Monday, August 24, 2015

Embrace the Suck - Rock n Roll Chicago 5K and Half Marathon 2015

"Embrace the suck": Translation: The situation is bad, but deal with it.

Those of you who've met us know that we don't like heat and humidity. We lived in Wisconsin for 6 summers (or road construction seasons, as the locals call it) and all I could remember was wanting to get back to California for their usually moderate/wimpy conditions.

So when Coach Al gave me a training program to start getting faster at the 5K distance, the assignment was to hit the 5K hard on Saturday and take it relatively easy on the half on Sunday. Naturally, we pick the hottest race day of the 2015 year to do this.

We landed in Chicago mid Friday afternoon with just enough time to get to the last 15 minutes of the expo to pick up bibs for the weekend. Many of the vendors had packed up for the day. Susan had been dealing with plantar fasciitis for a few months and opted out of the 5K on Saturday. While the Remix medal was a nice to have, the half is the only thing that matters for Hall of Fame this year. That and she'd have the luxury of having a few drinks at dinner  Friday night and sleeping in on race weekend for once. Caryn joined us for the weekend. We're hoping to see more of her in the second half of the year with the races on the west coast.

The 5K started near the boat house on the edge of the lake. Temperatures were already in low 70's and there wasn't a lot of shade on the out and back course. This was another great race for the Gypsies who came out in force.

I started out about a third of the way through the corrals and got swept up in the pace, walking a 10:13 first mile. Let's ignore for a minute that my previous PR for a mile on flat ground was 10:20, and that I had 2.1 miles left. Al was playing pacer/Sherpa this race and ran ahead to grab water and clear a few tangents. The second mile through the park slowed to a 10:46, close to my half marathon PR pace. The third mile started on the water, but even though I could see the finish line, I was feeling the pain of going out too quickly. By 2.5, I'd slowed to just over 11 minute miles.

At that point, Al reminded me how much work I'd put in for the last month and how many mental barriers I got through. I started cycling between 11 minute miles and 9:30 bursts. At mile 3, the course goes by a boat house and you see the finish line for the last 0.12. Al was reminding me to concentrate on form and push for the last quarter mile. It'd be a real bummer if I missed my time by a few seconds. The last split came in at an 8:59 pace, peaking in the last 40 yards at just under 8 minute pace. 

And I cut another 15 seconds off my 5K PR, heat and all. It took me a little while to get my head around what that meant, but when I realized that was like taking over a minute off a half marathon PR, I was totally stoked.

We spent the next half hour cheering in the rest of the Gypsies and a big contingent of TeamUp. It's been awhile since we were part of the cheer squad and it was a great feeling to walk people in, especially some who were clearly finishing their first race.

Also new this race was Rock n Roll's #PartyRocker group. Like Kelvin Sapp from the old SA2LV group, Bill Kwok now leads a few dozen people who carry their own music to motivate people during the races. Look for them at the RNR's for the rest of the year if you need to keep your spirits up.

One race in the bag. Temperatures climbing into the high 80s with humidity. My legs were dead from a hard effort on the 5K, but I couldn't help but smile. When you're with this group of people, how can you not?

I never made it back to the Expo but Susan went back to grab a few more sundries and pick up a present from Marcey at Sport Hooks. I'll post a picture when I figure out where to hang it on the wall.

We had thundershowers Saturday afternoon. We missed most of them since we were inside a theater watching Minions in 3D. How better to beat the heat and stay off your feet to rest? We had a few Gypsy dinners scattered around Chicago. Here's the group from Noodles & Co. Tawni, Tamie, Rick and Rhonda have been MIA for a few months at other races and it was great to catch up with them.

The 6:30 AM Sunday start time gave us the best chance to beat the heat. For Chicago, they offered a pair of RNR sunglasses if you beat your best time on the course. Given the heat, I wasn't sure how popular that was going to be. We were ready with cooling sleeves and were stopping for ice as many times as we saw it. Al was having some issues that morning that we traced back to something he ate at Noodles.

Fortunately, just about every one of our Gypsy friends were in town for this one. It's starting to get to that point where I need to be more creative with the group selfies. Al gave me some toys to play with for the next few races. Stay tuned.

We're a pretty awesome looking bunch, if I do say so myself!
We've done Chicago enough times to know a few things. It's flat. It's hot. It goes across a few bridges with tricky surfaces. The tunnel at McCormick can be super stuffy, especially since it's so late in the race. None of this changed in 2015, but I chose to give the sunglasses incentive a shot. Back in 2011, this was the first half marathon where I walked under a 12 minute mile pace. We met up for a quick picture with Amy who we met at The Biggest Loser RunWalk Crown Point. She's over halfway through crossing off 7 new states with half marathons this year.

My first 9 miles went pretty well. Imagine my surprise when I actually caught up to Al at mile 10, Noodles still not agreeing with him. I guess everyone has a race where things just don't go right and Chicago is Al's nemesis. Fortunately, he was able to gut it out. 


OK, I think I can make it now!
That last mile on Columbus felt like it lasted forever, but I walked in at just under 2:33, 3 minutes better than my previous course record. Given what was going on this weekend, I was more than happy with it. 

We were even happier with the set of bling. For a bunch of us, this was the 10th Rock n Roll race of 2015 and the biggest Heavy Medal awarded to date - the Gold Record. This replaced the previous Rock Idol 10-race medal and I think it was a really cool upgrade by CGI. This makes 5 years in a row for Susan and I getting to the 10 mark. Add that to the 5K medal and the Remix and this was a four medal weekend!

Susan finished the half and had time to catch up with Barbie from TeamUP. They met two years ago when Susan helped Barbie cut a half hour off her previous fastest time. Barbie did the 5K on Saturday and the 10K on Sunday, not bad for a lady who wasn't able to finish the half three years ago!

Chicago marks a long break in the Rock n Roll schedule between the middle to late July and the start of October for Rock n Roll San Jose. The European RNR's haven't hit our radar since we've crossed off the continent for full marathons and Virginia Beach is even less appealing weather-wise than Chicago ever will be. We picked up three races to fill the schedule and may stay on track to join the 100 Half Marathon club by the end of the year.

This isn't a bad half way point for the year. I just hope the wall holds up to the weight of the medals.


This is the sixth time we've raced Rock n Roll Chicago, missing only the inaugural race in 2009. We've used this race as a mid-summer cool down after San Diego and Seattle, taking part in George Melichar's Moving Art Museum in 2014 as well as using the race to practice walker pacing for Nike San Francisco in 2010. Add to the fact that there's a lot of cool things to see in the city, it makes it a regular location for us, despite how much I complain about the heat.

The July - September slow period lets us work on speed and form or take time to heal and recuperate before things get really nuts in October. This was half marathon #90 leaving 10 more to finish in 2015 including six half marathons in seven weeks in five different states followed by our usual two half marathons in the same day in different states.

We look forward to embracing the suck.

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