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November 1st, 2003 – Chicago Lakefront 50k

June 5, 2009

It would be nice to say I thought something like, “Not today” or “not so soon” or even, “has it been three weeks already??” when I rolled over and, with a great certitude of purpose, I turned off both of my alarms at 6:00 AM and went back to sleep.  After all, I had ran a fifty miler just three weeks earlier; I hadn’t been feeling well all week; and I really hadn’t slept a wink all night.  As my head hit the pillow, I had decided that I would skip today’s ultra – after all, running fifty thousand meters wouldn’t really impress any of my friends (indeed, most would probably ask why I hadn’t ran the fifty mile option); getting to and from the race was a logistical headache; and, with a 50K I really want to do well at in another three weeks, taking the day off sounded like a good plan.

But then, with all alarms off, my head back on my beloved pillow and my beloved bunny blanket curled tightly around me – five minutes after turning the alarms off, and with only twenty minutes to go before the one and only early train pulls into Midlothian – I get up; providence dictated that I lay out everything the night before the race, and I moved down the assembly line of my pre-run routine – chafing areas covered with bodyglide, running shorts (with bib already attached) slid on, running shirt, watch, hat, glasses; bag balm for my feet, socks, shoes, grab my backpack with my fanny pack and everything nestled inside – and I was out the door.

Any doubts I had about running completely disappeared after I pulled the door closed and locked behind me – and not just because I’d locked myself out (purposely – I had no real need to take my keys with me).  The weather was absolutely gorgeous – well, for me, at least; cool (48 or so) and moist (about 80% humidity, I think, though I could be way off), and mostly still, with an odd air of spring that defied the month of November.  It was just a bit chilly as I trudged off for the train, looking probably not at my best.  I shook my head groggily waiting for the train (which was running a few minutes late, no matter), debating with myself (and losing) about the wisdom of having a couple of beers on Halloween. 

The train ride up to Blue Island/Vermont Street was without incident; I was to catch the 7:18 electric train to get up to the UIC/Museum Campus in the Hyde Park area at 63rd street, where the race started along the lakefront.  Arriving in Blue Island about 40 minutes before the train would depart, I decide to go break a ten at the first coffee shop or McDonald’s I can find (the train token device wouldn’t take anything larger than a five). I head up hill (yes, there’s a hill, honest) and happen upon a dunkin’ donuts, where a nice elderly man stops and asks me about my dress (looking probably like an all-night Halloween escapee with unfortunately skimpy clothing).  I tell him what I’m up to, and he wishes me luck – something that would actually happen three times before the race starts.  For the record, early morning Chicago dwellers are a decidedly more midwestern breed than your average Joe Three O’Clock Chicago. 

I sit down with my coffee and manage to spill it all over myself, bringing myself very much awake with the coffee, though not in a way endorsed by anyone this side of the Marquis de Sade.  I even soaked my bib number, which was amusing – the bib, Number 31, was now wet with coffee, and singularly represented my age, my identification at the race, and how many miles I would run that day.  I clean up the coffee and head back to the train, studying the race details on my train ride in.

The 63rd street Metra station is about a mile from the start, and I head towards the lake and can’t help but notice the wind is right off the lake.  But, it’s a steady wind, probably no more than 8 MPH, and I figure that since I’ll be running with and against it, it should all even out.  (Incidentally, there is a bizarre golden statue on 63rd street (well, Hayes drive at that point) that has a story I need to find.  It’s probably about 20 feet tall and is kinda Poseidon-ish).

The 63rd street beachhouse, which is the start and finish line, is buzzing with activity when I arrive.  I make the rounds, looking for some people I know, but find noone (ironically, I run into more people I know when running in Montana or California or, believe it or not, Mississippi!)  The few people I do know at the race are all running the fifty mile.  I chat and make a few new acquaintances, and even laugh it up a bit with Byron Harlon, who is one of the anchors for the local Fox affiliate.  He’s ran this race before and looks calm and relaxed, offering encouragement to a few first timers.  I congratulate one of the RD’s on scheduling another fine day of weather.  Stuart has made this race a little more interesting, giving a sub-100 bib to everyone who has ran at least one ultra before, and giving people their respective age as a bib number when possible (hence, 40, 44, 46 and I were all running our age). It’s a nice touch!

The race starts with a false start (whoops), and we’re off soon enough.  I settle into an easy 9:00/mile pace and let the runners start to fan out around me.  Noone is really running my pace, so I just breathe in the air and enjoy running north – into the wind.

The course is a triple out and back, with the first loop having an extra mile and a half added; thus the loops are roughly 12, 9 and 9 miles.  The first half of each loop has you running north along the lake which, today, means running into the wind on the first half, but with the wind on the second half – definitely a good situation. 

Deciding on a pace, though, is not really easy.  I had been planning on doing back-to-back 50ks this weekend, following the Chicago 50K up with a run in Starved Rock park the next day.  Unfortunately, the Starved Rock race had a key sponsor pull out at the last minute, and was canceled with one week to go.  Therefore, my plan on running the Lakefront 50K easy was thrown out, and I could run it as I pleased. I could, of course, opt for the almost even run/walk strategy that I had planned on (finishing in about 6 hours – slow, but conservative, given the need to have to do it again tomorrow), or try for speed.  Well, not speed, as even my speed work is geared towards the 50 mile distance, but some semblance of speed…  About this time, though, a guy pulls up along side me and asks about the pack in front of me (there are only about fifteen people ahead of me, and six, including the two lead females, are in a tight pack about 100 meters in front of me).  I tell him they’ve been together since the start, and he’s obviously a people person and suggests we pick up the pace and join them for a bit.  I decline, but we soon start running and talking, and eventually pass most of the pack.  John Churns is originally from South Africa, and now lives in LA; he’s in Chicago because this run sounded like fun, and fit with a cross country trip to go see the New York marathon on Sunday.  Since he’s from South Africa, I can’t help but mention that I’m interested in running Comrades next year if I don’t get into Western States (I’ll know December 6th!), and ask his opinion; it turns out John’s finished the race ten times, and even has a silver finisher’s medal for a seven hour performance on the 54 mile course.  He highly recommends it, and we spend almost the entire first lap chatting, talking about goals, running longevity, his London-to-Brighton encounter, great places to run, etc.  I’ll definitely harass him if I run Angeles Crest (100 miler) or the Avalon benefit run (50 miler) on Catalina island. 

John and I’ve ran ten miles and are nearly finished with the first lap when I bid him adieu and let him run his race; it’s possible I could’ve held his pace, but I didn’t want to risk it, and the chatting had helped the miles fly by, and I finished the first loop (12.5 miles) in about an hour forty.  I quaff an ensure (quaffing is like drinking, only you spill more. – Terry Pratchett), refill my lone water bottle and head back out.  The second lap starts out nice – I’m able to see my closest competitors behind me and wish them encouragement, and also know roughly how far people are in front of me.  At this point I make the crucial mental decision to just run how I feel – not to worry about placement, or how far people are ahead or behind me, or whatever.  It was definitely one of the best decisions I’ve made as an ultra runner. 

Also on the second lap, I start seeing more fifty milers.  They started two hours before us, but their loops are a lot longer (the first loop goes all the way up to the river, then runs underneath Wacker for about three quarters of a mile before returning, and the second and third loop turn around north of Randolph.)  So I’m finally able to see some people I know and have ran with before.  (I’m also able to see a hell of a battle for the women’s race in the 50K – Laura Stadelman was being seriously pushed and challenged by the eventual winner Kathryn Froelich, who just FLEW every time I saw her).  I’m also starting to walk at times, forcing myself to unhurriedly eat and drink for three minutes after I hit each aid station, which are roughly a mile and a half apart.  I’m glad to hit the turnaround and be headed with the wind, and I’m still feeling fabulous as I enter the three mile stretch to the start/finish.

I’m a bit surprised when I don’t see many people ahead of me until I’m within a mile or so of the start/finish area; I also notice that about a half dozen people ahead of me are really struggling (they’ve completed about 22 miles at this point, which is where people normally “bonk”).  I say hello to all of them, and know that I probably won’t catch those that are in good spirits and wish me luck as I head into the start/finish area.  I take this last little pause to put on my mp3 player, and I doff my running belt and decide to only run with the water bottle and a couple more salt tabs on the final lap (the aid stations have gatorade and food, and there’s a guy handing out GU south of the turnaround).  I quaff a Red Bull (yeah, the stuff’s growing on me), top off my water bottle and head back out, with an hour and forty-five minutes left to break five hours.

It looks like I should set a PR for the distance, and I again calm myself down and try not to think about it, concentrating on walking every mile and a half or so for a few minutes and not doing anything stupid.  This seems to pay off, as although I don’t hit the marathon mark (at the far turnaround) until just under four hours, I still have plenty of energy and time.  I see John about a mile and a half before the final turnaround – he’s looking a bit harried, but still running strong, and has moved up a couple of places.  I hit the turnaround, start lapping a few people, and begin passing about a dozen or so people in the race on the way back.  I manage to not get lapped (hooray!) in the 50K, and I’m only passed on the last loop by one person – the first place woman in the fifty mile race.  I begin to finally smell the barn with about a mile and a half to go, and pick up my feet when I notice the clock counting up to 4:47… I sprint in with a final finishing time of 4:46:58, fifteen minutes better than my previous best 50K, and 45 minutes better than my best on this course (oh, and 4:38 better than my worst fifty K).

The time was nice, finishing 26th out of 148 people (and beating the pants off the news anchor, heh).  The nicest part was the reaffirmation that this is something I can do and be good at; after a couple of disappointments this year (passing out after 42 miles at Ouachita 50 miler in Arkansas; getting really sick and walking the last half of the Tahoe Rim Trail 50k; being unsure of myself and not starting the Where’s Waldo 100K; an unspectacular yet fun mountainous 50k in California in 8 hours; and a mistake with food that cost me a half hour in this year’s LeGrizz 50 miler) it felt good to have a solid race from beginning to end, and beating my target time by almost fifteen minutes was excellent. 

The next run is in three weeks’ time, running a 50K from Springfield to Branson Missouri the weekend before Thanksgiving; my target time will be 5:15 (due to a lot of elevation gain and loss).  If anyone wants to greet me at Skagg’s Hospital (the finish line! No way would I go there under any other circumstances!) in Branson, I should be finished by about 12:15 PM, and have volunteered to help the race director at the finish line until the course closes.  Come by and say howdy!
Cheers – next report will be strategically placed a few days before Thanksgiving to help everyone enjoy their turkey.

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