The Chicago Half

A few months ago, my high school friend Richard got this absurd idea in his head to run the Chicago Half Marathon. Somehow, he managed to convince quite a few of us to join in. At one point our planning thread had something like ten runners, but we only ended up with six in our group after a few pulled out of the race.

When I initially agreed to run this thing, I was excited to train because it seemed like an impossible task, and a great goal to strive for. My preparation began really early—around March—with a pretty decent progression. I felt I was on track to run with an 8-minute pace, to finish the race with a time of 1:45. However, right in the middle of when I should have been ramping up even harder, I went on vacation. Although I was decently active with biking, swimming, and hiking, I ate poorly and ended up gaining eight pounds, hahaha. Upon returning to Boston, I only had two weeks left before the race, so I ran pretty hard to try and make up for lost time. About 5 days before the race, I was able to finish a non-stop 10-mile run. Although I was pretty slow (about 2 hours), finishing the 10-miler gave me confidence that I would be able to finish the race at a reasonable pace without dying.

The night before the race, we carbo-loaded with some delicious gnocchi at Sapori Trattoria in Lincoln Park. We stayed in an AirBnB that was walking distance to Jackson Park. The house was… interesting to say the least. The owner was very nice and accommodating, but clearly had very eclectic tastes. I think the most apt description for him would be the original hipster—he had a huge vinyl collection, a super old school projector, an absurd number of vegetarian cookbooks, tons of random stuff that you might find at a thrift store, and chickens in the back yard. Yea. Chickens. There was also a ridiculously huge spider with a web that covered the top third of the front door, and Richard’s cuddle buddy was a huge wasp. All things considered though, it was a great stay.

We woke up at 5am the morning of the race, changed, ate some bananas, and walked to the starting line. It was a bit chilly so I had hella goose bumps since I was just wearing shorts and my “Party With Trees” tank. Once we started the race though, the temperature and weather were perfect for running. I really had no clue what to expect from an event like this, but the scale was much larger than I anticipated. There were about 8000 participants, tons of port-a-potties and an absurd number of volunteers with life-saving Gatorade and water.

Richard, Nathan, Richard, Will, Tiffany and I were all in the same starting corral since we all registered with a 2-hour target time. We couldn’t find Terry in the morning, but he started behind us in a different heat. The five of us that were together started off with the same pace (about 8:30 mile) but Richard went ahead first, while I fell behind the others.

I couldn’t feel my right foot at all from miles 2-6. This had happened to me before while training, and a short slowdown fixed it for me then. During this race, however, nothing worked at all. I tried everything from slowing down, to walking, to drinking Gatorade, to eating an energy chew, to stretching, to retying my shoe, to wiggling my toes. After every remedy I tried, there was no response. The feeling (or lack thereof, more accurately) was a bit scary and I think I let it get to my head and affect my running. After about an hour of just working through it, my leg and foot magically recovered. Being able to feel my foot again was one of the best feelings in the world. I couldn’t tell if I actually yipped for joy, or if it was just in my head, haha.

With the feeling back in my leg, I was able to focus more on running (and smiling at all the cameras I saw). I’m not sure if it is a placebo or not, but I found that forcing myself to smile while running made the act easier to perform. I think the idea was inspired by some TED talk, which said that forcing yourself to smile, actually made you happier. The race from miles 6 through 12 was pretty uneventful.

As the last mile approached, I found that I had probably saved a bit too much energy so I picked up my pace significantly. Once I turned the corner and saw the finish line with the crowds cheering, I just flat out sprinted and immediately started dry heaving afterwards—just like the good old days of high school track practice.

I expected a sense of elation or something right after finishing… but nope. I just felt angry. I was angry at my slow time (2:16) and at having too much energy at the end of the race, I was angry at the ridiculous number of people in the finishing area making it impossible to find my friends, I was angry at not being able to enjoy the view, and I was actually pretty angry at Richard for putting us up for all of this. I was just hot and tired and sore all over. I decided that the best thing would be for me to just head back to the AirBnB so I could shower and txt everybody else. Jackson Park is a pretty big place, and I ended up getting lost for like 20 minutes trying to get out. This didn’t help my mood at all, but I eventually found my way out of the park and back to the house.

Looking back at the experience now, I’m happy that I did it, and that I can say I did it. Honestly though, have no desire to do anything close to this sort of thing in the future. I simply cannot comprehend why anybody likes to run distance for fun. My smiling at all the cameras that I saw actually paid off—I got some decent pictures out of it! Unfortunately for me, the last two rest stations on the race had misters spraying water and I couldn’t resist the temptation of running through them to cool down. This caused my hair to be kind of gross looking in my photos. Oh well.

The best part of this entire experience was definitely meeting up with old friends again. We had a bunch of IMSA folk at our pre-race dinner and I finally got to meet up with the sib family at the post-race lunch. I do think that keeping up the habit of running is a good thing that I will try to continue (I just ran 3 miles today), but seriously there ain’t no reason at all for me to run this long again.

Here are some pics from the weekend:

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