We arrived, received our bibs and made our way to the start line. I kept debating how to approach this 5K event. Should I go out at a blistering pace for the first two miles then shut it down and coast through the final mile knowing I would be running a half marathon the next day? Should I start out slow and gradually build up my pace in order to finish strong and get some confidence heading into the next day's race? The gun sounded and we were off and running. It took a while to find a comfort level. Soon enough, Michael and I were starting to move quickly. I felt that we were boxed in initially, but at about the halfway point of the first mile, it seemed to open up for us. I felt great. Unlike SF10, we would have a great time pushing it. I kept telling myself to not go crazy. Do not press so hard. there is still a race tomorrow. Yet, the excitement hit me and when Michael informed me of our opening mile split and that he thought we could go faster, I took the challenge. We rolled through the second mile even faster then were cooking in the final mile before coasting across the finish line. Okay, the first of two races was complete. Although, we pushed it, I felt very fresh after the 5K. In fact, there were several long hills which honestly, I did not feel at all. Usually, when Michael or any guide warms me of a hill, I wait for it then when I feel it, I dig a bit more yet on this day, I kept waiting for the inclines to become evident, but they never materialized. That made me that much more confident heading into the Chicago Half Marathon.
Saturday evening witness the best sleep I have had prior to a race in a long time. Some readers may remember that the night before the South Shore Tri, I slept all of ten minutes. I usually only manage three hours before a race. On this night, I was able to get over five hours. Todd Smith and I made our way to the Chicago half Marathon. I had the great privilege of meeting Jen so in fact, the three of us headed down to the race together. Not only would my guide be one of the fastest triathletes in the world, but thanks to the amazing Jemma Lotzer of Imerman Angels and Linsey Baillys of US Road Sports, I would have an opportunity to begin the race in Corral A! Wow, I get to run with the elites. Perfect. My mission was clear. I would build on the success Jenny Pfaff and Stu Evans helped me achieve in January at the Houston Half Marathon when I ran a personal best, 1:57:23. I would run faster today. Of course, breaking that time by one second or one minute would be great. I had my sight set on a time closer to 1:44:00. If conditions were in my favor and everything fell into place, mainly if I could embrace the pain and run through it, then I would go all out to break 1:40. First thing first, get all prerace activities out of the way and work my way to the Corral A start. We hit the rest room. While in line, I heard the national anthem. Fifteen minutes until the start. We waited. Finally we used the rest room then made our way to the Imerman Angels tent to get Todd his IA racing top and to put our gear aside. Unfortunately, it was clear, we would not make it in time to go off with my wave. Todd kept laughing observing how intense my face would get. I tried to relax, but I was worried that missing the start meant spending all day boxed in by other runners. The gun sounded! The race began. Todd and I were still making our way to and from the IA tent. We worked our way to the start and ended up by the runners projected to finish in two hours and forty-five minutes. If we were going to get my goal time, we would truly have to earn it. We were not only going to race the clock, we were going to have to fight through a mass of humanity to get to the open spaces before we could turn it on. Sixteen minutes after the gun, we crossed the start line. We jogged through the crowd. The mass starts always make me uncomfortable. I held on to Todd tightly. I would wait for us to find open real estate before I would let go and flow. We bumped into people. We crawled along. I heard someone say he was running a ten minute pace. I figured maybe we were too. A bit later I heard a woman say she was running close to twelve minutes per mile. Was that us too? My heart sank. Frustration steadily rose. We needed to find open space. We needed to get by all these people. One mile was complete. Eventually, so was another. Frustration mixed with sadness. I wanted to walk off the course and cry. I would rather DNF than to cross the finish in two hours and thirty minutes. Not that I would ever quit or drop out, but I was so upset and sad that doing so seemed like the better option. Todd continued to do a masterful job keeping me company. He lead me through this insisting it will get better. He kept the faith for both of us. By mile four, I was mentally tired. Physically, I was fine, but mentally, I wanted to just check out and call it a day. I was not sure where I would find the strength to keep my sanity. I had big goals for today. Jenna has been wonderful in preparing me for this race. I have been pushing myself to get ready. Now, it is not happening. Just before the fifth mile, Todd and I took a quick break to gather ourselves. This was wearing down both of us. I started observing other runners. They were laughing and singing as they encouraged each other. At that moment, I remembered Jenna telling me to make sure I had fun. However this race would turn out, it was important that I take in the experience and atmosphere. I thought, Jenna was right. that is what I need to do. Do not give up mentally. Maybe the goal time is not in the cards for me. Maybe a personal best is not meant for me, but I can still push and press on and give myself a chance. I might surprise myself towards the end and learn I will have a shot at a record, so keep moving. Suddenly, my attitude changed. Shortly after that, Todd found an opening and we started moving. Finally, I could let go of Todd's arm and turn it on. Almost immediately, we were boxed in again. We made our way through the crowd and Todd found another opening. He told me to push. I knew we had a long way to go so instead of laying the hammer, I decided to merely float. I was not going to spend my energy tensing up and pounding the ground. I was going to attempt to gallop and glide through the air. We ran for a few hundred meters before running into another crowd. I mentioned to Todd how that short burst felt effortless. We were galloping. The next time we found an opening, we opened it up and Todd laughed agreeing that it felt like we were gliding effortlessly. We kept finding pockets of short bursts, but nothing long enough to make us happy. Todd said that he felt like a jockey and I was a thoroughbred at the Kentucky Derby. He said he could feel the energy of my strength and power ready to explode, but we just could not find the room to operate. He expressed disappointment in not having the chance to cut me loose and watch me destroy my half marathon time. Still, we pressed on and reached the turn-around point. Five more miles. We made our way and finally had a chance to push hard at about mile nine. As we reached the tenth mile, I thought of how this is where I started to struggle in Houston. I would fight hard to not let that happen. Todd said he did not want me to save anything for a final sprint. There would be no final sprint on this day since Todd wanted me to sprint the final few miles and not just the last few hundred meters. Todd kept encouraging me. I felt that I was beginning to fade as we headed to the final two miles. I kept pushing. With 1600 meters left, it was time to just let it all hang out! The only problem with that was we instantly ran into a wall of people many of whom were hanging on for dear life heading into the final mile. This final mile was all heart as runners moved towards the finish line. I wanted to burst through, but I could not find room. As Todd zigged and zagged his way, he tried finding us room to operate, but it was clear, it was not going to be a spectacular sprint to the finish. We would finish strong, but not quite as strong as I was hoping. We crossed with a time of 2:05:11.
At the start of 2012, if you would have told me I would run a 2:05:11 I would probably have hugged and kissed you because I had never run that fast for 13.1 miles. Having performed as I did in Houston, I found myself disappointed at Sunday's Chicago half. Todd was better than spectacular. He was amazing in the way he guided me through such a difficult experience. I can not say thank you enough to Todd. In fact, I was not disappointed at our performance. We did the best we could. On that day, that was the result. I will never know whether starting with my corral would have enabled me to hit my target. Maybe I would have folded down the stretch. Maybe I would have left even myself speechless by running even faster than my goal. Maybe this or that. In truth, all I know is what is. On this day, I felt short of my expectations. I fell short of my goal and I am going to have to be okay with it because I can not change it. I can only ask, what is the lesson I must learn from this? If everything happens in perfect order with the universe then what is the growth which must happen within me to make this experience benefit me in the future?
I was proud to represent Imerman Angels once again on the race course. thank you to Jemma for helping me get to the start line for this event. Thank you Todd for guiding me. Thank you Jenna for preparing me mentally and physically and always supporting and encouraging me. Thank you Michael for guiding me for the 5K on Saturday of which I learned on Sunday, from my friend, Lauren, that Michael and I finished first in our division! So in the end, it was a tremendous weekend of racing with tremendous friends helping light the way for me.