The ZOOMA Chicago Half Marathon marks half #5 in my racing life. I’ve spent the better part of two years training hard for races like this, running almost every other day. A destination race for me, the inaugural ZOOMA Chicago Half also marks my first race in the midwest.
Here’s a recap of my race day, just for fun:
Alarm goes off. Time to get up and ready for the half marathon. I hop (really–super excited) out of bed and change into my running clothes. I choose my “classic” compression capri running pants, an Under Armour top, and thinking it would be cold by the lake, my GW Birthday Classic longsleeve tech tee.
Eat banana (grabbed one the day before), brush teeth, gather hat, sunglasses, headphones (just in case), and fully-charged phone.
Head to the lobby to pour myself some coffee (always fresh, a great Marriott perk) and to grab a bottle of water. Down water immediately.
Start walking to the race. The destination is 6 miles from my hotel, so I knew I wouldn’t walk the whole thing, but I wanted to get a few miles in as a warm-up. I made it about 2.5 miles before hailing a cab.
A short ride and $15 later, I’m at Montrose Park, heading toward the loud music and line-up.
National Anthem is played (did someone sing it? I couldn’t tell…). I take my obligatory instagram pre-race photo.
Race starts, right on time. The start was a little anti-climactic! Race starts are a huge adrenaline booster for me, but I didn’t even hear/realize when it started (and I was very close to the official start line).
I started moving, and popped in my earbuds, listening to Justin Beiber first. I put 23 songs in my “Run” playlist for this race. Artists that made the cut: Beiber, Selena Gomez, Fall Out Boy, David Guetta, Zedd, The Offspring, Pitbull, Train, Lady Gaga, and some of my INSANITY music.
I don’t run with music during training runs. I bring it with me for races just to keep me pepped up. Usually, I end up ditching the headphones and running with my phone in my hand.
I started at a nice, slow (to me) 9:15 pace. I kept track for the first 5 miles, and each one kept an even 9-9:30 pace. For longer races, I’m less worried about my individual mile splits and more worried about keeping my first 5-6 miles slow.
My first (and only) race mistake: I stopped for water. Five miles in is too early for me to get water. It was hot, I was wearing a long-sleeve shirt, the water looked good (I could give more excuses). I know better than to go against my training rules. But I did it anyway. And paid for it…
Major side cramp. From drinking water too early. I slowed my pace for miles 5.5-8. Really slowed, like 10:30. I was aiming for a sub-2 hr. half marathon (totally achievable, since my 12-mile training run was 1:40 just 10 days before the race). This pace killed it. But that’s ok!
How did I get past the side cramp? Inhale quickly, exhale slowly. Let more air out than in and a cramp will go away with just a little time. It’s easy to panic, it’s easy to stop, but I’ve learned that neither of these help when you have goals to achieve and a race to finish.
This is my favorite part of a long run. Even after working through a cramp and slowing my pace, I get very settled and excited about running 8 or 9 miles into it. This is one of the reasons I signed up for a marathon – I love the feeling of the miles ahead.
My mind takes over, body goes on autopilot, and I zoom my way through the next few miles, not bothering to stop for water or fuel (learned that lesson at mile 5!).
It happens. I see mile marker 11. I look at my phone, which is serving as my watch. I can do this; I can PR (get a personal record). I know I can comfortably run a 7:30 mile since I’m feeling great at this point in the race. I start weaving through people (the course is awfully narrow at points), picking up speed and adrenaline.
I see a large crowd ahead. I know this is the finish line. I pick up speed again. I’m too far from the finish line for a sub-2 hour time, but I can beat my previous 2:04 time.
I cross the finish line, a full 01:20 faster than my previous best time, which I achieved last December in Annapolis.
I can’t wait to see that finish line photo. My face will either have a crazy grin on it or a look of “f yes” determination. Either way, I already decided it’s going to be awesome.
I grab two water bottles, down those right away, a banana, my race finisher necklace, and head straight to the Personal Best booth to get my sweet shiny medal.
Even though I came alone, races (especially women’s races) are full of people just waiting to be asked to take your picture. Exhibit A:
Beyond being a personal best finishing time for me, this race wins in so many ways. It’s my first true far away destination race, since I had to board a plane to get here. It’s the first time I’ll run in Chicago, but not the last. I have my eyes on the Chicago Marathon.
Even with a self-inflicted side cramp at mile 5, I felt amazing running this race. I love running — the way it makes me feel, the power of my legs, the strength of my core, the way my mind wraps around it and my body falls into it. I was born to run.
Despite a few shortcomings with the race (it was shorter than 13.1 by a freckle, the full course was not marked, there wasn’t reliable transportation to and from the race venue, and we had to compete with bikers on the race course), I’m still marking it as a win. Because I want to and I can.
Plus…the race swag is pretty sweet.
And the training continues! I’ll be heading to Philly within the next few weeks to scout the race course. I have the Annapolis 10-miler coming up in a couple of weeks. Still running every other day and loving every moment of it.