Saturday, December 27, 2014

Race Report: Schaumburg Half Marathon 2014

When you last left Cheesy Runner Mom, she was hoping to capitalize upon her BQ Marathon fitness by updating her PR in the half marathon. However, she was also kinda sorta enjoying running for fun. Did Mr. Pete Pfitzinger and his "Road Racing For Serious Runners" training plan bring her back to PR glory? Read on for the details!

Training...Such As It Was

I decided to use the Pfitz Half Marathon Plan for runners who run more than 50 miles a week. My maximum weekly mileage this past marathon training cycle was north of 80, so I figured it was the best fit. (By the way, Pfitz released an update to this book as of November 24, 2014, called "Faster Road Racing." I applaud the much less pretentious title!) My first week on the plan was just five weeks out from the race, so I never reached the peak mileage of the plan. I decided to make sure to hit the long-run, medium-long-run, and workout mileage each week, and fit in the easy/recovery mileage as closely as I could, i.e., not stress.

Anyone who knows me, knows that not stressing about nailing a training plan is a personality transplant! But that basically sums up my attitude toward this race: To hopefully update my half PR to better reflect what Mr. McMillan's calculator thinks I can do based on my marathon race result. It would of course be great to surpass the calculator's predictions and continue to make fitness strides, but realistically, I didn't think there would be enough time.

I did do a few speedwork sessions, several sets of strides at the end of easy runs, and a couple of race pace runs. My speedwork paces let me know that I hadn't lost any speed since the marathon, which was good news. When I was able to hold my desired race pace for 9 miles, two weeks prior to race day, I knew I was as ready as I was going to be. I didn't do as drastic of a taper as Pfitz recommended in his plan, but I did cut back the week prior to the race.


Packet pickup was a breeze, at a local running store. Easy in, easy out. The swag was a half-zip fleece. I love half-zips, so this was much appreciated over the hooded (no-zip) fleece sweatshirt from last year's race, which is currently collecting dust in my closet.

See? Not too shabby. For me, it beats another t-shirt!
 When I first started stalking the weather for the race early in the week, the forecast showed rain. By race-eve, the forecast showed sunny skies, with temps around 35 at the start, warming up to around 40 by the end of the race. Talk about tricky race weather!  I become one with the "What to Wear" tool on the Runner's World website, downloaded an app called "What to Wear," and Googled "racing in 35 degrees." Eventually, with encouragement from these sources, I decided on my race outfit: a tank top, arm warmers and shorts, with two layers of throwaway shirts and throwaway sweatpants to wear until the start. Apparently my fashion inspiration was going to be Kara Goucher at the NYC Marathon. Except much, much slower.

I wasn't planning on compression socks, but my midriff was covered, so maybe it's a tradeoff? Image found here.
Were you cold just reading that last paragraph? Perhaps some background is in order. Since the weather has turned colder around here, I have been breaking out my winter wardrobe, and with the exception of one run when snow was falling, I have invariably been at least one layer overdressed by the end of the run. By that logic, the weather seemed to call for capris and a long sleeve tee.  Subtract one layer of warmth from the top and bottom, and add the fact that I was truly racing this event, and you arrive at my wardrobe choice. Plus, my legs find it more difficult to stride out in capris or tights -- I realize this is probably a mental hangup, but one I have yet to get over. I also knew that I could hide out in my car until the start if I played my cards right.

In case that's not obvious, that's kind of been my motto so far this winter!
This race is held in a forest preserve near Schaumburg, Illinois, and is point-to-point. Racers have two options: To park in the smallish parking lot near the start line, or park closer to the finish line and take a shuttle to the start line. I was able to score a spot at the start line for last year's race and it worked great, so I planned to do the same this year. I arrived at a little after 7 a.m. and was one of the first cars in the lot. I played on my iPhone while waiting, as well as amused myself by watching the school busses arrive and drop off freezing runners. I looked hopefully for anyone wearing shorts or throwaway sweatpants that I figured they would strip off. I saw a couple of crazy high school kids, but that was it. Surprisingly, I still remained calm and confident in my choice.

At about 8:40, I opened my car door to head to the start line for the 9:15 gun. A gust of wind hit me in the face. I shut the car door again, and dug around in my car for my gray hat. I shuffled to the start, looking like a homeless person in all my mismatched layers. I stood around for a while, removed one layer from the top and bottom and checked my bag in gear check. 

The obligatory start-line selfie.
In order to PR, I needed to beat an 8:12/mile average pace. The course is fairly flat, so I figured I would try to do even splits of about 8-minute miles for a nice personal best to end the season. I lined up just in back of the 8-minute pacers and stripped off the last of my throwaway clothes to reveal my tank and shorts. To my relief, a fair number of other folks near the front were stripping to shorts, too. No other tanks, though. A guy next to me said "Wow, you are brave!" as I stood with my teeth chattering. I laughed and said "It's supposed to warm up to almost 40!" To me, that is a rationalization for a tank. To him, it was further confirmation I was insane. He did shame me into putting my throwaway top layer back on until the gun went off.

The Race:

I took off with the 8:00/mile pace group. I was a tad ahead of them at first, and things were feeling easy, except for dodging the unexpected patches of ice and snow on the path -- yikes! As I suspected, I ditched my throwaway layer at mile .50 and never felt a need for it again. Shortly thereafter, I was reminded why I generally hate pace groups. I felt a thundering herd approaching as the 8:00/mile group began to pass me like I was standing still. I attempted to stick with them for a bit, until I looked down at my watch and realized we were running 7:35 pace. I decided (for the umpteenth time during a race) to run my own race, and let them disappear into the distance.

The course features two short out-and-back sections, and the first one occurs just before mile 4. Although I didn't have friends to look for like I did last year (I did look for my friend Michelle's husband, but I didn't see him), it made the time pass a little quicker to look for similarly dressed folks. I did see another girl in a tank, although she was a legit fastie and therefore way ahead of me. I almost felt sorry for some of the folks, imagining how they were sweating in their multiple layers. Perhaps they were cold-blooded?  Mile splits 1-4: 7:56, 7:57, 7:51, 7:52.

Just running along, all biggie...
I took my first gel at mile 5, and I could tell that I was starting to need it. Some readers may recall my issue with my Spibelt at the Chicago Marathon, where I lost three of my five gels. Immediately upon getting home, I ordered a Flipbelt, and I haven't looked back. It doesn't slip, and has held my phone and gels securely during my long runs. This was my first race using the Flipbelt, however. I'm happy to report that I had no fueling issues whatsoever. I lost a little time at mile 5 while I was gelling, but that is to be expected.

The rest of this section passed uneventfully, and I was pleased at how the miles were ticking along. I started to think that I could be pushing myself a little faster if I wanted to, but I reminded myself that I was right where I expected my fitness to be, and I didn't want to risk a blowup by pressing any more. If I kept this up, I would have a nice PR. Mile splits 5-8: 8:00, 7:58, 7:58, 7:48.

I was starting to get a little bored and my mind was beginning to wander, and my mile 9 split of 8:05 reflected it. I decided to pick the pace back up a little bit, and threw in a quick stride to jump-start my legs. It was around this time that I saw the 8:00 pace group reappearing over the horizon. It was much smaller than it had been, and featured only two of the four pacers I had originally seen at the start line. I wondered if the other folks in the group (including the other two pacers) had bonked due to the super-fast pace. Over the next mile, I reeled them in, ran with them for a bit, and then finally surged again and put them in my rearview mirror.

At mile 10, I took my second gel. Around mile 10.5, we weaved around a parking lot, and the footing entering and exiting the lot was extremely slippery. I slipped a couple of times, which definitely woke me up! Before mile 12, I ditched my gloves, which I had been storing in my sports bra in case I needed them. The reason was extremely shallow: I knew that the photographers were in full force as the finish line approached, and I didn't want to appear unevenly buxom. Mile splits 9-12: 8:05, 7:56, 7:56, 7:59.

Look at that! I'm so happy that my chestal area is even (and that I'm about to PR)!
After Mile 12, I decided to turn on the jets a little bit more. In retrospect, "turning on the jets" in this instance was still not at full sprint effort, and I was still a bit conservative. The pace felt comfortably hard, but I think that I may have pushed a bit harder if I was watchless and didn't know that I was well within PR parameters. Mile 13 split: 7:32.

My favorite part of the race came near the finisher's chute, when I saw my sweet friend Michelle and her equally-sweet daughters. She took this great shot of me, and I was so pumped to see her. After she took the photo, I gave her a huge high-five and punctuated it with a "Woo!"

Here comes my biggest beef with this race: Approaching the finish line, the race decides that its participants need to experience a cross-country atmosphere and takes them across a grassy field to the finish chute. I think this definitely slowed me and a lot of other runners down during our final finishing "sprints." Since I usually don't look at the elapsed time on my watch in the last mile, I was surprised to see 1:44:XX on the finish line clock. My PR was bigger than I had hoped for!

Finish Time: 1:44:01 (One pesky second...see why I'm a little peeved about the grassy finish? LOL!) - PR by 3 minutes, 26 seconds
Average Pace: 7:56/mile (my first time breaking the 8-minute barrier for a half!)
Overall Place: 208/1620
Gender Place: 51/887
Age Group Place (40-44): 5/142 (Alas, the field was fast, and the third-place woman was just under 5 minutes in front of me. Maybe I will place some other year!)

A happy post-race selfie!
Based on my marathon time, Mr. McMillan thought I was fit enough to hold a 7:55 average pace for the half-marathon. That personally sounded fast to me, which is why I decided to go with the average pace I hit during my 9-mile race-pace training run. Well, I guess Mr. McMillan has more faith in me than I do; I'm pretty sure that if the path had been clear of ice and snow and the finishing chute was paved, I would have hit or bested that pace. In fact, my Garmin said I averaged a 7:54 pace! So I'm going to call my race goal -- to get my half-marathon PR in line with my times at other distances -- a success. I probably could have gone a bit faster, but who is to say for sure? I will definitely take the result!

Now, for an offseason (currently in progress, since this recap is late), which will be all about maintaining a base of miles, and then (hopefully) onward and upward to new fitness goals in January. My spring marathon is the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon on May 17, and training starts January 12th! The frozen tundra of Lambeau Field is calling me!


  1. You did so great! Congrats again on the massive PR! I think you will spank Greenbay.

  2. Woo hoo! Congrats on the massive PR! Yes, that slippery, grassy finish probably cost us all a few precious seconds - and made us nervous that we could slip and fall. It was a great day for a race and glad your race attire worked out for you! :)