Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Race Report: Chicago Distance Classic Half Marathon

What a great race! Perfect weather, flat and beautiful course, good support and cheering crowds along the race route.... Despite rumors that the course was about a quarter mile too long, I still ran a personal best (2:31:33).

Ben dropped me off at the start line around 6 a.m. for a 6:30 start on Sunday. The sun was just rising and peeking out orange behind some clouds over the lake. The humidity was low, the temperature was around 60 degrees, and there was a light wind. You couldn't ask for better weather in Chicago in August. I had plenty of time to use the portojohn, do some last minute stretching, and find the 2:30 pace group that ran/walked 8/2 minutes. It was a happy group with some first time half marathoners.

Ben cheered and took photos around mile 1. Despite the wave start, the pack didn't thin out until well after the halfway point. Look at all the people!

The first half of the course was unremarkable. Two lanes of Lake Shore Drive were reserved for runners, which was a little tight given the number of participants. You could be in any city going south along the street. But the course was flat and the water stations were big and well supported. Our pace leader got us to the turnaround at exactly 1:15.

It's the second half of the course that is stunning. Traveling north along the bike path, with the beach and city laid out before you, waves crashing, and cooling breeze. I heard quite a few runners wish aloud that the race were longer or that they could freeze time to enjoy the view and the feel of the race.

Around mile 8, the race got tougher. I noticed that the pace group was falling behind pace, and I could start to feel small aches in my inner thighs and the back of my right knee. A group of five from the original pace group started running ahead, and we switched our run/walk ratio from 8/2 to 8.5/1.5. I did not see or hear from the original pace group until about mile 12.5, when the pace leader flew by at around an 8-minute mile pace. If I had stayed behind with the original group, I know my time would have been much slower. I think most, if not all, of the runners who stayed with the pace leader finished behind me. You run with a pace group to keep pace, not to keep pace, slow down considerably, and then speed up for a final mile sprint!

At around mile 10, the other four members of our splinter pace group sped up to make the 2:30 finish. I let them go ahead, because my goal was to finish strong and not to finish with a certain time. It was the right choice for me. I had a fantastic finish! During the last 0.2 mile, I passed about a dozen people, and sprinted across the finish with my arms in the air. Finishing strong was such a rush--and a better feeling than I ever could get from a number on a clock.

There are additional online race photos that show me pumping my fists in the air as I cross the finish. (My bib number was 1635.) A PR on a flat course was great. Next up is a slow, hilly race at the Waddell & Reed Half Marathon in Kansas City this October.

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