Monday, September 26, 2016

2016 Chicago Half Marathon Race Recap

I love running half marathons, but I don't really love training for them by myself because #longruns. So when my running partner decided to join a triathlon relay team that would require him to run a half marathon (his first), I agreed to run long with him. As his race day got closer, I felt the urge to find one for myself. So I signed up for the 2016 Chicago Half Marathon. I knew it would be my only official half marathon in 2016, so go big or go home.

Random fact: I ran the Chicago Half Marathon in 2009, it was my first half marathon. Seven years later, I've got a new PR and a runner's high that might not go away. Yesterday was a great day.

Chicago Half Marathon, running, race recap
Hold on, though. I had some serious anxiety going into this race. Three things I worried about:

1) How would I get down to the race? It starts a few miles south of downtown where I'd be staying, and the shuttle I was scheduled for left Millennium Park at 4:15AM, which would put me at the start line fricken' early. Could I drive down and snag one of the parking spots in the museum lot?

2) Was it going to be hot? The Chicago Half Marathon travels Lake Shore Drive, which has zero amounts of shade. I hate running in the heat. And if it's humid...OMG. 

3) Could I possibly PR? My last long run was 11 miles and it felt really, really good.

Here's how it all shook out:

running in Chicago, half marathons
Packet Pick-Up
This took place at Soldier Field. I stopped on my way into town. I didn't stick around long enough to really dive in, but there were a number of great vendors there and packet pick-up itself was speedy. No lines, in and out. Those who couldn't pick up their packet had a will-call option to pick it up the  morning of the race. Some races do this, some don't, but it's always a nice option for those runners who can't get into town the night before. The shirt is cute, and the samples were surprisingly great:

running, Chicago, half marathon, free stuff, picky bars, kale chips
Getting to the Race
The Chicago Half Marathon starts and finishes in Jackson Park, which is south of the city by the Museum of Science and Industry. Not as easy to get to as Millennium Park, where a number of other Chicago races start and finish. The race organizers provided free shuttles and worked with the Metra train system to add additional rides to and from the race. There would also be a limited number of parking spots at the museum itself. I was scheduled to take a 4:15AM shuttle, which would put me at the race over two hours before it started. Thankfully, my husband agreed to drive me down—point of anxiety #1. Would we get a coveted parking spot at the museum?

Answer: Yes.

We left our hotel around 5:00AM, which was when the lot itself opened, and we zoomed right in. It was quite empty when we got there, so I think we timed that out right. I got to the starting line around 5:45AM, which was one hour before the corrals closed.

running in Chicago, half marathon, starting line
Race Day Weather
You guys. The race day gods shined down on the Chicago Half Marathon. I couldn't have asked for a better day. It was in the 60's when I got down to the race. Chilly, all things considered. Slightly humid, but that wasn't a problem because it wasn't hot—point of anxiety #2, gone. This girl was very happy.

runner, running, Chicago, half marathon, race day
You just never know what you'll get when you sign up for a September race in Chicago.

How I Ran
I had all sorts of high hopes for a personal best. Going into the race, my PR was 1:56:46...and honestly, I think the course was short in that race, so I've been wanting a new PR and I felt like I could do it at this Chicago Half Marathon. My training runs had been really strong. My partner really pushed my pace (benefit to running with a high school track and cross country coach). I just needed to believe in myself, so I stacked up the running motivation:

running quotes, inspirational quotes, jewelry
My plan was to start off around a  9:00/mile, then get myself down to an 8:30/mile. If I could do that, I knew my chances of getting a new personal best would be good. And that's what I did, honestly. Lots of congestion through the first three miles kept me in line with my goals. Things thinned out around mile 4 and I was able to catch my 8:30/mile pace. I had some serious side cramps between miles 8 and 9, but somehow worked them out to keep going steady.

My Fuel
There were water and energy drinks at every mile. I started drinking water at the 4th mile and stuck with it through mile 6. Then I turned to a packet of GoGoSqueez (apple and banana). They had a hydration drink on the course that I wasn't familiar with, so I was hesitant to drink any. I'm not used to large amounts of fuel anyway, so it worked out fine to stick with water.

Also, every station also had a series of portable potties. I never used them, but it was nice to know they were there, just in case. And the volunteers at each station were awesome.

The Finish Line
The course itself was awesome. There was a lot of on-course entertainment and plenty of spectators, too. But the energy really picked up about a mile from the end so I ran for it and finished in 1:55:10. A new PR, for sure. Plus, I managed to turn off my Garmin on time, which is something I always forget to do. Looking back at my stats, I held a 9:00/mile for the first three miles, then broke out into 8:30/mile(give or take) for the rest of the race. This girl never holds a steady pace, so that alone gave me reason to celebrate.

The volunteers greeted me with an ice cold towel, then a hefty piece of hardware:

race medal, race bling, gold medal, running, award
Not gonna lie, last year's medal was huge and one of the motivating factors in my decision to run this race. I'm not sure if they'll continue the large medal tradition or not, but I guarantee they'll continue putting on a race that's well organized, well attended and just downright good.

race recap, running, Chicago, race medal, race bling, race bib
The 2016 Chicago Half Marathon will go down in my books as a favorite, and not just because of the PR or the big medal. I mean, what's not to love about running in Chicago? Especially when you run strong for 13.2 down an iconic road worth traveling by car, too? You should run the Chicago Half Marathon.

Things to Think About
1) It's not cheap. Especially if you live outside of Chicago. You'll need a hotel and parking, all of that on top of a steep race fee. So sign up early to save some money.

2) Chicago weather is unpredictable in September, so if you're looking for a nice and crisp Fall race, then you'll need to cross your fingers and hope for the best. With a lack of shade on the course, this race has the potential to be a hot and humid hellhole for 13.2 miles.

3) Transportation is always tricky in Chicago. If they are available, sign yourself up for the latest shuttle possible. It's free, and will get you there on time. If I could have snagged a later shuttle, I would have taken it instead of parking at the museum for $22.

4) If you're traveling into the city, give yourself a buffer day to enjoy the sites. I walked around for a little bit on Saturday, but staying overnight in Chicago is like some slow form of torture when you can't get out and enjoy the evening scene.

Up next for this runner: The Color Run in South Bend on October 8.

Question: What race has a special place in your heart? Tell me why! Ever participate in a race in Chicago? Which one?

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