Monday, January 22, 2018

F^3 Lake Half Marathon 2018 Race Recap

I've run the F^3 Lake Half Marathon twice before (in 2015 and 2016). It's a chance for us Chicago area half marathon fans to break out of our winter training routine and actually run a race in the middle of January. The forecast this year called for unseasonably warm temps with highs in the upper 40s. The pleasant weather is probably the reason why this year's race had almost 2,000 runners.

Goal: My last half marathon was the The Big Easy Half in November, where I ran a 1:32:26. Before that race I had been averaging about 25 miles a week and I planned to remain at that level afterwards. However, without really paying too much attention to my volume, I suddenly found myself running 50 mpw mid-December through January. With that kind of mileage I figured I should be able to run two minutes faster than I did in November, which would mean running a sub-1:30. Since the race would have pace groups, my strategy would be to run with the 1:30 pacers the first few miles, see how I felt and either remain with them, or take off on my own if I felt good.

Getting To the Race: My neighbor Stacey and I drove to Soldier Field garage and sat in a long line of cars to pay to get in the garage. It seemed like some of the bottleneck was caused by people paying with credit cards which took longer to process than cash. My idea for next year's race: $20 cash per car or $25 when paying with credit card. That should speed things up as theoretically more drivers would pay with cash.

Pre-Race:  After getting out of the car, we walked up the stairs and found ourselves in the United Club at Soldier Field. I used the indoor facilities with indoor plumbing. Then I bumped into Sara and we chatted briefly. She told me it was going to be her first half since she had kids! Anyway, I had planned all along to run in long sleeves, but I made a last minute decision to run in shorts and a singlet instead. I stuffed the rest of the clothes I was going to wear in my backpack and checked it at bag check. I briefly said hi to Erin who was working the race. I then headed down the staircase to the starting line. Once in the corral, I spotted Annabelle and Maggie. Annabelle had toured the course that morning and filled me in on the details of where the mud, ice and traffic barriers were.

Leaning over the corral fence
with Annabelle and Maggie (src: MagMileRunner)

The national anthem was sung and we were off!

The Race:
Miles 1 through 3: Temps were right around 40 degrees with sunny skies. In other words it was perfect running for mid to late January. I let the 1:30 group get ahead of me by about 10 meters and figured I reel them in later. Then I decided to move into the middle of the pace group as there was a headwind and I wanted to do some drafting. Once we were out on the southbound leg on the Lakefront Trail, I noticed that Maryhelen from the Mikkeller Running Club was right in front of me. We chatted a bit. 6:49/mile.

Mile 3 on the Lakefront Trail with lake to the right (src)
Miles 4 through 6: Eventually, Maryhelen said that she would drop back a bit, but would keep me in her sights. I told her good luck and continued on. Running with the 1:30 group felt a little slow, so I decided to make a break for it and darted ahead of them. Fortunately, I did this right before we ran through a narrow muddy patch (which got my shoes all muddy) then up and down a "big" hill. It took me a few minutes until I could scrape all of the mud from the bottom of my shoes (by scraping the sole of my shoes on the ground). I don't think that slowed me down too much - it was more of an irritant than a time waster. Anyway, the leaders had already made the turn and were headed back by me going the other direction. With a $500 first prize for both men and women, it's no wonder this race pulled in the speedsters. 6:42/mile.

Miles 7 through 9: After the hairpin turn at mile seven, I decided I would take advantage of the tailwind and speed up. After a mile or so, I began to suspect that the tailwind was now once again a headwind and pulled back a little. 6:36/mile.

Miles 10 through 12: After three miles into the wind and running about two minutes per mile faster than I average in training, I started to feel the start of some cramps in my calf, so I slowed slightly to give my legs a break. 6:42/mile.

Mile 12 on the Lakefront Trail (src)

Miles 13 and 13.20: I was trailing a couple of guys up until the finish, and started to make my move. As I tried to pass one guy he sped up to keep ahead of me. A speedy runner who had started walking told me "you've got him" as I ran by. I made my best effort and we ran stride for stride until the finish! 6:28/mile.

Finished! (src)

Total Time: 1:28:17 
1st Half Split: 44:33, 2nd Half Split: 43:44
Pace: 6:45/mile
Overall: 73/1,997
Age Group: 4/136

Three minutes slower than my course PR, two minutes faster than goal and four minutes faster than my November Half. The conditions were pretty much ideal, and I kept the splits pretty even, so I don't know if I could have run this race any better.

Post Race:
I went inside Soldier Field to pick up my gear.  After collecting my things, I made my way back to the finish area and cheered on the runners and I even got to see Mo finish. I went back into Soldier field and spoke with Mo, Maryhelen, Annabelle and Erin and some of us planned to meetup at Kroll’s, the post-race bar.

Stacey and I headed over to the Kroll’s and used or beer tickets for our a free beer. Maggie showed up and we all got a table where we chatted for awhile.

I'm in a good spot now fitness-wise, but do I ramp up the mileage, maintain as-is or cutback and take a break? I will have a week to think about it as I'm more or less taking this week off.

Next up: Shamrock Shuffle?

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Even Splits

When I ran the Big Easy Half Marathon in New Orleans in November I wasn't in top shape. I had been doing relatively low miles in the weeks preceding the race and was inspired to jump into the race when I saw Shalane mouth those two famous words on her way to win the NYC Marathon a couple of weeks prior.

Anyway, regular readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of negative splits, but for the Big Easy Half I didn't really know how I would fare over the distance (due to aforementioned low volume) so instead of any fixed strategy, I decided I would just run by feel. Well, long story short - my "central governor" was working that day, because running by feel produced some pretty-darn-close to even splits, as you can see by my two half times:

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

Although technically I was slightly faster in the second half of the race, it was only by 42 seconds - a difference of 0.6%. in other words pretty darn even.

That's not super interesting in and of itself. However, after recently receiving an e-mail from the race, I went back to look at my results and noticed that they listed my overall and age group placements at each of the five timing mats laid down throughout the race:

So, even though I didn't light the world on fire during the 2nd half of the race via negative splits, I still went from 42nd to 15th overall between mile 3.1 and 13.1 without hardly having to alter my pace. I guess it just goes to show:
  1. A large number of runners positive split by going too fast too soon
  2. You can still have fun passing loads of runners by just holding pace as others fade

Maybe this could be a new race strategy for me. Anyone else try to hit even splits in distances shorter than a full marathon?