Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Let the Madness Begin

Sitting down to write about a race after a long winter leaves me a little giddy. Because as far as I'm concerned, it's the most wonderful time of year.

We're officially on the back end of March and the clocks have been put back the way they belong. St. Patrick's Day has come and gone, (The day of my people! Erin Go Bragh!) and my racing shoes have seen their maiden voyage. My skin itches with excitement and all the cold dark moments of off season training are ready to be showcased. This, my friends, is the unofficial start to the racing season. The March Madness Half Marathon.

Last year this race meant more to me than almost any race I've ever completed. I was determined to hold a PR on this blistering awful course that tests my legs and mind, year after year. As I toed the line, I had a heavy heart as I raced with the memory of dear family friend hanging over me. And this year I'd be lying if I said that I was fully "prepared" for the race. Of course it's been on my calendar since New Years Eve, and I've been training my butt off (literally) in preparation for Ironman Texas in 5 weeks. But somehow, it seemed to sneak up on me. Life has been anything but easy lately, in every aspect of the word. My energy is spread pretty thin, so I was concerned that my focus wasn't where I needed it to be in order to succeed this year. I couldn't have been more wrong. 

A few days before the race, I mentioned to Ryan (coach Speedy) that I didn't think my run was where it needed to be lately. "I just don't feel like I'm in great run shape." Of course he did what every good coach does, he ignored my comment and told me it was time to PR.

Race morning arrived and Mark and I departed the house at 7am to find Lauren and Matt waiting for us. Mark wasn't racing this year, but always has required attendance if he's in town. We made some new friends, one of Lauren's friends had recently joined the RyBread Racing team and I couldn't be more excited about it! Kati is sassy and full of spunk and I know we'll get along quite well. I'm already excited to race with her more. As the time neared closer and closer to the start of the race, Kati and I decided to head out on a warm-up run with Lauren. In the 10 minutes we were out getting loosened up, I spotted Rob drive by as he flashed a wave out the window! Minutes to spare and my number 1 fan pulls it off again!

Kati and I picked up Jacqui and Matt and b-lined it to the porta potties for one last attempt to make ourselves a little bit lighter. Then, we all pealed our sweats and tossed them to our cheering squad and took off for the starting line. Jacqui and I slowed down as we approached the timing pads and I could sense her nerves. After all, this was her first road race in over 18 months since her long road with plantar fasciitis that she had recently overcome. The last road race she ran was actually with me... the Oakbrook Half Marathon over Labor Day weekend of 2015. After the race, we laid in grass in pain. Me, from general fatigue. Jacqui, realizing she had a new pain in her foot that wasn't anything she'd ever experienced before. Yes, there had been a few Ironman races since then, but in case you haven't noticed, this girl is meant to run. It's literally in her blood and I knew she had been anticipating this day for quite some time. I hugged her tight promised her that this race was hers.

The gun went off and I was shocked at how relaxed I was. Maybe it was how ready I was to be back doing what I love. Maybe it was the last minute kiss I got from Rob on the starting line (yep, he made it with seconds to spare, and sealed my luck with a kiss). Whatever the case was, I was ready to fly. Within the first half mile the crowds are heavier on the side of the road, and of course I spotted Speedy, his bike in the ditch and the camera in my face. It wasn't until then I checked my watch for the first time and noted that it was already time to dial it back. I'm sure you remember from last year, this course is made to eat you alive.

All smiles early on!

The first 4 miles quickly reminded me how easy it is to run to fast. I did my best to stay in control and considering I could have EASILY ran a couple of sub 7 minute miles, I didn't. My 7:23, 7:17, 7:16 splits proved that I had the control I wanted. Anything faster and I would have without a doubt ruined the rest of my day. Just after mile 4 I spotted Ryan on the side of the road again, all smiles and cheering his little heart out. This time, I wasn't able to muster up a ton of energy for him. Instead I ripped off my gloves and tossed them his direction.

Just after Ryan, I spotted Lauren, Mark, and Rob on the corner as I made the right hand turn into the continuous uphill battle for the final 9 miles of the race. I flashed a wave and made sure my head was on straight because soon I was going to need every ounce of mental strength I had.

Rounding the corner...

...and ready to take on the hills.
Just after mile 5, the course slowly but surely starts to make its way.. up. Literally. Hill, after hill. The first notable hill that leaves me giddy takes my breath away every single year is just after mile 6 and is called "Sneaky Hill" for a reason. It literally comes out of nowhere after you take a few quick turns and then BAM. You look straight ahead and all you see is concrete, no horizon. One foot in front of the other until the sky is visible again. Splits steadied in the 7:30's and 7:40's so I was more than happy that I was able to maintain a strong pace as the course tried to destroy me. "Substantial Hill" (mile 7) tested my knees considering the banked curve you have to climb. Once I hit the end of mile 8 I had relief in site with a nice downhill to coast and my cheering squad at the base.

They love me! They really love me!

Mile 9's ease could not have come at a better time. The cross winds from the field are generally manageable after the previous miles. And the flat roads are always welcome. I coasted back into the 7:20's and my heart skipped a beat. It didn't last long though, because "10 Mile Hill" was right in front of me. We're talking about a climb that lasts every step of a half mile and squishes any confidence you had leading up to it. Any time you've banked in the early stages of the race are about to be cashed in. RIGHT.NOW.

I dread the last 3 miles of this race. More than the last 3 miles of a marathon. Or the last 3 miles of an Ironman. Just when you think, "I've gotta be done climbing now." Think again. I knew a PR was likely not in the cards today, but a course PR was a different story. But once I hit mile 11, I thought, "Damn, maybe this year it's not meant to be." I creeped awfully close the an 8 minute mile and feared my course PR was in jeopardy. Mile 12 was no different. But then, the last water station gave me a little jolt. Shortly after tossing my water cup, I spotted Jacqui and Matt trotting towards me while out on their cool down run. Yes, cool down. Meaning they had both finished the race and had enough time to run a "slow cool down" mile back out onto the course to find me. Jacqui was all smiles and extremely giddy with excitement. She talked a mile a minute and Matt insisted I ignore the Wisconsin Badger conveniently placed in someone's front yard.
"If you yell I-L-L at them I know you're not working hard enough!" Jacqui said me. 
Little did she know, I had a hard time laughing at her. Every single step was focused on that finish line. Matt was not amused with my lack of oxygen so he started to converse with other racers. "Yea, we all went to Illinois and of course we don't like the Wisconsin Badgers.." Meanwhile, Jacqui talked my ear off. And all I could think was, "But, did you win the race?" I finally mustered up enough air to spit it out and she smirked at me with the biggest grin, "YES!"

And just like that, I rounded the final corner and the finish line was in site. Jacqui cheered me on every step of the way, insisting I had more push somewhere inside of me. And she was right, I did. My legs found a speed that I didn't think possible at that point in this race and soon enough, that finish line was behind me. 1:40:13. Good enough for a 51 second Course PR. I'LL TAKE IT. I guess I take back what I said. I suppose my run is up to par these days ;)

In the midst of all the crazy, this guy never disappoints  💖
We stuck around for awards while we nibbled on our warm salty pretzels (maybe the REAL reason I run this race, year after year). Jacqui claimed the overall female title while my new RyBread friend Kati took 5th overall (along with a PR!)! Meanwhile, Matt walked away with a pretty new PR and 7th place overall male!

Watch out guys, the champ is back!

 New fast friend Kati!
Such speedy friends I have..
We all closed off the morning with a celebratory brunch (obviously). The warm coffee hit the spot as I sat and enjoyed everyone's company and my body slowly began to cramp. But once this was delivered in front of me, I felt 0 pain:

I mean, can you blame me?
I've already sworn off racing all together about 10 times since crossing the finish line. In the 72 hours since the race, I have never felt THIS sore from 13.1 miles. I mean, today is the first day I've taken stairs normally and sat on the toilet seat without wincing since Sunday. Recovering from this race seems to get harder every year. And yet, I still can't give it up. Will I race next year? Ask me tomorrow. Probably not. Maybe. Likely. Yea ok fine, I'll see ya there.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some serious prep to do. As of today, IMTX is officially 1 month away. 👊

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