Monday, April 29, 2013

Nashville Country Music Half Marathon Race Recap

If I had to sum this race up in one word, it would be "wet".

The day consisted of Rain. Rain. And More Rain.

The sound of the race was the splashing of shoes through puddles and the rustle of plastic (ponchos, plastic bags).

I had packed a couple of race outfit options as I wasn't sure what the weather was going to be. Checking the forecast in the days leading up to the race was an exercise in frustration as each check provided a different response. I was reasonably confident it was going to be at best cloudy and at worst rainy with thunderstorms. I got the "at worst" scenario.

Race morning I looked out the window to see the rain was falling. The forecast was saying it would continue for an hour and then likely back off for the majority of the race. Consulting the Runner's World What to Wear tool resulted in me choosing capris and a t-shirt as my outfit but with little confidence as any change in the rain levels from light to heavy or wind speed from light to heavy shifted the recommendation.

As I arrived at the starting line and got ready to check my bag the rain stopped. It looked like maybe the forecast was correct. After checking my bag and my warm layer I was cool but not overly cold and felt pretty happy about the race.

Five minutes later it started raining.

As I made my way toward the start line I consoled myself with the fact that once I started running I wouldn't care about the weather. But as the rain continued I could feel myself starting to get cold and uncomfortable and cursed my lack of foresight in bringing a poncho or similar to keep me dry before the race. And then I spied a box of garbage bags! I bee-lined my way there just ahead of a couple of other people and luckily nabbed the last bag in the box. Ten minutes later as I stood in my start corral and the rain continued to come down, I have never been so happy to be wearing a garbage bag in my life. I continued to be happy as the race start of 7:00am became closer to 7:10. My love for the garbage bag was cemented when it took a further 40 minutes for me to even get to the start line.

Before the race started the crowd held a minute of silence for Boston. All the racers raised an arm (mostly wearing tribute wrist bands) which made for a pretty moving sight.

Tribute to Boston (source)
By race start, my shoes were already soaked and I was pretty cold but my core was pretty much dry. I ditched the bag on the start line and embraced the rain from that point on. Thankfully, by two miles in my hands and feet had warmed up. Unfortunately, I was already beginning to feel the effects of the hills.

Compare and contrast:
Nashville Country Music Half Marathon

Chicago Get Lucky Half Marathon
I am sure there a hillier courses. I am sure that the Nashville hills are nothing for many people. However, I have become quite accustomed to my flat Lakefront Trail and those early hills were just enough to take the wind out of my sails. Because this race was just for fun, I wasn't worried about my time. I was worried about my ability to walk after the weekend was done though. I can tell you right now I don't remember what looks like a long downhill in the second half of the race. It didn't feel very downhill to me.

Despite the rain (because it didn't stop once during the race) there was good course support. The music that the Rock 'n' Roll races are known for was lively in the first four miles and then became more spread out as the race progressed but the many locals were playing music from their front yards and porches made up for it. I enjoyed the course which wound through downtown areas and some more residential streets. I remember seeing lots of things and trying to make mental note of where they were so I could visit again later - but as it turns out, I have race amnesia and couldn't remember any of them! I do remember there were A LOT of music based businesses. I guess they don't call Nashville "Music City" for nothing!?

The half marathon course was nearly all shared with the marathon course. The marathoners passed very close the half marathon finish line which I can only imagine would be a little depressing - to hear all the cheering for the half marathon finishers knowing you still have nine miles to go?

Overall this was a great race. The enthusiasm of the runners, volunteers and supporters was uplifting. The course was pretty scenic and had plenty of twists, turns, inclines and declines to keep things interesting. And let's face it - it's always just plain fun to splash about in puddles.

Race time was 2:28:36. Not my slowest but definitely my wettest.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Why I run

No, this isn't going to be a deep and meaningful analysis. I certainly have plenty of things to say, some of which are deep and some of which are meaningful. But let's save them for another time.

I run so that I can help counteract the effects of this:

My lovely friend sent me a package of treats from back home for my birthday. It's ridiculous that the postage to get it here was about three times the cost of the actual food items. Totally worth it though, I say. Of course I would, now that I am in possession of enough sugar to send me into a diabetic coma.

It's silly but I really miss the familiarity of seeing these products at the grocery store.

And missing home is another reason why I run. Running is running, no matter where you are. Sure, I have to run on the "wrong" side of the path here - I will occasionally drift to the left if I'm not paying attention - but it's the same process here as it is in Australia.

And speaking of the process (apologies, started eating the sugar which has resulted in hyperactive and unfocused rambling). I'm now in unofficial marathon training. The "official" program starts next week (I'm doing a 24 week program designed by me based on some general Jack Daniel's principles) so this week is prep week. Prep week involves me running more frequently. I'm on a roll and have done four days in a row (technically, two of those days fell in last week's training week, so I can't count them for this week. But it's my blog and my program so I'll count whatever I choose.).

Don't tell anyone, but I'm freaking out about the marathon a bit already. I just have to keep reminding myself that I felt EXACTLY the same way when I signed up for my first half. And that went fine...well, as long as by fine you mean I developed an injury two weeks out and ended up running 2/3 of the race with a limp and couldn't walk properly for a week after (hey, I finished though).

It can't have scarred me too badly though, as I'm off to Nashville this weekend to do the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon down there. Can't wait!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Lakefront 10 Miler Race Recap

While I don't always need a reason to enter a race, it's always more fun if I have one (entering, that is, not running it). Reason for this one - it's my birthday weekend and I wanted to celebrate with a race.

So glad I did. Because racing this weekend, with all that's been going on, was a nice way to overtly display my commitment to the running community.

After the masses of people at the Shamrock Shuffle earlier this month, this race was a welcome return to the smaller race - 1,384 finishers in total.

Packet pickup:
Small event = low key packet pick up. There were lots of options, both in location and day, which was great. Especially as I was away travelling most of the week so managed to squeeze in my pick up on Friday night.

Race shirt:
Long sleeves. Good colour. Will go into next winter's mix as I refuse to wear my winter gear any more. Even if Spring hasn't worked out that it's supposed to be warmer.

Wow. It's my first spring in Chicago and I understand that spring is supposed to be changable. But really, this week has been insane. I missed the rain and floods with my work travel but just taking a look at the ground gives a pretty good indication that it's been wet. Then add Friday's snow and today's early low temps and you've got yourself a race run under yellow conditions.

Snow on the ground and coffee in my hands. Got to do something to keep warm.
There were some pretty icy patches on the path, especially early on. Nothing that couldn't be dealt with but not something I had planned on when I entered this race.

Gear check:
Super easy. No lines. Friendly volunteers.


The race:
One day, when I tell myself I'm not going to race a race, maybe I actually will stick to that plan. Today was not that day.

I went out 'fast'. I don't know if it was my cold feet, the excitement, or that I started the race a little closer to the front of the pack than I normally would but my first mile was my fastest mile for the whole race. I don't think this has ever happened to me before.

The brakes went on a little for mile two as we hit the main icy part here. There was about half a mile of me switching between running on the path and trying to avoid ice patches and running on the grass on the side hoping the snow wasn't hiding a hole for me to twist my ankle in. This mile also included Cricket Hill which made it the most varied terrain mile of the race.

Miles three through five were uneventful. The race was on the Lakefront Trail on part of the path where I regularly run so it was very routine for me. Having said that, it was a twisty-turny course which made for an interesting run despite being in my "usual" haunt.

Looking at my splits, miles six to eight were my slowest. I will attribute this to going out too fast. Running is so much of a mental game. I think here I was feeling my pace and while it wasn't unmanageable, knowing I still had miles to go scared me a little.

Miles nine and ten were back in the good pace zone. By here the end was within sight so my brain gave my legs permission to go. I read an article in Runner's World this month about this sort of thing so might try and implement their suggestions going forward.

Final time: 1:39:52

Very pleased with this. That's an overall 10:00 min/mile pace. In January of this year, I was getting excited about running just one mile at that pace. Now here I am doing it for 10.

Really enjoyed this one.

It didn't have all of the flash and sparkle of the big races but the volunteers were super enthusiastic, the day was sunny and not too windy, there was beer at the finish, I ran a time I'm pleased with. 

What more can you ask for?

Plus, technically it's a PR too as this was my first 10 mile race.

Post-race beer with my friend who I "coerced" into running this race (his story, not mine)

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Shamrock Shuffle race recap

I entered the Shamrock Shuffle at the urging of a co-worker friend. And then we didn't see each other at all during the day. In fact, he had already completed his race before I even crossed the start line. But that's OK. I enjoyed myself and probably would have entered anyway...

Hi, my name is Chris and I'm a race-aholic.

So, how did this race go down?

Packet pickup:
Packet pickup was smooth, lots of tasty samples to keep my post-work hunger at bay (I hit it up on Friday evening) and plenty of running things for me to spend my money on. I managed to contain myself and only picked up "The Stick" which had been on my purchasing list for quite some time but I'd never got around to getting. My legs very much approved of this purchase.

There were bonus points for a Hal Higdon sighting. I love being in the presence of running greats. I was too shy to go over and say hi though.

Race shirt:
I liked the technical shirt. This one will end up in my running clothes rotation but likely as a "I've got nothing clean, what will I wear?" item, only because it's a bit too green for my personal comfort.

Given the weather forecast earlier in the week indicated that it was likely to rain, I'd put today at near perfect. Warm enough that I could race in capris and a t-shirt. A little windy in places but nothing too bad. Not too much sun, a bonus as I started to overheat by about 3.5 miles in.

Gear check:
Because I'm a CARA member, I checked my gear at the Congress Hotel in the "CARA Compound". After my gear check scare at the Get Lucky Half I figured this would be a safer option. I didn't see the lines at the race but I did see a few runners carrying their bags so I'm going to assume I made a good decision.

The race:
Based on my previous 8km time (yes, time, because I only have one other 8km race in my past), I lined up for the race in Corral G. I generally like to start a race toward the back because being passed by too many people early on sparks my competitive side. And running too fast, too early very rarely ends well.

So far back you can't see the Start line
My plan was to run the race as a progression run, increasing my mile splits throughout the race. I was also going to look for a faster time than my previous 8km race, the Rudolph Ramble in December last year. I made this decision while standing in my start corral. Unfortunately, I couldn't remember how fast I ran that race but estimated I needed to beat 10:30 min/mile to get there.

The first mile was the usual winding my way around slower runners and walkers (grrr, if you're walking in mile one then you should be starting at the back). I felt good but went out a little too fast, clocking in at just over 10:00 at the Mile 1 marker.

In the second mile I settled into a comfortable pace, which I estimated at about 10:15. Running down State Street was fun. I continued to wind my way around people and narrowly avoided being spat on by an eight(ish) year old girl. OMG! Call me old fashioned but I don't think it's cool for little girls to be spitting. Ignoring my issues with that, if you're going to teach your kid that spitting is OK, then at least teach them to pay attention to what's going on around them. Mile time 9:32 (hmm, not so much the 10:15 I thought I was at).

Mile three was uneventful. I don't spend a lot of time south of Randolph (I work on Randolph and live north of The Loop) so took in what I could but running with so many people means you have to be on constant alert to avoid tripping or crashing into someone. This mile also included my first time running on the metal grate (or whatever it's called) part of the bridges - I did not like it. Mile time 9:40.

Still in unexplored Chicago, mile four had the greatest number of corners (aka running bottlenecks) and another metal grate bridge crossing. Add to this the fact that I was now beginning to overheat (seriously, summer is going to be hard work) was my least favourite mile. Mile time 9:34 (yes, my initial race plan went completely out the window).

Mile five - the end is in sight (figuratively speaking). I love the last mile of a race. And this was no different. Coming back onto the openness of Michigan Ave was refreshing after being in the shadows of the tall Loop buildings. I was still passing people (always a positive). Nothing was hurting even though I'd run five miles the day before and this was the first back to back run I'd done in ages. The hill incline going along Roosevelt Road was a reminder of how few hills I've run since leaving Melbourne and how much Nashville is going to test me. Turning the corner onto Columbus Drive and seeing the Finish arch was lovely. A nice straight with a clear sight line to the finish is always a good end to a race. Mile time 9:20.

Total time: 48:15
Turns out my time at the Rudolph Ramble was 51:06 (10:20 min/mile average, not 10:30) so I was glad I didn't rely too much on my race plan. Very happy to come in sub-50:00 and now desperately want to do a 10km as I think I can come in sub-60:00. Given my current PR at that distance is 68:19, chasing a sub-60:00 10km is enticing.

I was very impressed at how this race is organised and managed. It's definitely the biggest race I've ever been involved in and without the great organisation has the potential to be a disaster. I read on my way home that there was a last minute course adjustment. This was not even on my radar running the race, as it was so well organised.

Is it expensive, given the distance? Yes. Does running in such a crowed race frustrate me? Yes.
Would I do it again? Definitely.