Warning: This is a long one, folks.
Fort-4-Fitness ... we know how the story ends. But let's talk a little bit about how I got there.
Despite having a hectic end to my workday Friday, I managed to sufficiently carb-load and lay out my stuff so I wouldn't have to scramble in the morning. Heck, I even pinned on my bib.
Too bad I put it on a little high, and the pins were dangerously close to some girl parts.
Denali agreed that I looked a little funny and told me to move down my bib. So I did.
I then made myself a delicious breakfast about 6:30, an hour and a half before the start. One mini bagel with peanut butter, sliced banana, a drizzle of honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon. That's decaf coffee you see there on the side.
At the health expo on Friday, the one hospital had free pace tattoos. Yeah, baby! I picked up a 2:00 pacer and got to work on my "ink."
After some major toodling around the house, which include my in-laws calling to see where we wanted to eat after the race, we left for downtown. It was a bit later than I wanted, maybe 7 a.m.
We managed to find free parking on the street about a half-mile away and proceeded to walk to the start. I had a bottle of water to sip on to ensure proper hydration and minimal bathroom needs. I did make one stop in the ladies room at Parkview Field before heading to my corral.
I had about 20 minutes to go when I got to "F" so I did some stretching, butt kicks and people watching. There were a couple athletes from the "community" college wearing singlets and short, tight shorts. Emphasis on short and tight. I saw another guy with some shorty shorts and an MMA shirt, who came over talk to a girl in my corral (also wearing an MMA shorts). I couldn't help but stare. Not just because he had the most massive quads ever but because I'm pretty sure I did some staring at him back in my irresponsible, "let's go to the bar" single gal days.
Then there was the best sight of all: A runner wearing black shorts, an ivory chemise/nighty, a garter at the knee and a veil fashioned from a second garter and the ugliest lace kitchen curtain ever. Oh, did I mention this runner was a guy? He also had applied some flamboyant makeup and brought a bouquet to carry. It was quite the look to say the least.
Before I knew it, the mayor was saying a prayer and the gun went off.
Overall, I felt really strong during this stretch of the race that took runners down a single street through downtown, some south-side neighborhoods and then pretty close to the airport. The course gave runners ample room to move, and I didn't have to weave as much as I have in previous races.
I did have a slight scare after the first mile. My stomach began to cramp, and I started to wonder whether I was going to have to make a pit stop at the honey buckets that were positioned at every aid station (~1.5 miles apart). I talked myself out of stopping at the first one and I was 70 percent sure the problem was gone by the time I got to the second one.
The one thing I did have to stop for, about 3.5 miles in, was an untied shoe. On all my training runs, I inevitably had to stop to tie my shoes. I thought I had double-knotted them for the race. Apparently not. I didn't stop the Garmin, though, so I knew how much time I had to "makeup" for such a dumb thing.
My pace felt strong in this first stretch. I did my best to hold back and not waste my energy in those early miles. I was only racing me - no one else.
Splits: 8:49, 8:37, 8:39, 8:38
The next part of the course wound through a scenic part near the Rivergreenway, part of the trail system itself and one of my favorite south-side neighborhoods.
It was right around the 4-mile marker/start of the fifth mile where one of the few bands on the course were set up. So many big races tout bands at every mile, cheer squads and thousands of spectators. This race had none of those things and, to be honest, I think I might have preferred it. I was able to focus, take in the scenery when desired and allow the sound of foot strikes to set a rhythm.
Of course, I did have some distractions. Namely, my drag bride, who was in sight for the greater part of this stretch. And let me tell you, he was having a good time. He soaked in all the comments and cheers, blowing kisses to the crowd. He invited everyone possible to his wedding. He promised that he'd keep hold of the bouquet to the end. The best part, though, was as we ran through a very nice neighborhood next to Foster Park. Two middle-aged guys cheered him on and as I ran past those same guys, I heard one say, "Thank God he's not my son." Classic.
As far as running went, I remember thinking, "Wow. I still feel really strong." I didn't really feel any signs of fatigue. Maybe a bit of hamstring tightness but that's it. It did help that I saw one of my work pals along the course and she cheered me on, gave me a high-five and told me I was "kicking butt." I decided to keep up the pace and work on banking time. I figured that if I did well enough in the first couple sections, I could blow the last 5K and still get my sub-2:00.
Splits: 8:35, 8:39, 8:34, 8:22.
This is where the course got interesting. I had thought the course was supposed to go one way but instead went another way. The whole time I was thinking, "Where the heck are we? And why are we here?"
This section of the course was also the most residential area of the course, and many residents had set up lawn chairs on the sidewalks to watch the runners. Some set up speakers and played music ("Eye of the Tiger" was a perennial favorite for these folks). One family even set up their own mini water station with their young daughters passing out cups to the runners. Hands down one of the top five best parts of the course. First and foremost, it was just so thoughtful. Secondly, the girls were insanely cute. And thirdly, the aid stations were 1.5 miles apart and I was really needing liquids at this point.
I would say this was the part of the course where I was really beginning to feel it. I didn't feel like walking or quitting though I did think about slowing down. After all, I had enough time banked to make it under my goal. It must have been serendipity then that as I was thinking these thoughts, a National Guardsman was standing on the sidelines, giving very military-style encouragement. Something about pushing through the pain to do things you didn't think possible. Yep, that got me moving.
Splits: 8:38, 8:33, 8:36, 8:44
Miles 13 to 13.1:
I would be lying if I didn't say that I just wanted it all to be over by this point. Done. Finished. Complete. But as I have said before, the faster you do it, the more quickly you can stop.
So I pushed. And let others push me. There was another female runner with whom I had traded lead spots multiple times since mile 11. I originally surged ahead of her because she had the unfortunate experience of receiving a "visitor" mid-race and I didn't want to stare. But she kept running and kept running hard.
The course finished on the baseball field and from 12.95 to 13.0, that lady gave me a real run for my money. As I turned down the ramp to enter the field, though ... when I could see the finish line ... when I could hear my husband and friend cheering for me from the stands, I went for it. I passed her. And I went for it even more when I saw the finish clock going from 1:54:59 to 1:55:00. I knew that it took me at least 30 seconds to cross the starting mat. A sub-1:55 was in reach. I had to get it.
And I did. 1:54:12.
Final splits: 8:27, 7:25 pace at end. (Garmin registered 13.31 miles, most likely from random weaving.)
I have to thank everyone for their encouragement and support these past eight weeks. It might seem weird but in the moments I doubted myself, I drew on the confidence and encouragement you have given me. I though of you in your own races and hoped you were doing well.
As far as Fort-4-Fitness goes, great race. Awesome, actually. From mini Body Glides being handed out as runners waited in the corrals to the plastic grocery bags available to stock up on finish-line eats, some of the best race services ever. And to really show how great the race directors are, take this story from Mark. He lost his chip somewhere between getting to the race and running the first mile. He finished with a very impressive time - his parents saw the clock read 1:34:18 - but it was going to go unrecorded. UNTIL the timing director e-mailed him, saying that someone recorded him crossing the finish. Did Mark, indeed, run the race? They would like to include him in the results if he did.
Great service, great course, great race.