Monday, March 25, 2013

March Madness 1/2 marathon recap....and we're off for our honeymoon!

A little late, but better than not at all. 

Sunday, March 17th was not only St. Patrick’s Day this year, but it was also the Cary March Madness ½ marathon race.  I have looked forward to this race for as long as I can remember.  My dad is the President of the Hillstriders Running Club, the group that puts on this race.  I have been volunteering or participating in this race for years.  When I was younger, my soccer teammates and I would be in charge of a water stop.  It was SO cool to us to pass out water and Gatorade to runners (it also helped that my soccer coach, aka mom, would bring us all Munchkin donut holes for breakfast).  And, the best part was receiving a warm pretzel after the race, just like all of the runners.  It was truly something I looked forward to every year.

This year was no exception.  Once I went to college, I would still come home and help out if the race fell over my Spring Break, but it wasn’t until my senior year that I started running the ½.  My first time, I was just doing it as a training run in preparation for the GO! St Louis marathon in April.  This year (2008) is the year Ryan shattered his personal best ½ marathon time and ran an incredible 1:09 on this extremely challenging course.

After seeing Ryan’s results, I decided I would be racing it for years to come.  Ryan astounded my dad’s running club friends by winning the ½ marathon in 2008, 2009 and 2010.  In 2011, he decided to run it with me as he was racing a BIG, KEY race the following weekend.  Boy am I glad he did, because he pushed me to a 1:24, which at the time tied my best time ever!  In 2012, it was super hot, so both of us made sure to slow the pace a bit to risk any sort of injury or dehydration. 

That brings us to 2013.  As silly as it may seem, being that this race is SO early in the year and on a rather challenging course, I have made this race a KEY race for me since 2011.  The excitement from my dad’s running club and the proudness my dad displayed when I won in 2011 really was the highlight of any race I ran that year.  2012 was no different.  I can’t really explain what it is, but the feeling that I get knowing how impressed my dad (my first true coach ever) gets with me when I race well at March Madness is one of the most powerful feelings I have ever experienced. 

There is no prize money at this race, this doesn’t qualify me for Boston or the Olympic Trials…but this race does and always will hold an incredibly special place in my heart.

Alright, onto the race itself. 

Ryan and I moved into our house in Oakwood Hills (basically Cary, IL) 5 days before our wedding in October.  Not something I’d recommend doing the week of your wedding, but also not the point in mentioning that.  We have been training on this course for basically every run we do as our house is 1.5 miles off of the course.  Realistically, I should be able to go into that course and feel confident that I can run a good race.  And, that’s exactly what I was.  I had done SO many workouts on that course that the hills, while still some of the most challenging in the suburbs, didn’t seem to phase me nearly as much as they had in the past 4 years of running this race.  Sure, they were hard and my pace slowed, but my confidence that I would get my normal stride and pace back within seconds of clearing the hill was much higher than in years past.

I went into this race knowing of three other strong females competing: Tammy Lifka, Wendy Jaehn and Kristine Jennings.  Two of the three were for sure using this race as a good tune-up for Boston, so I knew I would be pushed throughout the race, which was something I was looking forward to. 

The first 3 miles, Wendy and I ran with my teammate Jonathan Cain, who kept talking to us and making sure we were doing alright and hanging with him.  I knew from that point that I had to stay with Jonathan if I wanted not only company, but to do well in the overall race.

At mile 4, I saw Coach Cari and she screamed to me that Tammy was about 20 seconds ahead.  I had been counting (and Jonathan had been informing meJ) as well, but I know on this course, it is beneficial to start off a little slower as the first few miles are the fastest on the course.

We actually hit our slowest splits, with the exception of the crazy hard mile 10 hill, during the first four miles.  Right after mile 5 is really where the race begins.  The hills start rolling and your legs start feeling it if you went out to quickly.  The hill just after mile 5 (“Shoetree hill”) was fun, as Jonathan kicked my butt up the hill but made sure I tagged along.  I told him once we hit the top that I might just keep going straight and head home (kidding, but I easily could have!).  The next hill (“Sneaky Hill”) was a new addition to the course this year and is where Tammy and I traded places.  This hill is HARD as it’s short, but steep….and when you turn to the next street, it goes on just a tad longer to make sure you really can’t feel your legs anymore.

At this point, you’re about halfway through the ½.  Volunteers are handing out PowerGels and cheering like crazy for runners as you’re about to go up another doozy of a hill.  The “mile 7 hill” is challenging as it goes on for awhile and turns as well, so you keep thinking it’s going to end, but it doesn’t.  This is the hill where I always see my former middle school P.E. teacher, so I never slow down going up this hill! 

After we made it up this hill, we came down the hill and made a turn to lead us into mile 8.  From mile 8 to mile 9 is a nice flat stretch.  In 2011, I ran a 5:59 mile on this and was AMAZED reading this after the race.  In 2012, this is where I had to stop and stretch my hamstring.  Two very different feelings in those years, so I was a little nervous going into this mile.  But, a 5:59 (no joke!) came out of it this year, so I was able to relax and breathe a huge sigh of relief. 

Then came the hill just before mile 10.  This one just about kills you.  It’s the hill you run down just before mile 3 when heading out, which of course feels great at the time.  No matter how many times I run this course (training or racing), the hill never gets any easier.  Jonathan took off a little here, despite my efforts to stay with him.  I knew, however, that I would be right back with him by mile 11 if I just kept my composure instead of worrying about the gap.  Sure enough, I was.  Even better, Bill Jensen (running friend) was right in front of me as well and we were able to push each other to strong finishes.

Just hearing Jonathan encouraging me, despite being a few seconds ahead still, throughout those last two miles made me feel incredible.  Probably my favorite part was running through the aide station at mile 12, where a bunch of high schoolers were stationed, and hearing them cheer for me (“woohoo, first girl!”) and seeing Jonathan’s reaction (pumping the crowd up, thanking them for cheering for him) was hilarious to me and took my mind completely off of the race.

The last mile was kind of a blur as I knew how close I was to breaking 1:22, but might not be able to do it.  I had looked at my watch ½ way through and calculated breaking 1:23 might not even be doable, so I am ecstatic that I picked up my pace on the more challenging half of the course.  I could see the clock as I sprinted in (5:24 pace for the last 0.1!!) but just couldn’t go any faster. 

I finished the race in a 1:22:10…..the second fastest time ever recorded in the history of the race (well, in the searchable history anyway). 

The best part?  Ryan not only won, but also ran a 1:08:55, setting a new PR!!

The second best part?  When they announced the winners, we weren’t mistaken as brother and sister as we have been at pretty much every race so far since getting married!

The reactions that my dad’s running club friends and our friends and just fellow runners in general had was incredible.  To be congratulated on what is such a special and meaningful race practically had me in tears. 

This race recap was long overdue, but with cumulative exams for my students, grades being due, packing for our honeymoon, and making sure everything is ready for the Egg Shell Shuffle before we leave….I was a little busy.  Hopefully this post touches everyone who helped me (and Ryan) in achieving our goals and feeling great about this race.  Thank you, everyone, for your continued support for and belief in me.

Now, off to Cabo to finally celebrate our HONEYMOON!  

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