Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The Road to Ragnar 2012

Signing up to run a road race has a set of steps associated with it. Sign up day can give you butterflies, sometimes followed by slight panic. Then training starts and continues sometimes for months. Closer to race day there's race logistics, travel plans and the ever-important weather check.

That's just planning for one person. A Ragnar team has 12 people.

Seven months before the event, the process starts. You have three months to convince 11 people to join your team before early registration closes and registration prices increase.

You ask friends to join you. You tell them it will be a fun adventure including some running, a lot of driving and a little sleep. Shortly after those emails go out, questions come back. Questions like - Where will I sleep? What will we eat? When and how far will I run?

Ragnar is a much larger, logistical monster.

After convincing 12 people, it's time to find three more people to volunteer. Somehow this is more challenging than getting your 12 team members. Next it's time to hunt for what you'd consider 'good' volunteer assignments (and not sticking them in a location overnight in rural Wisconsin).

Now it's time to find two 15-passenger vans and hold them at a fair price for race weekend. Van 1 needs hotel accommodations in Madison the night before. The team needs a time table to give a best-case scenario of when each leg will be run. By now, some team members are contacting you regarding possible date conflicts for the race and injuries.

Lots of emails go out to the team over the next few months to make decisions at each juncture.

Head lamps, tail lights and safety vests are purchased. Van drivers are determined. Costco trips are made.

The week before the race: Sleeping bags, snacks and running gear is packed. Time tables are finalized. More questions are answered. Meet up times are set.

Suddenly it's 3pm on Thursday and I'm driving to Sara's house. After a drive-by pick up, Sara joins me to head to the van rental location. We trade in my small sedan for a big van. An hour later, we pick up our four van mates. A quick stop at Jimmy John's then we're on the road to Madison.

Our Ragnar start time is just 16 hours away.

[I Finally Did The] Soldier Field 10

The Soldier Field 10 is the only race I've ever signed up for and not done. Twice.

The first time was 2007 when I was a distance newbie. I over trained and found myself with a hamstring injury that sidelined running for six weeks.

The following year I was out of town for a wedding.

Soldier Field seemed like bad luck for racing. That is, until this year.

Kim A. sent an email out over winter suggesting we sign up for the race before the registration price went up. Sounded like a good idea.

After a great Chicago Spring Half (time wise, not weather wise), the Soldier Field 10 seemed reasonable.

Kim, Karey and I headed south around 6am. We passed Roosevelt and saw traffic backed up on Lake Shore Drive. This was race traffic. We pulled a few classic Chicago driving moves to merge our way onto the 18th street ramp then over to the parking garage.

The parking garage was nearly full on the lower level when we pulled in. As we parked and headed up to the stadium, people parked in the remaining handicapped spots. These people were going to run 10 miles and they choose to park illegally in the closest parking spot? Doesn't seem right to me.

The Soldier Field 10 has a large field. I believe it's somewhere around 10,000 people. The field was divided into sections based on your bib number. The 1000's started first. Followed two minutes later by the 2000's and so on. This process, though it helped with congestion in the first few miles of the race, made for a long waiting process to start. Every few minutes with the start of a new group, a trumpet from Arlington Race Track did the infamous race start call. This got old. Fast.

By the time we crossed the start line, the race clock was closing in on 30 minutes.

Over excited to finally be running and with the wind at our backs, we went out at a more aggressive pace. A few miles in, we decided to pull it back.  The weather was overcast. Dark clouds rolled over us in a passing weather system. We hoped the rains would hold out.

The wind was in our face as we turned back north. Now I was feeling the affects of the faster pace. The wind seemed to take my breath away and I tried to get in a rhythm. As we came up on a water stop, Karey and Kim continued at their pace and I slowed down a bit. Actually, I slowed down a lot. Ok, I walked through the aide station.

And I walked through all the remaining ones as well, with the exception of the last one.

This is a humbling experience for sure. In racing, along with so many other things in life, you have good days and bad days. Sometimes you can equate your bad days to one or a series of actions. Other times you can't. As you get step by step closer to the finish line your mind can fill with these thoughts.

I had looked up my Perfect 10 mile time from last November before the race. I knew what overall pace I needed to maintain in order to tie 1:37. The first half of the race had me out ahead of that pace. if I could maintain my slower pace, but not loose too much ground, maybe it would still be within reach.

Once we reached the stretch of road leading in to the stadium I found that quicker pace again. We can't have far to go now.

After entering the stadium we ran in dark hallways until we saw light at the last turn. It had to be the stadium opening. And it was. Now just to sprint that last 50 yards to the finish. And done.

I catch my breath and look at the spectators in the stands. For a moment I soaked in what it must be like to be a Chicago Bear. I check my watch. It says 1:37.

We'll mark the Soldier Field 10 as a win today.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Chicago Spring Half Marathon

One of the benefits of being part of a running team is the occasional free race entry. I'm scared to even ballpark a dollar amount to what I've spent on race entries over the years (but hey, it's better than spending the money on fast food, right?). The Chicago Spring Half happened to be one of them.

Kim S. turned me on to this race a few years ago. The race's start and finish is extremely convenient to her place, which has been the home of some fun post-race parties over the years. But this year, Kim was out of the country and Jen and I were taking on the race.

We decided we'd meet each other down at the start line. This race has a small field for a half marathon. As I got off the bus at Michigan and Randolph at 5:45am, the bus driver asked me what race I was doing. I told her of the race and she said she wished me luck on winning it. (right!)

After checking my bag at the Universal Sole tent, I headed to the start line and found Jen. The weather was overcast but warm. A few announcements were made as the field faced south. The weather didn't look good in that direction. A dark, heavy cloud was hanging that way. It looked like rain. The announcer ensured us the race was keeping tabs on the weather and we may get drizzled on at the southern most part of the course, but after that, we should be in the clear. As we stood there waiting for the delayed start, the temperature started to drop and the wind picked up.

The race finally starts and Jen and I spend the first few miles catching up. Around mile 5, she picks up the pace and I maintain mine. All was good until about mile 6. Rain. Then came mile 6.5, our turn around. Now wind.

At the halfway point, I checked my watch. I had a good pace going in relation to my half marathon PR time at about three minutes faster than anticipated. But could I maintain in the rain and wind. Then I remembered the 2008 Chicago Half Marathon - my standing half PR race. Conditions were anything but ideal then.

From 6.5 to the end, it was a tough, windy race. The rain pelted our bodies from the air and reflected off the ground onto us. The path was covered in puddles. Our shoes were soaked. The wind made our shirts into sails. Out on the the lake shore we had no cover. I'd set a good pace to start with. Now that it was nasty out, I figured it best to try to maintain and get out of the elements.

In the last mile, the rain slowed to a drizzle. I checked my watch as we came into the River East neighborhood. This race would be a PR. And by six minutes.

Maybe the key to PR success (besides drinking three the night before) is rain.

Jen and I met right after the race and headed to a brunch spot to change our clothes, have a hot cup of coffee and celebrate with oreo smores pancakes.