I signed up for the Fleet Feet Chicago Women’s Half-Marathon about 6 or 7 months ago – maybe even longer. When they opened registration the price was the lowest it would ever be, so having done and enjoyed the race for several years (even back when it was a 5K/10K), I knew I’d want to run it this year.
Flash forward to last week when I knew that the weather would be hot and muggy and I also knew that the last time I had run over 10 miles was at the Green Bay half-marathon back in mid-May – I decided that instead of trying to race (and probably dying from heat exhaustion in the process) I’d just run with my friend Heather who would be running her first half-marathon.
Heather wanted to run between 10:30 & 11-minute miles so I took off my timing chip so I wouldn’t be thinking of my own time and would be able to concentrate on running at Heather’s pace. I’ve done this for a few friends and if I may say so myself, I’m pretty good at keeping up a constant patter of random stories and encouraging words to keep my friend’s spirits up.
Heather started out a little fast for her projected pace – she was doing 9:45’s – I mentioned this to her but she didn’t seem too concerned. From past personal experience, I know that going out too fast comes back to haunt you. We were doing great until the sun broke through the clouds and we hit about 6 miles. Heather started to feel like her legs were heavy and she was heating up. The turn-around helped – it’s always nice to know you’re headed back towards the finish line. We hit a few ‘hills’ and Heather took walk breaks to get up them – we also walked through the aid stations. Around mile 9 my back started killing me – I think this may have been because I was running slower than I usually do and I was probably using different strides and positioning my back differently. Heather started to really feel crappy around mile 10, but she persevered and even picked it up a little bit when we had 2 miles left to go. She wound up just squeezing in under 2:30 – off her goal a bit, but it was a lousy race to try to either PR or run a goal time – just too hot.
Packet Pick-up: Easy for me – one of the dates was at Fleet Feet-Lincoln Square on a night I’d be there anyway for a group run. But, for suburban runners it was probably a pain. No race-day pickup meant that they would have to make a special trip down to one of the FF stores or arrange for someone to pick up their packet for them.
Transport: Yeah, I could have taken the CTA but I used the parking app SpotHero to find a sweet space in the garage at the Palmer House Hotel for only $14. I gave a ride to 4 friends so it was only about $3.00 per person. It was easy, cheaper than the CTA, and gave us the opportunity to use the flush toilets in the hotel before heading to the race grounds.
Swag: A nice short-sleeved Brooks tech-t (white for Half runners, grey for 5Kers), a custom race logo Sweaty Band, and a sweet, quality medal on a nice custom ribbon– free engraving today and tomorrow evening at Fleet Feet-Old Town if you want to commemorate your time. There were a ton of samples/food at the race – popsicles, frozen Kefir, ice cream, Luna products, bananas and probably more that I’m missing. I also snagged some samples of gluten free products and a new Australian yogurt on the bridge heading out of the race area – probably guerilla marketing taking advantage of all the grocery deciders at the race. One complaint was that there was only water available at the race finish and it would have been nice to have an additional water station somewhere near the booths.
Course/aid stations: It started out on streets which was smart – start out with wide lanes and hope that it gets thinned out by the time we all get to the path. I’ll admit – a wave start would have been nice because the path gets so crowded during races. It was a congenial crowd though – I got complimented on my shirt a couple of times and I told a woman she had a nice tattoo (a Frank Lloyd Wright stained glass window). In the last mile or so there was a little switchback that was kind of irritating – I hate running away from the finish line to have to double back – it’s like a mean trick that kind of sucks the life out of you. Overall, not a bad course though. Plenty of aid stations and they all had port-a-potties, some misting stations too. One Clif Shot station. Since it was so hot it would have been nice to have an ice station or sponge station added – I’m thinking of the Green Bay half two years ago when it was hotter than balls and they really stepped up their game by adding an ice station or two – I don’t know what guys do with the ice, but for women it’s awesome to grab a cupful and pour it down the front of your sports bra.
Post-Race: An ice cold towel draped around my neck caused me to profess my love for some random volunteer. There was a DJ playing pop hits and a stretching area. Plus a booth of mattresses that I was tempted to collapse onto but I felt like I’d just sweat them all up and that prospect was just too gross. Once I’d rounded up the friends I drove down I pretty much just wanted to get somewhere I could change into the dry clothes I’d packed and head to brunch.
CES Compound: The private compounds that they have a big races might be reason alone to sign up for their training programs. They had 4 porta-potties, private gear check, a tray of personal products in case you forgot something (Glide, Cotonelle Wipes, 2-kinds of tampons, sunscreen), food (Luna/Clif products, bananas, Skinny Pop popcorn, Gatorade & water, and probably more that I’m missing). They have a tent to keep you out of the sun and tables and chairs to hang out. Coaches were present to answer last minute questions and to greet you when you got back to ask how your race went.