Monday, July 21, 2014

Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon 2014 - Race Recap

Running this year's Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon was as much fun as I've had since the 2013 Chicago Marathon. The course, the celebrity sighting, and hanging out with friends made this race special.

This was my fourth time running the race. It is one of the largest half marathons in Chicago and it's my favorite half marathon course in the world. The one drawback is that it usually takes place on one of the hottest days of the year, but at least it starts at 6:30 am, so the first 45 minutes of the race is usually in the shade. This year the forecast for the first two hours of the race called for high humidity, but lower than normal temps (upper 60s to low 70s). 

Time goal: I ran the Indianapolis Mini Marathon back in May, and I was close to breaking 1:29, so I wanted to go sub 1:29 at the RnR Half. However, the Rock 'n Roll Half would be at least 10 degrees warmer than Indianapolis, so I needed to factor that in. So:
My "A" goal was go sub-1:29.
My  "B" goal would be to go sub 1:30 (especially if the conditions on race day weren't favorable)

Age Group goal: I noticed that a sub-1:30 would have gotten me at least a top 4 AG placement 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 10 AG placement.

I woke up at 3:30 am. After breakfast, I packed my race bag and drove four houses down to pick up my neighbor Stacey then drove two more houses down to pick up my neighbor Tad. We all drove down in my car and parked in the usual $14 lot about 1/2 mile from Grant Park. I used the ample facilities, got a start line picture...

Pre Race Photo near the RnR Start line
...and then checked my bag. I milled around for awhile looking for familiar faces. As the race start time got nearer, I needed to go to the facilities once again. So I used the bank of porta potties on the north end of Grant Park and worked my way in front of the start line where I got a glimpse of olympic bronze medalist Shalane Flanagan doing her pre-race strides up and down Columbus drive. It was kind of a goose bumpy moment watching her warm-up and knowing that I was going to run the same race as the best marathoner in the U.S.!  Anyway, I ducked under the corral fence about three rows from the start line. After the national anthem, Shalane ducked under the rope and stood about 10 feet in front of me. How cool! I made a last minute decision that I would try and bolt out with her for the first 100m just to say I ran a bit with her! The gun sounded and we were off!
Start of the race (I'm at the tip of the red arrow).
The Race:
Miles 1 through 3:  Well, my decision to start fast with Shalane ended about 2 meters into the race as she completely blasted out of the gates and left me there as if I were standing still. You can see the gap she opened up on me in the first 100m:
Shalane (green arrow) hauling and Me crawling (red arrow)
Despite seeing her disappear quickly over the horizon, I was running too fast for the first few hundred meters until I spotted Ken. So I made my way up to him to say "hi". We chatted about goals for about 30 seconds. Since he is a much faster runner than me, I said goodbye to him and he took off ahead of me. At about mile two there were some people dressed like clowns standing on stilts, yelling encouragement to us! Where were the rock bands? Anyway we ran down State Street, over the river then west on Randolph. 6:51/mile
Under the L tracks (still have my water bottle)
Miles 4 through 6: This was the western-most portion of the race down Madison, over the bridge a couple of blocks there and back. More people and clowns on stilts cheered us on as we ran down Madison St. Still no rock bands. I took the last sip of my water bottle and threw it to the sidewalk. We made our way down Harrison where I saw Xaarlin and Vicky who cheered me on. I guess my GPS was a little off because of the tall buildings. 6:24/mile
Running through the Loop 
Miles 7 through 9: I really started to feel the humidity. My shirt was essentially soaked through. Luckily, the sky was covered with clouds and I could feel a slight breeze as we headed south.  We left the loop and ran by Grant Park down 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. Did I mention I love this course? I had my first sighting of an actual rock band.  6:45/mile
Out on the course
Miles 10 through 12: I began to notice that I was in a pack of about three or four guys who were all graying around the temples, which meant that there was a good chance they were all in my age group. I figured that I needed to get by them before the finish to improve my age group standing. One of the guys (who I found out later was from Germany) was knocking out rhythmic 6:52/miles like a metronome. That strongly indicated to me that he too, was gunning for a sub-1:30 finish. He looked very solid, like nothing would slow him down. I on the other hand, was starting to feel the heat and humidity and was losing confidence that I could keep up with him and thus would not make it to the finish in a sub-1:30. I actually started to tell myself that a 1:31 wouldn't be so bad, since I felt the 1:30 was slipping away with each step. We ran on LSD (with traffic coming towards us two lanes away) and then onto a grassy patch to get to the Lakefront Trail. I guess that is my least favorite part of the course - having to run on grass (I guess I can ignore it because it's only about 20 yards of grass). Anyway, as we headed northbound on the trail, we caught great views of the skyline. I grabbed a wet sponge they were handing out just before McCormick Place and put it under my hat. Note to people who don't race in hats: Hats are great when people are handing out sponges! We started to ascend up towards the McCormick Place tunnel. I decided that I would try and shake off the wolf-pack of older runners including Mr. Metronome. I ran fast up the hill leading to the tunnel entrance. I pulled ahead of them, and they did not challenge me. I was in the clear! But the "clear" was not clear for long as I entered the dark McCormick Place tunnel. I had to remove my sunglasses so I could see in the semi-darkness. I didn't trip on any of the 100 filled in potholes. 6:46/mile

Miles 13 and 13.40  I did some mental calculations and realized that I could not afford to relax at all, as I would have to cover the last 1.1 miles at about a 6:52/pace to score a sub-1:30. Just before Soldier Field we had to run up a time slowing exit ramp, then run down it and then go up another one. I could tell that my pace had slowed to about 7:10/mile on the ramps, so I would have to really, really haul through Grant Park where the course flattens out again. 
Running up one of the two ramps
in front of Soldier Field
After cresting the last hill, finally in Grant Park, I could see the finish line straight ahead, way in the distance. Once in Grant Park, there was the awful aroma of fresh cow manure in the air, and I had to stop from gagging as I sucked in desperately for some clean air. Luckily about a quarter mile from the finish, like a breath of fresh air there was Xaarlin and Vicky (again!) shouting encouragement (and taking pictures - see below). 
During the last quarter mile sprint through Grant Park. (Credit Xaarlin)
I could see the finishing clock in the distance and it read almost 1:29:00, and along with a few other runners who were also desperate to get in before the clock read 1:30:00, I staged a suicidal 400m sprint:
About to pass three guys all gunning for sub 1:30s
 (guy in white shirt is off camera to the left)
Making my move to go through the middle (time is ticking, hurry!)
Making my pass just a few yards from the finish.
 I was starting to really hurt (5:01/mile pace)
The mini "track meet" was over and I crossed the finish line with 13 seconds to spare! 6:31/mile

Official Time: 1:29:46  ("B" Goal accomplished!)
Official Pace: 6:51/mile
Garmin Pace: 6:41/mile

Place Age Group: 6th out of 542 (AG Goal accomplished!)
Place Overall: 191 out of 13,754

Analysis: My splits were somewhat uneven and I probably did not run perfect tangents. I blame the fast start on Shalane! Just kidding. It was worth it just to try and keep up with her for 2 meters. It was muggy during the last half of the race. If it had been a little less humid, I probably could have gone sub-1:29. In any case, I reached my "B" time goal and accomplished my age group goal!
Source: Vicky
Post Race: 
After catching my breath for about 30 seconds, I slowly walked down the finishers' chute and collected my medal. I spotted Ken who had finished a few minutes in front of me and we got a pic:
Ken and Me reppin' the "BRC"
I left Ken and walked to gear check, got my bag, changed my clothes, then headed back to watch my neighbor Stacey finish. Then I went over to meet Ken at the finish line beer garden:
Ken and me enjoying the post-race party
We also saw Eric and I chatted with him briefly before he went to yet another beer expo!

That morning, I sent out a tweet which got favorited by Shalane Flanagan. It was something about the spine tingling start with her 3 rows ahead of me. Xaarlin also got a couple tweets favorited by Shalane. How cool is that?

All in all it was yet another fantastic race. This race is as close to the greatness of the Chicago Marathon as you can get without running a full marathon. The course, the crowds and seeing lots of running friends was fantastic! The final surge at the end to get my goal time was totally rewarding/exhilarating. I was feeling tons of post-race endorphins all day until I passed out on the couch watching NY Med at about 10pm!

The Future: 
Now it's time to really kick my Chicago Marathon training into high gear. I need to up my miles and learn to hold a fast pace for about 16 miles before I will feel confident I can set a course PR in October. So, it's getting serious folks, but it was great to have a little bit of racing fun yesterday.

So, Grant Park starting line: I'll see you again in October!
The End!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon Chicago: A Last Bit of Racing Fun (for Awhile)

On Sunday, I'll run my 4th Rock n' Roll Half Marathon in Chicago. I am super excited to run it, see some friends, and get a gauge of my current fitness. Despite a handful of weeks where I was semi-injured and sick, I've put in a good solid training base over the last several months and want to see what my legs and lungs can do on the course.
Celebrating Post Rock n' Roll Half 2013 with Mo and Tad
After the race is over (and I've had my celebratory beer or two) my serious Chicago Marathon training begins. That means that I will consistently run higher mileage over the next couple months. Since I'll be looking to increase my endurance, I likely won't want to "race" a race at least until I need a predictor run, which will likely be the Chicago Half Marathon in September.

So, if I throw in a 5k (I'm looking at you Oktoberfest 5k) between now and the Chicago Marathon, it will be part of my training and there will be no taper and no pushing the pace too much. I'm going to save all of my racing "fun" for my marathon and hope that I can make it to the starting line ready to race and hopefully score a course PR.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Sheboygan Freedom Run 5 Miler

Sheboygan, WI, the so-called "Bratwurst Capital of the World", is located on Lake Michigan about an hour north of Milwaukee. I was staying there over the 4th of July weekend and as luck would have it, there just happened to be a race - The Freedom Run 2 and 5 Miler - taking place down the street from my hotel on the morning of the 4th.

So, of course I had to run it! I left the hotel at about 7:15 and walked 5 minutes down the hill for the 7:30 am race start.  I had been sick all week and hadn't run a single mile for six days prior to the race. I had little expectations and no race plan except to start slow and finish fast. I also did not know how hilly the course would be, so I thought my strategy would work well if it was hilly.
Waiting for the start of the race
The Race
The race got started with a simple "Go" from the announcer and we were off!

Mile 1: I had chosen a spot about 30 yards back from the starting line, because I thought I would give the 2 mile runners a little breathing room since they would be pushing the pace early. However, that was a big mistake as I found myself in a sea of 8 to 9 minute milers with lots of kids and adults in jeans rocking cassette Walkmen which meant that I had to do lots of weaving right off of the bat. So much for trying to be nice! Oh well, it helped to hold my pace back a little. We headed up a gradual incline with great views of Lake Michigan. 6:57/mile.
Course Map. Note that about half of the course had views of the lake.
(entirely course was on city streets)
Mile 2: After the first mile, I was able to get by all of the slower runners and stop weaving. Right at the turnaround for the 2 milers, there was a giant hill. We shook the 2 milers and started our ascent. I purposely dropped the pace up the hill and focused on staying relaxed. There was no need to push the pace with four whole miles left to race. Once I crested the hill, I enjoyed the view of the lake from high atop the bluff.  Then I started to pick up my pace. 6:45/mile.

Mile 3: This mile was mostly a nondescript jaunt through some residential streets. There was a hairpin turn-around to begin the trip back over the same course. 6:32/mile.

Mile 4: What goes up, must come down, so there were some nice gradual downhills here. I was nervous about picking up the pace too much and getting shin-splints like I've done in other downhill race situations. 6:21/mile.

Mile 5: We made our way down the big hill, and in order to prevent leg pain, I held back until the last portion of the hill. Then I turned on the jets for the remainder of the race, trying to pick off as many fading runners as I could. I guess not running for six days gave me some fresh legs, because I really slammed down the hammer (my last recorded pace for this mile was 4:25/mile!) 6:08/mile.


Total time: 33:12 (6:31/mile) Instant PR!
Age Group: 1 out of 14
Overall: 21 out of 271

I am quite happy with the result considering I was sick the entire week leading up to the race. I also had no idea how hilly the course was going into the race. I train on pretty much flat land, so to beat other runners who probably train on this terrain on a daily basis was cool. I credit the stair stepper at the gym! Anyway, I simply run best when I run negative splits, and I ran a pretty good race in that regard. On top of all that it was my first 5 miler ever, so I got an instant PR!

I collected my AG medal with a red white and blue ribbon and walked 20 yards to the lake for some post race pictures:

Relaxing by the beach post race
The "Big Bang" Celebration in Sheboygan is sponsored by
Then it was time to have a double brat on a Sheboygan bun for a late breakfast!

Fantastic, well-organized race run on city streets for only $12 - that is almost the same amount as the "convenience charge" for a Chicago race!

Saw this giant guy in the parade after the race.
Next Up:
Rock n' Roll Half Marathon Chicago (my favorite half marathon course in the world)!