Race Recap: Chi Town 10K 2015

I spent 2014 busting out PRs left and right, and it felt fairly incredible. I became faster, stronger, even happier. I was proud of myself, proud of the way I rose to each challenge and recorded more notches in my racing belt.

Then last weekend, I busted out a “reverse 10K PR” — a.k.a. my slowest 6.2-mile race ever — and I still felt completely victorious. Fancy that.

My finish time at Saturday’s Chi Town 10K was 17 minutes slower than last year’s PR at the same race and 7 minutes slower than my previous 10K reverse PR (2012 Polar Dash, in a snowstorm).

Saturday’s race wasn’t about time goals, though; it was about running 6.2 miles without literally limping to the finish.

Coming back from injury has been difficult, to say the least, and I’m still not healed. But I needed this race to prove to myself that I truly am on the road to recovery.

Mags Chi Town 10K 2015I didn’t have my usual pre-race jitters, and I lollygagged a little getting down to the start line. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been less nervous about a non-goofy-5K race. I was excited about returning to the Lakefront Trail for the first time since marathon training, and despite the brisk-bordering-on-cold early-morning air, it was a beautiful day for a run.

I made my way back to the 10- and 11-minute start corral, and my ego took one on the chin as I pined over the Ghosts of Races Past, when I was way up front with the rabbits. Then I told my ego to shut the hell up, stop worrying about the past and live in the now (as Garth Algar would say).

I glanced down at my Timex watch as I crossed the start line: 8:22 a.m., 7 minutes after the gun went off. After that, I just ran. My ego would crop up every so often when someone would pass me, and I’d forcefully remind myself that it didn’t matter. I checked my watch a couple times to estimate how much longer I’d be running (the miles were not, shall we say, very clearly marked). I reveled at the new construction and paving on the trail. Damn, it HAS been a long time since I ran here.

My pace was steady, and the pain stayed away until about mile 4, when my left hip flexor started to feel little sore. Sonofa. It wasn’t awful, though, and all of my other “problem areas” felt fine, so I pressed on. Endurance-wise, I felt surprisingly strong — especially considering that I just started running regularly three weeks ago after five months of very little cardio of any kind.

When I reached the final stretch, I picked up my pace and picked off a few people to beat (hey, it WAS still a race), and I finished with a smile.

I hope all my races this year have the same happy ending. — Mags

ChiTown10KSwagA few notes about the race:

  • There were nearly three times as many runners for the 10K and half marathon races this year. Plus, they added the Deep Dish Dash 5K to the mix (which only had 50 finishers, but still). So much for my quaint little neighborhood jaunt. (I’m guessing it’s because everyone read my NBC Chicago Stride post, in which I sang the event’s praises, so I really only have myself to blame and/or congratulate.)
  • When we reached the Lakeshore Drive underpass near North Avenue beach at mile 3, a shouting volunteer informed us there was knee-high water in the tunnel. Um, what?! So we were re-routed out to LaSalle Drive and met back up with the course. It turns out, a pipe burst after the race started! Race organizers said it happened so quickly that the water in the tunnel was only inches deep when the lead runner went through and it was impassable just a couple minutes later. (My friend Troy was with the 8-minute pace group, and they trudged through ankle-high water). Volunteers and race organizers acted as quickly as they could, and police got in position to re-route runners through traffic. All told, it added .12 miles onto the half marathon and 10K courses. Never a dull moment, kids!
  • Once again, thumbs up on the race swag. The medal is fast becoming one of my favorites, and I also enjoy the light-weight zip hoodie race shirt.
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Assessing Whether to Reassess

Goals are awesome; they give us focus and keep us moving forward (sometimes literally). I often find it hard to train without a race on the horizon. Sure, I’ll always run, but casual running and training are very different. Every year, we set goals to do just this: to ensure we have a few targets to aim for, a few reasons to train.

This year, I established my plan right after a kick-ass fall marathon. I exceeded my expectations, so at the time, it made sense to set my sights higher, to try to go even faster this year. But here I am, and the motivation is just … gone.

This happens, and it’s not a big deal. Maybe it will come back, maybe not. My half marathon, which is now four weeks away, is going to be interesting. I’ve only trained half as hard as I had planned. I can finish the race, but I’m not going to crush it. I’m fine with this, but it’s forced me to re-evaluate my plan for the year. Do I really want to PR at every race in 2015? No. And here’s why:

  • 2014 was a big year. I had a big-birthday-stand-off, and I needed to prove to myself that I could still run fast. I did that.
  • My biggest running goal EVER was to qualify for Boston. I’ve done that twice, so that’s off the table.
  • PR’ing means serious training, which also means a large time investment. I’ve got a lot going on in my life right now that is just as fulfilling as a PR, so my focus is split.
  • That time investment? It’s not just mine; it’s my whole family’s. I have four kids, so I have to lean on everyone for help so I can spend time running.

I’m still assessing whether to reassess, but I can tell you this: I have no problem changing my plans, and you shouldn’t either. If you choose to go for that PR, awesome. But if you choose to run for fun, or just race to race, you’ll get no judgment from me. Setting goals is important, but knowing when to adjust and reset your strategy can be just as valuable. — Amie

2015 Goals

Much ass was kicked in 2014, so let’s keep it going in 2015, shall we?

MAGS

1. Run a timed mile. I really have no excuse for not accomplishing this goal in 2014, so let’s do this. Just me, four laps around a track and hopefully no vomiting afterward.

2. Become a pacer. For the past couple years, when someone has asked me the classic “What would you do if you won the lottery?” question, my answer has been that I’d write, perform and be a distance-race pacer. Why a pacer? Because I love running, I’m good at keeping an even pace, and I’m a natural coach. But, you know, I don’t actually need to win the lottery to do that, so I’ve submitted a few applications to various running programs in Chicago. I am going to make it happen, even if it’s in an unofficial capacity. Anyone want help pacing for, say, a sub-hour 10K or sub-2-hour half? Holler at your girl.

3. Qualify for Boston. Yep, here we go again. I fell just short at the Chicago Marathon in October, so I’ve set my sights on the Illinois Marathon in April. Of course, I’m currently injured and don’t know if I’ll even be physically able to train properly for that race (let alone a BQ), so a fall marathon is probably more realistic. We shall see.

AMIE
1. Place third or higher in my age group. I might have to run a small local 5K to do this, but I placed fifth in my age group at the Hudy 14K this year, and I think I could do better.

2. Run a marathon in the 3:30s. It would only be 4 minutes faster than I ran in Columbus this year. This goal feels within reach without having to add major mileage and speedwork, but it would ultimately blow my own mind. And isn’t that why we run?

3. Foster the love of running. My son, Owen, is a natural runner. He runs beautifully and effortlessly, and I plan to include him in some smaller races (to prevent injury since he won’t train) to see where it takes him. Maybe he will want to train for a more serious distance one day, maybe not. But he loves running and I want to plant the seed now, before he grows up and moves away. I can see running being our special bond for a very long time.

AIDZ

1. Run more unplugged miles. I love my Nike+, I do. In fact, coming off of our holiday running streak, I feel like I’m using social media to do exactly what it should do in regards to running — foster a sense of community and serve as a source of motivation. But this year, when I’m not streaking, I’d like to run more undocumented miles. To run by feel. To listen to my body. To just … run.

2. PR at the Bix. I really enjoyed training for the 2014 Bix, and I have a PR to show for it. This year, I’d like to do it again. I’m not going to set any land-speed records here, but goshdarnit, I will beat Brady Street once again.

3. Break the 2-hour barrier. The sub 2-hour half marathon is what you might call my white whale. I was THISCLOSE in Columbus in 2009 (2:01:49), back before I had kids and responsibilities and stuff. But I’m older and wiser, and man, I’d really like a half marathon time with a 1 in front of it. It’s a long haul, and it’ll require me to shave 9 minutes (uh, A LOT) off my 2014 half marathon time, but I think I can do it.

Race Recap: Chicago Marathon

The drawback of telling everyone your goals and dreams is that when you fall short, you do so publicly.

Feeling fine in Chinatown (mile 21-22)!

Feeling fine in Chinatown (mile 21-22)!

All year, I’ve been talking about trying to earn a Boston Marathon qualifying mark at the Chicago Marathon. I trained harder than ever, put in more miles and more speedwork and more literal blood, sweat and tears than ever. I learned a lot, I grew as a runner and a person, and as a happy byproduct, I recorded personal records at every race distance along the way — 5K (twice!), 8K, 10K, 7-mile and half marathon (also twice!).

I did my very best to prepare both mentally and physically, and while I had my doubts, I trusted in my training and confidently toed the starting line at Sunday’s race — my fifth Chicago Marathon — with a perfect combination of confidence, patience, joy and focus.

When the 3:35 pace team disappeared — why, pray tell, did the pacers NOT carry signs with them during the race? I’ve never seen that before. — I didn’t panic. When I realized my first mile had been 30 seconds too fast, I slowed down. I used the 3:40 pacers (also sans signs, but they did have “pacer” handwritten on the time bibs on their backs) to start steady for the first five miles before making my move to a slightly faster pace.

An intense pain in my outer left hip hit me around mile 9, but it didn’t slow me, and by mile 11, it was all but gone. I could already tell that I’d have a bruised toenail on my right foot. Eh, whatever. I momentarily lost track of which aid station I was *supposed* to take my Shot Bloks and ate one too early. Oh well. Better than too late, I thought.

The miles were clicking by and at each marker I would check my watch and then my pace tattoo. I was between 70-90 seconds off my 3:35 target all the way — which was just what I had planned with my slower start. I made it to mile marker 22, feeling confident. I told myself, “Only 4.2 miles to go. It’s just 35 minutes of your life. You can do this.”

The Agony of Defeat

And seemingly, just like that, a searing pain in my left hip overwhelmed my body and began to infect my brain. It was becoming difficult to keep my stride and fatigue was coming on. I decided to take 30-second walk breaks at the aid stations, to drink my entire cup of water slowly, carefully, and then start running again.

The miles were not clicking by quickly anymore. I soon became enraged by every song on my playlist and kept skipping to the next one. I would look up, hoping the mile markers on Michigan Avenue would become larger, but they still looked so tiny and so, so far away.

I checked my watch and the seconds, minutes were adding up too fast. My No. 1 goal, 3:35, was long gone. My No. 2 goal, 3;37, gone. My No. 3 goal, 3:40 — the absolute limit on my Boston qualifying hopes — was slipping away.

I was fighting off tears and trying to repeat my mantra — “it’s only 10 minutes out of your whole life, you can do this” — but the pain became unbearable. I finally reached the turn onto Roosevelt Road — and the wretched bridge hill that I knew was waiting for me at mile 26. It was going to require everything I had left to propel myself those final .2 miles into Grant Park.

I made it a few steps up the bridge but then I had to start walking. My entire left leg from hip to toe was rendered utterly useless, and my back hurt so badly that I couldn’t stand up straight. I was hobbling along like a car with a flat tire, veering off to the right, trying to steady myself while on the verge of collapsing from pain and exhaustion. At that moment, a stranger pulled alongside me. She looped her left arm through my flailing right arm and said, “Come on, we can do this.” She said it with a calming confidence, and I’m not sure I believed her, but I picked up my feet and started to shuffle along with her anyway. A few seconds later, she unhooked her arm and told me to keep going.

I made it a few more steps before stumbling into a George Romero-era-zombie-like-walk-thing. A volunteer approached me. “Ma’am, are you OK?”

“I’m gonna finish!” I shouted through clenched teeth as I choked back the tears. If I fell down, I knew they would haul me off the course, and there was no way in hell I wasn’t going to cross that goddamn finish line.

The pictures speak for themselves.

The pictures speak for themselves.

A second volunteer approached me. “I’m gonna finish!” I said it as much for my benefit as for hers.

And then I broke into a run. I had to. That’s just what you do, you RUN over the finish line, no matter what. My arms flailed wildly and I swung my left leg around as best I could while hunched over and wobbling with every step.

I finished the race.

And I missed qualifying for Boston by 24 seconds.

Bedside Manor

Immediately after crossing the line, a medical volunteer, Chris, was at my side. He put his arm around me and grabbed my hand to steady me. I was still drifting to the right, and the dizziness hit me hard. He led me to get my finisher’s medal and some water. He asked me questions to make sure I was lucid and to assess any potential injuries, but all I remember saying was, “I just couldn’t do it. I had it. It was right there. I just couldn’t do it.”

We reached the medical tent, and Chris passed me off to a small army of medical volunteers. They led me to a cot and helped me lay down. Nurses and med students surrounded my bed, covered me with hospital blankets and elevated my feet on a box. They gave me water and Gatorade and potato chips and took my vitals. Nothing to worry about, I was just dizzy, dehydrated, physically destroyed and emotionally defeated.

One of the students pointed to my left arm. “Cool tattoo. I’ve never seen one of those before.”

My souvenir from the medical tent.

My souvenir from the medical tent.

I looked down at the 3:35 pace tattoo. “It’s kind of a mark of shame right now,” I sighed before explaining my near miss.

Fifteen minutes later, a med student checked my vitals again, and I was ready to try sitting. The nurse, Andrea, pulled me up as I swung my feet over the side of the cot. For the first time, I looked at my medal. And I started sobbing.

Andrea sat down on the cot across from me and held my hand. “I know you’re disappointed and I know it hurts, but you still accomplished something great today.”

After a few minutes, I stood up and walked around the tent, and this time, I could stand up straight and I didn’t feel dizzy, so they signed my discharge papers, and Andrea walked with me to the exit.

Take a Bow

Every couple minutes during the slow, painful march back to the Palmer House Hotel — where my American Cancer Society Team DetermiNation post-race party was happening and where my friend, Jennifer, was meeting me — I would burst into tears. I couldn’t believe I had worked so hard for so long and come so close only to fall short.

I reached the hotel, and Jennifer was waiting for me. On sight, I began crying. She enveloped me in a huge hug and told me she was proud of me. After a few moments of ugly crying, we finished ascending the stairs, and a chute of ACS volunteers welcomed me with a chorus of “congratulations!” and ringing cowbells. When I walked in the hotel ballroom, everyone applauded, and I took a bow. (From now on, I would like that to happen every time I enter a room, please and thanks.) For the next hour, I abandoned my pity party and tried my best to revel in the actual party happening around me.

When I got home, I fielded dozens of text messages and phone calls and Facebook notifications. I attempted to process what I had just gone through and cope with the intense physical and unyielding mental anguish. I broke down in tears again and again.

Gaining Perspective

Hours later, following celebratory beers and burgers with friends, I finally got the courage to look up my official results — and I lost it all over again. 24 fucking seconds. I had it. I was right there. I just couldn’t do it. I replayed those final miles over and over in my head. I should’ve been stronger, I should’ve pushed harder.

And then, before getting ready for bed, I composed the following Facebook post:

The drawback of telling everyone your goals and dreams is that when you fall short, you do so publicly. Today, I ran my fifth Chicago Marathon, and ultimately, I didn’t accomplish what I set out to do. And while I know that time will help that wound heal — and motivate me to try again — it’s still difficult.

But in the end, I believe this day served to remind me of the good people in the world. From the incredible support from my friends (especially Jennifer, who drove all the way from Cincinnati just to meet me at the finish line), to every spectator who yelled my name, to the stranger at mile 26 who looped her arm into mine and helped me start running again, to the volunteer who steadied me when I thought I would collapse after I finished, to the nurse in the medical tent who held my hand while I sobbed and told me that I still accomplished something great today.

Yes, I fell short, but I didn’t fail.

What happened next amazed me.

Almost instantly, dear friends and vague acquaintances, runners and non-runners, were posting comments, and each one of them lifted my spirits. Their words were filled with support, compassion and above all, love.

Set in stone.

Set in stone.

And the kind words just kept coming — and the tears kept coming. But now, the tears were not of defeat and disappointment, they were of inspiration and gratitude. And then late that night, I returned to the results web page.

3:40:24. Holy shit, Maggie. You did it. You fought. You finished. You ran faster than you ever have. You overcame obstacles. You inspired people. You DID accomplish something great today

The next day, every conversation I had about the race helped me gain more perspective, and seeing a dozen brutally honest and horrifying finish line photos – the zombie shuffle, frame by frame, in high definition — showed me just how close I was to not finishing at all.

Yes, I’m still very disappointed that I didn’t qualify for Boston. But I have no regrets. Some things you simply can’t prepare for, and we can only push our minds and bodies so far. I did my best, I finished, and that’s good enough. With every passing day, I become more thankful for the experience, and I become more motivated to give my goal another shot.

In the end, it turns out the best part of telling everyone your goals and dreams is that when you fall short, you do so publicly. And everyone helps you get back up again. — Mags

With my race day hero, Jennifer

With my race day hero, Jennifer

Notes

  • My aforementioned friend, Jennifer, really knocked it out of the park on friendship. She drove the 5-plus hours from Cincinnati to Chicago on Saturday afternoon. Sunday morning, she hopped on the El to see me at mile 8, hopped back on the El to see me at the turn onto Roosevelt (and witness that carnage first hand), went to the medical tent after being relayed the message and just missed me, then went back to the hotel to meet me there. She took the dry clothes out of my gear check back and shoved my gross race clothes into my backpack after I’d changed. She drove my car home and walked my dog while I took an ice bath. And then she drove the 5-plus hours back to Cincinnati to go to work Monday morning. She is my hero, and I cannot thank her enough.
  • The people in Lakeview/Boystown know how to spectate. You can tell the difference between people who ONLY come out to watch THEIR runners and the people who come out to watch RUNNERS — and the fans in that neighborhood are of the latter variety, and I love them for it.
  • I gotta say, the race organizers really dropped the ball on both the race shirt and medal this year. The shirt is SO BORING — dark gray slate with the corporate Bank of America Chicago Marathon logo and NOTHING MORE — and the medal doesn’t even have the exact date on it. What’s the deal?
  • Five stars for the marathon’s medical tent staff. Honestly, while I was laying on my cot I thought to myself, “Well, maybe this is a good thing because I’ll have something new to blog about!”
  • For the first time ever, I had zero chafing problems! Shout out to my Athleta Hullabraloo sports bra and Body Glide on the valiant no-chafe tag-team effort.
  • Thanks again to American Cancer Society Team DetermiNation for all of the support throughout the year and for the outstanding pre- and post-race perks. Top-notch in every way. Oh, and no big deal, we all raised a combined $1.2 million. Suck it, cancer!
  • I also couldn’t have run that fast for that long if not for the training and guidance from the stable of Chicago Endurance Sports coaches and runners. I’ll be back.

Signs I Loved

  • “I’m just trying to cross the street”
  • “When your legs get tired, run with your heart”
  • “You’re not cool unless you pee your pants (while running)” with corresponding Billy Madison photo (Side note: If peeing your pants while running is cool, consider me Miles Davis.)

My 5K Love/Hate Relationship

“You ran the Chicago Marathon! This should be a piece of cake for you!”

Mags, Rock the Night 5K 2014

Running fast hurts.

The statement came from a stranger I had pulled alongside at a 5K a couple years ago. I was wearing my Chicago Marathon finisher’s shirt, and I was huffing, puffing and cursing under my breath.

“Yeah,” I responded, gasping for air, “but at no point during those 26.2 miles was I running this fast!”

Oh, the 5K. It’s a staple of the running world and an important part of any runner’s race diet/training plan. I like to do the fun little 5Ks as much as the next guy. But actually racing a 5K? I kind of hate it.

This year I’ve raced three 5Ks and recorded two PRs. They all hurt, and I seriously contemplated stopping to walk and giving up on my goals during all three. (By comparison, I can only remember two other races out of about 40 during the last four years where I entertained those thoughts.)

As a distance runner, I often don’t even get comfortable until I’m 3.1 miles into a run, and those first couple miles are almost always the toughest. But when you’re racing a 5K, there are no “warmup miles.” It’s discomfort from the word go, and while that discomfort doesn’t last long in the grand scheme of things, it sure does suck.

I also struggle with pacing at the short distance. I’m always fearful of going out too fast during a half or full marathon, but at a 5K, you’re supposed to go out fast — and then continue to go fast until you reach the finish line and/or collapse. That mental switch is an obstacle I’m learning to overcome, one race at a time.

I’m incredibly proud that I’ve knocked almost a minute off my 5K PR this year — and doing so during Thursday evening races in warm summer temps after a full day of work, no less — but the truth is, the 3.1-mile race just isn’t my jam. — Mags

Dueling Race Recap: Bix 7 2014

 

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Big fancy.

As I embarked on my 10th Bix 7 and Maggie on her fifth, I sensed that this race was going to be one for the record books — and not just because we got our sweet commemorative pins. For the first time in, well, ever, I had actually prepared for the Bix, and since Maggie is in the throes of Boston-marathon-qualifying madness, I knew we were both poised to run our best races ever.

But I’ve been running the Bix for a decade now, and I KNOW that it is a tough beast to conquer. The weather, the hills and the evil mind games it plays can break down even the most prepared, seasoned runner.

Pre-race Corrals

Adrea says: For the first time ever, I found myself in the ORANGE start corral. By the numbers, I have absolutely no business being in the orange start corral. I think you’re supposed to be running 7-minute miles or something in this corral. (News flash: I cannot run a 7-minute mile. Not even remotely.) But I know the Bix, and I know how much it sucks to run that first mile at an 11-minute pace in the next corral back, so what the heck, I was up with the capitol R Runners. And you know what? It was pretty awesome. We weren’t too far up in the front, and everyone there looked like … me! Serious, but not so serious that I was going to get run over. Thank goodness. After a few patriotic songs and a sweet flyover from some WWII planes, we were on our way. And lo and behold, they had Jock Jams pumping from two different speakers on the start line. So far, the running gods were smiling on us. In order to PR this race, I just needed to run a little faster than a 10-minute mile. I had trained at race pace, put in the miles and now it was just between me and the hills. Game on.

Maggie says: Entering the race, I knew I could PR, but I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself. The closer we got to the gun going off, though, the more pumped up I became. I’m in the best running shape of my life, so of course I have to PR! Besides, I was finally in the orange corral! And the whole gang was there, so for the first time in a couple years, our whole Bix Crew got to start the race together. Also, it was only the second race this year that I started in a corral with friends. It sure makes the time tick by a lot faster.

 

Take THAT, Brady hill.

Take THAT, Brady hill.

The Brady Hill

Adrea says: Just as we crossed the start line, the sun came out. Uh-oh. I was hoping that the forecasted 91 degrees would come with a side of cloud cover. I cursed the sun, and continued up the hill. I could worry about the stupid sun later. And you know what? The hellacious hill wasn’t as bad as I remembered. Maybe it’s because we were moving up it a bit faster than in years past, but dang, I felt like the Brady beast was over before I knew it. I even snagged a selfie with my buddy, Paul, on the way up. I crossed the first mile marker and my watch said we did it in a record-breaking 9:14. Thanks, orange start corral!

Maggie says: Just six days earlier, I had raced my tuchas off at the Rock n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon, but somehow, my legs still felt surprisingly great. I didn’t want to jinx it, but I found myself thinking this was the easiest the Brady Hill had ever felt. (TRAINING WORKS, YOU GUYS. Imagine that!) When my watch chimed with an 8:45 first mile, I did a double take. It was a full minute faster than last year’s first mile — so even if I ran the rest of the race at the exact same pace as last year, I’d easily PR. That took a little pressure off.

 

The Kirkwood Slide

Adrea says: Despite a raging case of cotton mouth, I was feeling great. Just as we started down the gentle decline, my husband, Keith, sped ahead of me, so I stuck with my college roomie, Katy. I had sensed that Keith would ditch me during this race since he wasn’t pushing a double stroller with two small-but-not-that-small humans in it like he does for all of our training runs. No less, I was sad to see him go because I knew that when I started to lose steam, Katy wouldn’t shame me into sucking it up the way Keith would. Oh well. The sun had tucked back behind a nice overcast sky, and hey! There was my friend, Joanna, and her cute kids cheering us on. Woohoo! Meb Keflezighi flew by us on the left side of the road, looking strong, and I felt inspired. A few minutes later, Joan Benoit cruised by us, and I felt honored to be following the footsteps of these legends. Miles two and three flew by and we passed the 5K mark in about 28 minutes, so I was actually ahead of schedule. But I knew that the hard part of the race was yet to come …

Maggie says: I settled into a comfortably hard pace and kept chugging along. For a split second, I even considered diving onto the slip-n-slide on the grassy median. Hang on a second. Was I having fun? Yes, yes I was.

McClellan Hill 

Adrea says: Coming up this steep hill hurt. And it hurt bad. My legs burned, and my lungs were on fire. But as soon as it got to be too much to handle, it was over, and we were headed downhill again. Katy and I saw Maggie pass by us near the halfway mark as we grabbed some water and turned aroun to go back up that goshdang hill. Just as we were about to hit the summit, I whined and groaned, and a woman patted me on the shoulder and said, “Doing great!” as she came to the top with us. Katy cheerfully reminded me “we’ve only got 3 miles left!” but it wasn’t much of a boost because experience was working against me. I knew we were just about to start a slow 1.75-mile climb.

Maggie says: My strategy was to situate myself on the very inside and watch the fast folks speeding down the hill on the other side to take my mind off the giant hill ahead of me. It worked. I powered my way to the top with nary a complaint, easily navigated the turnaround and stayed to the inside to now keep my eyes peeled for Adrea, Keith and Katy. After waving to the gals (no Keith in sight), I hit the big ol’ downhill. I eased off the gas just a little so as not to completely shred my legs for the upcoming Slow March of Death. I know better than that now.

The Slow Climb

Maggie, Bix 2014Adrea says: Ugh. I. Hate. This. Part. For a decade solid, I have questioned my enthusiasm for the Bix as I march up this section. It’s hot, I’ve just run a bunch of hills, and this part is generally the nail in my coffin. I slogged my two slowest miles of the race here, at about 10:30. — NOT on race pace. And I knew it. I didn’t even need my Garmin to tell me I was dragging ass. But it was really all I had, so there wasn’t much I could do to change it at this point. Just. Keep. Moving. It came as a small validation when I got home from the race and watched it on DVR, to see that when Meb hit this section of the race, he faltered, cramped up and barfed at mile six. Meb, I feel you, dude. I, too, have barfed at mile six.

Maggie says: This part of the course is a real bitch. You know what made it better, though? Jock Jams. Specifically, “Push It” by Salt-n-Pepa. Behold the power of music. I also snagged a bag of ice from an unofficial aid station and poured a couple cubes down the front and back of my sports bra. I put the remainder in my hat — all without missing a step. Damn, I’m good. I then fixed my gaze on the right side of the road to spot Adrea’s parents and two daughters. I saw the munchkins rocking the new shirts I bought them at the RnR Expo and stopped to give them both high-fives. Twenty seconds well spent.

Brady Street, Part Two

Adrea says: As Katy and I turned back onto Brady Street for the final mile, I knew if I wanted to PR, I was going to have to bust a move. Katy assured me we could do it. Sure, easy for her to say. She’s, like, fast and stuff. I thought back to my training, to those negative splits I ran on the trail, and assured myself that I could do it. All I had to do was hold it together for another mile. I kept checking my watch frantically, and every time I looked down, it told me I was going faster.

Maggie says: La la la la la, downhill, yay! I skipped the last water stop because I was feeling strong, and I settled into a familiar picking-people-off mode. I glanced at my watch, and I was easily on track for a PR and then some. Another unofficial aid station was passing out Fla-Vor-Ice (pro tip: next time, cut them in half!). A man in his 40s ahead of me looked like a kid who dropped his ice cream cone when he noticed he had missed the icy treats. I laughed out loud.

The Finishing Stretch

Adrea says: I felt like my legs were running by themselves, as though not attached my body. They were just going. Katy kept pointing out people we could beat, and we kept flying by them. That last stretch is a looong quarter-mile dash, and we plowed through it and barreled through the finish line. I punched my watched and looked down. 1:08:04. I had PRed by almost two minutes. And then I promptly doubled over and peed my pants. Getting old is hard.

Maggie says: OK, fine, the last quarter-mile hurt. After that long downhill, the straightaway to the finish is a real beast. I threw up some horns and a smile and pushed to the end. 56:02, a spot-on 8-minute pace. Oh, and if you’re keeping track at home, this makes it five PRs in five race distances (5K, 8K, 10K, 7-mile, half marathon) for me in 2014. Boom goes the dynamite. 

 

Owned it.

Owned it.

Final Thoughts

Adrea says: What an awesome day at the races! I am so happy to say that for the first time in years, I was actually excited to check my official time in the newspaper Sunday morning. Shoot, I even beat some people this year. That’s a rarity for this ol’ gal. I’d also like to give huge props to my friend, Lindsay, who GAVE BIRTH a mere 8 weeks ago and finished the race in 50-something, placing in the top 100. This woman is still on maternity leave, people. Sheesh! It all goes to show that everything’s relative when it comes to the Bix. And everyone who conquers that beast has something to boast about. Let’s do it again next year. I can’t wait!

Maggie says: I definitely didn’t push as hard as I could’ve because getting hurt isn’t one of my lofty 2014 goals. That said, there’s a part of me that wonders just how fast I could’ve done the Bix this year if I hadn’t just clobbered that half marathon. No matter. This turned out to be my favorite Bix and favorite Bix weekend ever. We even got medals to commemorate the 40th anniversary of this kickass community race. See you July 25, 2015!

– Aidz and Mags

 

Dueling Race Recap: Madison Half Marathon

MadisonHalfMarathon

Lakes! Hills! Water stops?!

Pre-Race Ramblings

Maggie says: For months, I had written off the Madison Half Marathon as a “just for fun” race, a weekend with friends and nothing more. But then I started getting overwhelmed looking all the way to October, when I’ll run the Chicago Marathon with the goal of qualifying for Boston. Huge mistake. It was too much to bite off at once. Amie talked me off the ledge and reminded me that this race was important for my training and my confidence. So with about four weeks to go before Madison, I decided to aim for a PR. Simply flipping that switch in my brain completely altered my final weeks of training. I felt confident and capable and determined, and I took those feelings to Wisconsin.

Adrea says: As I stated in my 2014 running resolutions, I wanted to run a new race in a new city and to run it faster than my fall half marathon of 2013. It wasn’t too lofty of a goal, but it did mean running at a pace I hadn’t seen since before I had kids, and it also meant doing it in unfamiliar territory. As the race got closer, I was feeling pretty confident. I had done the work, put in the time, and if I had a good race on race day, I could achieve my goal. Or at least I was mostly sure I could.

Observatory Hill

Maggie says: Positioned between the 1:40 and 1:50 pace teams, I was left in the dust after the starting horn went off at the capitol. I didn’t adjust my pace, though. “Run your race,” I reminded myself. Only one mile in, I started having chest pains. Suffice it to say, I was NOT used to hills, and up next was a gigantic one. Halfway up, an older woman in a bike helmet held my favorite sign of the day: “This Hill Sucks But You Don’t.” (I think I found a new mantra. Thanks, kind stranger!) Turns out, I’ve encountered hills that sucked far worse (more on that later).

Adrea says: I started the race with my friend, Sara, who had decided last-minute to join us in Madison when our original travel mate had to drop out. Sara was just coming off the Flying Pig Half Marathon, and she was in no mood to jump out at the front like a jackrabbit. This was a huge blessing. “Dude, we’re running sub-9s, we need to slow down,” she said to me about a thousand times as we wound through some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve raced in. Both my Garmin and Nike+ agreed with her, but sometimes you need an actual human to remind you that you need to settle into your pace. We had driven the course the night before, so I knew the big hill was coming, and it was easier than I had anticipated. I said, “Click,” and made a camera noise as we canvased the summit, overlooking lush, green trees, a sparkling lake and the rising sun.

UW Madison/Camp Randall

On Wisconsin, indeed.

Maggie says: As we wound our way through Wisconsin’s expansive and lovely campus, I started to feel the heat. The sun was beating down, and it was only 7:30 a.m. As we rounded Camp Randall Stadium – I laughed out loud at the Football Phallus – and headed up Monroe Street, I put my head down and focused on my stride and on dodging potholes.

Adrea says: I felt like the sun was in my face for this entire section of the course. I had lost my buddy, Sara, and had settled into my pace. I was feeling fine, but I had to make a conscious effort to enjoy the scenery and take in the sights and sounds of the course. I was already starting to get into my own head, fraught with doubts and worries. Annoyingly, the street bowed just enough that it was really tugging at my left calf and ankle tendon and my dreaded plantar fasciitis foot.

Nakoma Golf Club

Maggie says: We missed the turn up this street when we drove the course the night before, so at first I was thrilled to find myself flanked by a beautiful golf course and gorgeous homes. But the ENTIRE seventh mile was a slight-but-not-that-slight uphill climb, and my legs and lungs were burning. When my Garmin chimed at the 7-mile mark, it was 20 seconds slower than my steady pace of the previous six miles. Though, I was expecting a lot worse, so I chalked it up as a victory.

Adrea says: What Maggie said. This section of the course was really lovely, and it also featured my favorite sign of the race, “PAIN IS TEMPORARY, BUT INTERNET RESULTS ARE FOREVER.” This slow, sneaky climb was a tough one, and I also logged one of my slowest miles of the course. As we started to leave the neighborhood, I said under my breath, “Gawd, when are we going to be done with this damn hill?” Out of nowhere, a girl next to me said, “I don’t KNOW. Maybe NEVER.” It was just the misery-loves-company sentiment I needed, and we both laughed and turned the corner into The Arboretum.

University of Wisconsin Arboretum

Maggie says: Nature! (Goulet.) One thing I loved about this course was the incredible contrast of scenery, going from a city center, to a college campus, to this wooded area that felt like the middle of nowhere. It was (mostly) shady and (mostly) breathtaking, but the one thing it was missing was WATER. And I really needed to eat another Shot Blok as it had been a long, difficult four miles since my last margarita-flavored boost.

Don't let running math happen to you.

Don’t let running math happen to you.

Adrea says: So beautiful! So quiet! Just me, a million trees and a couple thousand runners. At one point, a wild turkey ran out onto the road and gobbled at us (I’d like to think he was saying, “Good job, Adrea!”) I kept looking at my Garmin, desperately hoping there would be water at this mile. No? Maybe this mile. DEAR GOD, WHERE WAS THE WATER? The frequent mileage checks also lead to RUNNING MATH. At one point, I was convinced that I was going to miss my goal by a solid 10 minutes. In another breath, I had recalculated and decided I’d be 10 minutes under my goal. Lord, I didn’t know. Stop trying to do MATH, Adrea.

Vilas Park

Maggie says: Oh, yay, water! I love water! But what the hell is that?!? I could see runners about a half-mile ahead of me ascending what I estimated to be the steepest hill ever. We’d also missed this part on our course drive. Sonofa. I actually wished I could telepathically warn Adrea and Sara — who were a couple miles behind me — that this beast was waiting for them. I made the executive decision to walk up, knowing it wouldn’t cost me much time and it would save me valuable energy. At the next mile-marker chime of my Garmin, I’d again only lost 20 seconds off my pace and my ego was still intact. Another victory.

Adrea says: The transition out of The Arboretum led us aside a quaint lake. And what was that up ahead? Could it be a mirage? No, no, my friends, it was FINALLY WATER. We hit mile 10, and it made the running math easy. Oh hell, I was going to be THISCLOSE to my goal, but only if I hauled it in for the last 5K. I honestly wasn’t sure I had it in me. I had a little chat with my self doubts and decided, dammit, this was going to happen. Then something else happened. And that something else was a giant hill. We could see it as soon as we came around the last turn out of the park. It was steep, it was big, and it was a complete surprise. We had not driven this section of the course yesterday. That might have been a blessing in disguise. Everyone around me started uttering expletives. I put my head down, and actually ran up half of this hill. When I realized that I wasn’t really moving any faster than the people walking, I decided to conserve my energy because I was going to need it for the home stretch.

Home Stretch

Mags Madison Finish Line

Sorry, pal, no time to smile.

Maggie says: A quick bit of running math revealed to me that, barring a total bonk in the last two miles, I was going to PR. I didn’t relax, though, and those last two miles hurt. We had watched the finish of the Twilight 10K Saturday night, so I’d seen the uphill climb to the capitol and the way even the fastest runners looked like they were moving in slow motion. So yeah, I knew it was coming, but that still didn’t make it easier. I saw the race photographer but couldn’t even muster a smile because I needed every ounce of energy to finish strong. And immediately afterward, I needed every ounce of energy to not throw up. I hobbled through the finish area, declining everything but water. Then, I hustled back to the hotel to grab my phone and pee, and hustled back to the finish line just in time to see Adrea (spoiler alert) bust out her goal finish. Damn, I’m good.

Sweet victory.

Sweet victory.

Adrea says: Oh man, this was going to be close. I was relying on the accuracy of my Garmin, but I had my doubts. I made a panicked decision to take water at the last stop because I knew the finish line was a climb, and I was preeeeetttttty much spent. It cost me a little bit of time, but that cup of water was going to have to get me through the end of this race. I wanted to throw up, I wanted to die, I just wanted to finish. I turned up that last hill and saw the finish line ahead. I gave it every thing I had left. With one last burst of strength, I sprinted to the finish (Well, at least it felt like a sprint? It probably didn’t look like one.) and smashed the STOP button on my Garmin. I had DONE IT. With less than a minute to spare. I threw my hands up in relief and started bawling.

Closing Thoughts

Maggie says: As I sipped an ice cold post-race beer in the shade with my best friend, both of us bursting with pride from a race well-run, I was once again reminded why I love this sport. This race — and this weekend — was everything I hoped for and more. Not only did I love Madison and the course, the race shirt, expo, medal and event organization were all top-notch (save for a couple water stops, ahem, not being exactly in line with the course map). And as I move on to the next phase of my training, I’ll keep that 1:47:06 half marathon PR in my pocket, an important marker in my quest for Boston.

Adrea says: For me, this hard-wrought race signaled a departure. Since I became pregnant with my first child almost four years ago, I haven’t really cared about my finish time for a race performance. Not like this. When I crossed that finish line, I felt a wave of emotions I hadn’t felt in a long time after a race. Pride. Satisfaction. Accomplishment.

My personal victory aside, I have so many wonderful things to say about this race. It showcased the city of Madison wonderfully. It wasn’t a huge race, so aside from the travel to Wisconsin, the logistics were easy and the participation numbers were ideal. It was never crowded and never lonely on the course. The expo, while small, was pretty great. Plus, after the race, we got free photos — within 24 hours, no less! Huge props to Focal Flame Photography. All in all, I would absolutely run this race again.

Cheers!

Cheers!

As we walked away from the capitol with our ice-cold beers in hand, a handsome firefighter asked us, “What does that taste like?” Maggie and I looked to one another uncertainly, fearing he was going to make us chuck our cups. Instead, he smiled and said, “Does it taste like victory?”

Yes, friendly fireman. Yes. It. Did.