Monday, August 13, 2007

chicago distance classic race report!

so its hard to believe that 8 months after the idea first came to me to run a half marathon, after an entire summer of endless training towards this one end, that it finally actually happened. i actually don't even know if i've quite processed yet what an awesome accomplishment this actually was, but what i do know is everytime i think to myself "yeah, i ran a half marathon this weekend", i get just a surge of pride. so i will enlighten you with the story of the entire weekend, since it was definitely an entertaining one.

we left madison at around 10 am on saturday. our travel crew included me, zach, and nick, and we were picking up zach's girlfriend at o'hare later that afternoon. we were laughing about the fact that dallas, who was supposed to be running with us until he got hurt about 3 weeks ago, had actually signed up for a different half marathon in chicago on sept 9...kind of funny. everything was going pretty well until about an hour and 15 minutes out of madison, when a lady pulled up next to us and informed us that there was something dripping out of the car. we kind of brushed it off and kept driving...except then another man pulled up and yelled something to the effect of "i think your hose blew!" a couple minutes later, the engine started smoking, and we realized that yes, we were definitely going to have to pull over. we ended up at a gas station in rockford...where we stood for awhile trying to figure out where exactly the bright green liquid dripping out of zach's car was coming from. luckily there was a subway in the gas station, so we decided to get some food before figuring out what to do next. zach called his girlfriend's grandpa, who happens to live in rockford, and he came out to look at the car but didn't know what to do about it. we went back inside and zach started calling around to try and find a place that would fix his car on the weekend. we finally found a place run by a korean man named chang who apparently was pretty hard to understand but said he would fix the car "today...tomorrow....i fix whenever". so that situation was the question was getting to chicago. i honestly cannot BELIEVE how lucky we it turns out, the van galder bus runs from rockford to downtown chicago....not only that, but the gas station we stopped at was located directly across the street from the bus stop, and we got to the bus stope like 10 minutes before the bus showed up. it was ridiculously good timing, and so we hopped on the bus for the trip into downtown.

the bus schedule had said that we weren't going to get into the city until 4, but we got there at 3 - they must have been counting on much worse traffic. we started walking through the city on our way to the hilton, where we had to pick up our packets...we must have looked ridiculous walking around with all of our luggage and pillows and stuff, but whatever. the expo was pretty crazy - i mean, i've been to plenty of dance conventions but...a running convention? crazy. and awesome. as nick said, "there aren't any fat people around here!" we got our chips, numbers, shirts, and some free wheaties, and then decided we should probably try and find the L train that would take us first to o'hare to pick up zach's girlfriend and then to logan square, where we were staying at zach's roommate's brother's apartment. this also turned into an interesting experience, because apparently they were doing some construction between the downtown stop and like 2 stops away from logan square, so we had to take a bus over there, then take the train to wherever else we had to go. we thought we were going to be super early to the airport, but all of that, plus there being a ton of traffic, meant we literally saw her plane touch down and got there like exactly on time. then we took the L back to logan square, except now we had 3 huge suitcases along with us too...which was entertaining when we finally got to our stop and had about 13 seconds to get up and get out of the train before the doors closed. by now it was about 7:30 when we finally got to logan square.

the crew in front of the sears tower

so the next task was to find the apartment where we were staying...more complicated than it sounds when all the streets go through this random central circle and no one knows which direction is which. but we eventually figured out where we were going, which ended up being like a mile and a quarter walk from the station. by the time we got the the apartment we were all pretty much dead, and we made some pasta, got things set up for the next day, and went to bed at like 9:30...after all, we had to wake up at 4 am the next day!

and it was definitely a very weird night's sleep. melanie called me at 10 and i woke up thinking it was like 2 in the morning, everyone had been drinking tons of water and gatorade so we all kept having to get up to go to the bathroom, not to mention it was insanely hot in the apartment. time definitely becomes warped when you have to get up that early. when everyone's alarms finally went off at 4 am, it was raining outside...apparently there had been a HUGE storm at like 2. we basically rolled out of bed and changed into our running gear, i ate a granola bar and some wheaties and made myself another cup of powdered gatorade, we all checked to make sure we had our chips and then headed out. it was kind of eerie walking through the streets of this neighborhood at 4:30 am...there was not a single person anywhere, except for one crazy man who yelled at us out of his car. i can't imagine what anyone must have thought if they'd looked out their window and seen us walking down the street...all wearing short shorts and running shoes at 4:30 in the morning. we finally got to the metro stop and took the 4:58 train downtown, then transferred to the bus which luckily ran a lot quicker when there was no traffic at this time of the morning. we got to our stop around 5:30 and headed over to the start.

as zach's girlfriend put it, "how did they find 12,000 freaks to run 13 miles at 6:30 in the morning?" it was pretty much chaos. insane amounts of porta-potties. people taking pictures. hardcore runners warming up. teams running for some charity or another. people with signs. people stretching. all against the backdrop of the early morning sky over chicago. pretty sweet. i honestly wasn't very nervous before the race...i mean, it honestly didn't feel so much like a race as just another distance run to get through, only with thousands of other people. and in my mind it really didn't seem like it was going to be that bad. "ah well, 12 miles wasn't so bad, 13 will be no problem!" even when nick and i jogged to the 8 minute mile start corrall with like 5 minutes to go, we were joking about the guy on the pa talking about all the milk that was waiting for us at the end of the run, and i was like wow, that's about the LAST thing i would want after running 13 miles, and nick quoted anchorman: "its so hot...milk was a bad choice!" we were packed in with thousands of other people, and then the horn sounded. it took about a minute for us to get to the actual start, and i heard that it was pretty much a stampede of people for about 10 minutes. and then....we were off!

about 5 minutes to race time in chicago

the first few miles flew by...i was right on pace at right around 8 flat, and i was feeling i could do it all day. the first 5 miles or so looped around in the city, and there were people on every corner ringing cowbells and cheering us on. around 4 miles we ran through a crazy tunnel right under the L line, and with the trains going overhead it seemed like it was thunder from the thousands of people running. we saw jess around that point and she yelled for us and ran trying to take a picture, and nick threw her his singlet since it was already starting to get really hot and humid, even that early in the race. somewhere around the 10k mark was when things started to become considerably more unpleasant. i guess i really hadn't expected it to start hurting that early in the race, but there was a kind of gradual uphill for awhile and i think that really started to bring the pain. its weird, because at the time every mile seemed to go on FOREVER, but yet the overall time of the run seemed to take like a minute. anyway, i had really only planned to stop at like 3 water stations, but that plan was basically shot with the humidity...i mean, you know its bad when you can feel yourself becoming dehydrated. i had to walk through a couple water stations, mainly because i can't drink when i run, and therefore my hydration basically consists of me throwing the cup at my face and hoping some of it makes it in my mouth. i started feeling a bit better through 8 and 9 (and seriously, i think i owe it to the fact that i had some gatorade right before mile 8, and they were playing some kickass techno poms song out of a car....and i was pumped haha), but after that it was horribly brutal the rest of the way. mile 11 was absolutely the WORST, and my slowest mile of the day in 8:42. i remember telling nick "oh my god, i want to die right now". i was kind of mad at myself for falling off pace, and yet there was nothing i could do to pick it up. but i am happy: i NEVER went into 9 minute mile territory, and i only had 2 miles over 8:30. and the nice thing about having 12,000 people in a race is this: you are CONSTANTLY passing people, which makes you feel awesome about yourself. and thank god nick was there, or i would have slowed down SO much more...and he kept running just a little bit in front of me being like..."yeaaah i know you want to slow down but guess what? you can't!" such strange things pop into your head when you're running for that long...i vividly remember thinking "this hill is your BITCH!" on one uphill around mile 6. anything to keep myself going haha. i'm pretty sure the humidity was what got to me most - like, around the 10th mile, i started feeling like...cold, and having goosebumps, which somehow i feel like was not a good sign. but hey, whatever, i got through it, and there was seriously no sight so beautiful as the finish banner at the end of the last straightaway. and even though i'd been killing myself for almost 2 hours, even though i was dead and having to draw up every ounce of my strength just to continue moving forward, for that last .1 mile, i kicked it in. i passed people. i vividly remember passing two people because they were wearing headphones...yeah, i was going at it. and at the same time it was like...the faster i get across that line the faster i can STOP! and i don't think stopping running has ever felt so good as it did at that moment. of course immediately went to the hands-on-knees death grip that's the only position i want to be in after running, hard, but nick dragged me up and we went through the chute. the first group of volunteers had ICE COLD SOAKED TOWELS...which let me tell you, may not sound that great, but it was absolutely the most glorious thing ever when you're overheated and have been running for what seems like forever. then there's gatorade. then there are people giving you a sweet medal. then there are people cutting off your timing chip as you almost fall over. and then there's water, and bagels, and bananas, which i had to stand around for about half an hour before wanting to eat any of haha.

once nick and i finally got through the craziness of the chute area, we realized we had to walk like 3 blocks in the other direction to where we said we were going to meet zach and jess. not the greatest choice of meeting spots when your legs feel like they're about to collapse at any moment and your hip hurts and you just want to sit down. and seriously, it felt SO GOOD to sit down. we didn't even care that we couldn't find them at first, because we didn't want to stand up and walk anywhere haha. finally we did meet up with them again. zach apparently went out waaaaay hard and practically ran an 8k pr because "i felt good!". he ended up falling off his goal pace but still ran 1:19 something and finished 70th overall! in a field of thousands? that's insane.

my final time: 1:48:46 (8:18 pace)

splits: 1- 8:00, 2- 8:01, 3- 7:59, 4-8:04, 5- 8:01, 6- 8:19, 7- 8:28 (this was where the pain really started to hit me), 8 - 8:36, 9- 8:24 (nick forced me to pick it up again), 10- 8:27, 11- 8:46 (ouch. is all i have to say.), 12 - 8:28, 13- 8:20

1538/8720 overall, 334/4475 women, 62/662 AG

representing wisco TC after the race! we're seriously awesome.

so after we had all recovered somewhat, we walked back to the train/bus station to get back to logan square. time seemed so warped at this, it was only 9 am and we'd already been up for 5 hours and had run 13.1 miles! we passed a starbucks and zach was like "audrey, there you go!" because i had said the night before that the first thing i was doing after the race was going to one of the 30000 starbucks in the downtown chicago area and getting a frappuchino, but at the time i wasn't in the mood. except then, 3 blocks later, nick wanted to go to dunkin' donuts (which there are also about 3000 of in chicago) to get a donut....and when i saw iced latte things on the menu, i couldn't resist. the lady at the register was extremely impressed though when she found out we'd already run 13.1 miles that morning! we finally made it back to the bus and were pretty much comatose the entire way back to the apartment...zach fell asleep sitting up and the rest of us just kind of stared off into space. when we got to the L train, another guy who had been in the race got on the same car with us and was like "i bet no one else wants to get on this car, this is the smelly section"...which was quite true, since we'd all been sweating quite a bit over the past few hours. the walk back to the apartment seemed to take forevvver, and all we really wanted to do was sit down. i ended up taking a shower first, and came out to find everyone else passed out, so i decided to join them, and we all slept for about an hour. then everybody else started to shower...i went to get some water and found zach sitting on the floor eating cereal in the kitchen because he was actually too tired to stand up or walk anywhere else. it was pretty funny, but basically defined how we all felt: absolutely beat. buuuut unfortunately we still had to walk back to the train station to take the train back to o'hare where we could take a bus...and this time we had to drag the suitcases again. we stopped at this extremely sketchy looking but awesome/authentic mexican/salvadorian restaurant called el guanaco...we got about 5 extra of these el salvadorian things called pupusas, which are like flat breaded things with pork or cheese or beans inside, and they were pretty amazing. i also got this GIGANTIC burrito for $, it was qdoba sized, kind of ridiculous, but delicious. the guy who rang us up was also impressed by the fact that we were runners. i can only imagine how many strange looks we got wandering around with all these huge suitcases and with running shoes hanging from our bags, but to tell you the truth, i felt pretty sweet sporting my chicago distance classic shirt.

so finally the journey home, which wasn't too exciting. we took the L back to o'hare (by now we were basically pros at getting out the doors before they closed) and took the van galder bus back to rockford, we all basically passed out as soon as we got on the bus. chang had fixed the car as promised, so we went to the sketchy little repair shop to pick it up, and then finally were headed back to madison! we made it back around 7, having seriously spent the majority of time over the past couple of days either traveling or running, and it was ridiculously good to come home and just crash. and there you have it, the exciting tale that was the WTC adventure to chicago for the chicago distance classic half marathon!

so now, to sum up my novel about this weekend, i have the philosophical part...this crazy half marathon journey. i remember thinking when i was thinking about how GOOD it felt just to be sitting down, about a quote from grey's anatomy: "maybe we like the pain. maybe we're wired that way. because without it, i don't know, maybe we just wouldn't feel real. what is that saying? why do i keep hitting myself with a hammer? because it feels so good when i stop." and really, i think that sums up why anyone would ever want to do a half marathon, or any kind of distance running in general. i mean yeah, you want to die while your doing it. there's really no escaping that. you're going to feel like crap, and your legs are going to hurt, and you're going to have to pee, and you're going to have gatorade all over yourself from when you tried to drink but splashed all over because you wanted to keep running, and you're going to be sweating out more water then you even knew you had in you, and your head is just going to be spinning with why, why, why would i put myself through this hell, why would i pay money and travel and train all that time to come out here and wear a number and kill myself for an hour and 48 minutes? its because when you're done, you can't imagine having ever felt so good in your life. that's whats so weird about racing: its like as soon as you're done, you absolutely can't for the life of you remember just how bad it felt when you were out there. which i think is the only reason you can convince 12,000 crazy people to come run 13.1 miles at 6 in the morning. i mean god, if i could still vividly feel the way i felt during that race, no way would i ever want to do anything remotely like it again. but people do. and i do. you keep racing, you keep trying to get better, you keep thinking of the little things that could make you just that much faster. and when you're done you just feel so phenomenal - not like you could go out and race again, because your legs are heavy and you feel like death - but like you are just the most kickass person on the face of the planet. there's a quote from running with the buffaloes that also sums it up well: " in many ways, a race is analogous to life itself. once it is over it cannot be recreated. all that is left are impressions in the heart, and in the mind." you can't change anything that happened out on the course, and you can never fully relive it, the good parts and the parts of it when you just wanted to die. but it was what it was, and the way you feel when you finish is really something that never leaves you.

i'm one of those people who is really weird about what t-shirts i wear to big events...races, and back in high school, dance competitions and things like that. i know its just a t-shirt, and its not like i'm superstitious where i think what i'm wearing is going to impact my race somehow, but i like the shirt i wear to have some kind of meaning to me, something that would never be obvious to an outside observer, but just a personal thing. to the start line of the half marathon, i wore a t-shirt from the 2003 tosafest run to defeat als. normally i would have worn a tosa west track shirt, or maybe the "no mercy, no limits" or orange tye dye ones that have always especially related to track for me. but the reason i wore this seemingly random, old shirt that i hardly ever wear because to be honest, its kind of an ugly color, is this: it was the FIRST distance race i ever ran. in my life. a little under 4 years ago, i stepped to the line of that 5K road race and ran 3.1 miles in 9:09 pace. yesterday, i ran 13.1 miles in 8:19 pace. and that's why i wore that shirt. because how far i've come as a runner in just 4 years is amazing to me. and 4 years ago, or even a year ago, there is no way i could have even IMAGINED doing what i did yesterday. and that to me is what running the half marathon was all about. i had made a list of people to "dedicate" each mile to - you know, think of them for a little extra inspiration, or whatever. and honestly, only a few of them actually crossed my mind during the race (though that doesn't mean the others weren't there). all of those people had some impact on my getting to that line yesterday...from a guy who made me run faster in workouts because i wanted to show off to my high school cross country team for giving me the first step into distance running, to my dad who i know would be running with me if he could. but most of all, this race was for me. it was for a 16 year old who randomly decided "hey, why not try to run a road race?" it was for a 17 year old who said "i'm going to make it to state this year if it kills me, and i think joining the cross country team is going to help me do it." it was for a 19 year old who one night in january, through the boredom of winter break, thought, "you know what would be cool to do this summer? run a half marathon...i mean, just to finish, not to race or anything....". it was for realizing i love running. for 12 milers through brookfield, mile repeats, 2-a-days, and forcing myself out there no matter how hot it was or how much i didn't want to or how many hours it took to psych myself up. and i never would have thought 8 months ago, when i randomly decided that this would be a good reason to keep running over the summer, what an absolutely incredible experience it would become. everytime i look at my bib number, or my finishers medal, or my t-shirt, or my towel from the finish, i can't help but feel a swell of pride. and yes, i've been running for 6 years now, but i think that after this, after a year of realizing my true love for the sport and training and racing not because someone told me to or because i'm on a team, but because i want to, and because i truly love it, that i can finally, and truly, call myself a runner. and let me tell you, it feels damn good.