If I could summarize my Chicago Half Marathon race weekend experience in one word it would be: Waiting. There was waiting for the flight to take off, waiting to get in and out of the city, waiting for packet pick-up, waiting for the weather to clear up, waiting for the shuttle to leave to and from the race, waiting to get my bag from gear check, more and more waiting. Like Dr. Seuss says in Oh, The Places You’ll Go! “Everyone is just waiting.” Chicago is my favorite city, and this was the first time ever that I was happy to be coming back to Miami.
My coach Jessica (Sugar Runs Coaching) and I agreed that running Chicago in September would be a good way to gauge how my training is going so far and to work through whatever kinks may come up as I continue to train for my fall goal race. I was curious about seeing where my fitness was at following a summer of heart rate-based training and how my vegetarian diet would impact my race-week approach to eating. My words for this weekend of racing were: Nerves Kill Performance (Matt Fitzgerald).
For this Miami girl, weather conditions in Chicago would have been ideal (temps were in the 60s) if it weren’t for all the rain. I did my best to not let the weather become an overthinking nightmare by repeating something Jessica told me months ago: The weather doesn’t care about you, so you shouldn’t care about the weather. The weather is what it is and it’s going to do what it’s going to do; I can’t control the weather, but I can control how I show up to the different conditions. I was soaked and my shoes were full of mud before the race even started. Again, nothing I could do about that other than get myself mentally in the right space to run 13.1 miles.
As for nutrition, I kept things simple all week long with lots of vegetables (particularly this Minestrone soup), salads, and pasta the night before the race. I did my best to drink plenty of water, sometimes with Nuun) and followed my regular pre-run routine of only drinking Vega’s Sport Energizer.
I woke up at 3:30am on race morning, did some hip and glute exercises, and was on a shuttle to the start line by 5am. Because of the weather, the shuttle didn’t leave Millennium Park until 5:30am. The shuttle arrived at the race site at 6am. The rain made a mess of the start/finish area as there were lots of puddles and even more muddy messiness. I wore rain boots to the race to try to keep my running shoes as dry as possible, but because the gear check was in a grassy area of Jackson Park, as soon as I put my shoes on and stepped on the ground water flooded into my shoes.
The plan was to run a mile and do some strides before the race, but with the wet conditions, I did some stretching in a dry area instead and focused on keeping myself mentally calm and clear-headed.
My goal for the race was to run a 1:49:xx. I went into this race feeling confident that this was the finish time I had in me. The plan was to start slow, pick up the pace, and then go all-out in the last 2 miles. I found the 1:50 pace group and stuck with them up until mile 7. The pace felt good and doable, up until it wasn’t. Aside from having to pee the whole time, nothing hurt or felt uncomfortable. (I decided not to make a bathroom break because I didn’t want to lose momentum or have to peel wet clothes back on.) At one point, around mile 9 or so, I even thought, “I am cruising right now. I am stuck in a cruising pace and nothing I mentally do is going to get my body beyond this pace.”
Trust me, I applied all the mental tricks I could in this race to get myself to move faster. I took deep breaths, I did body scans where I asked myself how everything felt, I repeated my daughters’ and niece’s (it was her birthday) names like a mantra, I counted my steps, I thought about how good a PR (personal record) would feel, I thought of the training runs that showed me I was capable of achieving my goal, and I thought about what Ben Bruce said at the start of the race:
Going through a little but of physical pain is better than the disappointment
you’ll experience in the time after the race.
Again though, there was no pain and no discomfort. Partly because of that, there is no disappointment in having finish in 1:55:25. It may not have been the time I felt I had in me, but it was mentally the strongest race I have ever ran. I’m not mad because I felt like I could have given more. I’m not even frustrated with my body for not moving faster. I also don’t feel like I “wasted” a strong training cycle on a race that didn’t give me the number result I wanted.
I am proud of this race because I only had ONE bad thought about my ability to run and that one tiny thought was quickly squashed by all the mental tools I listed above. This is huge for me after a series of big races that broke my heart and made me take long, hard looks at the “why” behind my running. Don’t get me wrong, it definitely helps that this race’s pace felt like I was cruising along (minus having to pee because that shit sucked), but the mental win is one that’s going to keep me motivated to physically show up and put in the work.
No kids for the weekend.
Opportunity to identify strengths and challenges in a racing environment leading up to my goal race.
Course: mostly flat with easy climbs, lots of space to run and get around runners, part of it runs along Lake Michigan. Plenty of water and Gatorade.
Pace groups for all levels.
Medal is a gigantic masterpiece of metal and Chicago storytelling.
Weather: lots of rain and wet conditions in the start/finish area (don’t get me started on all the worms).
Race seemed disorganized outside of the course: from the long Disney-like lines to pick up my bib on Saturday to the disaster of gear check (I waited 30 minutes to get my bag because of some combination of not enough volunteers and lack of signage for where one gets their bag).
Next up for me: more training as I prepare for Richmond Half Marathon in November.