Saturday, January 25 was the F^3 Lake Half Marathon in Chicago, IL. About three weeks ago, I knew I’d be in town for the LGBT Sports Coalition meeting and decided to look for a race, not thinking that it would be just two weeks after my 140.6, or with any consideration of the weather. Not my most insightful race registration, but I found this one that sounded low key and fun, and signed up.
The race started at 10 am at Montrose Harbor. The red line to Wilson would be me close, which was convenient because I was staying at the Hilton Homewood Suites downtown (excellent hotel and very cheap on Hotels.com – highly recommend it), which was near the red line Grand stop. The weather was my big concern, because I knew I would probably be okay running, but the before and after part could make all the difference.
Pre race and dressing
I was up at 7 am and at the hotel breakfast by 7:15. I had some scrambled eggs and a waffle with strawberries, a few cups of coffee, and a banana. I asked for a late checkout, since I would be done with the race around noon and wanted to shower after I got back; the person at the front desk wished me luck and changed my checkout to 2 pm.
With a race this late, I had time to head back to my room, watch the news, read a bit, and change my mind five times about what I would wear. The temperature to start was about 18 degrees (a little higher than pictured, I think), feels like under 5, and strong winds up to 22 mph. The race was along the lakefront as well, so winds would be stronger and colder. I finally settled on Nike Dry Fit winter tights with wind protection, and shorts over that. Usually I’m not a shorts-over-tights guy but it was a good life choice. On top I had a Uniqlo heat tech base layer, a Nike Dry Fit long sleep top over that, and a Nike Dry Fit wind and water resistant jacket on top. As an aside, it was just within the last three months that I’ve gone Nike with my apparel, and mostly by chance – I got a great deal on shorts and tights a while back as a store was closing, and the meeting this weekend was at Niketown in Chicago, which helped influence the addition of the jacket. I also had a winter hat, a neck warmer that I pulled up over my nose and mouth, gloves with hand warmers inside, and Pearl Izumi thick wool socks that I usually wear cycling. I was cold in my hotel room. When I left, I was very cold outside. I was okay on the train and I timed it pretty well; I arrived to the Wilson stop at about 9:50, ran (out of necessity to get there in time and to stay warm) to the race start, and arrived at the singing of the National Anthem. In all, I waited maybe 8 minutes before starting the race, because I ended up in the second wave.
Waves were necessary because the race took place on the path along the lake, which was wide enough for anywhere between four to six people side by side, depending on location. However, the snow and ice on the path made some spots less desirable to run on, and the sides near but off the path were loose snow, making it unwise to leave the trail to pass people.
In the first quarter mile, I felt like I was running on an ice rink. This turned to loosely packed snow, which made an inch or two of snow push out under each footfall. Eventually there were clear but wet spots of pavement, and then a muddy path. This made my pacing swing back and forth over a minute, changing mile to mile. The size of the path in some spots forced me to tuck in and settle into someone else’s pace, which was fine because I had no intentions of setting a PR or really racing this race once I saw the conditions (or in general, really – it was my first run in two weeks since my 140.6). I also settled in behind people to get a bit of a drafting effect when the wind was steadily blowing pretty hard on the way back. The course was a sort of an out and back, making the path narrow slightly when the fast runners (the winner ran a 1:14 on that terrain – incredibly fast) returned. Finding footing was tough in some places for me and I felt like my toes were curling in an attempt to grip the ground. It didn’t work, but it hurt my toes.
I passed the first two aid stations, and around mile 7 tried to get a drink of Gatorade. To no one’s surprise, the cups had frozen. I stopped to take a photo (again, not really racing here) and stopped to get a skyline photo on the run along the lake shore because it was too beautiful to pass up. I ended up not drinking any water or taking any gels on the entire run.
Despite the cold, there was the moment somewhere in there where the foot strikes settled into a rhythm and the sun was shining and I thought, “this is awesome.” I felt okay considering I had not run since my race and I was not breathing hard at all but the snow made my glutes hurt somewhere around mile 7, I’m guessing. There were no clocks and no mile markers on the course, so when I saw the exit for Montrose, I kicked. Too early. I didn’t study the race course, so I ended up running the last two miles with more effort than the previous 10, but I backed off as I hit the icy trail again. I had a good sprint for the finish when I saw that I still put up a good race time, even with the conditions.
This is when the damage kicked in. My Nike apparel had me warm on the course, sweating appropriately and not feeling too wet even though I was soaked on my back. The jacket was awesome in the wind. After, however, I had to get back to the train. I had stopped sweating and started freezing, and this is when my hands went numb. My legs, specifically my glutes and the top of my hamstrings, hurt badly and would have usually gone into an ice bath, but when I arrived at the hotel about 45 sweaty cold minutes later, I took an amazing hot shower and packed my things. No time to nap, although I needed one. I ended up spacing out in the hotel lobby for an hour trying to settle the brain fog before heading out into the city and eventually to the airport to return home.
By the numbers
Temperature: 16 degrees, feels like -1
Snow: 0-3 inches in some places
Wind: around 20+ mph
Times I’d say it gust higher than 30 mph: 3
Top layers: 3
Bottom layers: 2
Hand warmers: 2
Times my left hand froze: 3
Times my left hand thawed: 2
Times my right hand froze: 1
Times my right hand thawed: 1
Miles run to and from train: 3
Times I thought I was going to fall and break my elbow: 403
Times I fell: 0
Miles this race felt like: 19
Loud belches heard: 2 amazing ones
Loud belches belched: 0
Times I drank on course: 0 (1 failed attempt)
Gels consumed: 0
Bagels consumed after: 1
Times I dropped an f bomb under my breath after race to train: 6
Races colder, windier, icier, or more difficult I’ve done: 0
Finish time: 1:50:07
Gender place: 175 of 887
Gender rank: Top 20%
Overall place: 242 of 2095
Overall rank: 11.5%
Fastest mile: 7:52
Slowest mile: 9:10