Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Magnificent Mile Chicago Women's Half Marathon 2014 (double post)

Sunday morning was my very first half marathon, the Chicago Women's Half Marathon and 5K.  This race is in its third year but this is the inaugural pass at the "Magnificent Mile" theme.
I signed up for this race in March, shortly after I began running, with the support of my colleagues.  A half marathon was not in the picture at the time but somehow I believed it was possible (five months was enough time for a newbie runner, right?!)  Though the race was overtaken with negative comments due to last minute changes, it was still an incredibly memorable event for me (more details below).

Week leading up to the race 
So as I mentioned above, the race was overcome with difficulties in the final days.  Advertised as the first running event to shut down the Magnificent Mile, the race boasted a course on the Mag, into downtown, through West Loop and back around to Grant Park.  Four days before the race, the course was changed to go only up 3/4 of the Mag and straight over onto the (open to the public) lake path.  To be honest, it was a slight bummer; I don't mind running on the lake path at all but I have never run a closed course through the West Loop so I was looking forward to that "first".

The second thing that happened, which bothered me more, was that the race tanks changed.  We were supposed to get race specific tanks with a back pocket; instead, we all got the same tank without a back pocket.  I didn't care for a slight variation in the tank; I was just looking forward to further being recognized  for running a half instead of a 5K and honestly wanted to proudly sport my "half" tank.  This being my first half, I really just wanted that recognition.

 Tanks without race specific trim and back pocket

Packet pick up and expo
Unlike Fleet Feet's typical "no frills" expos, they actually did this one up.  Toted as a "Fashion Market" (not that much shopping but I'm not a shopper....), different vendors came out to the South Loop green space while runners participated in a shakeout run led by Lauren Fleshman, a yoga session led by YogaSix and free tasty treats by Bridgeport Cofee and Luna.  The Market included appearances by Saucony, Fellow Flowers, World Vision 6K, AmFam's raffle for a stay at the Pennisula Hotel and Accelerated Rehab.  I actually was looking forward to checking out the Girls on the Run tent but they never showed up...?!

I actually spent a good three hours at this expo!  Packet pickup took all of 5 minutes and included the race bib, pins, ties, tank and Magnificent Mile shoppers passport.  I stayed for the yoga session and got stretched out by Accelerated Rehab.  It was also here that I picked up my Fellow Flowers swag bag (Fellow Flowers VIP weekend recap here).

Race Day
I actually got to sleep around 9:30pm and woke up at 4:30.  I set out all my gear the night before and got ready in no time this morning.  After a peanut butter banana on white bread, John and I hopped in the car and headed out for the race.

We arrived at Grant Park at 6 and made it to the gear check area pretty quickly.  We tried coordinating with some friends for a picture - which was a fail - and so I left to take a picture with Fellow Flowers and that, too, was a fail!  All parties were running late and I made the executive decision to not wait and head back to the corrals at 6:45.  

I did find J'nai for a quick photo!

There were 5 corrals and though there were lines of people overflowing out of the corrals, I easily found my way into mine and in a spot towards the right.  After just a few minutes, the national anthem was sung and the elites were off.  I ended up crossing the start around 7:07am.

The Race Itself
Boy oh boy....where do I even begin?  At 6:45am, the temperature was already around 72 degrees and 70% humidity.  After running about half a mile, my face was covered in sweat and it was then that I knew I would be running a tough race.  

I skipped aid station #1 and made my way to the lake path around mile 2.5, where the 5K runners split off to their finish line.  At aid station #2 (near mile 3.5), the event warning system went from green to yellow and I needed to take a short walking break.  I haven't needed a walking break this early before in my long runs!  I picked up my pace again after a few minutes and made my way to the next aid station, where I took another break.  And this is the story of my first half marathon.

The temps began rising and so did the humidity.  I went from running in between aid stations to adding another break in between the aid stations.  At one point, to keep me on track, I had to count 5/1 run/walk intervals or I promised to run to the next shady spot on the path.  Two GU gels, a few cups of Gatorade and several splashes of water later, I found myself at mile 11 when hunger set in.  Though my legs felt good, my heart was in my throat and the tops of my feet were burning (I guess from the sun...?).  I so badly wanted to pull over and take my shoes off but I knew I wouldn't have been able to come back from that.

At 12.5, I saw John and Carolyn, each holding signs saying "Beat the Blerch" and "Run Now - Poop Later".  Though the signs totally gave my spirit a boost, my body was nearing bad heat levels so I didn't take much time to look at them nor thank them.  It was at that point that the race organizers raised the event status to red alert due to the near 80 degree temps and 90% humidity.

Finally, after what felt like forever, I turned onto Columbus and the finish was about .2 miles away.  I settled into a steady stride and pushed to the end.  And I finished strong - Hallelujah!!

It wasn't until I stopped that I realized I was light headed and needed to slow down.  I saw the medical tent and the curb space so I immediately went to sit down on the curb and received a bag of ice.  After about 5-10 minutes, I felt a million times better but needed John and Carolyn's extra hands to grab my snacks, which included frozen chocolate covered bananas, Gatorade, water, cold towels, biscotti, apples, luna bars and more.

Post Race
I meandered my way over to the photo booth and finally towards the Fellow Flowers VIP tent, where we sat down and I got some more snacks.  We took a few more photos and just tried to relax a little and let it all sink in.  The DJ called us out for some dancing so we hit up the streets and DANCED!  I was exhausted but the dance kept me moving and laughing, which I was thankful for.  

We finally decided to leave but I quickly ran over to Accelerated to get stretched out.  At this point most of the expo was shutting down and we made a pit stop at Starbucks before hopping in the car for the ride home.

Final thoughts
Despite the changes and the terrible weather, I'm so happy for the experience that I had.  Fleet Feet always puts on a good race and I was never concerned about a lack of hydration or nutrition.  Their staff and volunteers were awesome and that itself will bring me back to next year.  

And the medal?  Oh, they were not joking about that.

And of course, my final time:

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