Sunday, September 14, 2014

Jess Goes Running: 2014 Chicago Half Marathon

Well...  I did it.
Last Sunday, I completed the Chicago Half Marathon!

(Full race report after the jump... thank you for reading!  It means the world to me.)

As you all know, I signed up for the Chicago Half Marathon back in January.  Many moons ago, I made it a goal of mine that I would complete a half marathon in 2014, after meeting my goal of a 5K in 2013, and I decided to just sign up and go for it!  I got through the cold winter months and started to amp up my training in May.

Unfortunately, life had other plans for me, and despite my best efforts, my training schedule was more inconsistent than I would have liked.  Between the car accident in Nebraska and the fallout from that, adjusting to a new position at work, minor injuries (from running and from work), a hot and humid summer, and other life changes, I just wasn't able to make it happen quite the way I wanted to.  I know what I need to do next time to be more successful, and I'm hoping that once I get through the recovery aspect of the half, I can get back into a more regular and stable running routine.  (And in fact, I just bought myself some new running shoes as a little extra motivation, and they are wonderful.  Anyway!)

Though I was quite nervous, I woke up feeling excited on Sunday morning.  The alarm went off very early--4:00 a.m.--and T. and I were up, dressed, and out the door by 4:30 a.m.  I am regularly up earlier than that for work, and I've come to realize that it is a very peaceful and relaxing time of the night.  We hopped on 290 heading east and listened to NPR, chatting quietly, while I mostly sat and gathered my thoughts.  We were both amazed at how quickly and easily we were able to get downtown, as the Eisenhower is usually packed no matter what time of day it is.

After we got to Hyde Park, we picked up a quick pre-race breakfast before driving to the parking garage at the Museum of Science and Industry.  T. and I had entertained a few different options for getting down to the race, but ultimately decided to drive and spend the $20 bucks to park.  We knew that there would be limited parking spaces, but we got there right when the garage opened and had no issue.  After gathering our belongings, we started to make the walk from the Museum of Science and Industry over to Jackson Park.

We got down there in plenty of time and already the runners and spectators were starting to gather.  I drank some water, put on some sunscreen, and tried to keep my energy focused.  This was the peak of my nervousness, these pre-race moments, but I took a few deep breaks, shrugged it off, and got myself back into a positive mental mindset.  Eventually, it was time to head into the corral for the start of the race.  I did a little bit of stretching and got my music all queued up, and before long, we were making our way towards the start line.

(Those leggings are the best and I bought those same New Balance shoes but in teal, yellow, and gray.  Also, that's me with the tattoos!  Second photo courtesy of a work colleague/friend.)

It wasn't long before the corrals were moving ever closer to the beginning of the course.  As I crossed the starting line, my mind was clear.  The moment I had been anticipating and training for for months had finally arrived.  I was there and it was happening!  And no matter what, even if for some reason I didn't or couldn't finish, I had attempted it.  I was feeling confident, though, and I set out on the course with a good rhythm and a good pace.  The first 3 miles were a breeze.

I saw T. just before the mile 4 marker.  It was so unexpected and I was so excited to get a glimpse of him!  It helped give me a newfound burst of energy and I used that to keep on moving.  The weather was absolutely fantastic--there was a light breeze, and it didn't start getting warm until about an hour later.  Even still, I went into the race well hydrated and I got Gatorade and water at each of the water stations to stay on top of that hydration.  

For the first 5 miles, I maintained a pace better than I had trained at.  It came easily to me, and I didn't feel like I was pushing myself too much or running too fast.  Somewhere between miles 6 and 7, though, my reserve started to crack a little bit.  I started feeling various kinds of muscle soreness and could feel myself starting to become exhausted.  By the 8th mile, I hit a mental wall.  I kept myself moving--though it was very slow going--but I had a hard time seeing how I would ever reach the end of the race.  

Though I wish I could have avoided the wall, in a way, I'm glad I had that experience...  I know how I can get through it, work my way out of it, if something similar happens next time.  Halfway in between mile 9 and mile 10, I came through on the other side.  I had started working my way back down Lake Shore Drive, down towards the finish line, and I kept reminding myself that the worst was over, that I was over halfway and I'd be crossing that finish line sooner rather than later.  I had made it that far, I could get to the end.  At that point, the heat was starting to make itself more noticeable, and I hydrated a little more to make up for it.  Those last few miles were still very mentally taxing, and challenging on a physical level, but I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I saw T. again, there at the end of the course, and that gave me the motivation and the push I needed to get through the last minutes of the race.  (I also saw a colleague of mine from work, who was there cheering on his son--we'd met at the beginning of the race, too, and it was exciting to see him again.)  I had gotten through almost all of 13.1 miles and I wanted to finish strong.  I took all that positive energy from T. and from H., and from the people cheering on all of the runners, and I quickened my stride, knowing that what remained was a walk in the park compared to what I had already endured.

During the last half mile, I was filled with an immediate sense of relief, calmness, and pride.  I was SO close--I had done it.  I thought about the journey that I had taken to get to that exact spot, about to cross the finish line at the Chicago Half Marathon.  Four years earlier, I was 40 pounds heavier and could hardly walk a few miles without being winded.  Two and a half years ago, I had just started running--and I never thought that a half marathon would be something that I could possibly ever accomplish.  I was grateful and happy and proud.  

And then... there it was!  I made it to the finish.  I tried doing the math in my head as I looked at the clock hanging over the gate; only my chip results would say for sure, but I was pretty sure that I had met my goal of finishing within 3 hours.  I gave it my all and crossed the finish line with a smile, then immediately burst into tears.  I had completed the Chicago Half Marathon!  

Overwhelmed, I proceeded to the award area to receive my medal (another thing that made me cry a little bit), and then passed through to the finish line festival area, receiving Gatorade, water, and protein bars along the way.  When I finally found T., there was much celebrating. I looked up my official results while I rested, and let out a cheer when I saw the time--02:50:29.  I had met my goal!  Though I was slow, I had finished... I had accomplished something great.  I rehydrated myself some more, caught my breath, and rested my legs.  From there, we went to the beer garden, where I enjoyed an ice cold beer and a slice of Lou Malnati's pizza.

We hung out for a little while before making our way back to the car.  It was a long and slow walk back (very slow for me!) but I took the time to reflect on what I had just participated in.  Overall, it was a fantastic experience.  The race was incredibly well organized and I felt very safe and secure.  I appreciated the timeliness of everything, and I was well supported as a runner by the volunteers, the race staff, the race guards (which were trained first aid responders), and the spectators.  

On a personal level, I am just so proud and impressed that I ran 13.1 miles.  It may have been a slow 13.1 miles, but I did it!  I accomplished a goal I set out to do at the very beginning of the year and I am so very excited for the next one.  Right now, I'm considering going for the 39.3 challenge in the Chicagoland Half Marathon Series, as I think it would be a good experience for me.  The full marathon will be there for me when I am ready!  In the meantime, I'm hoping to do the Hot Chocolate 15K in Chicago at the beginning of November, and then hopefully at least one more race between then and the Shamrock Shuffle 8K in March.  I am lucky to have fallen in love with running, and I can't wait to see where the road takes me next.  

(Thanks to T. for taking such great photos of such a momentous occasion.)

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