“Today is the day I break 1:50, dammit,” I said into the mirror on Sunday morning as I got ready for the Chi-Town Half Marathon.
Gotta write down your goals.
Even though it’s only been two years and three half marathons, it felt like I’d been trying to break 1:50 for an eternity. So I wrote four times on my hand. To run a 1:49, the splits were easy to remember: 25 minutes for every three miles.
My debate over what to wear was extensive. I can’t even tell you how many times I checked the hourly forecast between Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. It had rained overnight and into the morning, and there was a 50 percent chance of thunderstorms during the race. I finally settled on my favorite Sugoi shorts, a long-sleeve half-zip tech shirt with thumbies and a cap.
We got on the road to Lincoln Park. Oh no! I had forgotten my lucky hair ribbon! Yes, a hair ribbon. You see, I’ve worn it for every race since the Flying Pig 10K in May 2009. We had time to spare, so I asked my husband to turn around. Just a tiny 15-minute detour. Totally worth it.
After finding a parking space without too much hassle, I headed to the start/finish area. By the time I got through gear check, it was 8 a.m. and I had that all-too-familiar I-gotta-go feeling. Damn you, pre-race nerves! The port-o-john lines were really long, so I made an executive decision to go to the corral and stand with the 8:24 pace group (and crossed my fingers that it was, in fact, just nerves).
Waiting in the corral, I chatted with a few runners. I also began regretting my wardrobe choice. The clouds were clearing a little, and at 52 degrees with no rain and no wind, I was wishing I had gone with short sleeves.
The gun went off at 8:15 sharp, and the shuffle to the starting line began. The chute narrowed, so I ended up falling quite a ways behind the pace group. But I did not make the mistake of sprinting to catch them. Instead, I settled in for what I felt like was an easy first mile. When my Nike+ told me I’d run an 8:10, I shuddered. Whoops. Time to knock it back a notch.
The course weaved around the park, down through the North Avenue pedestrian tunnel and over to the Lakefront Trail. Even though there were about 2,300 participants between the half marathon and 10K races, it never felt crowded. It felt like just another busy morning on the trail — you know, with the occasional signs to follow, cowbell-waving volunteers and water stops. Also, when there’s a race on the trail, they still have to keep it open to the public. Random runners, walkers and cyclists blended into the race. (I’ve been one of those random runners before, and it’s actually kinda fun.)
The only sun we saw all morning, which was fine by me.
The sun started to peek out a little, and I was warming up fast. By mile 2, I had already pushed up my sleeves and unzipped my shirt. I was actually plotting the logistics of taking off my shirt when the sun went back behind the clouds to stay. Other than a little humidity hanging in the air, the weather was ideal: 53 degrees, 5 mph southwest wind, overcast. We lucked out.
As I neared the loop into Montrose Harbor, a little voice popped in my head. “Will I be able to maintain this clip? Am I saving enough for a strong finish?” I beat down those doubts and repeated my mantra for this race: I am in control. I can do this. I own this trail.
At mile 6, I was about 45 seconds behind on my splits. Excellent. I knew I could make that up over the next 6+ miles. After all, I have run negative splits during training runs on the trail countless times, why should today be any different?
Near mile 8, I caught a glimpse of bright pink compression socks and neon green shorts — it was the girl I was chatting up in the corral. Then I saw the 8:24 pace group leader, surrounded by a pack of about 15 runners. They were about a quarter-mile ahead of me. Excitement and happiness rippled through me. I was catching up to them, and when the time was right, I was going to pass them.
I stayed within striking distance and kept creeping closer. At mile 11, I made my move around the pace group, and “Africa” by Toto helped me do it. I felt a burst of pride and power, and I knew my goal time was in reach.
My next split at mile 12 read 1:40:06, giving me 10 minutes to run 1.1 miles. The question now wasn’t would I break 1:50, it was by how much.
The course wound back down the hill into the North Avenue pedestrian tunnel, and the hill coming back out was rrrrrrough. My legs were screaming and my breathing was heavy. No time to slow down now, though.
I weaved around the final turns into the park. With 400 meters to go, I saw two scruffy chaps — my husband and my dog — and I turned it up another notch. On the final straightaway toward the finish line, I raced alongside a gal in her early 20s. She beat me by a couple steps, but she helped push me there.
I smashed my previous PR, set at the North Shore Half last June, by three minutes. HELL YES.
Rad race swag.
This race was everything I hoped it would be. It was a flat, fast course; not too big; not too expensive; and on familiar territory. I also love the medal and the shirt. (In fact, the shirts are so rad — half-zip teal tech with thumbies — that I’d say about 1/3 of the participants were wearing them during the race. And I think you guys all know how I feel about that.)
And, of course, I am stoked about my time.
I’m sore, I’m happy, I’m proud — the best post-race feelings one can have.
Now, what’s this about the Flying Pig Half Marathon in a month? — Mags