A story of going from being a non-runner to planning for a marathon in three years...

Monday, September 29, 2008

Run for Their Lives 8K

Sunday morning (the 28th) found me being awakened by my alarm blaring at 6:30 AM. Why? Because at 9:00 AM I was running the PAWS Chicago Run for Their Lives 8K.

PAWS Chicago is Chicago's largest no-kill humane society. Read more about them on their website. Humane societies and pet rescues are near and dear to my heart so I felt that this was the perfect event for me. And thanks to my friends and family I raised $165 dollars, all of which goes directly to PAWS Chicago.

The event consisted of either a 4K walk (that you could do with your dog) or an 8K (4.97 miles) race (that you were supposed to do sans dog). They also had quite the set-up at Montrose Harbor. A doggie agility course you could try, quite a few sponsor tents giving away free goodies (we scored a bandanna and a portable foldable water bowl), dog and human massage stations, and a well-stocked beverage and food tent. The grassy area just north of the harbor was humming with people and dogs.

Jason and I decided to bring Trinka Deu with us as a treat. She had quite the time looking at all the people and greeting other dogs. She was perfectly well-behaved and posed for a few pictures.

The race day packet pick-up was incredibly well-organized. Such a change from the Nike+ Human Race! The goody bag was even better, too. Two-week pass to Bally Fitness, a package of doggie-doo clean up bags, dog treats, and a magazine. And I think the t-shirt might be my favorite shirt of any race I've ever done.

Shortly after I grabbed my packet and timing chip it was time to do a quick warm-up with the girls from Bally Fitness. They lead the crowd in a few stretches and mild aerobic exercises. Well, I should say they attempted to lead the crowd. It looked like there were a lot of people signing up or doing packet pick-up last minute. In addition, they did the warm-up at 8:15 even though the race didn't start until 9:00. So participation was a bit sparse.

After the human warm-up it was time for doggy yoga. We decided to skip that :-) Instead I hit the port-a-potty and then we wandered over to the edge of the grassy area to look out at the lake. Once again Trinka was kind enough to pose.

I hit the port-a-potty one more time (look, I drank a lot of water before the race) and then it was time to head over the start line. I left Trinka Deu and Jason and joined a large group of people waiting to run. I ended up pretty far at the back of the pack. So far back, in fact, that I couldn't even see the start line. Apparently there were approximately 3000 runners signed up. Anyway, we ended up standing there for a while. The woman in front of me was talking to her companion about how she was hoping to run a 9:15/mile pace. Hmm, I thought, I'm hoping to run a 9:30/mile pace. I should try and keep this woman in my sights. Thankfully she was wearing a bright pink shirt.

Now, I should mention that this was the first race I've ever gone into with an idea of what pace I wanted to run. Usually I just run my hardest and hope I beat my previous time. But for this race I used a pace calculator to figure out what time my watch should say when I hit each mile. I decided my goal time was going to be 47:30. I wanted to run under a 10 minute mile but I wasn't entirely sure how much under I was capable of. I chose 9:30/mile as my goal. I really had no idea if it was reasonable or not. The calculator spit out my split times and before I left for the race I wrote them down on the back of my hand, hoping that my sweat wouldn't wash them away.

After a slight delay to the start time, the gun finally went off and we shuffle/walked towards the start line. After a minute or two it was time to cross the starting line. I clicked the start button on my $5 sports watch's stopwatch function as we passed over the timing mat. However, a few feet past the start line the course narrowed to a small walking path and we literally had to slow down to a walk. Thankfully it cleared quickly and we were off.

It was a great day for running. In the mid-60s, overcast, and a slight breeze. The sky seemed to be threatening rain but none ever materialized. For the first mile of the course I dodged in and around people running in gravel, sand, and grass at various points. I managed to keep the lady in pink in my sight for the entire first mile. However, when we hit the first mile marker she sped up. I looked down at my watch and it said 9:50! I honestly felt as though I had gone out too fast but apparently I was going too slow! Maybe all that dodging and weaving had taken it's toll.

I picked up my pace. On my way through the second mile I looked up to see the lead runner headed back our way. That's the problem with an out-and-back race course: while you're excited to see the speed at which some people can run, those of us that are slower can feel a little disheartened that the leaders are over halfway done before we have even hit the halfway point. But, as I always try to tell myself, speed doesn't matter. The fact that I am out there at all is what matters.

I hit the two mile marker and the turn around point feeling strong. I was remembering to keep my shoulders relaxed and trying to focus on my form. Nothing hurt and I wasn't feeling too tired. Also, it helped that I was only a few seconds off of my goal time for that point (at least according to my watch). Between miles two and three we ran closer to the harbor. It's so cool for me to go from running through residential neighborhoods and university buildings to passing sailboats and beaches. When I hit mile three I was pleased to see that I was right on target time-wise.

Between miles three and four my energy started to lag. I felt as though it was getting harder and harder to maintain my pace. It didn't look like the 4 mile marker was ever going to appear. I admit I was sorely tempted to walk but I didn't. I knew I could run this entire distance. I run 4 miles at least twice a week! I've done two 10Ks! Finally the mile marker appeared and as we passed it we could see the parking lot and the race vendor tents in the distance. It also helped that when I looked at my watch I was ahead of my goal time! That must be why this mile felt so much harder. Oops.

The final almost-mile dragged at first but then I got a second wind and it started flying by. As I got closer and closer to the finish I heard the jingling of a dog collar behind me. A woman and her husky were on my right. The husky was going strong. Stupid as it sounds, I didn't want to get beaten by a girl and her dog. So, I sped up just a little bit. Then I was in the final straightway to the finish. I pushed myself harder and passed a few more people. As I crossed the timing mats I remembered to hit the stop button on my watch (that may be a first for me) and slowed to a walk. I looked down at my watch to see that it said 46:50! Yes!

I found Jason who, sadly, missed getting a picture of me coming through the finish line. However, he was sweet enough to have grabbed me an energy bar and to regale me with funny stories of what happened when he took Trinka Deu down on the beach. I decided that I had to see what she thought of the sand and water for myself.

We walked down to the sand and then out towards the water. Trinka Deu didn't seem to excited about either. The first time a wave touched her foot she skittered backwards. I guess the first time you experience that it can be unnerving. She was kind enough to oblige us with a few photos, though.

After torturing Trinka I decided that I needed more sustenance than a mini energy bar. The English muffin with peanut butter I ate at 7 AM wasn't cutting it any longer. At the food tent we discovered they had boxes and boxes and boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts. I don't normally like donuts but for some reason they sounded really good right about then. I grabbed one for myself and one for Jason and we chowed down. I followed that up with half a bagel. Our food eaten we made the decision to head home. I knew that I wouldn't be winning any awards and Trinka was experiencing some dog fatigue. That is to say, she was tired of other dogs.

Once we got home my cheering section zonked out. I guess all that excitement just wore them out.

And me? What did I do? I mowed the lawn. I guess running 8K in 46:49 (official chip time) gives you energy to spare.

By the way, I came in 79th out of 216 women in my age group and 339th out of 769 overall. And since this is my first race at the 8K distance, it's technically a new personal record!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Nike+ Human Race 10K - Chicago

Yesterday evening at 6:30 PM I joined approximately 14,000 other people to run the Nike+ Human Race 10K in Chicago. About two and a half hours before the start time, I got ready, packed my bag, put on my race shirt, put on my timing chip (my first ever!) and headed out the door to catch the train.

At first I was a little annoyed that I would haven't a separate race bib number to put in my race scrapbook, but I have to admit it was nice not to have to worry about pinning anything to my shirt.

After taking a train and a very slow-moving bus and chatting with a couple people who drove in from Iowa City, I found myself at Soldier Field, the home of the Chicago Bears and lots of history-making events. It was amazing to look around and see so many red shirts.

This is the starting line:

And the outside of the stadium:

By the time I got there it was still an hour to race time. I checked my bag at the bag check which was surprisingly not as crazy as I had anticipated. I then headed out to wander around. I realized after a few minutes that I had left my free Powerbar and granola in my bag along with my signature bandanna. I didn't feel like going back and getting them. Luckily they were handing out lots more free Powerbars and granola. I grabbed a packet of granola and a bottled water and fueled myself up. Then I found a spot in the grass to do some light stretching.

About 6:00 the announcers asked us to start lining up at the start line according to our project minute per mile pace. They had placed signs along the sides of the corral indicating sub-8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 minutes miles. What they failed to account for were the large numbers of people who, well, don't run a sub-8 mile. Those of us in the 10 minute mile area were so squashed together. When the first gun went off at around 6:45 (15 minutes late) they asked just the sub-8 mile people to start and the rest of us to wait. Well, you can't put 14,000 eager runners at a start line and ask them to shuffle slowly to the mats. Haven't these people ever run a race? So, those of us towards the back slowly inched up to the actual start line. This meant my start was horrible. More like one of those tiny, tip-of-the-toes comical jogs that you do when you're trying not to step on the person in front of you.

The people never really thinned out. I felt as if I was dodging walkers and slower runners the entire race. I couldn't find anyone to pace off of, either. I really got the impression that there were a TON of people for whom this was their first racing experience. Lots of walkers in the middle of the road, lots of people starting out too fast. People changing speeds all the time. Perhaps this is always the case at such a large race (this was the largest race I've ever run. Prior to this my largest race was about 600 people) but either way I found it incredibly annoying. And it was really difficult to pass people because our running path kept getting narrower and narrower.

We started out with about four traffic lanes to ourself. Sadly, these four lanes were underneath the McCormick Place convention center where the air was still and it was hot as blazes. However, people were making the best of it by whooping and hollering to hear their voices bounce off all the concrete surrounding us. Once we exited the convention center our running space dwindled down to two traffic lanes. This two lanes thing continued the entire way down Lake Shore Drive. Once we crossed over Lake Shore Drive and head back north it got worse. Suddenly we were on a bike path. A bike path for 14,000 people? Ridiculous!

I had made it to the half-way point in just over 30 minutes and felt good. I was planning on amping it up for the second half but there were just so many people to dodge. Every time I'd find a good pace I'd come up against a wall of people and have to slow down while I waited for a chance to go around them. I skipped all the water and Gatorade stations because the crush of people was insane and since my goal was a sub-60 minute time I didn't want to waste it on fighting a crush of people for water. In addition, I've yet to have a good experience with drinking anything while racing. It usually just makes my stomach cramp up.

There were a few bands and a DJ along the course playing music to keep us motivated. We ran past several pre-Labor Day picnics and lots of those people cheered us on. Little kids and adults alike stood by the side of the bike path with their hands out-stretched to give us five. One group of kids I passed was keeping track of how many people actually slapped their hands. The crowds were definitely encouraging.

Night started to fall and it became very dark on the bike path. I couldn't see my watch anymore and I had no idea how much further we had to go after awhile. Finally we hit the 5 mile mark and I tried my darnedest to ramp up my speed. I passed a woman who was talking to herself saying "You can do it. You can finish strong. You can finish in under an hour." I looked over at her and said, "I think you're reading my mind." "Then let's do it!" she said. Sadly, I lost her in the darkness and the throngs of people. Once again, as hard as I tried to push it I felt as though I was being thwarted by slower-moving people at every step. Mile 5 felt like the longest mile of my life. I had managed to keep my shoulders from aching until then but during that last mile they became very painful. Suddenly there was the mile 6 marker and I knew we only had .2 to go. I sped up just a little bit. I still couldn't see my watch so I had no idea how close I was to my goal time. Finally I could see the finish line. I sprinted around several people as I ran for my life towards that timing mat. I think the clock said 1:15 and I prayed that it had taken me more than 15 minutes to make it across the start line.

As always, they were telling us to keep moving and not to block the finishing chute, but it was still packed with people. Volunteers were handing out finishers bracelets in what looked like cardboard relay batons. We were herded through a narrow walkway to a chip-removal station. It was hot, I was tired, I was thirsty and, honestly, I felt like I was going to pass out. I'm not typically claustrophobic but at that moment I had to squelch the urge to scream at the top of my lungs that I wanted out. The chip removal women were very nice and I felt sorry for them that they were working in essentially pitch blackness (um, hello, it's night! You might want to get these people some flashlights or something). But, really, all I wanted was water. The guy next to me expressed that sentiment out loud and we were told to keep moving. After what felt like an eternity we found the water station. It wasn't cold but I didn't care. I downed that thing and then wandered zombie-like over to the free food stations. Our choices? Yogurt, granola, or Powerbars. I grabbed a fruit smoothie Powerbar and ate it while I wandered around in a daze. I called my husband and my mom to let them know I finished. We chatted for a little bit. I picked up my bag from the bag check. Then I asked someone to take my picture.

The post-race entertainment was a concert by Fall Out Boy but I really had no idea what time it started. Around 8:30 I wandered into Soldier Field and lo and behold they had already started. I hung out on the floor for awhile, got my picture taken at professional photo booth (I have no idea when those will be available), and decided I'd better get something more than a Powerbar to eat. I debated buying a beer but for $7.00 and on a mostly empty stomach I decided that would be a bad idea. What I really wanted was a big soft pretzels but I didn't see any. Nachos I saw. Hot dogs I saw. Finally I saw someone with pizza and that sounded fabulous. I finally found the pizza stand only to discover that they were running really behind on making them. I didn't feel like waiting. I figured my Powerbar would do until I could get home.

Fall Out Boy was okay. I'm not a huge fan of concerts in general and especially not when I'm there by myself. However, seeing the sea of red on in the seats and on the floor of the field was certainly impressive.

Also, I'm not even a big football fan but to stand in the middle of the arena and look up and realize that this is what professional football players see was pretty cool.

Around 9:30 Fall Out Boy called it a day and I headed out to find my way home. I chatted with two guys from Vegas who were combining a vacation to Chicago with running the race. I told them that my goal had been to run a sub-60 race. One of the guy's goals was to run it in 1:15 and the other one just wanted to finish. It was his first race. I lost them at some point because I think they were more wiped out than I was. That's hard to believe, though, because the 1.5 mile hike to the train station felt like the Bataan Death March. My feet hurt, I was tired and achy, and craving pizza. Also, I don't think my stomach really enjoyed that Powerbar because it felt kind of crampy.

After the trudge to the train station I waited what was an interminably long time for the first train. Then, once that one took me to where I wanted to be, I waited for my train home. On the train I stupidly decided to eat my second Powerbar. All that did was make my stomach feel even more strange. I finally made it home around 10:30 PM. I debated ordering pizza or just going to bed. I ended up ordering pizza. I collapsed on the couch and found A Knight's Tale on the free movie channel. I was too exhausted to pay much attention, though. My pizza finally arrived around 11:30. I scarfed it down and then collapsed into bed.

This morning I looked up my time. I have to admit, I'm disappointed. My official time is 1:02.18. Sigh. I think this is a combination of lots of things. Moving and changing jobs took up a lot of my time and energy in June, July and August. It took until last week to get into a strength training class when before I had been taking a combination yoga/pilates/weight lifting class twice a week since the previous fall. I'd lost out on two days of cross-training cardio for almost all of July and August. And my running in June and much of July was sporadic at best. My training before my 59:59 10K was much better. However, there are also the race factors themselves to consider. My first race was done in April on a strangely cold, snowy and drizzly day. It was a much, much smaller race and it wasn't chip-timed. So, fewer people to dodge combined with human error on the timing could account for the time differences. The Nike+ race was much, much larger, I felt like I was dodging people the entire time, my start was crappy, and it was chip-timed. So, who knows? So, yes, I'm disappointed that my official time was not sub-60 but at least now I have a goal to work towards. Get it back under an hour!