Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon Recap

I wanted to get this up while it was fresh in my mind! Later this week, I’ll backtrack about the rest of the weekend.  But first, my Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon Recap!

This was the most challenging race I’ve ever run….but I’m glad it was challenging.  I needed a race like this, especially before going into marathon training.  Prior to this race, I’d never really had a bad race.  This was my 5th half marathon, and the first one I hadn’t PRed.  More on the lessons coming out of this race after the recap.

Race morning went well.  We got up with plenty of time to eat and get ready without rushing.  We walked down to the race about 45 minutes before the start.  This gave us time for a few pictures and a little warm-up jog and dynamic stretching.  Christina was running with Cyanne, and Brooke was running solo, so they dropped me off at my corral, gave me high fives, and told me good luck.  They also told me to be smart because they didn’t want to see my on the side of the course…something that would echo in my head throughout the race.

Here we are after our warm up!

Here we are after our warm up!

I was concerned about the heat.  At the start, it was around 80 degrees with about 85% humidity, which is about 10 degrees warmer than I was used to.  Additionally, I don’t usually run in the sun, and even at 6:30am, the sun was already beating down on us.  There were lots of extra notifications about the heat warning runners to be careful and not to overdo it, etc.  I knew it would be a factor in my race, but I just didn’t know how much.  Since I do train in warmer weather, I thought I had a chance to still hit my goal and decided to go for it, and adjust as necessary throughout the race.  Deep down I think I knew it likely wasn’t possible…but if I hadn’t gone for it, I would have been wondering if I could have done it.

It was weird being in the corral by myself, but I was only in there about 15 minutes before the start.  It was pretty crowded but when our corral moved up to the start, I was actually in the front at the start line.  It gave me a nice surge of excitement to be at the front like that!  And before I knew it, we were off.

Mile 1: Since I ran this race last year and knew that the tunnels and buildings really mess up the GPS, I had a little bit of a plan to help with this.  I had bought a pace tattoo that gave me a good idea of what cumulative time I needed to be at when I hit each mile marker in order to hit 2:05. I also knew I needed to run 9:32 min/miles, so my goal was to run 9:30s even throughout the course…not negative splits. In retrospect, this was a mistake.  In addition, I turned off the “auto lap” feature on my Garmin.  My plan was to manually clock each lap at the mile markers along the course.

Pace Tattoo!

Pace Tattoo!

I felt good and excited coming out the gate. I was in the 2 hour corral, so a lot of people around me were running faster than I needed to be running. I was careful to watch my pace and let most people pass me. I couldn’t use my watch to tell me real time what pace I was running, so I just went on feel.  The pace felt a little challenging but not overly so…especially for it being the first mile.  I clocked in the first mile at 9:28 and was really excited that I had nailed it.

Miles 2-3: My GPS watch was still extremely unreliable so again, I was going on feel/heart rate. Mile 2 felt a little fast and I was anxious to see what time I clocked in at, but somehow I missed the mile marker at the end of mile 2 and didn’t realize it until I was about a quarter mile in mile 3.  By the end of mile 3 I thought maybe I was going too fast for my goal pace and decided that I would alter my pace at the mile 3 marker if needed.  I was starting to feel a drained and my heartrate was getting very high. When I clocked in at mile 3 I was just under 30 minutes, a full minute behind where I should have been to hit 2:05. I got a little distressed because I felt like I was running faster than I should have (I had suspected I was running around 9 minute miles), but I was actually running a lot slower.  Decided one more mile by feel and then re-assess at the end of mile 4.

Mile 4: During the water stop between 3-4, I took both Gatorade and a shot blok. This was a big mistake. The Gatorade was barely mixed with water…in retrospect, I actually wonder if they had mixed it with water at all, but I didn’t realize it until after it was down.  Within a minute my stomach got very queasy and I thought I was going to hurl, so I had to slow to a walk. I got really pissed as I saw my goal slipping away but knew today probably wasn’t the day to hit 2:05. After a little walking, my stomach calmed down, and I got it together. Given how overheated/queasy/woozy I was already feeling, I let go of my 2:05 goal and decided to just dial it back and try to PR.  I had a lot of time banked already and knew that if I ran 10 minute miles the rest of the way I’d still PR in a big way.

Miles 5-6: I don’t remember much about these miles except walking a few times after being unsuccessful in getting my HR down by slowing down.  At the water stops I was pouring water on my head to cool off and drinking just water to keep my stomach in control. I remember getting a surge when a girl passed me with an American Cancer Society sign on her back that said “I’m running for ____” and she had filled it in with “my daddy” with a heart drawn at the end.  I remember looking at that girl and how strong she seemed, not only to have a dad who had/has cancer, but running with such purpose.  It’s amazing where you get inspiration on the course.  I had to keep it together from crying and just used that to push forward.  Shortly afterwards, there was another water stop and this sprinkler which was the most amazing thing ever!  I once again missed a mile marker for mile 5.

Sprinkler around mile 6....everyone was really excited for this!

Sprinkler around mile 6….everyone was really excited for this!

Miles 7-8: I was really, really hot. I was pouring water over my head at every stop. I could feel heat radiating out of my cheeks and still was getting a bit woozy. During these miles I started seeing a LOT of runners along the side and in the medical tents.  People were going down left and right.  I remembered reading an article a few weeks back about the signs of getting into the danger zone for heat, and I was constantly checking myself to see how I was feeling.  Somewhere around mile 8 I got goosebumps that didn’t go away and knew I needed to dial it back even more.  At this point PR was probably still possible but I was more concerned about not being stupid, especially as I saw people going down around me.

Mile 9: I stopped thinking about time and slowed to a walk to get my heart rate way down before I started back up again.  I chatted with a woman next to me for a few minutes which was a nice distraction, then I started back up again. The longer walk break really helped, and I turned my focus to finding a more comfortable and maintainable pace. During this mile, we ran down an out and back which I enjoyed because I got to see other runners coming from the opposite direction…a great distraction! I saw my friend Gregg coming from the opposite direction, and he cheered me on and gave me a high five. When I got to the turn-around, I spent the second part of that mile hoping to see Chrissy and Cyanne but never did.

Miles 10-11: The race got a lot better for me during these miles.  We got close to the lake and there was a nice breeze which really helped cool us down.  The humidity had also dropped.  I walked through water stops and maintained a decent pace besides that.  I should mention that most of the water stops were very short staffed, and we had to wait for water. The volunteers were working as fast as they could, but one water stop only had four people!! Runners were actually filling up their own cups from a hose.  I felt bad for the volunteers and made sure to thank them, but I was pretty irritated that the organizers weren’t able to get more volunteers, especially on a day where there was a heat advisory.

I remembered Jesica’s advice to remember to have fun, so I stopped and took some pictures. Mile 11 was a “music mile”, and it was awesome! They had speakers lining the mile with dance music blaring, misting stations, and an ice water sponge station.  Right after the sponge station, we ran into tunnel with music and colored strobe lights. Bon Jovi came on  right as we were entering the tunnel and everyone was singing “Living on a Prayer” at the top of their lungs. It was hands down my favorite part of the race and it totally gave me life!

Mid race selfie. It's hot.

Mid race selfie. It’s hot.

This is not going as planned.

This is not going as planned.

Great view approaching the city.

Great view approaching the city.

Mile 12: When I finished mile 11, I knew I’d course PR even with a couple of stops, so just tried to have fun. In mile 12, there is a cheer station where people can send you cheers ahead of time and it appears on the board as it gets closer.  I saw a note from Christina at the cheer board that said to “finish strong!” and it made me really happy. I really missed running with her.

Cheer Board!

Cheer Board!

I knew we were getting closer to the finish and that got me really, really happy.  I was so ready for this race to be over.  During this part of the race I saw an alarming number of runners on the side of the course, to the point where the medical people weren’t able to keep up.  Everyone had someone attending to them, but it was a disturbing sight.  I thought about my friends running behind me and hoped they were okay.

Mile 13: During the final mile I tried to really focus on form and breathing. During the last half mile I got a terrible side stitch in my ribcage that made it hard to get my final kick in, but I pushed through and was able to finish with a smile on my face. I was so glad to be done! I finished in 2:20, a 3 minute PR from last year’s course which was NOT as hot.

Really felt like I earned this one!

Really felt like I earned this one!

The finisher’s chute was very well stocked and well manned.  They had ice cold washcloths which were amazing, and popsicles, too.  They also had the usual water, Gatorade, chocolate milk, protein bars, bananas, and bagels.  I was able to cool down pretty quickly and got a couple of finisher pictures before heading to the family meet up are to stretch and wait for Christina, Brooke, and Cyanne.



Official Chip Times:

Finish- 2:20:06 / 10:42 pace

2 mile: 19:27

10k: 1:04:35

10 Mile: 1:45:13

11.8 Mile: 2:02:02

Garmin Times:

Mile 1: 9:35

Miles 2-3: 19:39/ 9:50 avg pace

Mile 4: 11:05

Miles 5-6: 22:02/ 11:01 avg pace

Mile 7: 10:28

Mile 8: 10:51

Mile 9: 11:34

Mile 10: 9:57

Mile 11: 12:02

Mile 12: 11:01

Miles 13 & .1: 11:49 / 10:34 avg pace

Race Review – Pros:
Music mile – it was a great distraction and I loved the music!

Nice course – like last year, I really enjoyed the course.  Running through the city was fun and once we got out of the city, the skyline views were breathtaking.  I also enjoyed the flat route.

Great crowds – I didn’t mention this in the recap above, but the crowd support was really great in the city!! There were a few high school cheerleading groups and just people cheering in general.  It really helped during those tough miles.

Medical support running with runners along the course – I’ve actually never seen this before, but there were pairs of medical support people running the course with a bunch of supplies and checking on people.  They were actively asking people, especially people who were walking, if they were okay and if they needed anything.  I was really happy to see this and it made me feel a lot safer, especially since there was quite a bit of distance between medical tents.  I didn’t see them as much towards the end of the race, but I suspect it was because they were busy attending to people.

Swag – I really like the tee shirt and medal this year! The tee is a Brooks women’s cut.  I wear my shirts from the Rock ‘n’ Roll races all the time, and this one will be no different.


5k, Half Marathon, and Remix Medal on our tee!

Race Review – Cons:
Very poorly manned hydration stations- I mentioned this above, but there were not enough volunteers.  Luckily, I carried my water bottle with me so I was able to keep myself hydrated, but I was really disappointed here.  I know it’s hard to get volunteers and sometimes people don’t show up, but it was absolutely a huge issue and impacted the experience.  I made sure to thank just about every person who was volunteering though, they were working hard for us.

On course entertainment was practically non existent during the first half of the race – This happened last year, too, and I was really hoping it wouldn’t be the same this year.  We didn’t see the first band until halfway through the race! One of the draws of this race is having bands every couple of miles.  During the first half, there were things like people on stilts giving high-fives (cool, but not what I was expecting) and also a single woman playing a cello.  While I appreciate that kind of music….I couldn’t even hear it because she wasn’t hooked up to a speaker.  I kept asking myself…where are the bands? The second half had a lot more and they were good, but the lack of entertainment the first half was a real downer.

I’m not sure if I’ll run this race again.  While I enjoyed the course, the organization of the bands and volunteers was lacking for the second year in the row.  Chicago is a really fun city to visit, and I definitely look forward to racing there again in the future, but it probably won’t be this race.

Reflections & Lessons Learned

Overall, I learned a lot this race.  I went out exactly how I needed to in order to hit my goal, but my goal wasn’t attainable, especially given the conditions.  My start was too fast and I paid for it.  However, I’m proud of myself for pushing through and being able to find a way to stay positive and still get a course PR.  It was a huge mental battle, especially between miles 4-8.  If I had started more conservatively, I could have hit a PR.  Going into future races, I need to have a few different strategies depending on the conditions of the race and be more realistic starting out.

As far as my muscles, I felt really good this race.  My legs never really got tired and nothing hurt/got achy, which is a huge win.  I definitely feel like my body is strong going into marathon training which is the big picture here.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to PR this weekend.  I’d really like a do-over try at a PR, and I know I’ll get it eventually.  However, the weekend was SO MUCH FUN (more on that later)…it really made up for the hard race conditions and then some.  Also, I still hit a course PR which made me feel really good.  I think if I hadn’t hit that, I’d be a lot more upset about how it all went down.

Throughout this whole training cycle, I put way too much pressure on myself to hit a certain time goal.  I think it’s good to have goals, but I need to be a little more realistic and not take the fun out of training.  By really wanting to hit the 2:05, I had a hard time altering my race strategy before I started.  Instead, I think a better goal would have been to run the best race I could….I’m almost certain it would have been tough, but I would have PRed.  This is something I’ll think about as I move into my next training cycle.

Next up….a couple weeks off of training.  I’ll be doing a lot of yoga with some light cross training and just a couple short runs.  I am taking some time off of work before I start my new gig, so it will be nice to really relax.  I’ll start training for the Richmond Marathon August 3!

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  1. Thank s Jess for sharing your day! You nailed It , So proud of you. , could almost see you running the whole event with you’re recap ! Keep up the great work and for a great cause! Love ya.

  2. I am a bit behind on my blog posts and was just reading up on some RnR Chicago Half recaps to get inspired to finish MY post, when I found yours!

    OMG was it not the HOTTEST DAY EVER??? This was the toughest race I’d ever run. Thank goodness for the water stops (even if we got our own water) and the ICE at the medical tents. I was shoving ice down my front and back to cool down!

    but wow what a race, the support was amazing and I too loved the music mile. too bad there weren’t enough bands along the course! I ran my 2nd worst Half Marathon ever that day and still I wouldn’t trade the experience AT ALL.

    well done on you races (I did the remix too!) and it’s always great if we learn something from it!

    thank you for sharing your experience! Keep on running!
    Renée ( @pinkypie on twitter)

    • I knew I wasn’t the only one that had a tough race! Looking forward to reading your recap, and congrats on finishing!

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