Sunday, March 28, 2010

chicago lakefront 50k: 4:03.04

as the "chicago lakefront 50k" was approaching, i was dreaming of a substantial improvement on my 50k personal record. my only prior 50k was 7 months into my return to running and i majorly walled out during that event, walking the majority of the last four miles. i finished that event in 5:02.00. over the last 11 months since that event i have greatly improved my fitness and i was feeling like i could do this 50k without employing walk segments and i was hoping that i could keep an even pace for the entire distance.

before heading to chicago on friday, i washed the van and added the magnets i picked up at the little rock marathon fitness expo. we got out of springfield later than i had hoped. i was extremely cautious about what i ate and drank, hoping to avoid issues with my digestive system. we arrived at our host home (brett and carla's place) before 9 p.m. the trip started getting a little long during the last couple of hours and the boys started getting a bit restless. friday night we mapped out a route to get down to the lakefront and i slept really well.

saturday morning the journey down to the lakefront went smooth. the race was scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m. and we got down to the start/finish area around 7:55. it was a little colder morning than was initially forecasted. i was pleased with the cooler temperature, but i did feel bad for the spectators and my crew.
all my pre-race rituals went well. i did try something new. a few minutes prior to the start of the race i consumed a 5-hour extra strength energy shot. i did just a little bit of pre-race shake-out running in a variety of gears and then joined the runners lining up at the start. i heard "go", started my watch, and then tried to find the right gear as well as keep an eye on what appeared to be happening at the front end of the pack. i was observing the top-10 runners and trying to keep myself somewhat in reach, thinking that it would be cool to finish this event in the top-10.

the race consisted of three out-and-back 10.3+ mile segments. by the time we got to the 2.5 mile aid station i was running primarily solo and the time on my stopwatch appeared to indicate that i was not going too fast. there is about a 2 mile section between miles 1.5 and 3.5 that is right along lake michigan. when heading southbound the wind was definitely a factor. i encouraged myself by contemplating how great it was going to feel heading northbound.

the section between miles 4 and the turn-around is on the lakefront bike path. this section required me to use plenty of awareness to ensure that i didn't miss a turn. this section also featured a variety of runners, training groups, walkers, and bikers. it was cool when those people would see the race bibs and extend verbal encouragements.

as i approached the turn-around i was able to catch a glimpse of the runners ahead of me and extend them some encouragement. i hit the first turn-around with a little over 40 minutes elapsed on my watch. i did some number crunching and figured out that i was moving close to a 4-hour 50k pace.

heading northbound was very nice and required the shedding of my extra top layer. i resolved that when i completed the 1st out-and-back segment i would shed my hat. along this section i saw jefferson badger and was able to slap hands with him and extend some encouragement (something we did 4 more times during the race). jefferson is a friend i met via the dailymile website and this was his first ultramarathon.

miles 7 through 9 i got to run with a young lady that was visiting chicago from louisiana. she wasn't participating in the race, she was just out for a morning run along the lakefront. we had an enjoyable conversation about running and marathoning. in the midst of our conversation i almost missed one of my turns. she went her way and i was back to running solo.

i came into the start-finish-turn-around to the cheers of caleb, brett (fresh from a big haircut), and my wife. i paused for a moment at my dropbag so i could shed my hat, grab my 2nd handheld, and put on a headband and sunglasses. my wife noticed my need for sunglasses and grabbed a pair out of our van. they happened to be my son jacob's sunglasses, but they worked perfectly.

the time on the clock was a bit over 1:20, so with my incredible math skills i was able to figure that i was still very close to a 4-hour 50k pace [note: i suck at math].

during my 2nd southbound trip i was joined for about 3 miles by a local runner who was participating in the race: richard snipes. we had a great conversation about ultras and trail running. when he informed me that he was registered for a 100 mile event in june, i thought maybe he was referring to the kettle moraine 100 which i am registered for. turns out that he got into the western states 100. i am now facebook friends with richard and am looking forward to reading his western states race report. when we got to the aid station at the turn-around, richard paused for a refill and that was the end of our running together for the day.

at the turn-around i took note that my elapsed time was around 2 hours and 2 minutes. again, my number crunching indicated that i was still close to a 4-hour 50k pace.

a highlight of this 2nd out-and-back segment was seeing my family out on the course. they jumped in and out of the van and cheered me on at various locations along the course.

my 2nd northbound trip was a bit lonely and i noticed a couple of things: (1) i was getting a little warm and therefore i reasoned that it might be wise to shed my arm-sleeves and my gloves when i got back to my dropbag, and (2) my shirt was very much chaffing my underarms. i usually like to wear a compression shirt for racing, but sometimes i like some variety in my life. i had some petroleum jelly in my dropbag so i figured it might be wise to slap some on before beginning the final out-and-back segment.

during the northbound trip there is a section of the course that is only wide enough for two runners. i encountered two runners coming towards me without race bibs on and i assumed they would yield the trail to me when they saw my race bib. i was wrong. i proceeded forward without changing my pace, i allowed my left arm to connect with one of the runners arms. sometimes when i am in the midst of an event my minnesota nice disappears.

coming into the finish of the 2nd segment i was encouraged by my family which now included carla, tyler, and jacob. i shouted out to them that i would need my petroleum jelly and my mp3 player. it appeared that i would be running the last segment solo and i felt that some tunes might give me an extra boost.
once i had shed my gloves and arm-sleeves, applied the petroleum jelly, grabbed my 3rd handheld, and equipped my ears with my mp3 player, i was ready to see what i could accomplish on the my last out-and-back. my son jacob, who does not suck at math, pointed out to me that i was still very close to a 4-hour 50k pace.

with 10 miles remaining, i was wanting to push the pace but i was also wanting to finish strong and avoid walling out. i tried to stay relaxed as i faced the wind on my final southbound trip. i was starting to think that i actually might get close to a 4 hour time and i actually might take close to an hour off of my 50k personal record.

everything held together coming into the final turn around. with 5 miles remaining, i was amazed that everything still felt fresh. the last 5 miles were amazing. the wall never made an appearance. the wheels never even shook. when the course permitted, i peeked to see if anyone was gunning me down and nobody was back there. i did pick off at least one walling-out-runner during this portion of the race.

coming into the finish i was wanting to demonstrate a strong finish for my family. i tucked my handheld into the back of my shorts (learned that one from reading tony krupicka's blog), and charged in the last 200 yards.

i finished in 4:03:04!!! this totally blew my mind. the entire experience still has me in shock. this was super close to a 1 hour improvement on my personal record. i was not able to immediately crunch the numbers to realize that this equals a 7:49 per-mile-average-pace, but my math did seem to indicate to me that i ran very close to my personal best marathon pace for 31 miles. now that i have had a few days to process this, i would consider that accomplishment one of my best athletic accomplishments of my life. who would figure that at 38 years-old, i would be able to taste of that kind of accomplishment once again.

regarding that little dream i mentioned above of possibly finishing in the top-10, i did it: 7th place overall out of 176 finishers. official results are: here.

what an awesome weekend in chicago. sharing with family one of the best race experiences of my life. burning tons of calories so i could enjoy some of the awesome food in the chicago area (including burgers at "the bad apple" and pizza from "lou malnati's pizzeria"). some sunday afternoon disc golfing with the brett-man. life is good!!!

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