I crushed my goal. And my old PR. By a LOT.
So much of this recap has been written in the crazy, tear-filled, soaring sensation produced by achieving a result I didn't really think possible at this point in time. I'll do my best to ensure I give as unbiased a view of the race experience as possible. Fortunately, it was overall an amazing day, with very few negatives, so even if I end up with the world's most shining race review, it is most likely pretty accurate.
The Sunburst Races take place every year in South Bend, Indiana. The organization offers race distances for everyone: 5k, 10k, half marathon, AND full marathon! Runners of any level can find a course that they will enjoy; they even have a special course for 5k walkers. I've been to South Bend before, to see my brother graduate from the fabulous Notre Dame University, but didn't get to see much beyond campus, and haven't been back since. The Sunburst half marathon gave me the opportunity to see so much more of the beautiful town as we looped along the river and back into the campus over the course of 13.1 miles.
Race day go-bag packed in advanced. I was *ready* for this one!
Clif Bloks (not pictured) for making race day a snap!
My preparation for this race was minimal, at best. I had a solid run streak going immediately after registering for the Sunburst races a couple months ago, but as life got hectic, I was barely running at all. Short of a few puppy runs, and a random "prove I can still run distances" 10 miler last week, my shoes had mostly made themselves comfortable in my closet. The surprising 11 minute miles from that 10 miler, though, gave me more last-minute confidence than I expected in light of my poor training. On race morning, it was that confidence that pushed me to line up with 10 minute milers - but we'll get to that in a bit.
Despite weeks of on-again, off-again springtime weather, race day was perfect. The start times were still a little cool, but that was actually ideal, especially for the longer race distances. It did heat up later, and the second half of the race got a little toasty, but I'd much rather have a slightly too warm gorgeous day than a cooler but miserable day! I got to the starting line about 45 minutes early, since my dad was running the 10k race (which started a half hour prior to the half marathon). He'd already picked up my race packet on Friday night before he and my mom had checked into our hotel, so we didn't need any bag checking or last minute race logistics. Instead, we could just enjoy the morning and the neighborhood. Dad's race took off promptly on time, and I was able to meet up with a fellow Chicago blogger: Emily of Out and About!
Emily is one of the bloggers who originally inspired me to start chronicling my own journey, so it was something of an honor to run with her at long last! She encouraged me to challenge myself by attempting her planned 10 minute mile pace, which intimidated me a little. But, despite my slight nerves, I lined up right next to her - and stayed there for almost seven full miles! Honestly, I could likely have stayed with her even longer if I hadn't strained my hamstring - which probably happened because of the long three-plus hours I spent in the car the night before the race.
Running with Emily was an absolute blast. She's cheerful, encouraging, and passionate. Plus, she's an intelligent runner, by which I mean she understands the tricks that can help cut considerable time and effort out of a long run. We are both religious about running the course tangents (staying to the inside of curves, instead of the outer portions of the course), which may not seem like a big deal, but can take off dozens of steps every mile on a course as winding as the Sunburst path, and we both walked the aid stations (allowing us to fully swallow the water and Gatorade offered). She also had a plan for her mid-race nutrition, and when I found my plan mirrored hers, I actually got a little excited! Matching strategies with a more proficient runner boosted my confidence even more, which helped make it easy to stick with her as long as I did. You'll see more about my nutrition experience in a separate post in a few days...
If that's not having fun, I don't know WHAT is!
Unfortunately, just before the marker for mile seven, I felt I had to back off the gas a bit. I started to slow down, but was surprised to find it was very difficult to run slower! We'd been settled at a pretty consistent pace for so long, my body just wanted to stay there. For the entire rest of the race, I very slowly ended up putting distance between Emily and myself, but I never lost sight of her until the very last mile. That means I kept a fairly consistent pace for the last six miles, which I managed to do by floating between a couple other lovely ladies who were right in my pace range but had better control over their consistency. I made some new friends and kept pushing myself for the entire race, even when we hit Hallelujah Hill at mile marker 12.
Which reminds me - Chicago really has spoiled me with its flatness. South Bend is HILLY! More of our race moved uphill than downhill, and sometimes by a pretty steep grade. My most recent experience with any kind of hill training was the 5k I ran about a month ago, and it only had ONE hill. It was a steep, challenging hill, but it wasn't what one could really call "training" in a proper setting. The choice to start the final mile with a crazy steep hill was nothing short of madness on the course planning team's part. Even worse, it was immediately prior to the base of the hill that the 5k walkers' course joined the half marathon, making the hill incredibly crowded. Apparently Hallelujah Hill has been a feature of Sunburst races for years, but I would definitely be okay with that tradition falling by the wayside!
Photo credit to Amanda of Too Tall Fritz, another Chicago
blogger who headed down to South Bend to tackle the FULL marathon!
Finally, at long last, I rounded the final curve and saw the finish line looming ahead. There had been times when I wanted to walk, or slow down drastically, but I had fought through them all to get to this point. And when I saw the finish line, and heard the live band start jamming with Uptown Funk, I knew it was time to empty the rest of the tank and GO. I tapped one of the girls I'd paced with on the shoulder and said, "Let's finish this." We both took off as fast as we could go, crossing the finish line together at 2:15:37 - a PR by half an hour!!!!! It was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life, seeing that clock and realizing what it meant. The elation carried me through the next 10 minutes of collecting my medal, getting photos with all three of my running buddies, snatching up as much chocolate milk and berry frozen yogurt as I could hold, and finding my parents to share the astonishing news!
As luck would have it, my parents had actually been AT the finish line in time to see me cross! I had been aiming for a time of 2:30:ish, with my previous PR at 2:44:ish, but they had faith in me and made sure to arrive early just in case. They had gone back to the hotel after dad's 10k (which he did in under an hour, and also had a blast with) so he could shower, then hustled back to the finish line to be there for a finisher photo. Unfortunately, the biggest complaint I have about my experience at Sunburst prevented mom from being able to take a photo of one of my proudest moments: a large group of spectators had managed to get on the course side of the barriers at the finish line, and had completely obstructed the view for anyone there to see their family and friends accomplishing an amazing feat. Even event security was trying to remove the offenders, but to no avail. It's additionally frustrating because the alternative to having a friend or relative take a finish line photo is having to purchase an official race photo for an outrageous amount of money. Normally, I would just pass right on by the expensive photos, but because my family was robbed of their ability to take our own photos, I don't feel quite so bad about screencapping this one from the website:
Once the race was over, the side effects of that level of exertion finally started to hit me. Some of it was pretty ugly, but I'll save the gory details for my nutrition post. Mostly, though, it was the onset of the aches and pains that are a fact of life when you push your body to do something for which it isn't fully ready. My hamstrings were the first to throb, thanks in part to having strained the one mid-race. Next up were my hips and knees, to be joined by my deep calf muscles later in the day. I was pleased to notice that, though many spots were pretty sore, none of them were nearly as bad as they had been after my first half marathon experience last year. What really surprised me was my inability to eat much when my family went out to lunch! Usually I'd be ravenous after a run, but I barely was able to choke down some eggs and fruit. I didn't eat a more substantial meal until late evening. Now, two days later, I'm still a little sore but at least I'm back to normal eating! Now it's time to plan for the next fun adventure: the Towpath 10-10 back home in Cleveland!
Ugh that last split was right before the hill. Ugly last mile, but fantastic overall splits!
Sunburst Races 2015 Recap Details
Organization: I was thoroughly impressed with the level of precision with which these events were run. Races started on time, courses were very clearly marked, personnel were vocal and clear about directions, aid stations were ample and well-manned, even the police officers assisting at major intersections were upbeat and cheerful! Though I didn't attend packet pick-up myself, dad said it was an breeze, but that it was also a little unusual: there were no paper listings, so you just went up with a confirmation or your bib number, and they handed you a bib, then you went over to a different tent to claim your race shirt. From what I understand, it was efficient despite the unique setup. According to Emily, the gear check (available only for half and full marathoners) was a little confusing, but she was still able to leave her items at the check-in, then pick them up at the finish line later. As I stated earlier in this post, the only real complaint I had was that event security couldn't seem to keep the finish line clear for spectators to see their loved ones cross, but that was a minor blemish on an event that blew me away with its high levels of organization and dedication.
Lots of paths to take... And all of them exciting!
The Course: Boy, do I wish I had photos from this course. Every step was scenic. We wove through cute little neighborhoods where local residents sat on the lawn and cheered for the runners or set out sprinklers to give us some respite from the rising temperatures later in the course. We followed the Mishawaka riverwalk for miles, winding along its banks or crossing over its rapids. We sprinted the last tenth of a mile into the middle of the Notre Dame campus, right by the football stadium and the basilica. Heck, we'd have finished ON the football field as per Sunburst tradition if it wasn't under construction! Except for the rolling hills, I loved the course. Aw shucks, I even loved the hills, they were a different sort of challenge. I wish I could run a path this beautiful EVERY time I run!
The Swag: Every participant received a nicely-sized technical shirt: lemon-lime for the shorter distances, royal blue for the half and full marathoners. I love when I pull on a shirt and not only does it fit, but it looks gooooood! This is a shirt I'll actually be wearing! Finishers for the half and full marathons also received a Sunburst medal - but someone must have forgotten to check the calendar, because the medal ribbons say June 5th instead of the actual race date June 6th! Still, it's always exciting to have someone drape some bling around your neck after you complete a hard event, so I'm not about to complain about a little error in the date. I do have to say, for the $70+ entry fee, I was a little disappointed to see that race photos would be an additional charge. I fully understand how much money it takes to put on such a huge event, especially when I can see just how many details were so thoroughly covered, but the high cost of races is already a huge hurdle for many people. It's hard to have someone out on the course to take free photos of you and/or your friends over the span of a few hours, so it's nice to have professional photographers out there taking good photos of your experience. It just, well, sucks to have to pay almost as much as the race entry fee just to download the handful of photos taken of you. The #1 way Sunburst can improve the experience would be to either switch to a more affordable photography company, or to provide race photos for free with entry. I'd even pay an extra $5-$10 entry fee if that would get me free photos; I just don't think I should have to pay an extra $50+ for digital downloads of my own accomplishments.
***UPDATE!*** I talked to the race directors and they are actively working on a solution to the misprinted medal ribbons. Having been on both sides of ordering promotional items like these ribbons, I know there are TONS of places along the change where tiny miscommunications or slight errors can cause a mix-up like this one, which is a very minor problem considering just how much awesome Sunburst accomplished for this event! Unfortunately the vendor delivered the medals only a couple days before the race, so when the error was caught, it was too late to swap everything in time. If you received a ribbon with the incorrect date, keep an eye out for information from the organizers once they are able to determine the best remedy. Thanks Sunburst!
The Bottom Line: I'd go 3-4 hours out of my way to run this race again, for sure! A run this gorgeous, with this level of organization, coupled with unbeatable memories of accomplishment, definitely has to go on the list for next year. I'd highly recommend putting this race on your to-do list if you can make it, you'll be thrilled you did!
Who else ran this weekend? Any other PRs out there? What was it that made your favorite race earn that title for you?