Sunday, April 10, 2016

Chi-Town Half Marathon or Skating 13.1 miles on the lakefront path

As I mentioned at the end of my post about the Shamrock Shuffle, I signed up for the Chi-Town Half Marathon mostly out of peer pressure. In all honesty, there was little to no pressure actually applied. I told my friends that I had an event on Saturday night (a charity auction for my son's school, where parents who pay taxes for public schools give money to the school because we don't value education enough in this country to fully fund our public schools...but that's a blog post for another day). Anyway, when I told my running gals that, they were all - yeah, makes sense, I can see why you wouldn't want to do the half that morning. And then I went and signed up for it anyway because I figured I'd be sad if they all ran it and I didn't. Little did I know.

Since I signed up last minute, the price of the race was a little high, but, you know, that's what I get for waiting. I really like the long-sleeve technical shirt and it came in a reusable (not plastic) handle bag with the bib and one other give away which meant I didn't have to throw away a bunch of stuff. Going to bed on Friday night, I knew it was going to be cold the next morning so I laid out my winter tights, a long sleeve insulated shirt, gloves, and ear warmers. I woke to 25 degrees (on April 10!) but I've run in colder - way colder. No big deal.

On my way down to the lake, I stopped to pick up a runner who was standing at a bus stop. I asked if she was headed to the race, she was, so I offered her a ride. Usually I don't pick up strangers, but you know, she's a runner, it's freezing outside, runners stick together. While it was pretty crowded once we get to the lake, I easily found a parking spot on Montrose off of Simmonds Dr. I texted my friends to let them know. They said they were by the start and I figured it should be easy to find five people. Nope, wrong. I walked around for a bit, ran back to my car to text again (I hate running with my phone) and then went back to the start, and still couldn't find them. 

By this time, people are jammed into one of the three corrals that are set up. No one seemed to know what the other two are for. The corrals were next to each other, parallel to the start line, so naturally everyone went into the one closest to the start. But then, the announcer (who had a love of the words 'whoop' and 'whoop') tells us that the first one is for green bibs, second is for red and third is for blue. OK, so I had a red bib on and that kinda sucks that I snaked my way toward the 10-minute pace flag thinking that's where my friends would be (annoying the shit out of all the people that I was going around because I know how much it annoys me when people do that to me), but whatever, I moved over to the next corral. Amazingly I saw Aliza, who told me that the rest of the gals are going to run 10:40s because of the ice. I told Aliza I can start with her, but I wasn't about to run a 2-hour half, which I knew she wanted to do. We stood around for an extra 15 minutes after the scheduled start time for unknown reasons, during which time Mr. Whoop Whoop reminded us of which colors go in which corrals. Except he started mixing it up. He told us that the first corral is for the red bibs, second green, third blue; or was it first green, second blue, third red? He said different things, seemingly unaware he was being inconsistent, and that he was pissing off a bunch of runners until finally, without much fanfare, they started the race.

We headed north the first couple of miles on the path that hugs the lake. It was covered with crunchy snow/ice that wasn't great to run on, but better than the sheets of ice we encountered when we transitioned to concrete. Most everyone moved up to the grass turning the race into a semi trail run. As we made it up to Hollywood, we went back and forth between icy, crunchy snow and just plain ice. A lot of us ran in the grass so we weren't slipping. But that meant it turned into mud. The sun was out, but nothing had melted much, which was a good thing because you could see where the ice was and avoid it. Heading back south, I began a regime of running from water stop to water stop. I got to the water stop, drank some water or Gatorade (I like to go back and forth) walked through the stop a bit, and then started running again with the mantra, just get to the next water stop. I also kept reminding myself to concentrate on the moment and not think about my pace too much. To not worry about the finish or if I'm going to PR or fall on my ass. Just be where I am. This got me pretty much through mile 8ish. Up until this point, I had been keeping a pretty even sub-10 pace - I had a 9:38 mile and a couple of 9:40s and three miles in the 9:50s. My slowest mile in this stretch was mile 3, due to lots of ice on the path; I ran a 10:32. I'm pretty sure that's the mile where the first of the two runners I personally witnessed, went down on a huge patch of ice. Luckily he was able to get right back up and seemed okay.

The course took us south on the west side of the Diversey Harbor Lagoon and then through Lincoln Park. As we went under Lake Shore Drive at LaSalle, there was, thankfully, a person from the race at the bottom of the ramp letting us know it was icy and to be careful. I have to wonder how many people fell there before they put someone there. Maybe she was there the entire time. It's hard to know. But unfortunately, there wasn't a whole lot of support out on the course. But more on that later. 

Turning back north, I knew we'd run into wind, and pretty much from North Ave to Belmont was a wall of wind, coupled with a sheet of ice. Thus I entered my "I hate this, why do I do this to myself, I'm going to walk the rest of the way" phase. Somewhere in mile 9 or 10 I did actually walk and figured I'd just walk until my friends who were behind me caught up. I slowed down considerably, miles 9 and 10 being 11 min miles. And, even though the sun had started to melt the ice, and we had moments of running on actual pavement, it was pretty much impossible to see the black ice so every fifth step was a mini slide and the feeling of having just enough control to not fall on your ass. The problem with running this way, in addition to slowing you down, is that it's hard. I probably expended twice as much energy just keeping myself upright. My whole body was tense and I was getting pretty fricking tired of slipping on ice. Despite that, I soldiered through and as I got to mile 11, I found a little bit more strength to finish the race. I ran 11 and 12 in about 10:25 minutes each. By mile 12, I knew that while my goal pace of 10 minute miles was gone, I was well within reaching my PR. The last mile I tucked in behind to wonderful women, told them I was going to follow them in, and we sped to the finish. My last mile, 9:34. As I crossed the finish line, my watch said 2:13 official results were 2:12:57, besting my PR by almost 4 minutes. 

Aliza was at the finish, she managed to PR as well, hitting her goal of running a sub 2. Not all the rest of the ladies were behind me though. Unfortunately we had one casualty; Adrienne fell around mile three and she and Laura made their way back to the start line in an epically ridiculous fashion (their story to tell, so I won't rehash it here, let's just say they found very little support on the course and had a really hard time finding any medical assistance). Being cold and fairly annoyed, I headed back to my car. I was going to go straight home to start all the other stuff I needed to get done, but before that I met everyone for coffee, was glad to see that Adrienne was OK, and then headed home.

So yeah, I PR'd. My official stats are: 34/114 age group; 577/1433 gender; 1223/2426 overall. But there's more...

It's hard to say this, because I did PR, but I don't really think the course should have been opened. At least not without All Community Events having done something to make the path better. As far as I could tell they did nothing to salt or clear the path. I've run races in winter before. I've run races in colder temperatures with ice and snow. And the race directors for those races, they got out the night before, in the middle of the night, and the early morning of the race and did everything they could do to clear the ice, to salt, to ensure the path was safe. As I mentioned, there was little presence of support outside the water stops on this course. It took Adrienne an hour to have someone look at her to make sure she was okay. I can't imagine what would have happened had she been hurt worse. Obviously Laura or someone else would have actually called an ambulance if it really was an emergency, but there should be race support there for that as well. From the very beginning it seems All Community Events had problems with this race. 

I'm not entirely sure why the course was changed, but it's bad form to advertise a specific course and then have to change it because you didn't get the permit. To be fair to them, they did at least provide shuttle buses from the original start to the new start. The start corrals were a joke. They weren't labeled. There wasn't anyone there telling people why there were three different corrals. And when they did finally tell us, they said different things at different times. Everyone was confused. I had pace group leaders, people holding signs, pass me well into the race that were pacing 9 minute groups, 9:30 groups. I didn't start (or intend to start) so far up front that I should have been in front of those groups. And I'm sure they didn't intend to start so far back. I don't fault them for the weather. But you have to know if the weather doesn't cooperate, and you can't provide runners with a safe course, then you call the race. It's not like they would have had to pay us back the money. We all signed something that said the race wasn't liable in case they needed to cancel. 

When I first made it down to the lake, I saw a pickup truck on the path at Montrose and figured that it was a course truck going over the path making sure it was salted. When we started 15 minutes late, I assumed we were waiting because they wanted to get an all clear that the path was safe. The only place I saw any salt on the course was at North Ave. and I doubt All Community Events put that there. 

I'm willing to give race directors the benefit of the doubt. It's hard to put on a race. There are a lot of moving parts (figuratively and literally). But All Community Events is a company that is in the business of putting on races. And if I'm going to pay $80 for a race, I want it to be a well run race, even if that means they have to make the tough decision to delay the race or even cancel due to course conditions. Maybe this was a one off. Aliza said she had run the race before and it was fine. I've run the Turkey Trot and liked it. Regardless, I hope they take this experience and learn from it. Until then I'll be hesitant to sign up for another of their races.

Next up, Ravenswood 5k.

1 comment:

Pete B said...

Sorry to hear about the conditions on the LFT for the race. If I was the race director I probably would have walked/biked the course early that morning to see it for myself. I don't know how much salt they would have needed, but it sounds like a lot. If you hold a race in early April in Chicago you should expect ice and have a plan to deal with it. Anyway, maybe I'll see you at the Ravenswood!

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