Race #7: Rock N Roll Chicago Half Marathon

Running isn’t easy.  Anybody who tells you it is, they’re lying.  Anybody CAN do it, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

After my last Half Marathon was changed to a “10k” (closer to 5 miles) due to fallen trees and other nasty weather conditions, I took a planned week off from running.  One week turned into two.  Two weeks turned into taking it easy for the next two weeks, where I would run every other day.  That led to slight weight gain. (terrible diet)  That led to deciding to start playing more golf, and doing some projects around the house.  That led to a bum back one week before race day, and a whole week off leading up to Race #7.

Truth be told, my whole body was hurting me.  I’ve heard that a person should do no more than 4 Half Marathons in a year, and if they were to do so, should only have 2 of those be “goal races” where they shoot for a specific time.  I’ve just completed 5 “goal races” (under two hours).  Plus, I did a “nice and easy” 25K race (15.5 miles) in temps of 80 degrees for the first time this year.  All of which happened in the first 5 1/2 months of 2013.  Running was going well, but had beaten me up physically and mentally.

So, when I headed up to Chicago on Friday for packet pick-up, I packed an extra suitcase full of excuses to take along.

photo-1Took this picture to make it look like I work during the summer. 

(I’m a PE teacher)

photo-2

Can we please quit calling it “swag”??

photo-3

 

This is the view of the whole expo.  Pretty expansive.

I stayed with one of my three best friends from high school and visited another one on Saturday, pulling one excuse at a time out of my magic bag of “this isn’t going to be pretty”.  Sunday after the race, I had a great opportunity to use more of them as I had breakfast with another life-long friend and her boyfriend.  I should have been a salesman, because they ALL bought all of my excuses.

I woke up at about 4:00 a.m. on Sunday morning and left Plainfield, IL at about 5:00.  The 40 minute drive into the city was quiet, cool, and pretty.  The temperature felt cooler than I had worried about.  However, race time was still an hour and a half away.  I found a parking garage within walking distance of the start line that would only end up costing me $36!  I made my way to the starting line by about 6:00.  Now I had half an hour to stand around and stretch out my bum back and unused leg muscles.

photo-5Starting line shortly before 6:00 am.  I’m dedicated.

They interviewed some people, played the anthem, and by 6:38 I was off and running in the first ever Half Marathon that I wasn’t completely prepared for.  The first two miles were good.  I was huffing and puffing, but my body felt good.  Better than expected.  2 miles, under 18 minutes.  Right on pace.  Then, I got weak, tired, and my feet started to fall asleep.  How is this possible, you ask?  Well, when a person is so badly out of shape that they can’t get circulation all the way down to the part that’s doing the work, the part in question starts to NOT LIKE IT.  Miles 3-6 were bad.  Not the worst I’ve ever run, but by far the worst I’ve run in a Half Marathon.  I ran as much as I could, when the feet would fall asleep, I’d walk a while.  The good news was that most of this section of the race was shaded by the tall buildings of downtown Chicago.

Mile 7 was probably my favorite part of the race.  It was here that there were the best crowds and the best cheer squads.  (Rock N Roll races have contests for the best cheering sections)  Right at the corner of Jackson and Michigan Ave were about 50 people all wearing light blue and blaring the loudest music of the course.  It was amazing.  This section made my 7th mile my fastest of the whole race.  Weird for a guy who’s so out of shape.  But, here’s the other thing… from this point on, I was fine.  I mean, I wasn’t fast, but I felt good.  Feet didn’t fall asleep, back didn’t hurt, heart and lungs stayed in check.  I only experienced one real problem the rest of the race.  The insole of my left shoe got crooked and started to cause a blister.  This came from the incredible amount of moisture that was caused by sweat (the temps still weren’t bad, probably 74-76) and the water they kept spraying on us to keep us cool.  Like I said, things went well for the last 6 miles.  I probably only walked about 3 times the rest of the way in, and that was at water stations where everybody was walking.  Maybe a couple times between water stops.  I figured it would be a good idea.

Around mile 11.5 was pretty cool, too.  As we entered the tunnel under McCormick Center, a group had set up disco lights and blaring music.  It was like a dance party.  There was a cheer group, too.  So: lights, shade, music, cheerleaders.   Yeah, close 2nd for favorite part of the course.

I finished strong and ran the whole last 1.2 miles or so from the final water stop.  I definitely put forth my best effort of the race here.  By the line my body was begging me to quit.  Finally, I crossed the line – – a finisher for the 7th time this year.

photo-10

 

Rock N Roll Chicago medal.

By FAR not my favorite medal of the year.  It’s small (but, thick!) and the ribbon absolutely SUCKS, but it’s a token of remembrance.  I guess it’ll have to do.

photo-9

The shirt.

Nice shirt.  Actually, I finally got one that fits.  I think this is only the 3rd shirt of the year that fits me.  But, it’s worked out for my wife.  She now has more shirts than I do.  And, she’s not a runner…

photo-8

The gear bag.

This is the aforementioned “Swag” bag.  Seriously, people, let’s get off of that.  It’s gonna be one of those words we look back on and can’t believe we ever used… like “Rad”.  Well, I still like Rad, but… you get the point.

Will I do this race again?  Most definitely, not.  It was ok.  But, who does a Half Marathon in July?  Chicago is a great city to run in.  I completely enjoy it, but DAMN, it’s expensive. I probably spent over $400 on this race, all in all, and I had a free place to stay and two free meals!

I’m glad I ran it.  I’m glad I’m still on pace for my goal of 13 13’s in ’13.  However, next year, RnR Chicago won’t be on my list.  Sorry.

Catch up with me next time as I make a stop in Mahomet, IL for the Mahomet Half Marathon.

 

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Race #6: Run River City 25k, Peoria, IL

Now it’s time for some controversy.  My challenge for the year is 13 13’s in 13.  This race in Peoria was a 25k.  That, technically, is 15.5 miles.  Personally, I count this race as one of the 13’s because of the fact that it’s MORE than 13.1 miles.  However, it isn’t technically a Half Marathon.  Anyway, what I think really makes this race questionable was my attitude going into it. That was an attitude of “Since it’s not EXACTLY a Half Marathon, I guess I don’t need to break two hours.”  So, I took it easy for one race.  My final time reflected an average mile split of 9:34 per.  My pace per mile to break two hours in a Half Marathon would need to 9:09.  So, you can see my conundrum.

I was lucky at this race to be near my hometown of Pekin, Illinois.  I got the opportunity to spend time with my parents and brother, and to see friends.  We got to see Luke’s little boy’s ballgame, and hit the expo with Adam.  Adam ran the full Marathon.  The expo was set up outside at the Peoria Riverfront Museum area and was pretty small.  Basically it was just a spot to pick up your bib and shirt, while the main organizers (Running Central) had a booth set up.  The bib was pretty sweet for a first time race, but the shirt was lacking.  The first day I wore it, it snagged all over.

Peoria Bib  Peoria Shirt

Bib and Shirt

As for the race…  It was a warm, humid day in downtown Peoria, IL.  The starting temperature was around 68 with 75% humidity and by the time I finished it was 78 with 65%.  For those who don’t know, most runners have an ideal race temperature of 60 degrees.  For me, the ideal temperature is around 50.  I’m a bigger guy, I warm up more easily!  But, I guess I should probably get used to it, my next three races will probably be worse.  That’s going to make it a real challenge to break the magic 2 hour mark.

This was the first Run River City Marathon and 25k race ever.  They also did a Marathon relay and a 5k race.  Each of the finishers of each race got a medal, different sizes based on which race they did!

 Peoria Medal

Run River City Medal

The race started in the downtown area.  It was a course that consisted of multiple loops.  The first three miles looped around Caterpillar and back past the Civic Center to the downtown area.  The next 3 miles headed north through some neighborhoods, past Woodruff high school, and back downtown.  From there, we headed back past the Civic Center and up Main Street, which happened to be about the only real hill on the entire course, and one that I had been dreading for 6 and a half miles.  Apparently, my recent races with all of their hills was good training!  Main Street hill didn’t give me any troubles!  I walked the water station at the top of the hill, and I was good to go!  Miles 7-13 were one big loop out past Bradley University and into West Peoria past Madison Golf Course.  We caught back up with Main Street and followed it from miles 13-15.3.  From 15.3-15.5 was filled with spectators until the finish area, which was oddly sparse.  It seemed to be mostly families waiting for their runner!  It was also the first time I had my family at a finish line waiting for me!  I was lucky to have my Wife and close friend watching in Chicago last year, but they weren’t at the line.  In Peoria, Mom, Dad and Wife were there, and I have the pictures to prove it!

PeoriaRunPhotos by Paula!

matt's finishPulling to a stop at the line!

Thankfully, most of the last mile and a half were downhill.  However, by this point, my legs were pretty weak and tired.  Downhill running doesn’t feel real great when jello legs have set it!

Overall, the course was nice, but not great.  I would have taken it through more parks, but I do know that the full Marathon course did go through some.  There were quite a few people out and about watching the race.  But, for a city the size of Peoria (115,000 or 370,000 in the metro area), there weren’t a lot of spectators.  Maybe in the future that will change as the city embraces the race.  From what I hear, there were some heads butting over blocking off roads during church times.  There were plenty of water and Gatorade stops along the course, thankfully.  On my scale of 1-10 I’ll give this race a 5.  Positives:  close to family, decent flat course, sweet medal.  Negatives: long drive, warm temps and humidity, not many spectators.

And, now, I have a week off until my next one.  Temps are forecasted to be 71-88 degrees on June 1st in Edwardsville, IL for the Thin Mint Sprint.  Hopefully, my body responds and I can run under 2!  Find out in a week or so!

What do you think?  Should this 25k count towards the 13 13’s in 13?  Why or why not??

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Race #5: Lourdes Paducah Iron Mom Half Marathon

It has been a long time since my last post.  That means, it’s been a long time since my last Half Marathon in this quest of mine.  Don’t mistake that, however, for inactivity.  My last Half Marathon was 34 days before this one, which, when scheduling, seemed like a great idea.  However, between the two races on my slate, I also ran the River to River Relay and the Spartan Sprint in Laurel, IN.

The River to River Relay is an 80 mile race split up amongst 8 teammates who each run 3 segments that add up to about 10 miles per person.  Also, it’s ran on some of the toughest hills in the state of Illinois from the Mississippi River to the Ohio River on the back roads of Southern Illinois.  It was an incredibly great time with beautiful scenery, but took a lot out of my legs.

The Spartan Sprint ended up being 5.2 miles of obstacle course racing through mud and hills of Southeast Indiana which ended up taking my team 4 and a half hours.  That’s a time I’m not proud of, but a story I’ll share at another time.

Unfortunately, these races also created a bit of a let down in my training.  I cut back on my weekly mileage after the Relay due to some soreness and tightness in my quads afterward, and the grueling 3 day trip to Indiana for a walk in the woods took away 3 days that I normally put in some of my best distance building miles.  On the positive side, though, I’ve learned that I do need to be prepared for any terrain at any time, and have altered my training program to start including some hills, some strength building, and some trail runs as recovery.

This week’s race marked the beginning of a daunting 3 races in 4 weeks stretch that starts with the “Iron Mom Half Marathon”, moves to the “Run River City” 25k (I know, not a half, we’ll discuss later), and finishes with the “Thin Mint Sprint” on June 1st in Edwardsville, IL.  After the Iron Mom race, I’m a little worried.

I left my house on Saturday at 4:50 a.m.  I’m pretty proud of the fact that I am getting up earlier on the weekends than during the week for school.  I’m an evening runner.  I arrived in Paducah around 6.  That was plenty of time to use the restroom, stretch, and find the starting line.  Also, if you judge races based on Porta-Potties… what are you waiting for??? Sign up for this race (next year) as soon as possible.  Here are the bathrooms at the start and finish:

IronMomJohnsSweet Right??  They flush and have running water.  Wow.

Since I had some time, I did some looking around.  Here’s the Ohio River shortly after sunrise:

Ohio RiverVery Pretty.

And, this was the finish line before it became the FINISH line:

Ironmomfinish

Not so cool when you’re not dying to get there. 

2 hours later it looked like heaven.

The race starts in the historic downtown area of Paducah, Kentucky.  It’s a nice area with a lot of restaurants and artsy places.  You know… crap….antiques. But, apparently, it’s a mecca for quilters.  So, there’s lots of those, too.  Who knew?  We ran out of downtown Paducah and by the first mile marker we were running through some beautiful neighborhoods of houses that were gigantic and from the early 1900’s it seemed.  Maybe earlier.  The course seemed to go on straight forever, and I started to get bored with the straight flatness.

I should have stopped my mind from worrying about that.

At about mile 2.5, we started hitting some little annoying rollers.  Uphill long enough to slow you down, but not downhill enough to speed you up.  Up. Down.  Up. Down. UP. DOWN.  At mile marker 3, the course got fun.  We started going around curves, right and left, and through some nice suburban neighborhoods, but still with the rollers.  I must say, the thing I was most surprised about was the neighborhoods.  There are some sweet places in little ole Paduchie.  And, even better, the support of the community was fantastic.  In all of these little subdivisions, you saw families out in their driveways handing out water, holding signs, giving high fives, spraying hoses, and parents showing their kids the runners.  I even heard one little girl yell out “You’re all my heroes!”  It was adorable!

After a good long downhill out of the suburban neighborhoods, we ran through some parks on some crushed gravel trails.  It was just before the entrance of the parks where the most people were stacked up to cheer (and also because it was an exchange for the half marathon relay).  That mile was my strongest.  My second fastest, but my strongest.  And, that’s where it stopped.

I’m not a big fan of gravel trails.  However, I’m not using that as an excuse.  I tried, I pushed, I struggled.  I popped a gel. Nothing was in the tank.  Nothing.  I went straight from 8:30-8:39 miles to 9:18-10:22/mile (though I think the GPS messed that up).  No matter, it wasn’t good.

The parks in Paducah are beautiful.  I’m not going to lie, this course, this city, this race:  very impressive.  Me: not so much.

All of this running stuff has gotten me a lot of comments from friends, coworkers, family members.  Things like: “Great job, that’s amazing!” to “Wow, I could NEVER do anything like THAT.” to “You’re such an inspiration!”.  I love hearing those things…but, you’re wrong.  I don’t see it as amazing.  YOU, yes YOU, could do this.  And, c’mon, “inspiration”?  Kids fighting cancer, firemen pulling people from burning buildings, a baseball team pulling a car off of a screaming girl (look that up, great story)… that’s inspiration!  A fat kid who runs so he can take seconds at family gatherings isn’t inspirational.  It’s just crazy!

I say all of that, to tell you this story.  A story about a first I had at this race.  At mile 12, I’d had it.  I was beat.  And, creeping into my mind was the idea that my goal for 2013 was to FINISH 13 half marathons.  I was 1 mile from the finish, and I started to walk.  It’s the first time, during ANY half marathon, that I’ve walked.  From behind me came a voice booming: “DON’T YOU F’ING WALK! (She said the word, not my polite way of typing it) YOU’LL BE SO PISSED IF YOU GET PASSED BY THAT 2:00 PACER!”.  So, as she passed, I said: “I’ll be fine.”, as I looked over my left shoulder and saw that 2:00 stick bouncing up and down about a block behind me.  “Shit”, I thought, “there he is.”  I turned to the lady and said “Yeah, I need to get going.”  She replied: “All I care about is keeping him plenty behind me.”  I said: “Then don’t turn around.”  Mile 13 was back under 9 minutes.

I pushed as hard as I could.  Breathing as heavily as I have in a long time, I rushed toward the finish line.  I crossed in 1:57:49.  Not my best by FAR, but not my worst.  I got some water, a banana, some blueberry bread, and sought out MY inspiration: A scary pierced up, tatted up, jet black haired bitch who had cussed me out not ten minutes ago.  I told her thanks and shook her hand.  She smiled.  She wasn’t so scary after all.

My streak is alive.  That’s 5 half marathons in 2013 under two hours.  I earned a medal, a t-shirt, and a pretty great story at this one.  Hopefully it won’t be as close at my next Half Marathon.  But, I’ll keep her words of wisdom in my head for when I’m thinking about giving up.  I really would have been pissed had I not made it!

Ironmombibshirt

The free shirt and the bib.

(I didn’t wear the shirt at the race)

Ironmommedal

The Medal

Not bad, but not my favorite

Overall, I’d say this was a magnificent race!  On my scale of 1-10, I would give it an 8!  On the plus side, it’s a great course with lots of water and gatorade and amenities.  It had a solid medal and a great shirt!  The negatives were the early wake up time and the hour drive.  Not worth getting a hotel, but not close enough to sleep in!

Look for the next post to be up next Monday.  Next Sunday is the inaugural Run River City Marathon and 25k in Peoria!  Right by my hometown of Pekin!  See y’all up there soon!

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Race #4: Go! St. Louis Half Marathon

It’s been two weeks since my last race.  In my quest to run 13 13’s in ’13, I had to schedule in a way that would allow my body to recover from race to race, but also to train it for races that get closer together as the spring turns to early summer.  Between May 11th and June 1, I’m gonna have 3 races.  I say all of this to set up the fact that, last week while away at the Lake of the Ozarks for Easter, I thought it would be a good idea to run 10 miles on the Ozark hills on my week between the Lawrenceville Half and the Go! St. Louis Half.  Having read other blogs and talking to running friends about the Go! St. Louis Half, I knew it was going to be hilly.  What better place to train for hills than the hilliest place I’ve ever run, the Ozarks?  Not good enough…

I arrived in St. Louis on Saturday evening around 4:30 at the Go! St. Louis expo at Chaifetz Arena.  Upon arrival, we picked up our bibs first, which is new to me.  We then took the bib, like a ticket, to pick up our packets at the expo.  I was disappointed to find that they had run out of my shirt size.  They were out of both Large and Extra Large shirts.  I have two thoughts about this.  First: why didn’t they stick the shirts in the participants bags?  I mean, I spent quite a bit of money on this to not get a shirt that fit.  Second: I guess that’s what I get for not showing up until almost closing time on the day before the race.  So, I thought of my wife first, and got one in her size.  What a thoughtful husband I am.

GoTshirt

I toured the expo:  (Side note: Chaifetz arena is SWEET!!)

  expo1

Half of the expo

I bought myself an officially licensed Brooks running shirt ($27) and a box of Jet Blackberry “Gu”s for $25.  I thought that was a pretty good deal!  Then I was out the door!  Here’s the view toward some pretty buildings in St. Louis:

ViewfromChaif

I liked the view, but the pic doesn’t do it justice

Fast forward to race day.  (My pizza, driving tour, and plywood bed at the Motel 6 are side stories.)

I arrived in downtown St. Louis at about 6 a.m., I found parking for $5 and headed toward the starting area.  I failed, however, in the “take a mental note of where you park” department.  The water and medium Diet Coke I had with breakfast were making their appearance, so I found the port-a-potty.  The lines weren’t too long, and they moved quickly.  I walked toward the starting line, did a little stretching, and found my starting corral.   Don’t know how, but I made it into Corral A.  Knowing how my body was feeling, I almost moved back a corral or 4.

Startlineview

View from my starting point, before the corral filled up

I was rather impressed with the organization of the corrals and with all of the surrounding activities of the race.  It was really well run.  There was music and a PA announcer who read down the list of sponsors and did all of the regular race PA stuff.

At 7:05 I was off, into the beautiful morning air.  It was about 54 degrees with very slight wind.  The race starts through the downtown area, past city hall and out through the Soulard area of St. Louis.  Miles 1-2 and a half were incredibly easy.  I found myself thinking “Hey, this isn’t as bad as they told me”, followed by “Whoa, this is all downhill, it’s about to get serious”.  At mile 2 I saw the Anheuser-Busch brewery ahead, and well above my head.  I knew that it was on the course, so I buckled in to do some climbing.  At mile 2.5, we turned up our first hill.  “Whew… here we go.”  Like I said, I was mentally prepared for these hills, and the first one was tough.  However, those hills kept coming, and coming, and coming…. And, the worst part was they would be long, steady climbs and would finish off with a FURIOUS STEEPNESS that sapped your will to continue.  Then, there’d be a slow, steady downhill where picking up speed to make up time was impossible.  I was still too tired from the climb to push down such a slight decline.  Mile 3 killed me, and was one of my slowest miles, but after the first 5 miles, I was well within the range of breaking 2 hours.  At this point, though, I knew beating my best of the year was out of the question.  Spectator support along this portion of the course was pretty good.  Especially in the Soulard area.  It did look, though, as if it were a little too early for the folks.  Most of them were in their pajamas!  But, they were a spirited bunch!  (Bloody Marys, maybe?)

Upon picking up my race packet, I found inside an official race program.  It outlined the  course, and pointed out a “newly named portion of the course” called Holy Hill.  This is the portion of the course from mile marker 6 to mile 8.  It deserved it’s name.  No, it EARNED it’s name.  From Holy Hill on through to the finish, this thing got REAL.  I held my own on mile 7, I broke 9 minutes.  But, I give full credit for that to the good sized downhill in the middle of it.  Mile 8 wasn’t nearly as forgiving.  The ENTIRE mile was uphill.  For those that haven’t done St. Louis, it was comparable to Beale St. in Memphis.  It was like Sheridan Rd. in Pekin.  However, it went on for a WHOLE MILE!!  9:24.  My worst mile of any race of the year.  And, it was only going to get worse…

As I said, from here on out, it was very hilly.  Out Forrest Park Drive was a slight incline until the turn around.  Yet again, the downhill on the way back wasn’t enough to pick up speed, especially after burning up my legs on the last 3 miles of HOLY HILL.  I will say this, though, the crowds from 6 to mile 10.5 were AMAZING!  Next to the Chicago Marathon, they were the best crowds I’ve ever seen.  Great signs (“If this hill was easy, it would be called your mom” and “You think you’re tired? My arms are killing me!”), cheer groups (churches, local organizations, and the SLU cheerleaders), and some great bands!  I picked up my traditional beer handout at around mile 10.5, too.  Even though it was PBR, it hit the spot!

Then we hit mile 11.  I was still on track for a two hour finish.  Doing my math, I only needed back to back ten minute miles, and I’d be fine.  Easier said than done.  Mile 11 was, again, all uphill.  Steeper, longer, hotter as the day went on.  I shouldn’t say “hotter”, I should say “warmer”.  But, still the hottest run I’ve had of the year.  My last one was 41 degrees at the warmest.  This one hit 62.  I pushed through.  At one point, I couldn’t help myself.  I said out loud to anyone who would listen… “My God, how could they make this entire course uphill?? This is getting ridiculous!”  Everyone around joined in with the comments and laughing.  I think we all needed the tension of those last miles broken.  Miserable.

Mile 12.  Uphill.  Away from the crowds.  Slowest mile of the day, and now, the slowest of the year.  I started worrying at this point about my time.  I had done well to stay calm about time, to realize that I was 10 minute miles away from breaking 2 hours again, but it was getting tight.  It was during the 13th mile that I heard another guy make a comment about the hills.  This time, I was too focused.  Mile 13 got faster again.  In fact, I think a short portion of it might have been downhill.  I must have sped up!  Then I saw it:  the Finish Line, in all of it’s blue and green glory!  Just up ONE MORE HILL!!  Of course.  It had to be.  I put my head down, and pushed on.

Coming up on the finish line, I heard the PA guy announcing the clock!  “FORTY SECONDS TO BREAK TWO!!”  “IF YOU HAVE ANYTHING LEFT, NOW’S THE TIME TO GIVE IT!”  “FINISH STRONG!”  With 30 seconds to spare, I crossed the line.  I put my head down, I refused to look up at the cameras.  I didn’t have anything else to give.  I wasn’t real happy with my time, but I was proud of it.  This was by far the hardest I’ve had to work for a medal!  My body felt healthy the whole race.  I didn’t feel strong, but I didn’t feel like any injuries were coming on.  Go! St. Louis Half Marathon: Success!!

Selfie:

Selfie

Tradition

Best ever post race snack:

TedDrewes

Ted Drewes Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich

And, of course, the most important part of the day:

Go!Medalfront

Front

Go!MedalBack

Back

In summary, even though it was the most challenging race I’ve ever done, I loved it!   I guess I just love the challenge.  The crowds, overall, move into second place overall on my list of Marathon spectators.  Chicago, St. Louis, Little Rock.

On my scale of 1-10 (1 I’ll never do again, 10 has to be done annually) it comes in at an 8!  It would be a 10 if it were flat!!  Great race St. Louis!  Can’t wait to see you again in the future!!

Stats:

Place Bib Athlete Name City State Age Gender 6MI 11MI HHTime Finish Time Division Place
1882 4801 Matthew Snell 53:25 1:39:33 18:46 1:59:09 224
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Race #3: Southern Illinois Spring Classic

After three weeks off since my last Half Marathon, I was starting to get worried.  As I whined on and on about in my last post, my last couple of weeks of training have not been what I would call “ideal”.  The weather has been a mess (still is), my schedule has been hectic (that’s not gonna change til May 23rd), and my body hasn’t been cooperating (sinuses, allergies, muscles… whine whine whine…).

I went to bed early on Friday night after an afternoon of tennis practice and fixing the tire having the tire on the car fixed because somewhere along the line, we picked up a nail.  I woke up at 4:00 a.m., grabbed a peanut butter sandwich, cleaned up, and left the house around 4:30.  The two and a half hour drive to Lawrenceville, Illinois really only took about two hours.  As I pulled up, I wasn’t sure that I was in the right place.  Had it not been for all the signs, I would have left.  I was, of course, the first person there.  I arrived at 6:30 for a 7:45 race… what did I expect?  So, I got great parking, made my way inside, and picked up my race packet.  I headed to the locker room to change into my racing (running) gear and go through the running packet.  Inside, I found a long sleeve technical shirt, some advertising for local businesses, and a ribbon in memory of a local woman who was killed in a car accident by a drunk driver.  We were all asked to wear a yellow and purple ribbon in her memory.

siscbag

The bag it all came in

siscshirt

The long sleeve shirt (I ordered a size too big)

siscribbon

Ribbon in memory of Amy Thomas

After changing, I took my clean, warm clothes out to the car, and realized that it was going to be a chilly morning.  So, I held onto my gloves and hat, and went back into the building where it was warm.  I had plenty of time for a nap.  (Didn’t take one, anyway)

This race was a pretty neat event.  It was a local fundraiser for something called the “kids shopping day”.  The way I understand it, they have a fund devoted to taking less fortunate kids out shopping shortly before the start of a new school year.  They buy them backpacks, school supplies, clothes, and anything else they’ll need for the new school year.  It gives every kid the pride and confidence they need to fit in and feel normal on the first day of school… and beyond.  This is something that really makes a lot of sense to a guy who is a school teacher.  So, kudos to you, Lawrenceville!  Anytime I can run a race, get all the goodies, AND it helps a good cause… totally worth all the effort!

The race starts by the elementary school, where they kick off a 5k and the Half Marathon at the same time.  The first 3 miles of the race go through the town of Lawrenceville.  I was fairly impressed by the scenery around town.  Nice, old homes with a couple of small parks.  We also ran by a few dilapidated, run down areas.  But, it’s a small town and in three miles, you can expect to see a little of everything.  Around mile marker #2 was the first water station.  The table was set well off the road, and neither of the two volunteers were close to the road handing out the water, so I had to climb up onto a curb to grab my water.  This was my first of many disappointing experiences with the water/gatorade stops.  My cup was also too full.  I took a big swig and tried to toss the leftover back to a volunteer who didn’t look too interested in picking up trash that was too far away.  Well, upon tossing, it went straight back to the runner behind me… who CAUGHT IT and threw it off to the side.  Although impressed, I apologized to the guy profusely.

At mile 3, the 5k course breaks off and heads to its finish line as the Half Marathoners head up a nice long hill and out into the country.  For me, it was also when my race started to flash before my eyes.  I started having some strong shooting pains through my right hamstrings and my glutes.  Realizing I was headed out to the woods and corn fields, and knowing that there weren’t going to be many runners or volunteers around, I started thinking about drop-out strategies.  Could I get online on my phone to find the director’s phone number?  Would I just call 911?  I mean, my right leg was hurting BAD to start thinking those thoughts.  At about mile 4, the pain started to relent, very slowly.  Shortly before that,  between miles 3 & 4 was the one and only positive experience I had at a water stop.  This table was set up on the corner of a turn, and on the inside corner, where it should be.  Most of the tables were set up on (what seemed to be) the wrong side of the road.  This one had a port-a-potty along side which I considered using, but with the feeling in my leg starting to come back, I figured I didn’t want to risk that getting worse.

At mile 5, the course turned out of the woods and into the corn fields.  The sun had finally come out, and the temps were starting to rise.  Heading into the wide open areas of flattened fields, I feared the wind was going to be a major issue.  Not a breath.  Not one hint of wind.  I was so relieved, and therefore, removed my hat and gloves.

To this point, I was running pretty well.  Slightly faster that my other races, AND my mile times were staying consistent!  I could tell by mile 6 that, even though my butt leg had given me some fits, the rest of  my body was cooperating.  That’s when my mind took on some challenges.  At mile 6 was the first water stop where they had put out some energy gels (these are little packs of gel with a big shot of carbs, sodium, and other nutrients to give you a jolt of energy, sometimes including caffeine).  At this stop, the 2 volunteers (gotta love volunteers, without them, this stuff wouldn’t get done, but…) were Jr. High or High School kids, one boy, one girl.  The boy was not handing out water or gels.  In fact, he was just in the way.  I literally had to stop, reach around him to grab a water, BACK around him again for a gel, and then dance with him to get back on my way.  I was so frustrated pissed off!!  DUDE! MOVE!

Anyway, somehow, I did get back up to speed, and even ran the next mile a bit faster.  A mile and a half down the road was the next water stop… on the OPPOSITE side of the road.  I accidentally grabbed a Gatorade (poorly mixed and unmarked).  I like water on my runs, unless it’s hot.  But, I digress.  I hate complaining too much about volunteers at a small race, or about water placement, but it just seemed like there was no rhyme or reason as to where they were set up.

Shortly after that stop, the course turns back toward the north and down a big hill.  I picked up some good speed down that hill and passed a guy that I had been chasing for quite a while.  I always love to have a rabbit to follow that can keep me motivated to push myself.  This guy did a nice job:

siscrabbitMy rabbit, and to his left, an older lady who really impressed me with her 2 hour finish!

After the big downhill, we turned back to the east to start the slow march back toward the finish line.

Hey, remember early when I said I was fearing the wind in the corn fields, but there wasn’t a breath of it the whole time??  Yeah, found it.  Turns out it was at my back the whole first 8 miles.

Cold.  Uphill.  Into the wind.  This was the rest of my race.  And, where was my rabbit who I could follow and use as motivation??  Behind me.  Smart.  Now he had a wide shouldered wind barrier to follow until he could make his move.

The course did go uphill for a bit once we turned east, but it flattened out pretty well from miles 9-10.  At mile 10 was another infuriating water station.  As the course turned to the left, the water/gatorade/gel station was to the right.  And, WAY to the right.  Grabbed myself a cup and a gel, and guess what… GATORADE!!!  AHHHhhh…

So, I took the gel, drank the poorly mixed orange concoction, and calmed myself down.  And, just as I did, I looked up to see the runners ahead of me doing circles above my head.  No, I hadn’t passed out.  The course was only heading uphill and to the right.  I was about to experience my biggest uphill of my running year.  From mile 11-12 was my slowest mile of the race.  And, I was pushing it.

As a runner, I like to do math in my head.  What’s my time now?  What’s my average mile?  What do I need to run to get a PR?  What do I need to break 2 hours? What about 1:55?  At mile 11, as I was headed up and around a hill that seemed to curl off into the clouds (it didn’t actually, I was just getting mentally fried), I realized I was running my fastest race of the year.  I only needed to finish the last 2.1 miles in 25 minutes to have my 2nd fastest time ever!  (My PR is way above my head, I don’t know if it’s even possible that it actually happened in the real world or if it was some other dimension that I entered when I ran it.)  And, I knew that in order to reach that goal of running my fastest race of the year, I was going to have to act like those hills weren’t there.  They stayed.

Good life lesson: For every uphill, there’s a downhill.  I used the downhill here, again, to pick up some speed.  Mile 13 ended up being 13 seconds faster than mile 12.  And, I was back on track.  As we got close to the finish, I could see the crowd and the track that we would finish on.  They wound the course up around a few more corners just to mess with us, and into the football stadium.  At this point, I thought: “Sweet, 100 meters to g…WHAT?  We have to go all the way around the track?! S#@T!!!”.  I also thought “Hey, there goes Rabbit boy, passing me in the end just like that little snot in Little Rock”.  I took the “Victory Lap”, and cruised toward the finish line, looking for the clock.  Sure enough, some volunteer was standing in front of it.  Perfect.

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Looking back toward the finish line

I crossed the finish line without seeing the clock, stopped my Nike+ app, and headed to accept my medal.

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Pretty happy looking for being so angry the whole race

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Small, but VERY good looking medal

I finished with a time of 1:53:26.  Pretty good time for me.  It becomes my second best time by two and a half minutes.  I thought that the course might be a bit short, but I noticed that my GPS cut off a couple of corners due to crummy cell service.  So, I’d say, it was measured correctly, I ran the tangents as well as I could with the placement of the water stops, and it was overall a pretty good race!

After getting some water and a banana that was nearly as green as (SPOILER ALERT) Mila Kunis in her latest movie, I headed back up to the school to change clothes and partake in the pancake breakfast.  I had some pancakes and some biscuits and gravy.  Both very delicious and much appreciated!

Also, I took pictures of some special guests of the race:

minnieThat’s right, Minnie Mouse ran the 5k, and the Easter Bunny cheered her on!  (??)

Overall, it was a good race.  The people that ran it were very friendly, and the people at the packet pick up were very helpful and nice!  The course was challenging and on fairly well maintained roads.  My only true complaint about the race was the water stations.  I think if they had more runners giving the volunteers exact directions on where to place the tables, it would have worked out.

On my ranking scale of 1-10, where “1” means I’ll never do it again, and “10” means it needs to be an annual tradition, this race probably receives a 4.  Lawrenceville isn’t really near anything where spending the night in the area would be beneficial.  So, it’s quite the drive for an early race.  On the other hand, it was a cute town with lots of nice people, and for a great cause!  Thanks for putting on a great race, Lawrenceville!

Coming Up:  2 weeks from today, I run in the Go! St. Louis Half Marathon.  Wish me luck!  Hopefully, this weather we’re having will cooperate and the day of the race won’t be 70 degrees for the first time all year! 

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Southern Illinois Spring Classic Preview

Well, Spring is upon us.  Or, at least, it’s supposed to be.  The weather in Southern Illinois has always been maddening.  Just when you think you have it all figured out, a Spring like this pops up.  I’m not surprising anyone here when I say this, but the weather has been CRAZY.  I mean, if the temps all winter long had been in the low to mid teens, this would be perfectly normal.  Oddly enough, though, it’s getting COLDER!

For those of you who aren’t friends with me on Facebook, and don’t see my daily Nike+ running updates, I am mostly an afternoon runner.  And, the temps of my runs are ALL OVER THE BOARD!  For example:  On January 9th, at 4:00, the temperature was 55.  Yesterday, March 18th, at 7:00 the temp was 41.  Last Friday at 1:45 it was 68.  That’s a difference of nearly 30 degrees in 2 days.

Normally, I’m not that much of a whiner.  Usually the only thing I whine about is everything my allergies.  But, with these weather changes, I now love to whine about my sinuses.  The fluctuations in pressure and temperature are KILLING me.  I’ve been sick about 5 times already this spring.  No… not germ sick.  Rather, the kind of sick where your head could just explode, then the drainage kills your throat, then your body fights it for days at a time and is just worn out!  Exactly sick enough to WANT to miss work, but not sick enough to actually do it.  I’m tired of it.

With all of this going on, and in mind, I prepare for Half Marathon #3 of the year.  The upcoming race is in Lawrenceville, IL at the Southern Illinois Spring Classic.  To be honest, I’m not really looking forward to this one, for a few reasons.  First off, it’s a 2 and a half hour drive.  That wouldn’t be far, if I were staying there the night before.  Sadly, I’m making the drive the morning of.  So, with a 7:45 start time, I plan to leave home at 4:30AM.  Hopefully I’ll arrive shortly before 7, pick up my packet, change my clothes, drink a little water, stretch, and toe the line.  Secondly, it’s going to be COLD! (Imagine that) Half Marathon #1 at Crab Orchard was 41 degrees at the end.  #2 in Little Rock was 43 at the end.  At last look, the low for this coming Saturday in Lawrenceville looked to be 34 with a high of 46.  So, I’m guessing a finish temp around 9:45 of 40.  Let me tell you…. if the finishing temp at the end of a race at the end of MARCH is only 40, I’m gonna be ticked!!  Finally, and maybe most importantly, is the way I’ve been feeling.  I’m pretty miserable today.  My voice is gone, my legs are cashed, and my body is weak…

Here’s what I AM looking forward to at this race.  It is supposed to be a good, small, local race.  That means: small field.  Those of you who run a lot of local races know this means one of two things.  Either those will be some great runners, and I’ll have lots of rabbits to chase, ORRRrrrr…. not a lot of fast runners and I can place in my age group.  (My luck, 4 people in my age group, I’m in 4th, and every other age group, I would have been 2nd… just sayin’)  The other great thing this race has going for it is the free breakfast at the end!  Totally excited about some pancakes and some biscuits and gravy.  ALSO…. $500 door prize!  Yeah, free money.  You don’t even need to be fast.  All you have to be is lucky.  I’ll run the whole race with my fingers crossed if it’ll help!

Anyway… here’s what I’m worried about: After this race, I will have run 3 half marathons in temps in the mid 30’s to low 40’s.  After this race, I have 15 days off until the GO! St. Louis Half Marathon.  My fear is that the temp on that day will be in the mid to high 60’s.  Because that temperature difference of 25-30 degrees could LITERALLY kill me…. (don’t tell my wife)

So, say a little prayer for me, and wish me lots of luck!  Can’t wait to write my frigid recap after the weekend!

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Race #2: Little Rock Half Marathon (and 5k, too!)

Since Signing up for the Little Rock Half Marathon, I have been very excited to experience this race.  Everything I’ve read from traditional media, to blogs, to their own website, has really hyped this race up!  Let me tell ya, it lived up to it!!

On Friday, I left work school around 9:30.  I knew I had a long drive ahead of me, but was excited to be meeting my old friend Keith in Little Rock for the Half Marathon.  After a stop for gas and lunch outside of Memphis, I arrived at the Comfort Inn in Little Rock a little after 3.   I picked up Keith, and we headed to the expo to pick up our race packets.

(On a side note, downtown Little Rock is very easy to get around.  Even with roads blocked off due to the race, we had no problems the entire weekend.)

We had also decided ahead of time that, if the 5k on Saturday wasn’t sold out, we would sign up and run it as a little bit of a shakeout run the day before the Half.  In all honesty, on the drive down I started to hope it would be sold out — no luck.  So, we signed up for the 5k, picked up our bibs and tshirts for both races, and explored the expo.

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Sorry the one on the left is sideways, I’m not smart enough to figure out how to straighten it.

The expo was just OK.  It was probably the smallest expo of any of the bigger races I’ve done.  I’m not a big fan of expos, to begin with, but I actually planned on doing some shopping at this one.  I wanted to buy Mrs. Snell a t-shirt (and did).

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Mrs. Snell’s long sleeve shirt

I also bought myself a pair of compression socks for recovery.  (If you have any advice or comments about compression socks, please add them in my comments!)  Overall, the expo was small, and without a lot of variety.  There were probably only about 6 booths set up for other races, and not a lot of running related gear booths, either.  We did score some sweet $2 shirts from races past.  That’s a story for another time….

After the expo, Keith and I explored the River Market area of downtown Little Rock.  We stopped in at the Flying Saucer, had a couple drinks and ate some sandwiches for dinner.  We liked the downtown area.  It was very nice with a lot of good eateries and bars.  Although, we did deem it a little too “Hipster” for our tastes.  (no offense).

Saturday morning we ran the 5k in cold, windy conditions.  It was a nice course, a nice warm-up, and a nice way to get a preview of the course.  Our pace was slow enough that it didn’t effect our Half Marathon on Sunday.  I’d probably choose to do this again at other 2 day race weekends.  I mean, I’m not going out there to win anything anyway.  Just a sweet medal and some free beers!  I’d never gotten a 5k medal before, and this thing was as big as some of my Half Marathon medals.  My only complaint during the 5k, other than Keith’s lack of inner monologue, was the temperature and the wind.  Neither can be helped by the race directors, as it was unseasonably cold!

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Nice 5k Medal

I won’t bore you with the details of our Saturday, except to tell you about our dinner with an old childhood friend of mine named Christine who now lives in the Little Rock area.  We met Christine at a place called Bosco’s.  It was a nicer restaurant that served specialty pizzas, pastas and brewed their own beer.  It was great to catch up with someone I haven’t seen in probably 17 years.  Man, we’re getting old.  I don’t know about you, but I really like to have a beer or two the night before a race.  I feel like they give me a carb boost, and a sleepy-time boost.  I get anxious the night before a race, but a couple of beers put me out like a light!  Good thing, too, because we got to sleep before 10 o’clock on Saturday night.

Sunday wake up came at 6:00 am.  Our hotel was close to downtown with a free shuttle and an 8:00 am start time.  No need to wake up super early.  I ate my regular pre-race meal of peanut butter on whole wheat with a banana and a Diet Coke.  We caught the shuttle to downtown, found the gear check tent, and headed back to the start line.  After having left the hotel at 7:00, we were ready to go for the race at about 7:10…  Now what?  It was 34 degrees out with a slight breeze that didn’t allow us to warm up at all.  So, like most of the runners, we snuck into the River Market to warm up.

At 7:45, Keith and I headed out to our starting corrals.  I wished him luck, and we went our separate ways.  I was assigned to corral C because of my previous finishing times and Keith (who didn’t report one) went to the open corral.  Even after waiting indoors for half an hour, by the time my corral was started at around 8:05, I was frozen to the bone.  My muscles were ice cold, and had the hardest time getting blood flowing to them.  It took me a good 2 miles to warm up and settle into the race.  By this point, I had lost the 4 hour Marathon pacers whom I had planned on keeping up with.

The corral/wave start of this race was very helpful.  The race starts on the narrow streets of the River Market area and is very cramped.  However, after about half a mile, the runners get the opportunity to spread out.  At first, it was more crowded than the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, but soon it was less crowded.  But, a good crowd, indeed.

The Little Rock Half Marathon course is a winding course through downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock.  Before the 2 mile mark, the race heads across a bridge to North Little Rock.  The cool part about that was seeing the wheel chair division leaders and the elite runners crossing back across the bridge at mile 5, when we were at 1.5.  Wow, those guys can run!  After 4 miles in North Little Rock, the course reenters Little Rock and starts some rolling hills.  Pretty much all of mile 7 is a slow steady incline.  I did some passing during this part, I can climb some hills.  In fact, I passed one skinny, small, young lady who was having NONE of that.  I guess looking over and seeing a fat old guy going past her ticked her off.  So, she pushed back past me up that hill.  At mile marker 8 another long steady hill greeted us.  There I went past the young lady again.  This time, she didn’t fight back.  So, I put her in my rearview and pushed on.

Overall, I felt really good about my effort this race.  Every time I looked at my GPS, I was making great time.  I ran really well for the first 9 miles.  Mile 10 got me, but I reeled it back in by mile 12.  At Mile 10 we saw the Governor’s mansion.  Nice digs!  Even cooler… there he was, outside in the cold, waving at runners and shaking hands!  I was on a 2 hour mission.  I waved and ran on by.  I think I saw Central High School at mile 11, but I may have missed it earlier in the course.  CHS, Little Rock Nine, Integration, look it up.  A little after mile 11, I continued a race tradition.  If you have a table on your curb along a race course, and you offer small cups of beer, I will be paying you a visit.  I did it in Chicago, I did it again at Little Rock.  Just a fun little thing.  Didn’t hurt me, probably didn’t help, either.  At mile 12, I got a boost of energy.  I don’t know where it came from, but I kicked into a new gear.  Mile 12 was :10 faster than 11, and mile 13 was 8 seconds faster than 12.

As I came upon mile marker 13, within 1 tenth of one mile of the finish line, guess who passed me…  YEP!  That little witch from mile 6 & 7!!  I couldn’t believe it!  She was like a Kenyan at that point!  I tried to keep up, but that girl was at a total new level!  OOOOooohhhh… I was soooo pissed!

Overall, the on course support of the cheer groups, churches, bands, aid station volunteers and spectators was AMAZING for such a small town.  The only race I’ve ran with more spirit was Chicago, where over a million people line the streets to watch.  This race support was extremely impressive and encouraging!

I crossed the finish line in 1:56:12.  It was my 3rd fastest Half Marathon to date.  I was happy to break 2 hours, but a little disappointed by my time.  I thought I had worked harder than that.

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Disappointed, but they gave me another free beer. 

The beer’s tiny, I’m not a giant. Plus, my rockin medal.

All in all, the Little Rock Marathon weekend was a great time!  On a scale of 1-10, I’d put it at a 6.5.  I probably won’t do it again, due to distance, but it was great!  Plus, their post party will never be topped by a race again.  It was free food and beer for 4 hours, plus a great DJ and a band!  Keith and I had a great time!

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For reference, here’s the half medal next to the 5k medal:

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Something else cool they did, a printout of the results at the finish line party.

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