I like to run. I've learned that it really isn't about where you're going, it's about the getting there - the how, the why, the who with. This blog is just a little repository for my thoughts along the way; the setbacks, the lessons learned, and the occasional triumph.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Race Report: Chicago Lakefront 50K 2011

Here’s my tardy report for the race held back on March 26th:

I wasn’t ready for this one. Not really. I slipped off my training schedule in the month before the race and hadn’t been getting in those very important long runs on the weekends. I wasn’t ready to run well for 31 miles, and I knew it. So, I made myself go out and run it anyway. As a punishment. A self-inflicted kick in the pants.

It wasn’t intended as physical abuse. I’d never do that. That’s something not everybody understands when I tell them what I do. When it starts to hurt, you just slow down. When that starts to hurt, you walk. I take no joy in pain. The whole point of training is so that when you race your event, it doesn’t hurt (or at least, not as much), so that you can keep running faster for longer, and your finish times get quicker and quicker. I hadn’t properly done that work before this race, so it was a punishment for my ego, because, even though I expected to finish, I knew that my finish time would be slow and ugly.

The LF50K is a great little event. It’s classy, low-frills, well supported by volunteers, and a flat and gentle course. Plus, it’s the only Ultra in the world that I can drive to in just 5 minutes. There’s something really sweet about a race that allows you to sleep in your own bed until an hour before the gun, requires just a 2-mile trek, and has plenty of easy, inexpensive parking just a few feet from the starting line.

In fact, I considered just pedaling over on my bike, but the weather made that a bad idea. In fact, the weather was downright unpleasant. You never know what you’ll get in springtime in Chicago. Race morning was cloudy with air temps in the upper 20s and lower 30s, and a steady, persistent 15 mph wind that would gust up to 20mph from the northeast. Fun. I didn’t feel it so much when I walked out of my apartment, but when I opened my car door at the lake, the wind nearly whipped it right out of my hand and sent it smacking into the white van parked next to me. Like I said, Fun.

The course starts at the north end of the water front, near Foster Ave. Beach, and heads south for about 5 miles to a southern turnaround point, from which you run back to the start. You rinse and repeat that two more times for the full 31 miles. For the first half of each loop, the wind would be at our backs, but for the return trip each time…

My plan was to start out very gently, but try and hold a semi-decent pace for the first 20 miles. Then, for the last 10.5 miles of out-and-back, just do whatever I needed to do to keep moving forward and get to the finish.

The first southern leg went smoothly. I settled into a gentle pace that seemed slow, but knew would pay off later. I also made quick, efficient work of the aid stations (an improvement over the lingering stops I took at those stops on the course last year). The route had been redrawn since the 2010 event, and now featured an almost straight shot south to the new turn-around point below North Ave. Beach. (Last year the course was more like a big “S” and the turnaround was near Diversey Harbor. With the new route, it would be very difficult to cut the course, something I thought I saw happen last year.)

The LF50 is unlike many Ultras I’ve run, as there is a bit less socializing out on the course. People are still really friendly, but I’ve found that everyone is less likely to fall into those longer, rambling conversations with strangers as so often happens in a trail Ultra. I assume this has much to do with the course, which, being so flat, fast and easy, leads to faster paces and also attracts a lot of first-timers. But, I found I was less talkative this time, too, knowing that I would not be running my best race.

As it turned out, my anonymity didn’t last for too long, though. One of the fun things about the route is you go back and forth past all the other runners during the race and you get to see the leaders speeding along in the opposite direction. I took note of the Women’s leader in a bright orange vest when she passed me as I neared the bottom of the first leg, but as I neared my first return to the north end of the course, I was quite surprised when it was she who took note of me! She called out to me by name, which stunned me for a moment, but I responded with a, Yes? “I read your blog!” she called back with a touch of a smile. And by then she had sped her way past me and I had to turn around to yell, Thank You! I gave her a wave or a nod each time I saw her after that, and as far as I know, she was the first female finisher. (So, congrats, Jennifer, and thanks again!)

The start of the second out-and-back gave a welcome relief from the wind. It was worst on the sections of the course that were closest to the water’s edge. The wind creates significant waves on the lake, and one small section of the running path was washed out and required a very minor detour. It wasn’t fun running back into that wind, but I managed it, and at least there was a 2 mile section of the route that offered a buffer of trees and small hills.

It was nearly 10am when I headed south again, and in addition to turning out of the wind, the air temps had started to warm a bit. I felt loose and fresh and decided to push the pace a little during this part of the race. I figured it might be the only leg I could use to do any real running. The wind at my back made me feel a bit like a boat with a sail, and that was fine with me. I pulled off my gloves and hat for a while and enjoyed the feeling while it lasted.

Even after the turnaround, once more into the wind, I still felt pretty good and loose. I had to zip the jacket all the way up again, and re-don the gloves and hat, but I got all the way back up to the 18 or 19 mile point, before my legs started to tell me it was time to slow down.

Here, this was the limits of the training I had accomplished. 19 miles of running at a gentler pace, and now the body was saying it needed a break. So, now, with a little over 19 down and a little over 11 to go, the miles would begin to expand. The legs would begin to creak and demand a pace of their own. Time, itself, would begin to change and the ego would get its kick in the pants.

One of the very windiest sections of the course was the last ¾ mile back to the north-end turnaround. It was again a huge relief to finally get there and set out with the wind at my back again. I took a little extra food and the aid station there, and watched as the winner of the race celebrated his victory just behind me at the finish line. I didn’t dawdle very long, eager to just keep moving forward, but I set out at a walk, to rest my legs and eat the goodies I’d picked up.

This is when I got recognized a second time. A fellow just in front of me turned and said, “Hey, you write a blog, don’t you?” The official race website had crashed in the week before the race. The Race Director had done a nice job communicating with all the registered runners via e-mail, but the problem had sent some people searching for alternative information. Well, apparently, when you Google “Lakefront 50K” my blog entry from last year’s race is one of the top results. Go figure. That’s how this fellow found my blog.

His name was Brian (if I’m remembering correctly). My ’10 report hadn’t helped him much with the parking info he’d been hoping to find, but he walked with me now for a few minutes and we chatted. He was running his first Ultra, in the hopes of finding something a little more challenging to tackle than the marathon each year. I told him if he wanted to take one more gentle step up, he should look at the Rock Cut Hobo Run 50K out in Rockford in the fall. (Been a couple of years since I’ve been out there, but it’s a good event, and close by.) I left Brian and set off at a trot, but told him I expected to see him again. He was still behind me at the final turnaround, but did, in fact, sneak past me near the end to finish a few minutes ahead of me. (Congrats on your first, Brian!)

I made decent forward progress on that next-to-last leg. The wind was still giving me the push, and though I was slowing down a good bit, I managed to keep a limit on the now-necessary walk breaks. But the IT band outside my right leg had begun to stiffen up, and the lower bits of my left leg were getting a little creaky from the cold and the miles. I knew that turning back into the wind for the last 5 mile leg wasn’t going to be much fun.

I lingered an extra minute at the last turnaround, grabbing a little more food and drink, then bundled everything back up and set off. At least some sun was out by then. I held a trot for a half mile or so, but that wind was still whipping in at 15–20mph, and I was finally demoralized enough that walking for the next mile seemed just fine. I just wanted to make it back to the finish line, and I was no longer all that concerned about how I did it. A little more than half the route was completely exposed to the wind. I made sure I ran a bit at the beginning of each new mile, but otherwise I just walked each of those exposed sections.

By the time I got back to the final ¾ mile stretch, the wind had fully shifted from the northeast, to blowing directly in our faces from due north. One last kick in the teeth. I managed to trot most of the last half mile anyway. There was one runner who I caught up to in the last 200 yards. I wasn’t trying to pass him – not at all, I was just trying to keep a steady rhythm to get through the headwind – but when I moved passed him, his ego kicked in, and even though I held my exact same pace, he sped up so that I couldn’t “beat” him to the finish line. I was a little annoyed by that, but mostly because the wind had blown its way under my skin, and because I felt dubious about my finish time.

I crossed the line at 5:42:03, more than 33 minutes slower than last year. For the first 20 miles, I ran a pace similar to last year, but I slowed so much on my final loop that I added more than a minute to my final, overall pace. I collected my medal, then turned down an offer of hot food in favor of heading to my car for sweet shelter from the wind at long last.

So, yes, I “finished”. But, no, I didn’t really perform well. I have a lot of great friends who aren’t runners and they are constantly impressed that I run these things at all. I am always grateful to them for that. But there is a big difference in just showing up for work everyday, and actually being productive while you’re there.

I know that, were I in tip-top shape, I am capable of running the LF50K course more than a full hour faster than I did this year. Were it not such a gentle and forgiving event, my results would have been even worse. I gutted it out and got to the finish line, yes, and there is some small accomplishment in that fact, but the reality is, I’m not going to be able to gut out a finish on inadequate training at the 100-Miler in July. If I don’t do the training, I will flunk out of my third hundo in a row. I really don’t want that to happen. If I bomb out another one, I don’t think I can try it again. So, I punished myself with this race. As a reminder. The goal is in Ohio in July, and I have to keep going if I’m going to get there.


Chris said...

At least LK50 was a good long run. Nothing wrong with that. I love your last paragraph. Very true. Good luck at BR100 in July. Get those long runs in...or else.

tinogirl said...

Hi there! I am flattered that my name made it into your blog! I almost forgot i wore that bright orange jacket, hard to forget!
I am inspired to know you still finished this race even though you knew your training wasn't there. I admire your commitment! Keep it up and good luck in July!

Anonymous said...

I know the weather was brutal I ran the 50k as well my second one my timing was 5:16:12 it was slower by 12 minutes this time it was about finishing it even with cold weather Great for runner that love to run though