Thursday, June 21, 2012

Soldier Field 10 Mile

Two days after the 3.5 mile race was the Soldier Field 10 Mile.  I signed up for this race long before I got hurt, and I wasn't about to miss it.  My first 10 mile race was not going to be sat out!  I got the chance to run with my running friend again, whom I'd also done the Shamrock Shuffle with earlier in the year.  I love running with her, and in this case, we were both aiming to finish, not to meet or beat a specific time.  We pace well together and keep each other motivated, and it's wonderful being able to run with her.

She picked me up at the break of dawn as it began to mist and drizzle.  We weren't quite sure what we were going to be in for, as the forecast called for cloudy skies with rain until race time.  It started to rain on our way to the city, but, eased up by the time we parked at Soldier Field.  We got a choice spot in the parking structure adjacent to Soldier Field, a very short walk to the stadium.  Score!  As we walked around trying to get our land legs and figure out where everything was situated, we ran into a few familiar faces and friendly greetings.  We got the lay of the land, decided what gear to keep on our persons and what to check in gear check, and made our way to the starting line.

The sky was cloudy.  There was a cool breeze.  The breeze turned cold at times.  Then, the dark clouds rolled in.  As my girlfriend and I stood in our starting corral, we began to chat with some of the runners around us.  At times, we'd turn back to talk to the people behind us.  I distinctly recall turning around and seeing a black shelf in the sky behind them to the north of us.  Talk about striking fear!  We're about to run this race!  The cool breeze and cloudy skies are fine, but, rain!?!?  Sure, a nice rain when it's hot keeps you cool, but it wasn't warm, and those clouds weren't carrying just a little rain.  That was a storm!

We continued to monitor the progress of the clouds, seeing them move closer and closer to us as the start time approached.  It drizzled a little.  We felt actual drops fall from the sky.  Oh no!  Thankfully, the drizzle ceased before the starting gun, and the breeze helped keep us cool as we ran.  To our good fortune, it was a tail wind on the way south for the first five miles.  It remained cloudy throughout the race, which was a blessing.  Those first five miles were pretty good.  A couple of my teammates, injured and unable to run the race, were there taking pictures, and it was nice to see familiar faces along the route.  It helped break up the miles, too, and keep my mind off obsessing over my stride and form and just run a comfortable pace.

Once we turned back north for the last five miles, that tail wind wasn't our friend any longer.  We were running directly into the wind, which was stirring as a head wind and a cross wind, not helpful either way you slice it.  As I'd told a friend to do at the start, I kept my mind thinking about how much I'd already done, rather than how much I had left to go.  Keeping a positive spin on the distance, I did my best to keep the feelings of, "Are you kidding?  I still have how many miles to go?" from permeating my thoughts.  Running along the lakefront helps keep things in a positive light, for the most part, and the more I focused on what I was achieving, the less I felt that sense of, "please, can this be over??".

My hip felt pretty good, but I won't say I didn't feel it.  My friend and I had agreed to walk through each water stop, to ensure that we would actually drink the water and not cover ourselves with it.  Getting going again is the hardest part for my hip.  Yes, that's usually the case when I'm at more than 6 miles anyway, but the hip needs some extra encouragement when it comes to walk breaks.  When we hit the 7 mile marker, I realized we had just short of a 5K left.  Just that thought made the last three miles easier to manage, mentally.  Honestly, there's something about knowing you have that distance remaining, and knowing how long it's probably going to take you.  You can almost see the finish, and estimate your total finish time.  Of course, times like this are no time to be doing that math in your head, so I purged those estimates from my mind and focused on just getting to that finish line.

What happened next was a first for me.  Really.  Throughout the race I kept seeing the porta potties and thinking to myself, "Really?  You can't hold it for at least 90 minutes?".  Yes, I really thought that.  Only on Sunday mornings when I've gone on my solo runs after a few cups of coffee has the urge ever hit me during a run.  Never during a race, though.  I kid you not.  Well, guess what.  I suddenly realized that things could get pretty ugly if I didn't visit the next set of porta potties.  And hopefully they were coming up soon.  I tried to remember what I'd seen on the course map as far as aid stations and water stops, and thought there was probably going to be one around mile 8 or so.  Mile 8 seemed to be hiding from us, though.  That mile marker took forever to get to.  Yes, this was the longest mile (in my head) of the entire race, as I realized that if I didn't make this stop, I was going to be heading off the path looking for some bushes.  Dude.

Finally, at the final water stop, my friend walked for some water while I sucked it up and stopped to 'lighten the load'.  Quickest pit stop of my life, probably.  And the most valuable.  Saved my race.  With that taken care of, we looked at each other and knew were were so close to the finish, there was no stopping now!

That pit stop sort of cost me, though.  I didn't just slow my pace for some water intake, I literally stopped for a couple minutes.  That's a huge difference.  Getting started up again was really tough, and luckily my girlfriend was OK with walking a little bit in order to help me get back into the groove.  Honestly, that was the hardest part of the race.  Imagine, in the last couple miles, when you can hear the cheers at the finish line, and you've got to get your legs moving again.  Ugh.

Never fear, however!  We entered Soldier Field through a tunnel on the east side of the stadium, wove through some parking spots, and finally through the tunnel that brought us out on the field, and directly to the 50 yard line.  Amazing!  It was an incredible feeling to know that I'd just completed my first 10 mile race, and it felt good!  After some celebration and a bottle of water, I stretched a bit before we headed in to get our finishing rewards.

Here is me with my girlfriend shortly after our awesome finish!

Now, there are a few things I don't like in a race.  One thing I don't like is hairpin turns.  This race did not have any, thanfully.  What it did have, that I have now added to my "Dear Race Director, please don't {do this}" list, is that as we headed back off the field to get our medals and finisher blankets, we had to go up a ramp.  Now, if I were to see the ramp today, it would probably be no more steep than my driveway.  After 10 miles, however, that ramp could very well have been Mt. Everest for all I knew, and it sure seemed so!  Seriously?  Make me climb an incline after I just did 10 miles?  Are you serious?

All kidding aside, after we got our stuff and collected our gear from the gear check, we headed out to the post-race party where my team had gathered at a tent, and we shared our successes, thoughts, and lots of stretching.  I stretched like I'd never stretched after a race before.  It felt so good.  Sure, I was sore (the hip), but it felt so good to know I'd just done those 10 miles when I wouldn't have believed I could back in February, or even March.

This race made me feel good about all the work I'd been doing to that point and good about myself for sticking with it and not backing down.  I was really excited about it, and in the end, my time was in line with my expectation.  Official finish time was 1:35:31.  Given the year I've had, I was, and still am, pleased with that time!

Oh, and that's not all.  There's more.  Lots more.  I've been a racing fool!  More to come...