While most people were out shopping on Black Friday, I did what every good runner does and signed up for race deals instead. (What? Everyone doesn’t do this?) One of these races was the Biggest Loser half marathon in Rockford, Illinois. Little did I know back in late November what my winter/spring would hold. I never imagined that it would be mid-June and this would be my first half marathon of the year! This race was also my first race of the year for my new sponsor, Eternal Water.
I honestly kind of forgot about this race. It would occasionally pop into my head and was on my calendar, but I definitely was not training specifically for this event. I remembered about it at some point last weekend in the middle of Ragnar when I was tired and sore and decided that maybe I would “downgrade” to the 5K. But then I recovered from Ragnar much better than I thought (specifically, my foot didn’t hurt!!), so decided to go for it. I obviously knew this race was not going to be anywhere close to a PR, but I wanted to use it as a “benchmark” race to see where I am. Last year when I ran a half for fun, my time was almost always within a five minute range. This was most definitely my “happy pace” – a pace where I am pushing a little, but not killing myself out there. I planned to run this race at my current “happy pace” and see just how far off this pace was from last year’s pace. My expectation was that I would be 10-15 minutes slower. I am struggling to lose a few pounds I have put on post surgery and my running endurance is not where I want it (yet!!).
The worst part of this event was the 4 a.m. wake-up. Rockford is a little over an hour away and my friend, Laura, was picking me up at 5 a.m. Thankfully, as the week progressed I started to feel “caught up” on sleep from Ragnar and it wasn’t as bad as I expected. We arrived at the race site around 6:15 a.m. where we easily picked up our packets, took a few pictures, used the porta potties and headed to the start line. I have to say this was a nice change from the Chicago racing scene. We were able to park for free about a 2-3 minute walk from the start line. That does not ever happen in Chicago and was a welcome surprise. Everything was logistically smooth with this race as far as packet pick-up and the start.
While we were waiting to start the announcer said the course is mostly flat. Perhaps the course is flat if you live in that area and regularly run larger hills, but it was not what I would consider mostly flat. In fact, I would call the first several miles “rolling.” There were no huge hills, but it was not flat. This might not have even seemed like a big deal if I was in proper half marathon shape, but on this day it was frightening. I was going into this race completely blind as far as the course. I glanced at the map but do not know the area (and there was no elevation chart), so it meant nothing to me. I tried to pace myself very conservatively those first 4-5 miles in case the hills just kept coming for the entire race. This also might be a good place to note that the hills were probably especially hard because Friday was a leg day at boot camp. In fact, all we did was squat. (Not just squat, but squat heavy weight.) This may not have been my brightest plan, but I enjoy boot camp and unless I am running a goal race I do not typically taper or take a day off before an event. I enjoy racing frequently, so if I took off every day before an event I would end up missing half the Friday workouts throughout the summer. No thanks.
The first few miles went through some areas of Rockford that I would not consider scenic. In fact, they bordered more on run down and ugly at times. At some point though, the course not only flattened out, but we were by a beautiful river. Turns out, this is a really nice course! Thankfully, it was somewhere around this point that my legs began to feel loosened up and I fell into a “happy pace” that wasn’t too snail like.
I loved the size of this race. It is large enough that you were never alone (I hate running really small events for distances over 10K), but you were also never crowded. I did the Biggest Loser event in Chicago last summer and between the race participants and regular lakefront traffic, it was much more crowded than this one.
The course had great volunteer support and aid stations. There were a decent number of spectators for a smaller, suburban race. This event also includes a half marathon walk, so it was fun to cheer on the walkers as they were heading out along the river and I was returning. This race series attracts a lot of people who are newer to fitness or just beginning a weight loss journey, so the vibe is a little bit different.
I did run with a watch, but tried not to obsess over it. I definitely started feeling my legs again around mile 11. I feel like as I get back into some of these distances I am not getting fatigued as in out of breath, but my legs aren’t holding up like they could pre-injury. I’m guessing this is just a case of needing to build up a mileage base again. I hope to begin this process in the next few weeks if my foot continues to do well.
At the end of the day, I was only 3-5 minutes slower than my “norm” last year. This was a huge surprise shock to me. This race left me feeling optimistic about the 2014 season. I have been hesitant to put any sort of goals out there for myself this year until I felt that I had recovered. I feel like this race ran me full circle. It was a half in November that sent me to the doctor. I ran one of my worst times in years at that race. This was my first “good” race in a long time and my fitness wasn’t as bad as I expected. So I will say it here first. I am going after a new half PR this year. I have yet to pick the race (I can assure you it will be flat!), but it will likely be mid-late fall. (I know myself well enough to know that I run much better in cooler temps.) My half PR is a full minute per mile faster than I ran on Saturday and I haven’t come all that close to it since that magical day 1 ½ years ago, but I will most definitely try.
It feels good to be back!
What are YOUR running goals this year?