It’s been a long, fruitful season since my first race back in March of this year, and I was excited to have the opportunity to do my final race of the season in Chicago (at sea level!!!) and with my awesome runner/tri-athlete coworker during our big conference week.
We both spent the few days before traveling, attending talks, and prepping for our own presentations (a podium for her and poster for me), which meant any pre-race prep and pre-race nerves were on the back burner. We did get in a lovely shakeout run along lake Michigan, and headed to bed early the night before so that the 6:30 a.m. start (oooof!) wouldn’t feel quite as rough.
Race morning dawned dark and unseasonably warm (45 degrees!), which meant shorts and long sleeves – definitely not the outfit I had envisioned when I packed my tights, wool socks, mittens, hat, and micro-spikes into my suitcase a few days prior. I brought my racing flats along for an extra little race boost and carried them on our 2-mile warmup run to the park where the race start was located.
My coworker and I got to the park and checked our extra gear, did a few drills and strides together, and then lined up at the start. We eyed a few other competitors (“Let’s beat those guys from Philips!”) and chatted happily with one of the women who’d run the race a few times before. It was a low-key start, with a steady friendly chatter beforehand and then a simple “Ready, set, go!”from the starter. I had to squeeze by a couple guys but then took off at what seemed like a reasonable sea-level pace with the windy-city wind blowing briskly at my back. A small lead pack led the way and we were soon moving briskly down the sidewalk along the lake shore.
I made it through the wind-aided first mile in a surprising 6:08 or so (eek!), but felt fine apart from the shock of seeing the surprisingly fast time on the 1-mile clock. Even with my brisk pace another woman passed me like I was standing still right before the mile mark, and another gal did the same right before the turnaround at 1.5 miles. I just kept spinning my legs and hoping I could hold my pace and fend off any more women coming up behind me. The turnaround meant a a direct flip onto the opposite side of the bike path and into the wind, and my pace slowed considerably to about 6:35 average in the final 1.5 miles with the added resistance. I was relatively alone, and couldn’t hear the runners behind me due to the wind whistling in my ears. All I could do was to keep pushing and hope for the best.
I finally caught a few guys with about a quarter mile to go and kicked with the pack as we spotted the 200m-to-go marker. I could see the finish clock from about 50m out and accelerated into the finish in the hopes of getting under 19:40. I crossed the line to find out I’d gotten third (woohoo!!!), well behind the 1st and 2nd place women who’d both run well under 19 minutes(!)
My coworker came in shortly afterwards at just over 20 minutes and we tiredly recounted our race experiences and gathered some food for the run back. Our cool down wound along the lake shore as the sun rose, making for quite the end to our early morning. We spent the rest of the day conferencing, happy to have gotten in a good 7 miles before spending the day in dress clothes and researcher-mode.
To be honest, it was a bit of a weird final race – I wasn’t all that nervous before hand and the results were fairly meaningless (although my 3rd place did get me a spot in the conference newsletter!). My coworker and I both ran well, but had other, more significant things to focus on that day. However, in spite of the low-key atmosphere I was really pleased with the race – I got to both enjoy my pre-race time without the usual anxiety and also managed to run a really solid race that confirmed the times I’ve been looking at with the altitude conversion from my high-altitude race times. It was definitely satisfying to see that I really did have a sub-20 (and a well-under-20!) in me, and that I was able to perform under the slightly weird conditions of such an early race.
Now it’s on to a little running break, and then a hopefully strong winter of steady, base-building running, strength work, skiing, snowshoeing, and other fun snow-land activities 🙂