Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Running through Clouds, Puddles, and Popsicles

You know how sometimes you have a moment where a fabulous idea strikes you and you get all excited? You play out the the wonderful idea and suddenly you find yourself thinking,  "Maybe I've had better ideas in my day.."

The Amita Health Fit America Half Marathon is usually a race that is run in the late afternoon, when the sun is generally at it's peak heat. And when your body has been up and moving around all day, so racing when my mind is thinking about dinner isn't the best way to guarantee some fast miles. But this year, the start time shifted 10 hours earlier and suddenly my ears perked up. Challenging course? Yep. Morning start? Yep. Had I recently nailed my last 4 long runs, shocking myself week after week? Yep.

Sign me up.

I sat on my idea for a few days before I pulled the trigger. When I did, I recruited some friends to join me. {More like, "Hey Kati, I'm signing up for this race, I'll send you the link so you can register too." Mark was harder to convince, he signed up 12 hours before the gun went off.} If you live anywhere in the Chicagoland area/Midwest/US of A, you know that we've received an ungodly amount of rain in the recent months. These storms come through with a vengeance and don't understand mercy. There are only so many places for the water to go in the Northwest Chicago suburbs, and as a result I've seen many families without a place to live, people spending their Sundays stacking sandbags along the river in efforts to save their homes, roads closed for weeks on end, and the forecast isn't letting up. The night before this particular race we had another scary storm blow through. I was convinced I'd be waking up to water up to my knees.

My suspicions weren't too far off. Instead of waking up to puddles that resembled small ponds, my first steps out the front door had me convinced I was walking among the clouds. Chicago sees all the seasons, and to an extreme. We can give the south a run for its money in the summer months, but this was a humidity I'd only ever felt south of the Mason Dixon line. Holy hell Sherlock, I'm gonna run out of the glucose and sodium before my warmup is over. Forego the coffee this morning, someone pass the salt. 

The 3 of us arrived at the race site and said nothing about the weather. That is, until we made it to packet pickup and our feet instantly sank into the ground and we had wet shoes, socks, and toes in a split second. I mean, I love standing at the starting line of a race with drenched feet, it's not like blisters happen or anything. 

Shoes were already soggy mess 

We kept it lighthearted, and even blamed Ryan for the weather. Somehow, he was to blame right?

I mean, it's not like he advised against this race or anything..
After a RyBread Indian Run warmup to show off our skillz and recruit new RyBread athletes/friends, we made our way to the starting line. I was dripping lots of sodium already, at 7:20am, without a lick of sun. Pure humidity sucking the life out of me. Somehow, I was still pretty optimistic and had some ideas about how I wanted this race to play out.

Just hangin' out in the background 
The first couple miles of the race were simple enough. Small out and backs throughout the Amita Health campus. Small inclines, small declines, humidity still present, but I never like I was in trouble. I didn't realize it at the time, but my saving grace was running on the road. I was about to be steered into the forest preserve, where the air stands still. I entered the forest and my heart rate skyrocketed. Somehow, the air was even heavier. I did the best I could to maintain pace, but my lungs were suffering. By mile 6 I told myself I needed a "slow" mile to allow my lungs to recover inside the Amazonian land. I took my slow mile and when I jumped back into my uncomfortable pace, my watch never adjusted pace. Well, I'll be damned. It's gonna be one of those days, ain't it? 

Just before I hit the forest preserve

After mile 6, the entire race kind of blurred together. All the long loooooong inclines blended into one. I passed Mark and Kati on multiple out and back sections. I even took one opportunity to figure out where Kati sat in the lineup and was able to tell her {under some serious labored breathing} that she was sitting in 9th place at one point in the race. Somewhere along the 2nd half of the race, Mark and I passed each other and he found enough oxygen to yell at me, "You've got work to do!" Brothers, they're the best, ain't they? Yea kid I know, I'm currently dying so once I pick up a spare lung I'll work on that for ya.

During the early miles of the race, one of the pacers ran side by side with me and pretty much talked me off a ledge. "I can tell by looking at you, this ain't your first rodeo. You're a strong one, I'll see you at the finish line," he told me. I was hurting, bad. My feet were prunes hitting puddle after puddle on this path, creating blister heaven on my toes. My breathing made me sound like a I was next in line for a lung transplant. My legs grew achy and heavy after these slow, miserable climbs. By mile 10 I was significantly struggling to keep my miles close to an 8 minute mile. Finishing in one piece became the new goal.

I made it to the last half mile and soon I spotted Kati on the side of the road, medal around her neck and carrying multiple popsicle sticks. I wanted to smile for her. I wanted to express some sort of emotion. But all energy was focused on one foot in front of the other.

I would have rolled down this hill if it was socially acceptable

"I hope there's an IV cocktail on the other side of this finish line"
I reunited with Kati and she immediately directed me towards the free popsicles that were pure sugar and about to rock my world. We made our way back up the final hill of the course to wait for Mark, and soon enough he trudged down the hill in a much better mood than I did.

Kati's finish wasn't super glamorous either

Soon, the 3 of us sat on the curb and devoured more than 3 popsicles each. Our bodies were craving all the nutrients, and sugar was on top of that list. Kati claimed her award, I snapped a picture, and as we were about the walk away a nice man with a camera walked into my face and asked if he could ask us a few questions. We primped the best we could {aka tucked away our frizzy hair behind our ears and put our sunglasses on to hide the pain} and smiled for the camera. I'm sure we made RyBread look like a hot mess 😑

We honestly lost count.
Maybe this was #2?

so sweaty. so furry. so nasty.
I could walk away from this and tell you how disappointed I am that all my recent work in my favorite discipline faltered on this disastrous race day. I could even tell you that my 3 previous long runs were all faster and more successful than this race. Hell, the weekend prior I ran my long run on the Ironman Racine 70.3 run course and rubbed shoulders with Andreas Raelert and Andrew Starykowicz while Ryan was out racing and throwing the hammer down on the bike. I ran off to the side, but watched as one by one these pros blew past me, making it hard to run slow. And none of this would be a lie. I was a bit disappointed. My more recent long runs were all faster. And 7 days prior I had shared the road with some of the sport's most decorated athletes. But today, today just wasn't made for me.

This stepping stone was exactly that, another learning experience to what will be the September of a lifetime. In case you forgot, I've got just under 6 weeks until the Half Ironman World Championship race, a day I dream about every single day. You likely won't see me on the course for the next 6 weeks. I plan on taking advantage of every single day before race day. Qualifying is half the battle for these kinds of things. Part 2 is showing up, ready to represent among the best in the world. And if I wake up on September 9th and the humidity resembles the Amita Health Half Marathon race day, I'll know what I'm in store for and take it on the best I know how. Chances are it'll be a bit warm and humid in Chattanooga on my 30th birthday, so we'll consider the Amita Health Half Marathon a bit of a "practice run" instead of a "full on half marathon disaster."

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