What an amazing race weekend! The Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend was my first 'race weekend' so I was not sure how the Illinois Marathon Weekend would measure up to that (Disney runs a fantastic race weekend). Well, I have to say that I really enjoyed it! And even though the races were in Illinois, the three-hour drive to get to the city of Champaign made it feel a bit like 'traveling' to a race destination.
Warning: this is a long race report. After all, it was a 3-day affair for me. LOL
Why this race? Well, three reasons
The first was a friendly challenge I made last year to two awesome young women (who were childhood friends of my daughters and attended our church) who ran the IL Half Marathon last year. I told them that if they ran it again in 2012, I would run the race with them. I thought it would be fun to run with them, and, it would be a challenge to myself to be prepared for the distance. This was even before I decided to run the Disney Half.
The second was because Mike, my running partner, ran the race in 2011 and said it was a fun race with an awesome medal. And the coolest part was the iChallenge -- where you run two of the races back-to-back to get a third special medal (kind of like the Goofy Medal for running both the Disney Half and Full Marathons back-to-back).
My third reason was to start my journey towards earning another level in my Half Fanatic membership. I want to go from the 'one moon' level to the 'two moon' level by running eight Half Marathons in 365 days from January 21st. Finishing this race will bring my count to three Half Marathons.
I have spent the past 2.5 months training to keep my fitness level at the Half Marathon distance and incorporating speed work in hopes of improving upon my Half Marathon PR time of 2:29:01 set at Disney back in January. I also took a Natural Running course to focus upon my running form. All of this, and about 200 running miles later, says it is time to see if all of my time and effort will result in achieving my two goals for this race weekend:
- To achieve a Personal Record in the 5K Race on Friday evening.
- To achieve a Personal Record in the Half Marathon Race on Saturday morning.
Reaching a new PR for the Half may also help my placement in the corrals for the 2013 Disney Half Marathon. This year, I was in Corral C. I am hoping to place in Corral B in 2013.
I got to Champaign on Thursday evening because I wanted to relax on Friday, free from the worries about traffic or other delays that might have made me late if I had driven down on Friday, plus I figured the hordes would be descending upon the city which would just make things worse.
I checked into the Homewood Suites hotel which was about 2 blocks from Race Start. I was immediately pleased to learn that they were offering not only complimentary breakfast but also dinner during the weekend. How cool was that!? Saved me from having to spend more money on food! And they put me in a nice one bedroom suite with two queen beds, kitchen, living room and bathroom. I got all my race stuff for both races sorted out and prepped -- I like to get things organized and ready -- so I could feel comfortable about the challenge to come.
Next, I drove over to the Expo to get my bibs and race packets, and then check out the vendors. I ran into Heather, a fellow W.I.S.H. racing team member, selling Bondiband headgear. We got to talk briefly but her booth was JUMPING! Here it was Thursday at 6pm and her booth was filled with people buying stuff! I left her to tend to her customers. Heather ran the Half on Saturday but unfortunately, we did not get to see each other after Thursday.
I picked up some Illini colored gear -- a nice tech shirt with matching running shorts. I also finally found a "13.1" car magnet (I hate stickers on my car)! Now my car sports a "13.1" magnet as well as a "Disney 2012 Half Marathon" magnet on the back. (One day, it will have a "39.3" magnet)
Then it was time to return to the hotel, chill in the Jacuzzi, and then slowly unwind while watching the "Spirit of the Marathon" movie on the TV. I went to sleep knowing that the next day would be the beginning of my PR quest.
Friday -- the 5K
Friday started out very calmly. Woke up, had a nice breakfast, and walked 3 minutes to the Walgreens to buy some supplies. Then I got in the car to "drive the route" for the Half Marathon. I figured it would be helpful to get a feel for the race, look for the inclines, port-a-potties, potholes, whatever. Then I watched Star Trek Voyager episodes on Netflix (iPads rock!) until my running partner Mike arrived in the afternoon.
Once he got settled, and paid a visit to the Expo for his race packets, we got ready for the 6:45pm start time for the 5K Race. We walked over to the race start. It was very windy, like 15-20mph wind gusts so that made things chilly. We started near the 8:00/mm pace marker to try to avoid the slower runners in our quest for PRs. (I was not expecting to run an 8:00/mm pace the entire race but I figured the first 1/2 mile at least).
The race started and Mike took off! I looked at my watch and we were running at more of a 7:45/mm pace! We were passing other runners and dodging around to find ourselves a 'pocket' of open space where we could settle into our rhythm. But after about 1/4 mile at that speed, I had to let him go because I knew I could burn myself out if I tried to keep at that speed. So I settled down into an 8:45/mm pace and tried to just "go with the flow".
The first 1.5 miles were uneventful. There were a lot of spectators as well as some entertainment music out there for a Friday evening race! I was pleasantly surprised! By Mile 2, I was starting to hear that voice inside saying "You gotta slow down. I can't keep up this pace." I tried to ignore it the best I could and pressed onward. But I did, in fact, start to slow down to a 9:15/mm pace for about 1/2 mile. But no one was passing me so I felt pretty good about that.
When I saw the stadium getting closer, I knew I was going to PR the race and that gave me an energy boost. I wanted a good race time! So I dug in and kept moving! We entered the stadium and I was running a 7:45/mm pace as we circled the track for 200m and then turned up the field to run across the Finish Line at the 50yd line! What a moment that was! I looked at my watch and it read 27:47 (my official time was 27:49)! My old PR time was 29:30 so I beat my previous PR by 1 minute, 41 seconds! The feeling was awesome!
I received my medal and took my Finisher Photo, and then went looking for Mike. We finally found each other and headed back to the hotel, where our pasta dinner was waiting for us. We ate right away, and then afterwards went to the room to take showers, update our FaceBook pages, and drink down a few Muscle Milks. Soon, it was time to get to bed and rest for tomorrow.
Race Goal #1: PR the 5K -- COMPLETED! My only concern was if I had jeopardized my PR chances in the Half by "going for it" in the 5K. I prayed that my legs and feet wouldn't fail me the next day.
Saturday -- the Half Marathon
This was it! The main event so to speak. The morning of the Half Marathon! My alarm went off at 5:00am (the race start was 7:00am) and the first thing I noticed was that the predicted rain was still falling! Oh no! I did not want to run in the rain. But luckily, the rain subsided (and never returned) so the race ended up without any rain!
I pretty much got all my non-race stuff packed, my post-race change of clothes ready, and ate my usual pre-race breakfast. Then I got myself cleaned up, dressed, and 'geared up' for the race. Mike and I walked to the race start at 6:30am. I brought a gear bag to check (which I really didn't even need) which wasted precious time due to the line. By the time I got the bag checked, it was 10 minutes before the start.
Mike was in Corral D so he went ahead while I went to Corral E for the start. I did not really have the time to find any of my friends who were racing (Colleen, Megan, Jason, Jackie, Liz, Heather, Michael H, etc) which was a bummer (and it turned out I missed the informal Half Fanatics pre-race photo too). Oh well.
I ended up standing next to the 9:55/mm pace group so I started off with them. I figured it would keep me from starting off too fast. And it worked! I ran the first two miles with them and it was really good. But after two miles, I got separated from them due to crowding around a water station. But that was fine. We were on Green St, there were spectators EVERYWHERE with signs and cheering and there were DJs. It was fun!
I kept a pretty consistent 9:50/mm pace for the first 6.5 miles of the race. I had hoped to be running a 9:30/mm pace but my body was feeling pretty good at 9:50/mm and I figured "do what the body says feels good". My 10K split time was a good 4 minutes faster than my 10K PR time back on April 15th so I felt really good about that!
Then at around Mile 8, we hit this park. Now the park was the only aspect of the race that I did not take the time to preview on Friday morning. My mistake. There were a lot of rolling hills through the park and the path was curvy and more narrow than the streets we'd been on. In hindsight, I probably should have saved up some energy prior to the park, which was about 1.5 miles of the route, in order to be ready for the hills. It wasn't that they were steep, just long and steady.
I had to take several 30-60 second walk breaks throughout the park. I tried to run the inclines but after a while, my heart rate would get into the upper half of Zone 4 and I had to take a walk break to recover. I think it was smart to do that.
Coming out of the park, there was an immediate hill up Windsor Rd to Mile 10. When I reached the top, I saw Gary and Lynn (the parents of Colleen and Megan). Of course, I had just started a walk break about 20 seconds before seeing them so instead of continuing to walk, I had to break back into my run (I didn't want them to think I was slacking off!) Haha!
I turned the corner at Race St which was pretty much downhill for a mile so that was nice. Then we turned left and started the last 5K back to the stadium. I had to take a couple more walk breaks during that stretch, which I didn't want to do but my heart rate indicated otherwise. But I did run the last 3/4 mile to the end (tripped on some uneven concrete but somehow managed not to fall), running into the stadium (seeing myself on the big Jumbo-tron) and crossing that 50yrd line once again to Finish! (I got up to a 8:10/mm pace for the last 1/4 mile sprint to the Finish Line).
What a race that was! I finished with a new PR in the distance! I got both my medals and waited in line for the Finishers Photo. My old PR from the Disney Half was 2:29:01 and my finish time here was 2:18:59!! That's a 10:02 minute improvement! Pretty exciting! As I stood there in the line, I was really happy! Mike found me and we took a photo together and then headed upstairs (who thought of having the food and gear pickup UPSTAIRS) to have some well-earned pizza, bananas, bread, and cookies!
I won't lie. I was shooting for a faster finish time. And if I hadn't slowed down during the last 5 miles for walk breaks and such, I think I could have finished a lot closer to 2:10. But that just means I have to adjust my training to include more hill work so I can increase my fitness level and my strategy for handling hills. And while I love my Newton shoes, they suck when walking. So the less walking I do when wearing them, the better it is for my feet.
Once we got our food and I retrieved my gear bag, we headed back to the hotel. We needed to get cleaned up, changed, and check out before Noon. Mike was pretty cold (can you believe the race ran out of Mylar blankets?) so he wanted to hustle out of there. But my feet were sore so he went ahead and I walked a little more gingerly. But it was all good! We got ourselves all packed and ready to depart. We said our goodbyes and headed off in separate directions, with out three medals clanging as they hung from our necks!
Race Goal #2: PR the Half -- COMPLETED! As I think back on the race, I can't help but wonder if the exertion of the 5K on Friday was part of the reason I kinda "ran outta gas" in the last 4 miles or so of the Half. I guess I have no way to know that. But no matter. I did it! I completed the iChallenge, set two new PRs, and have three sweet medals to show for the effort!
I cannot stress just how much more fun and awesome it is to be able to share these race experiences with Mike, members of W.I.S.H., and others who really "get" running. Having Mike there made the whole thing much more fun. I am very thankful for our friendship, and for our mutual friend Beth who brought us together (without even knowing we lived 2 miles from each other).
Wrapping it up
And just to make the day that much more special for me, I had the chance to hang with Colleen, Jason, Megan, and their families for a very tasty post-race lunch at Colleen's home in Champaign. It was great to talk with everyone, hear their race stories, and get caught up on their lives. I haven't seen Colleen since I videotaped their wedding two years ago!
Oh, I neglected to mention that Colleen, Megan, and Jason all beat me in the Half. Oh well, there's always next year!!! So hey Colleen and Megan!! Are you game for a rematch in 2013? LOL
After spending time with them, I drove 40 minutes to visit with my daughter Laura in Decatur for an hour. She wasn't able to come to see the race so I figured I was too close to not take the opportunity to stop by for a quick visit. It is always a treat to get to see her since she lives 3.5 hours away from us.
And then, it was time to drive back home. I got home around 7:15pm, with my medals clanging around my neck. I shared a nice homemade dinner with Christi and watched some TV (well, I tried at least. I fell asleep at some point on the couch). Then I went to bed and had a nice long sleep.
It was a great weekend! I will definitely consider doing this race weekend again (except maybe I will run the Full next time...). Although, if Colleen and Megan are running, it may have to be the Half again (unless they will accept my "Half" split time). LOL