2013 Rock N Roll Chicago Half Marathon Recap

by Kim on July 25, 2013

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When I first decided to do this ½ marathon per month goal, there weren’t any local races in the month of July.  In fact, there didn’t seem to be a ton of July half marathons in general.  I narrowed my (few) choices down to a small race in a town somewhere between Austin and San Antonio or Rock n Roll Chicago.  July isn’t exactly known to be a comfortable month in Texas, so I opted to go out of state.  Since signing up for Rock n Roll Chicago at the Rock n Roll Dallas expo a local half marathon was scheduled in July, but I decided to stick with my plan and make my way to the Midwest.  Although, I waited forever and ever to buy my plane tickets in hopes that the price would go down.  Flying to Chicago is insanely expensive right now, which blows my mind because I’ve flown this route for about $150 in the past.  Oh well.  In order to get the best deal, I decided to fly one-way on Southwest from Love Field in Dallas to Midway in Chicago.  To return to Dallas, I used frequent flyer miles with American, leaving out of O’Hare and returning to DFW, so I hit all four airports in these two cities.  While it was mildly inconvenient, it saved me about $200.  All in the name of getting a good deal, right?!

Race Day Weather
I didn’t spend a lot of time looking at the weather ahead of time.  I figured it would be mildly cooler than Dallas and training outside in Dallas all summer, I figured I’d be okay.  My friend Alyson ran Rock n Roll Chicago as well and she and her husband, Greg, came up on Thursday, so she sent me a report that the weather was supposed to be perfect on race-day: high 60’s.  Chicago is a bit more humid than Dallas, so the humidity was my main concern.  When we got up on Sunday morning, I checked my phone.  It was already 70 degrees.  That was a bit warmer than I’d hoped for, but I’d live.  Alyson and I walked to the start and I recorded the temperature as I hopped into my corral: 70 degrees.

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During the race, there was a nice breeze coming off the lake, so we had a light head-wind when running east, but we were also running directly into the sun in this direction, so the breeze was welcome!  The temperature was creeping up as the sun moved up higher in the sky.  Every time we turned to run east, towards the lake and sun, about 70% of the runners bunched up on the left side of the road to get the most shade/building shadow possible.

I completely forgot to take a picture of the weather immediately after the race and didn’t remember until we were walking back to the hotel, but from my guess, the temperature crept up to 76  degrees by the time I finished and 78 degrees (80 degrees Real Feel) an hour later as we headed back to the hotel.

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Feelings Going Into The Race
This is week four of races for me, so I’m feeling a little worn out from them.  I don’t really get nervous anymore, but I feel like I get anxious about wanting it to be over.  I know those two feelings are similar; nervous and anxious, but I guess the difference for me is with the nervous feeling is “will I be able to do it” and anxious is “I’m looking forward to stopping my watch at the finish line.”  In the race, I don’t really feel either of these feelings, though, at least not with this race.  Instead, I spent a lot of time doing math (this is normal for me) and getting a little emotional as I started to get excited for the Chicago Marathon in October.

Meals Before The Race
Alyson, Greg and I went to Girl and the Goat for dinner the night before the race.  Girl and the Goat is tapas-style, where you order several items and share them.  I posted exactly what we had in this post, but we ordered an assortment of dishes; two items from the vegetable menu, two items from the fish menu, two items from the meat menu, bread, and a desert.  All of it was delicious and we stuffed ourselves silly, but luckily we had an insanely early dinner reservation, which gave us time to go for a nice walk after dinner and digest before we headed to bed.

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In the morning, I decided to mix things up.  I recently bought these oh-so-yummy Five Seed Almond Bars from Trader Joes.  I took two with me and ate them for breakfast.  I didn’t have time to stop at the store to get a single-serve pack of peanut butter for my usual English muffin, so this worked perfectly for being on the road.

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What I Wore
As expected, I wore my usual race-day gear.   I wore my C9 white sports bra, as usual.  On top, I had a white  Nike Racer tank top and on bottom I wore a pair of yellow and blue Nike Tempo shorts.  I also wore my blue-ish Features socks with my  Brooks Glycerine 11 running shoes.  I also wore my blue Flip Belt, a pink Under Armour headband, my Garmin Forerunner 610, and my RoadID bracelet.  I carried four Clif Shot Bloks, one in Margarita, and three in Cran-Raz.  I decided to go hydration-free at this race.  I didn’t bring my Camelbak and I didn’t want to carry a water bottle, so I depended on the water stops very heavily.

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The Course

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The course was actually backwards of how I thought it would be.  I guess I spent too much time comparing the Rock n Roll map against the Chicago Marathon map and got the two confused because Rock n Roll is very similar, but backwards of the a portion of the Chicago Marathon.  We started out at the corner of Monroe and Columbus near Millennium Park and headed north, crossing the river.   The course turned west and kept us on Grand Ave for a few blocks before we turned south onto State St.  At Madison, we turned west again and zig-zagged our way to Clark, Randolph, Halstead, and Adams, generally going in a westward direction to the Near West Side neighborhood.  Here, we turned around and headed back east on Jackson Ave, following a similar zig-zag pattern to get back to downtown and Michigan Avenue.  Once on Michigan Avenue, the course took a nearly down and back route.  We followed Michigan Avenue for 3+ miles until we hit the South Commons area, at which point, we turned east on 31st St and turned north onto Lake Shore Dr./Fort Dearborn Dr./Columbus Dr.  Somehow, we crossed on and off of these three roads over the 3+ mile stretch to the finish line.

The course was relatively flat with a few “hills” as we crossed over bridges.  Rock n Roll put out an elevation chart that showed a steep climb as some point during the race, but maybe that was a drawbridge when it was open.  More on this mysterious elevation climb later!  My Garmin reported the minimum elevation as 580 feet and the maximum elevation as 603 feet.

elevation chart The elevation chart from my Garmin

The water stops were evenly placed, every 1.5 miles and I took full advantage of them!  I typically don’t hit every water stop during races (or any of them if I’m carrying my own liquid), but I decided it was better to be consistently hydrated throughout the race than bonk at mile 7 or 8.  Hitting every water station slowed my time, but I wasn’t expecting to have a PR from the get-go, so my overall time didn’t really matter too terribly much.

The Race Organization
This race is put on by Competitor as part of their Rock n Roll series.  Competitor is a money-making machine, but, unlike Mellew, Competitor doesn’t do it at the expense of the runner.  This is the third time I’ve run a Rock n Roll race and I’ve been really impressed with how well they have things organized.

Packet Pickup was held on Friday and Saturday before the race at McCormick Place, Chicago’s convention center.

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I flew in on Saturday morning, so my only option was to hit up the expo/packet pick-up on Saturday.  Like the Dallas RnR expo, they system is very streamlined.

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First you hand in your entry form (that you have to print out before hand) at your corresponding corral area.  In return, you get your bib and safety pins.

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Next, you follow the herd to the T-shirt and goodie-bag area.

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Then you walk through the Brooks area.

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I asked a sales guy if they were selling any Brooks Glycerine 10’s, the old model of the shoe I’m in.  I doubted they’d have any here, but I thought I would check anyway, since they are now on sale.  Of course, they didn’t.  I didn’t need anything else from Brooks, so I continued on the well-guided path to the rest of the expo.

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I wandered up and down the aisles for a bit, checking out the various booths and trying some yummy and not-so-yummy samples.

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I stopped at the Nuun booth and bought two tubes of Nuun and got a free water bottle for my electrolyte purchase.

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I also “won” a buy-one-get-one Jamba Juice at the Jamba Juice booth.  After I felt fully satisfied with seeing all that I wanted to see, I headed out.

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Similar to the Nike Women’s expo in DC, this Rock n Roll expo gave you the chance to win prizes by scanning your bib at certain areas in the expo.  As predicted, I didn’t win anything.  Oh well.

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The race-day organization is pretty well-run.  Everyone is assigned to a corral, ranging from 1 to 25 (I think).  I was in corral 7.  Like the Dallas RnR, each corral has a delayed start, starting one to two minutes after the corral ahead of them.  The race started at 6:30 in the morning, so my corral didn’t start until about 6:40-ish.

As the name of the race implies, there were plenty of music stages along the way, as well as water and Gatorade.  There were a handful of places where people were spaying runners with a hose as well as a mister contraption in the higher miles.

Crowd Support
For a good portion of this race, I expected to have much more crowd support.  Rock n Roll is one of the more well-supported races in Dallas, so I figured the same would be true for Chicago.  The majority of the crowd clustered in the downtown area and near the finish line, but as we headed west to the Near West Side and as we headed south towards McCormick Place, the crowds were much thinner.  The best and most emotionally exciting stretch for me was from LaSalle to Jackson to Michigan, right around mile 6 to 6.5.  The crowd here was so thick and so hyped up, it got me REALLY excited for the Chicago Marathon in October.

The volunteers were outstanding all along the way.  They were very supportive and helpful, cheering the runners on and handing out hydration, spraying hoses, and giving out cold sponges.

The Race
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I unintentionally got to the very front of my corral and the race staff lead us up to the start line after corral 6 left.  They had us cross over the first track pad and wait at the second track pad at the start line before the horn blew.  I was a little skeptical of crossing this first track pad.  I thought it would trigger my timing chip to start, but I trusted the staff and made my mark at the second track pad.

The horn blew and we immediately went into a tunnel; a long, hot, stifling tunnel.  Of course, my Garmin lost signal right away.  It seemed like we were in this tunnel forever, but we finally came out on the other side to a welcomed breeze.  I was feeling thirsty before the race even started so I jumped at the water station as it came up.  I did my best to run through the station while drinking water at the same time, but I just about dry-drowned in the process, so I decided I’d walk all the other water stations for the rest of the course and this turned out to be a great decision despite adding time to the clock.  We zig-zagged for a little bit as we headed west.  Still thinking we were making our way south for the first half of the race, I was totally turned around, but eventually I figured out the route was backwards of what I thought it would be.  We ran through downtown for a while and this threw my GPS off too.  Too many tall buildings!  We crossed over a few bridges and this was typically where any sort of increased elevation occurred.  I’d looked at the elevation chart a few times before the race and saw that it was mostly flat except for one level 5 spike.  Seeing this spike on the elevation map, I didn’t know what the heck we’d be crossing.  I don’t consider Chicago to be THAT hilly.  I knew this 5% grade was on the east-west portion of the race, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out where this steep climb was.  I guess 5% grade increase in Chicago is different from everywhere else!

CHI 12 Elevation

We eventually turned around and headed back east, directly into the sun.  It was kind of amusing to watch all the runners pile onto one side of the street to get the most shade possible on this stretch of the race!  We made our way back to downtown and the crowd of spectators began to thicken.  This was right around the 10k point in the race.  More on this in a bit, but the support was awesome here!  We ran down LaSalle and turned at Jackson then turned onto Michigan Ave to make our 3+ mile trek down to McCormick Place.  This part was so-so.  I spent a lot of time running numbers in my head.  It definitely wasn’t going to be a personal record by any stretch, but I still killed time by playing with the numbers in my head and calculating how off my Garmin was.   We reached our turn-around spot and headed north.

At the 10.5-mile water stop, the volunteers were handing out ice-cold sponges, which I gladly took.  It was nice to wipe the hot sweat off of me, but the cool feeling only lasted for a few minutes before I was hot and dripping wet again.

Shortly after this water stop, we ran through the tunnel at McCormick Place.  This was a bit nerve-wracking for me.  On top of being hot, humid, and suffocating, the first part of this tunnel was poorly lit.  I’m a big look-ahead-at-the-road runner.  It keeps me from tripping.  The first part of the tunnel was so dark, though, I couldn’t see where the uneven pavement was.  Ugh, I’m getting stressed out thinking about how nerve-wracking this was for me.  Luckily, the stretch wasn’t too long; maybe 2/10 of a mile, if that.  As I inched my way out of the tunnel, the 2:00 pace leaders passed me.  I knew I wasn’t going to break 2:00 today, based on my math, but I was surprised they were just now passing me, so close to the end of the race.  They got pretty far ahead of me, but I eventually caught up to them again.  I turned to them as I passed and asked them which corral they started in.  One of the pace leaders responded that they started in corral 14.  Holy cow!  14!  That was a little disheartening that 7 corrals had already passed me.

I was on the home stretch.  I picked up my pace as best as I could and I crossed the finish line, getting drinks and a cold, wet towel in my hand before getting a medal around my neck.

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Post Race Food And Vendors
Rock n Roll hasn’t disappointed me with the post race food and drinks in the past and Chicago was no different.  Right away, there were HUGE garbage buckets full of ice.  Everyone piled around these buckets and scooped ice out to dump on themselves.  Volunteers were handing out soaking wet, cold towels, ice-cold water, Gatorade, and chocolate milk.  I grabbed all of this and dropped my phone in the process.

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Of course there were the usual bananas and pretzels.

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Further down, PowerBar had a station, handing out treats.

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My personal favorite was the Jamba Juice stand, handing out strawberry-banana smoothies.

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They even had a misting station and volunteers handing out popsicles.

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With my hands full, I headed out of the finisher’s area and headed over to the meet-up spot that Alyson and I decided on: P-Q.

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There were tons of vendors in the park where the family meet-up spot was, but I headed straight to P-Q and listened to the band while I waited for Alyson.

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Next to the band was the Miller 64 beer garden, which we initially intended on going into, but by the time Alyson arrived, we decided to head straight to the hotel.

No Pain No Gain
I don’t have anything serious to report in this category.  I had some aches and pains in my left leg, but they weren’t anything worth stopping for.  My left leg (and left side of my body in general) is my weaker leg, so I wasn’t surprised to have more “issues” on this side versus my right side.

Other Random Thoughts
As I mentioned before, I took advantage of all of the water stops.  This was a big help for me.  The first water stop I ran and drank at the same time, but I walked through all the other water stops.  My pattern was a little different each time, but generally, I took two waters and one Gatorade per water stop.  Doing this definitely “killed” my time, but as I said before, I wasn’t too concerned with my time for this race and was more interested in staying hydrated.

Another thing to note; my Garmin was ALL OVER THE PLACE!  I wasn’t too surprised, though, with the tall buildings and tunnels throwing off the satellite.  When I hit stop at the end of the race, my Garmin reported 13.5 miles.  Alyson told me her watch said 14 miles.  It was a tad frustrating knowing my GPS was all out of whack, but it was a good dry run for the Chicago Marathon, where I will most likely run into the same issue.

pace chart My insane pace chart

Oh, and remember how I mentioned the race staff had us cross the first track pad before the horn brew to let my corral go?  Yeah, that came back to haunt me.  My elapsed time on my Garmin was a whole minute off from my “official” race time.  My Garmin is usually a couple of seconds off, based on when I stop and start it, from the official race time, not a whole minute off!  Oh well.

Overall Opinion
I like Rock n Roll races…. Especially after running Mellew Races.  While Rock n Roll is a for-profit organization, they sure do a better job of putting on races than Mellew.  Rock n Roll is can be a more expensive race series, but you can usually find a deal or discount somehow, some way, that makes it on par with other half marathon fees.  While the fee can seem like a lot for an organization that is a for-profit, Competitor and Rock n Roll design their races (and expo and post-race festivities) so runners will continue to come back.

I don’t think I’ll run Rock n Roll Chicago again, but not because I had a bad time.  I really enjoyed it and the scenery was great as we ran through the city and along the lake.  What holds me back from running it again is the travel associated with running this race.  If I lived in Chicago or somewhere close by, I would totally do it again!  If I had an all-expenses paid trip, I would totally do it again!  Unfortunately, those two things probably aren’t going to happen any time in the near future, so I’ll stick with Rock n Roll Dallas until then.

Race Stats
Bib Number: 7202
Division: Female 30-34

Official Chip Time: 2:09:05
Official Clock Time: 2:15:23
Official Race Distance: 13.1 miles
Official Average Race Pace: 9’51”
Official Rank: 5015 out of 13968
Sex Rank: 2185 out of 8391
Division Rank: 459 out of 1611
5K Split: 30:44
10 K Split: 1:01:20
10 Mile Split: 1:38:46

Garmin Time: 2:07:54
Garmin Distance: 13.52 miles
Garmin Average Pace: 9’27”

Garmin Splits
Mile 1: 8’21”
Mile 2: 9’09”
Mile 3: 7’42”
Mile 4: 9’42”
Mile 5: 9’47”
Mile 6: 9’28”
Mile 7: 10’25”
Mile 8: 9’40”
Mile 9: 9’45”
Mile 10: 10’04”
Mile 11: 9’49”
Mile 12: 9’40”
Mile 13: 9’44”
Mile 13.52: 8’49”

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