Chicago Lakefront 50K Race Report
I had kind of a strange attitude leading up to this race. Even a year ago I don't think I ever would have imagined approaching an ultra-marathon with such nonchalance. But here I was, the night before the race, sitting on the bed in my Chicago hotel room eating a meatball sub and thinking something I had been saying to people for weeks, "Eh, it's only 5 more miles. I'll go slow." Before I left that afternoon I said to Jason "There's really no reason I can think of that I shouldn't be able to finish." He looked at me like I was crazy and said, "There's no reason why you wouldn't be able to run THIRTY-ONE MILES?"
Ye, of little faith.
I parked at he 63rd street beach house the morning of the race and I could see the 50-mile runners who had started already plodding along the lakefront. It was cold and windy! I don't know why I had never considered the wind factor, seeing that I had lived in Chicago for five years, but for some reason it hadn't crossed my mind. I hoped the weather would be better once the sun came up. It wasn't until checked in and got my t-shirt and number that I started to think OHMIGOSH I'M REALLY DOING THIS CRAZY THING. I took a photo of my race bib and stared at it in disbelief for a minute. I waited in my car and caught up on Twitter a bit while I waited for the race to start.
I have to say that for being a race that would be LONGER THAN A FREAKING MARATHON the vibe at the starting line was incredibly low key. There were some small groups of people who obviously knew each other from local running clubs and I noticed one guy with an awesome shirt that read, "I know, I know, I said I'd never do this again." But overall, everything was very understated. First of all, it was a very small group of runners to begin with , and although there were a few people setting lawn chairs ready to support their family members and friends, absent where the throngs of people cheering runners on with cowbells and neon colored signs. It was kind of cool -almost like the people who run this distance are so dedicated (or insane) that they don't even need all the extra stuff. They do it because they love it.
The race consisted of three out-and-backs along the lakefront. Starting at the beach house on 63rd street we ran along Lake Shore Drive past the Museum of Science and Industry about 5 miles and change to the turnaround near McCormick Place. My strategy was to run at about a 10:20-10:30 pace for the first 26 miles. This would put my "marathon" at around 4 1/2 hours. After that I anticipated needing to ease up and I figured even if I ran almost 12 minute miles for the last 5 I would still finish around 5 1/2 hours. This was more of an estimate of what my finish would be rather than a real "goal" since can't say I was actively trying to get a specific time. My thinking was that if my recent marathon finish was 3:58, then slowing that pace down by more than 30 minutes would help fend off fatigue and prevent me from hitting any wall during the first 26 miles. Of course, this was only a guess and i really had no idea how my body would respond, but it sounds like good logic right?
So there were three aid stations on the course as well as the one at the start/finish so we had four places to refuel. I decided that even going at a relaxed pace I was going to stop at them ALL. (Especially because I had opted not to carry my own water bottle this time.) Oh, and the things they have at aid stations in an ultra are crazy! I grabbed what I thought was purple gatorade at the second stop and as I chugged it down I realized it was Coke! At first I was a little grossed out but the sugar hit me pretty fast and I decided that it was genius. As the race went on the stations kept bringing out more stuff- nuts, pretzels, red vines and at one point mini-candy bars. At first I didn't think I was going to go for that stuff but for the first time ever I was having a really hard time eating gels so ended of ditching them and forced myself to eat a small handful of cashews at mile 20.
How hard was it? Ok, so obviously the first 10-mile loop was easy peasy. And when I got to the turnaround at mile 15 I was really excited because I still felt great. I even took a couple of photos on my phone and posted them to Twitter and Facebook. I had my music blasting and my strategy of going slow stopping at every station was paying off. (The only snafu I had so far was that my Garmin started beeping because it was FULL at between mile 4 and 5 so I had to shut it off, clear everything and then reset it- making the mileage on my watch totally off and forcing me to do math. Grrrr.) When I finished the second loop and had one more to go I approached the race as just getting to the next aid station. In my mind I broke it up into 2 or 3 mile chunks and just focused on one at a time. This was a lot less overwhelming to me and it made it exciting when I would see one of the tents come into view.
I made it to mile 26 without hitting any wall, high-fived the girl at the turnaround and began the home stretch. The Final Five! Now, when I say I didn't hit the wall, it doesn't mean that I wasn't tired. My legs were definitely fatigued and my feet were sore but I didn't have that completely wasted feeling where you can hardly move forward. When I've run marathons there comes a point where my quads start to burn because they are picking up the slack for my completely shot hamstrings that are supposed to be doing the brunt of the work. I was really afraid of this happening early so when I got to 26 without that feeling I knew I would be ok.
On the way back I noticed my pace slowing more to around 11 minutes per mile. It's funny because on a regular run this would feel incredibly uncomfortable running at this speed but at this point I felt like there was no way I could have gone any faster. I also began lingering a little longer at the aid stations. At one I gulped two cups of water before continuing on! On the actual course though, I didn't do any walking. I stayed all the way to the right of the bike path, running along one of the white lines. I just stared at the white paint, putting one foot in front of the other, knowing that it would take me to the finish. During the final two miles I saw some of the 50-mile runners heading out again for what I knew would be another out and back and I was so happy it wasn't me! I had been running for over five hours now and though I was so completely spent I knew I was going to finish.
I saw the beach house come back into view and I was listening to (don't laugh) Bon Jovi on my ipod. I put "It's My Life" on there at the last minute because it was one of my mom's favorite songs and it came on during the last half mile. If you were driving north on Lake Shore Drive at that moment you would have seen a little blonde bun-headed runner having a weepy blubbery moment. I approached the finish area and there was a small group of people clapping for me I can't even tell you from where I pulled the energy to pick up my speed and sprint to the finish. One of the volunteers pointed to the clock which said 5:28 and he said, "That's a GREAT time!"
It really was. :)
P.S. If you are looking to run your first 50K and you live in the Wisconsin/Illinois area, this one is perfect for beginners. For the most part it was flat and it was all on asphalt/concrete. I'm definitely planning on doing it again!