♪♫♪ But I keep cruising, can’t stop won’t stop moving…
My heart is pounding through my chest and there’s a painful chafing underneath my right arm cutting into my skin. I speed by another water station, meticulously carving my way around dozens of runners trying to steal a quick drink before pressing on. I’m thirsty, but not desperate enough to pause my pace. By this time of day, the sun is high in the sky and beats down on the thousands of runners trying to ignore the relentless heat and their own pouring sweat. There’s still over four miles to go — the final push to the finish line — and no one is throwing in the towel yet.
Seeing another enlarged timer on the side of the street, I distract myself from my mental soreness by trying to calculate approximately how long it’ll take until the finish line is in sight (about 35 more minutes faster faster faster!) and with a sudden rush of adrenaline a speed up again. I’m the in final stretch of the Chicago Half Marathon, and while my heart is racing faster than my body and my battered knees are barely keeping themselves together, and I have a recycled running playlist playing on repeat through my earbuds … I’m actually loving every second of this race and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Last Sunday, Sept. 7, was the annual Chicago Half Marathon. I ran this race for the first time one year ago, and I remember exactly how I felt at the time — so nervous and full of anticipation, thinking I wouldn’t finish and how sore I would be for several days after. I had trained nearly all summer and still I wasn’t assured that I was capable of finishing the entire 13.1 miles. But this year? I came in with the attitude and steely confidence of a seasoned runner, and I even had a goal time in mind: sub 2 hours. I would need to keep about a 9 minute pace throughout the entire race, but since I had spent nearly every day during the summer working out, running, and training, I knew I could do it. It was just a matter of mental game and preparedness.
Since the race began at 7:00 AM promptly, I departed UIC with my friends David and Jon around 4:30 AM! We needed to catch the 5:00 shuttle at Millennium Park in order to make it to the race site at Jackson Park on time, get our gear checked, stretch, and be ready to go in our race corrals by 6:45 AM at the latest. Even though weather has been (mostly) nice, the morning air was chilly and I was reluctant to check my jacket until the last minute possible because of cold I knew I would be. David (who is actually the Senior Peer Mentor of Courtyard, where I work as a PM), Jon, and I all stretched while watching the sunrise creep up over the quiet park area. Thousands of runners filed in and it seemed like all the peaceful, quiet morning dissipated into a field of congregated fit people chattering and warming up within mere minutes. I shook off my nerves and was in my corral quite early. It was getting a bit warmer and I waited to hear the official opening of the Star Spangled Banner to signify the start of the race.
Once I started, I found it surprisingly easy to keep pace. The first six miles went by in a flash, probably fueled entirely by the mere adrenaline of trying to cut around slower runners and make my way to the front. After running races for a couple years now, I’ve learned that I actually find my energy in running past people — which might make me seem very competitive, but I’m really not. I’m not competing others for a better time or even to finish in the top of my category. I just get more energized when I’m doing well and keeping up with others than I am when I feel myself falling behind others or getting passed up. I was keeping a good pace for a while but started feeling more fatigued around mile 8. When I start counting down the miles left, I know that I’m starting to feel the pressure of finishing in a good time. Mentally, I knew I was on track for my goal because I could do the math — I knew I was maintaining around a 8-9 minute mile. But I was worried because pushing so hard in the beginning is never a good idea for pacing.
Luckily, adrenaline came through for me, and I was able to keep going thanks to both the ever-fantastic volunteers and the beat of Fall Out Boy, Taylor Swift, and Demi Lovato in my headphones (no shame). As always, there were some TERRIFIC signs that were hilarious and entertained all of the runners as well as an adorable high-five team of little kids who were there cheering on their parents. Some of my favorite signs included “Worst Parade EVER!,” “Your high school gym teacher would be shocked,” and “Don’t you wish you drank less water now?”
By the time I saw that 12 mile marker, I was determined to push through the last mile and even speeded up to be sure I finished with the best time possible. Crossing the finish line was absolutely glorious – it was a pretty triumphant feeling to have the volunteer put the medal around my neck. My final time was 1:58:42! I came in 707th out of all the female runners, 100th in my category (females age 20-24), and 2,274th overall for over 7,800 runners. I’m proud that I was able to make my goal time, even if it’s just barely by a minute. Last year, when I ran my first half marathon, my time was exactly 2 hours on the dot, and I was disappointed that I missed it by just a couple milliseconds. It was a phenomenal feeling to be able to shave over a minute off my time!
Unbelievably, I still have far more training to do. There’s no real time to rest and recover because I have to keep pressing on in my marathon training! A year ago, I never imagined that I might be able to run double this long run, back to back, but this year I’m shooting for that 26.2 miles. I’m nervous, but at the same time just thinking about the challenge of it thrills me inside. I have about one more month to get prepared, and I’m well on my way.
I think I noticed this best by realizing I wasn’t even sore after the half marathon – just needed to nap it off from getting up so early that day! That’s probably because I’ve been slowly increasing my long runs, and I even hit 15 miles the other week! I’m trying to hit 20 miles before I start tapering down until the big race day. Until then though, I actually do have some fun races coming up! I went a little overboard and signed up for two 5Ks with my friends, but I think those be just for fun and I’m not really thinking of them as a typical race experience. In any case, I have no doubt this will be my best running season yet, and I definitely kicked it off the right way with the half marathon last week.
It’s like I got this music in my mind saying it’s gonna be alright ♪♫♪
(Shake It Off – Taylor Swift)