First off, I was THRILLED to get to share this run with my dad! We've done a couple 5k races together this summer, but this race was a big step for me, and it was great to have one of my major fitness inspirations right by my side (almost) the whole way. Dad has been building a fitness lifestyle for over a decade now, having started working out more regularly back when I was gearing up for my first collegiate soccer season. Coach had mailed a very intimidating workout packet, and I constantly tried to wimp out of the big running days. Dad would go up to the track with me to help motivate, but it became his hobby far more easily than it became mine. He's been running, lifting, and stair-climbing ever since.
Me and my old man, ready to run!
Knowing my dad had never run quite so far as we were about to, I attempted to set a very easy, relaxed pace for the early miles. He's a formidable runner at the 5k distance (he's had a couple age-group awards this year) and I had the feeling he'd be launching out of the gate too fast. I was right - though we clearly weren't going as fast as he would take a 5k, we were still about a minute per mile faster than I had planned. Still, the enthusiasm and excitement of the race was contagious, and we pushed along through the first few miles.
Running through the Magnificent Mile (the highlight of the race) was, to be completely honest, REALLY COOL. I've been down that way a few times for shopping or sightseeing, but it's always a crazy press of cars and tourists, and I always feel out of place and in the way. This time, with the roads blocked off and at a pretty easy pace, I was better able to take in the surroundings and enjoy another famous part of our beautiful city. Running under the bridges was somewhat less pleasant, as the super-heated big-city stench hit us full in the face, but once we got through that, we were on the lakefront path for the next ten miles.
At first, the path was wonderful: we ran right along the lake for a bit, then around Museum Campus, Soldier Field, and the McCormick Center, and for this whole stretch we had nice little breezes coming off the lake. As the day got hotter, though, we hit the prairie areas south of the city proper, and the run just got more and more miserable by the minute. With temperatures hitting the mid-80s and the humidity level above 90%, even the aid stations every couple miles were not enough. By the southernmost turn-around point, I was aching and exhausted, but we kept plugging away one step at a time.
Finally, somewhere between miles ten and eleven, we had to walk a bit. I was crushed, as one of my major goals was to finish the race without walking - but it had to be done. My knees and hips were screaming, and my dad was well out of his familiar distance zone. Add to this the fact that the aid stations were changing the threat-level flags from medium to high, and it quickly became a safety issue. We kept a brisk walk for about a half-mile, stretching our legs a bit and trying to shake out some of the soreness. Mile eleven was grueling, every step was agony, but still we kept going.
Finally we hit mile twelve, and I decided I was still going to try for my goal time of 2.5 hours. We weren't too far short, and I thought a good last mile would do it, but to even attempt the final-stretch speed change I'd have to leave my dad behind. Since my MAIN goal had been to complete the race WITH him, I was hesitant to go, but I already had the itch. He totally understood, and I took off for what I hoped would be a much quicker final mile.
I did get a second wind for the first quarter mile there, and I was able to smile and thank the volunteers and spectators I passed, which I had stopped doing about five miles in due to exertion. I drew energy from the crowd, which got thicker and thicker as I approached the end, but I must admit I lost some of that energy while circling the Shedd Aquarium. That one last stretch of over exposed, super heated stone with no breeze almost broke me again, but I knew the finish was just ahead. As soon as I hit some more shade, I put everything I had left into picking up the pace. Coming down the final straightaway, I got my last and most-needed burst of energy from seeing my mom and my husband right there waiting for me. My hubby was even cheering, and loudly! He's usually very quiet and reserved; hearing his voice above the crowd was all I needed to SPRINT the last stretch to the finish. Seriously, I sprinted. I passed like eight people! I didn't make it under 2.5 hours, but I definitely ended the race on MY TERMS.
THANK GOD THAT'S OVER
Dad was only a couple minutes behind, so I grabbed a couple wet towels, a bottle of water, and an apple (I passed on the chocolate covered bananas) while I waited for him to finish and my cheering team to find us on the other side. I tried to be pleasant after the race, but I was so drained, so sore, and so disappointed, I know I wasn't my usual cheery self. The heat had beat me, and I was none too pleased. We found a spot in the shade, and rested for a bit with some light stretching and LOTS of re-hydration. My parents had to get right back on the road for the six hour drive home, so we didn't spent much time at the post-race festival, but we did stop to snag a quick pic with our medals!
We ran past ALL those places on the sign.
We also tried to get a photo in front of the Chicago Women's Half backdrop, but it was too backlit for a cell phone camera to handle, and the race charges $25 per photo to download the much nicer professional photos (my first experience without free photos, I was STUNNED at the pricing), so this is what you get to see. I promise you, we really did run this race, take the medals and the days of bodily agony as your proof!
The race itself was a totally different animal than any I'd experienced. Let's break it down!
Organization: Sooooo many people! I was astonished! I mean, the Run Or Dye back in May probably had more people, but it never felt so crowded. Maybe it was because the city was pressing in around us for this race... Anyway, whoever organized this race deserves a different kind of medal, because WOW. To handle all these people, on a course that goes through the heart of one of the biggest cities in the country, and to do it all efficiently - color me impressed. Packet pick-up prior to race day had been a snap, so there was little for me to worry about besides gear check, which took only about ten seconds thanks to another phenomenal volunteer team. Picking up my gear after the race was a drive-by: they saw me coming and I didn't even have to break my gait to grab my stuff. Which was nice, because I was bee-lining for the bathrooms... I saw the same giant smiles and caring hands out at the aid stations on the course, which offered both water and Gatorade and frequently gave me exactly what I needed to make it to the next station. They weren't every mile, but they were frequent enough that I was never pleading for water!
The course: Ah, the city. The beautiful, smelly city. As I've mentioned above, the Magnificent Mile was the definite highlight of the course, despite the many disgusting odors that manned the gateways both into and out of that section of the course. This was the first time a race has been run down the Mag Mile, and they definitely made it count. The lakefront path was nice too, but did not provide enough shade in the later sections for a long run in such horrid heat. My other gripe was the path itself: far too narrow for so many people, especially with regular lakefront traffic still using it. We had some jerk bikers who decided their morning ride was more important than the safety of racers, and they zoomed around corners without so much as a holler for a warning, then yelled at racers for being on the path. It was tough to stay to the right side sometimes, because there were so many people trying to run and pass on such a narrow trail. There's only so much that can really be done to alleviate these issues, and the volunteers did what they could, but it clearly affected the event to be dealing with those limitations. But I guess, where else do you put a 13 mile course in the middle of a thriving city?
The swag: This is what we're all after, right? The Mag Mile half entry came with a
UPF tank top and a pretty sweet medal after the race. While I was only moderately impressed with the tank top, I LOVE the medal! The backside has space to engrave your name and finishing time, which I think is a really nice touch. Though I didn't use it, I did see a booth after the race that would take your medal and do the engraving, then ship it back to you, another nice offer. I'll probably have it done someday, but it was not a pressing need when my legs could barely hold me! I was very disappointed to finally learn first-hand the woes of paid event photos; in my opinion, if you're going to charge people an arm and a leg to run through the heat all day, you should at least give them ONE free photo! Maybe it's the poor kid in me, but I think $25 to download a photo is crazy. Overall, I don't feel the swag was worth the price of the entry fee, but I have to force myself to consider what it costs to actually produce the race, and then my disappointment is mitigated a bit. But seriously, cool medal.
The bottom line: I finished! That was the main goal waaaaaay back when Maggie the Mag Mile Runner contacted me to let me know I'd won an entry to this race, so at the end of the day, it's definitely going in the win column. I won't be caught quite so unprepared for my next half-marathon, as I learned a LOT over the course of the morning! Plus, I got to tackle a huge achievement alongside my dad (who only decided to run it a few days before), and that meant more than anything this weekend. We accomplished something special together, and even though the day itself wasn't all rainbows and butterflies, the memories will always be as sunny as the day was!
***UPDATE: The tank top was not the UPF tank originally advertised by the race, it was switched at last minute. The course was apparently switched as well, just days before the race. Normally, changes are not made so late, and it is disappointing to find out that I did not receive what was advertised. As I did not pay for this race, I'm not about to light my torch or sharpen my pitchfork, but this does color my opinion of the race organizers and will affect my decision to run this event again in the future.***