathon by a long shot, but honestly with the relaxed training I did going into this race, I was pretty happy with the result. Heck, I hadn't run 13.1 miles in four whole months, so just finishing the distance without stopping made me happy! I kept my pacing very even, with a slight negative split and I didn't have much left in the tank at the end. So, strategically this was an "A" race. I don't see myself ramping up my training anytime soon, and so I'll be happy to just keep this modicum of fitness and be able to jump in a race (and race hard) whenever the desire strikes my fancy. As long as I run a pace that matches my fitness, I'll take it as a win. If nothing else this race reminded me of how awesome it feels to be running hard over a relatively long period of time. Who knows, maybe I will run a marathon again someday?!

Post race, I ate some of the sausage jambalaya at the post-race food tent:

Jambalaya was a post race snack
I walked back to the hotel, passing the street cars on Canal Street.

Canal Street

I made the turn onto Bourbon Street. By 9am the bars were still open, but thankfully by that time the streets were being power washed clean to prepare for another day of revelers.

Next up: Art Van 8k Turkey Trot in Lincoln Park on Thanksgiving Day!