The heat was on (pun intended) for me the morning of Sunday, April 10, 2011 as I awoke early to gear up for my first 8K race. Race day jitters promptly interrupted a fine dream about puppies and kittens (seriously, I'm not kidding...I was dreaming about puppies and kittens running through grassy fields) at 5:30am as my alarm sang out and the sun began to peep through my blinds. Though I hit the snooze button once for good measure, I knew I wasn't going back to sleep. My brain had pretty much been awake and rarin' to go since about 4am. I was nervous. And well I should have been - my last long training run for this race ended disastrously - my body tanking after 2.9 miles due to dehydration and heat exhaustion. And already the thermostat read 66 degrees at 6am. It was going to be a HOT one - and I wasn't sure I was going to be able to handle it.
But I had my plan in place. The Saturday before the race, I made sure to look back in my Spark Nutrition Tracker to see exactly what I ate before the last time I remember having a REALLY GOOD run. Sure enough, it was a really healthy day - oatmeal for breakfast, Subway as a treat for lunch, and a homemade chili-mac with beans that is totally delicious and down home comfort food for dinner. No surprise either that the dinner included pasta which made for great fuel the next day. So I decided to repeat that day verbatim on Saturday - not only on a nutritional front, but also for the mental prep. Just knowing that I was feeding my body things that had made for a great run the last time was an added boost of confidence for this time around.
I went to bed early and surprisingly managed to fall asleep relatively quickly, despite one final text message from work asking about a late-night show that was going in.
So back to race morning - I didn't have the ingredients to make the same breakfast I had had the last time I had a great run, but I was confident that my prior evening fuel was equally as important and that what I needed to do right now was to just manage to get something in there and keep it down! I started with a bowl of organic chocolate puff cereal topped with chocolate almond milk (a delicious little treat) and then while watching an episode of my favorite tv show on Hulu, crammed down a bagel & cream cheese topped with a banana. Seemingly a lot of food, I was definitely STUFFED at the time, but I also knew I had another 3 hours til race time which would end up to be perfect timing to digest and yet still be sufficiently fueled. I washed it all down with a bottle of water and a large cup of tea.
The time had come to gear up. I had packed my race bag the day before with a change of clothes and socks if I needed them, a bottle of water, my Garmin and heart monitor, iPod with rocking new playlist and race day information. At the Expo I was lucky enough to score a new adidas tank and a new Moving Comfort sports bra for cheap and a set of new BondiBands - one matching my new tank perfectly with a bejeweled "run" written across my forehead. I donned all my spanky new equipment. I looked like a runner! And a fashionable one at that! My nerves quelled at this point. I took a couple of deep breaths and smiled. Let's do this.
Laced on my shoes, zipped up my purple Fila running jacket (though I really didn't need it), and stepped out my door into the early morning. Transportation to the city was a breeze - bus to train (packed with other runners!) and a short walk over to Grant Park. Though the crowd seemed to be moving quickly, I just kept telling myself to slow down. Take it all in and just relax. I knew I had a ton of time before the race started, and I needed to save my energy for the run.
I arrived at gear check and deaked over to the Port-o-lets straight away because the water I had already consumed was kicking in and because you gotta use those things EARLY or else it's gross. Then I headed to the gear check tents to wait for Kathy (LOTUSFLOWER). Try as we might, we never connected before the race, but I was really happy that I at least got to text her before I checked my phone to wish her a fantastic race.
A first look at the gathering crowds and the city skyline in the background:
Gear safely away, I headed to the start Corrals. I was in G, but they were pretty poorly marked so I ended up standing in H for a good long time, looking for Kathy until I figured out that G was further up. She had the same problem turns out - I must have moved to the real G right before she got to H, so I ended up ahead of her and she never was able to move up. But I kept myself busy and my mind occupied looking for her green shirt among the thousands of green shirts and her pink princess BondiBand.
I had learned a lesson at the 5K I ran in November. I get nervous dry-mouth syndrome right before I run - I have later learned from listening to a really informative RadioLab podcast that this is the normal human reaction to stress. In times of deep stress, the body's digestive system shuts itself down, and digestion starts with your mouth and saliva - so naturally when you're under pressure, your saliva dries up! So I grabbed a cup of water before entering the corrals and was hanging on to it until just before I started running. Worked like a charm! I took a swig and ditched my cup right before my corral took off for the race.
Unfortunately, that wasn't until 9:40am when the race officially started at 9am!!! Each corral was held back 2 minutes from the end of the previous corral - so since I was all the way back in G, it took a LONG time for us to advance to the start line! The sun was beating down at that point and the temp was nearing 75 degrees. I was thankful for the lake breeze for sure! But then, all of a sudden the people in front of me started moving, and then jogging and then there was the start line right in front of me. We were on our way! No more time to think about the weather, let's get a move on.
The first portion of the race lead us under a tunnel which was damp and cool and lovely. Lots of excited racers were whooping and hollering - their voices echoing off the tunnel walls. I laughed to myself - taking in the feeling of absolute joy with my fellow athletes. After a short incline, we were back out into the sunlight and rounding the corner to Grand. I had memorized the race map in my head and I could visualize my little GPS marker moving along the streets as I ran...beep beep beep beep. Steady as she goes, always moving forward! As long as we were in the shadow of the buildings, this race wasn't all that bad. And check it out! We're running through the streets of Chicago! A turn of another corner and we were on State Street and I could see the Chicago Theater sign. I almost got teary eyed at that point it was so beautiful. You see all the advertisements for the Chicago Marathon and various other races in Chicago with athletic-looking people running past this iconic image, but somehow I never imagined that one of those people would actually be me someday. But today it was!
Here's where it got tough though. In my head map, the trek down Jackson wasn't as long as it actually was. In my head map, the streets were also totally flat - which wasn't the case as we were rolling up and down the bridge overpasses - not "hilly terrain" per se, but certainly not flat either. The bridges were also tough to run on because unlike the paved streets, they are corrugated metal and I could feel the difference through my shoes.
Luckily, my killer 8K playlist saved the day. I am proud of myself for knowing my own running psychology well enough at this point to plan a playlist accordingly depending on how songs make me feel. Song after song hit the spot perfectly, and to get me through the tough stuff, I was literally spitting aloud the lyrics to P!nk as I was running down the street to the 5K turnaround. Call me a crazy person, but I sing, laugh and talk aloud to myself during my runs. It gets me through and keeps me focused, not to mention I think it helps in side cramp prevention. Spitting out words and exhaling my lungs fully during my runs really helps with my breathing - so I don't know if there's any truth in it - but hey - whatever works, right?!
At the 5K split I looked down at my watch. Already 2 minutes faster than my PR! Yahoo. I was right on schedule and so planned to slow at the 2nd rest spot for a Gatorade. I know you're not supposed to do anything differently on race day, and I've never fueled during my runs, but at this point I was fading and I knew I needed it. We turned the corner into another cool underpass and I saw the cup litter - I had reached sustenance! Which also meant I was solidly into the last stretch of the race. I slowed to grab a cup of the neon yellow liquid and drank it down as quickly as I could while keeping up a slow jog. How do people not get this stuff all over their face? Cause I sure did! But it tasted great - and whether or not it "really worked" my brain was refueled and since I assume that it worked, that means that it did!
Back out of the cool tunnel and into the hottest stretch of the race for sure. Wide open and blazing sun all the way back to Michigan Avenue on Harrison - temp at this point had to be a solid 80 degrees - it was SWELTERING. Really thanking myself for grabbing that Gatorade at this point. I new I had to push it to make it through, just keep running, one foot in front of the other. "Move Along" comes on my iPod and I feel a smile work through my entire body. Ever since SLIMKATIE posted her weight loss video with this song as the theme it has made me think of all my Sparkfriends and everyone who loves and supports me through challenging moments. I thought about Kathy and where she was on the route, and I imagined her cheering me on with the rest of my Spark Buddies waiting for me at the finish line. Don't worry about time at this point, just worry about finishing and finishing strong. Running. No walking. No. Don't even want to talk about walking. We're not gonna do it...
And then we rounded the final corner. And there before us was THE HILL. Remember how I said I talk to myself out loud during my races? I think at this point I said something to the tune of "Oh, you have GOT to be kidding me!" Unlike other people who have run this race before or who were prepped in advance for THE HILL at the end of the race, I knew nothing of this. In hindsight, it's probably a really good thing that I didn't or I may have talked myself into walking a portion of the race. But it was too late now. No turning back. And no walking as we started the steep incline to the top. Eminem was shouting his profane lyrics in my ears and I was listening to him word for word. Don't you dare stop. Don't you dare give up. Just keep pushing to the top of this - you will overcome! And overcome I did. It was a slow run, but I ran that hill. And when I was done running the hill I could see the finish line. With the heat it was like a mirage in the distance - hazy and just out of reach.
I don't remember much of the distance between that hill and the finish. I was in the zone at that point and I tuned life out completely. I know that the song on my iPod changed, but without looking I couldn't really tell you what it was. All I was focused on was my heartbeat, and my breath and my feet on the pavement. Bang, bang, bang in my ears as that finish line got closer. And then, it was right there. Right there in front of me and I felt the rubber mat through my shoes as I crossed it. I let out a yelp of joy. And then another. I had done it. I had run the whole race! And a quick look down at my watch to hit stop told me that not only had I done it, but that I did it in record time!
Still in a daze catching my breath, I stumbled over to the Finisher Photo area:
I downed a bottle of water and headed for the gear check area which was already starting to fill up. I knew I needed to get to my phone because we had a Spark meet-up planned for 11am and already it was 10:50am. I got my gear without too much of a wait and started to walk to our meet-up location when I got the call from Kathy. She had finished and was on her way as well! We exchanged excited congratulations and hung up quickly to get to the meet-up location.
Finally allowing the post-race release to kick in, I snapped a commemorative picture of my Garmin:
It's the best time I've ever run. I shaved 4 minutes off my previous PR. I couldn't have been more excited. I called my mom & dad and left them a message that I had finished and finished well and was just so happy and riding a runner's high for sure as I arrived at our meeting location.
The first person I saw was Hope (CHICAGOHEALTHY) who was just as excited to meet me as I was her. She has boundless energy and we twittered back and forth excitedly about our race experiences. Hope runs like the wind in my opinion and also PRed with a sub 50 minute time - woo hoo!
Kathy (LOTUSFLOWER) was next on the scene with her family whom I haven't seen since the Hot Chocolate race in November. It was nice connecting with what feels like old friends at this point though we only first met last year.
They were followed by Glenn (GLENNYB) and Rachel (TETICH) and we all posed for multiple pics together - all of which I absolutely LOVE.
Look at us! We all look like we could be in a magazine shoot!
I also posed for what I am now deeming my "Who Just Ran A ...K? THIS GIRL DID!" pose. More to come - I promise!
One more essential pic - an updated shot of me and Kathy before she headed out to brunch with her family. We have a bunch of these now and I'm looking forward to MANY more with this girl. She is such a special person to me and I love sharing these race experiences with her. We inspire each other along the way - but I derive so much energy from her, she is just so wonderful!
After parting ways with the group (and a promise to pick up some tea for Rachel when I go to Kenya - her home country!) Hope & I took a minute to stretch out in the sun:
No longer afraid of the heat, we headed over to the post-race party at Buckingham Fountain and soaked in the delicious rays (and a delicious low-cal beer!) as we walked around the festivities and took in the people sunbathing and relaxing sore muscles:
On the way there we met up with one of the official race photographers who offered to take our pics as "the last 2 of the day" - of course we obliged!
Finally it was time to part ways and secure some food, so we walked to the train and hugged goodbye and promised to see each other soon (hopefully at another race). I enjoyed the air-conditioned trip home and the lovely long shower that followed. My babies were quite content to join me for an afternoon nap to top off a pretty perfect day:
Race results were in amazingly fast, and by 7pm that night I had already gotten my finisher's email: Congratulations on your finish at the 2011 Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K!
When I opened the email, however, I was a little disappointed. My official chip time was no where near my Garmin time and what I had thought was a sub-1hr race, turned into one minute over:
I tried to talk myself out of being disappointed, but I have to admit it was a bit of a blow to my high. The important thing is that I finished. But I thought I had finished REALLY well. Either way - I set a PR. But it's not what I was expecting to see.
However, in a conversation I had today with a friend of mine who used to be an avid racer, he let me in on a little racing secret. Chip times are based on the time you cross the finish line, not the time you cross the start line. I don't know this to be true for the Shamrock Shuffle, but it would make sense with my times. The clock is started at the "gun" for each corral, and depending on how long it takes you to get to the start line in your corral adds to your overall race time! So since I was near the back of my corral and it took me a few minutes to get to the start line, that time was added to my race finish time. When I started my Garmin the second I crossed the start line and stopped it the second I crossed the finish line, technically, my time WAS more accurate than theirs. That made me feel so much better!
Regardless, I ran a great race. All my pre-prep and planning paid off and I am happy with the results. I've had a good 4 days of rest now and am looking forward to getting back out there this weekend. Next goal - a 10K sometime this summer and the Hot Chocolate 15K in November. I'm also going to start training for a Half without signing up for one, but we'll see what the fall brings. I think I might actually be ready to sign up for the 2012 Chicago Marathon. Look at me go!
A huge thank you to my Sparkfriends and everyone who supported me and commented on my blogs leading up to this race. I took all of you with me in my heart, and each and every one of you helped me through it!
Here's to "Running Lucky" again next year!!!
*photos courtesy of MarathonFoto, Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K and Bank Of America Chicago Marathon