It is 4:55pm CST on June 16th as I (start to) write this entry, and I have already run one race today, a grueling 15K in Peoria that took place 3 hours south of Chicago. I am exhausted as I sit here back in my Chicago apartment, but I am nonetheless drinking a beer to pre-game for today’s 2nd race, a late-night 6K that starts 4 hours from now in Chicago’s Grant Park. I do not intend to run the 2nd race sober, so if there are any typos toward the end of this entry…well, you’ve been warned.
Of all the races that I ran last year in 2011, few defeated me in quite the devasting fashion of the Steamboat Classic 15K, aka “Illinois’ Toughest 15K”. The challenging course consists of 2 flat miles (shared with the Steamboat Classic’s concurrent/more popular 4-mile race), then 2 brutally hilly loops through Glen Oak Park, and then the race finishes on 2 flat miles again after leaving the park. Last year, I was completely gassed by the end of the first loop, and I more or less broke down halfway through the second loop. After walk-running the rest of the way, I finished last year’s 15K in 1:23:00 (still a sub-09:00/mile pace, my friend Lisa was quick to point out), but I was a touch embarrassed by how much the course had taken out of me. I hadn’t been expecting a new PR by any means, not with those hills, but I also wasn’t expecting to have to walk the majority of the last mile of the race. Before I even crossed the finish line, I vowed to return in 2012, to exact a personal revenge on the course that defeated me that day.
And so that’s how I found myself driving from Chicago down to Peoria after work on Friday, passing monotonous cornfield after cornfield once I turned west off of I-55. I was staying with my friends Jim and Lisa down in Peoria, two of my closest friends in the whole wide world. I was best man in their wedding when they got hitched, and I am godfather to their precocious young daughter Katelyn, barely a year old now. I am also unofficial uncle to the crafty 4-legger seen below:
The night before the race, I made it down to Peoria sometime around 9pm, where we stayed up and shot the proverbial shit for a few hours before retiring. While Lisa claims to have not legitimately gone running in 2+ years, she still gamely registered for the Steamboat Classic’s 4-mile race. As far as what I would consider to be a “success” in the 15K this time around, I confided in Jim and Lisa that I wanted to break 1:20:00, and that I didn’t want to walk one second of the race outside of the designated water stops. I hoped that my spring race schedule would have prepared me for this race — I had raced a hilly trail-run 15K in San Diego, as well as a hilly half-marathon in Austin in February; I’d run a hilly marathon in Little Rock in March; and finally, I’d run a hilly half-marathon in Tennessee in April. With the exception of Little Rock, all of those runs had gone exceedingly well, and so while I’ve admittedly slacked on my hill training in recent weeks, I hoped that I had enough of a fitness base built up to slay the Steamboat
It was with a lot of nervous trepidation that I’d been checking the Saturday weather forecasts for Peoria leading up to the race, having all week seen projected race-day temperatures reaching into the 90s. While temps in the 90s are awful for running in and of themselves, I’ve also been growing a beard for the month of June, which frankly is not designed for the heat. If you think running in the heat is bad enough by itself, try running in the heat with a fur coat on your face.
My tentative strategy was to run the first 2 flat miles in the low-08:00s, then get through the middle 5 miles however possible, and then ramp up my speed again for the final 2 flat miles. In the Glen Oak Park section of the race, there are 2 extremely steep “character-building” hills to worry about at the beginning of each loop, which come back-to-back, but the rest of it is manageable if you can make it through those first hills.
The temperature was already near 80 degrees (and humid!) as the race started promptly at 7am, with the sun having risen about an hour and a half earlier. Despite positioning myself between the 07:00/mile & 08:00/mile pace signs at the start, my first half-mile was spent mostly weaving through walkers and joggers who couldn’t run at that pace. I was annoyed for the first minute or so, until I flashed back to my 2011 Steamboat performance, where I went out of the gate way too fast on the flat portion and ended up bonking hard. And so while I wasn’t running as fast as I would have liked to have started, the slow pack was forcing me to take it slow at first, pretty much eliminating any chance that I would burn myself out in the first mile. GENIUS!
Despite my concerns about the early delay, I ran my first mile in 08:21, and followed that up with a second mile split of 08:18 — things were going smoothly as we approached the point shortly after 2 miles where the 4-mile runners would split away from the 15K runners. In this case, the differing fortunes awaiting each set of runners were quite dramatic. The 4-milers would take a right turn to continue their flat course toward the finish line, while the 15-Kers would take a left turn into Glen Oak Park to scale the first of 2 giant hills. The elevation of the first hill is visible from the breaking-off point, and I heard more than one 4-miler stay out loud, “Boy, I’m glad I’m not doing that course.” But of course, I was doing that course. Faaaannnntastic.
My big change in philosophy between my 2011 race and 2012 is that this year, I decided to pay much more attention to my perceived effort than to my pace. In 2011, I burned myself out by trying to climb those hills as fast as possible; I decided in 2012 that I didn’t care how fast I ran, as long as I kept my legs moving and felt like I was running as hard as I was for the first two miles. While this would lead to a slower pace in the short term, in the long run (pun NOT intended) it would save my legs for the 2nd half of the race. And as I ran up the first long, steep hill, that’s exactly what I did– I passed a number of people and was passed by even more people, but I kept a steady cadence and felt fresh at the top of the climb.
At the conclusion of the 3rd mile, which included both of the steepest hills that I would encounter in Glen Oak Park, I was surprised to look down at my watch and see an 08:56 split for my third mile…I didn’t think that I am in that much better shape than I was at this time last year, but I didn’t expect to be running anything close to sub-09:00 for the first mile of the race that featured hills. Throughout the hilly park loops, my splits were as follows:
- Mile 3: 08:56 (first hilly mile)
- Mile 4: 08:13
- Mile 5: 08:46 (some downhill plus the 2nd hilly loop)
- Mile 6: 08:19
- Mile 7: 08:16 (as I exited Glen Oak Park)
When I finished my second loop through Glen Oak Park and looked down at my watch, I realized that something pretty damn unusual would have to happen for me to not break my goal of 1:20:00, which is always a good feeling. Despite the hot temps and an oddly small number of water stations throughout the course, I was on track to beat my previous year’s time by 5+ minutes. I ran my 8th mile in 08:25, which included a LOOOOONG walk break at the final water stop, and then I clocked a 08:10 split for my final mile, before kicking the last 0.3 miles into the chute at a 06:02/mile pace. I had been yo-yoing with this lanky MF’er over the last mile, and it was only at the end where I finally shook him for good. My clock time read 1:18:09 (chip times aren’t available yet as of 7:24pm CST, which is the current time as I’m writing this sentence (don’t worry, I’ve been taking breaks in writing this recap, I haven’t been doing it for a full 2.5 hours)), and I finished with a 1:17:30 on my watch, which I stopped a good 5 seconds after I crossed the finish line. Not only had I torched my 2011 time, but I had beaten my stated goal by a full 2-1/2 minutes.
For a 15K that only cost $30 (!!), I was surprised at the amenities provided by the Steamboat classic — I received a nice technical running shirt, a medal, and then everyone got unlimited beer at the finish line. Since I wasn’t driving, you’re damn straight I polished off 3 Michelob Ultras, which is the equivalent of approximately 1-2 real beers. So smooth, you guys. The hollow medal design confused me at first, until someone pointed out to me that it’s designed to hold your individual old-school timing chip — I’m a pretty big fan:
After making it back to Jim and Lisa’s gorgeous new home in Dunlap, it was with heavy heart that I had to drive back to Chicago just a few short hours later — packet pickup for tonight’s 6-K closed at 4:30, and so I had to be on the road by 1pm just to be safe (and I ended up arriving at Fleet Feet to pick up my packet right at 4:25).
And so thus concludes the tail of my Steamboat redemption — I wish I could have stayed in Peoria longer than I did, to spend more time with Jim and Lisa and my goddaughter, but I somehow thought it would be a good idea to run two races in one day, and so I had to drive back shortly thereafter.
As I sign off on this entry (which I’m assuming I will edit at some point on 6/17, as this hasn’t had a very “coherent” feel to it so far), I am finishing packing all of my beers in my running backpack for tonight’s 6K race; in addition to the drinks I’ve consumed while writing this entry (I feel the need to stress right now that there are other people here in my apartment with whom I am interacting, and that I’m just getting ripped by myself before a run), my tentative goal is to drink one beer during each mile of the race. Can you tell how seriously I’m taking tonight’s race?
Full report to come tomorrow.
I love you all,