Race Report: Inaugural Chicago Polar Dash Half Marathon

Getting up for this race was so much easier than any other race I have run so far. The race didn't start until 9:30am, and Mike and Liz were picking me up at 7AM. So I didn't even get up until 6AM! I know that just sounds strange, but to runners, they can totally appreciate it! Usually I am on the road by 6AM to head to a race. (Okay, weird thing to start a race report with but it is late, I am tired, and I want to get this report published before Monday morning)

The Chicago Polar Dash is a winter race. Meaning: it happens regardless of the weather (like the Post Office motto). Now the funny thing is that it was postponed (see previous post) from Jan 14th. Why? Because of cold temperatures, and probably because the race course wasn't sufficiently plowed due to a snowstorm 48 hours before. The ironic thing was: it snowed on the 20th, leaving more snow than the previous storm had, AND, the temperatures were LOWER on race day than they were on the 14th! Hello??? McFly??? Anyone HOME??? LOL

So I get out of the bed and fire up the Weather Channel App on my iPad to check the weather. It is 11 degrees outside with a windchill factor of ZERO! And lake-effect snow is likely downtown. How nice! So I get ready to go and I am layered up! I have my HRM, long-sleeved tech shirt, a fleece 1/2 zip, and my Disney HM running jacket up top. And, I have running undies, CW-X Compression pants, and my Nike running pants on. I have SmartWool socks and my regular running shoes. Finish up the ensemble with two pair of gloves (one thin, one heavier pair of Mizumos), and a balaclava hat and I am like "Bring IT, Chicago!"

And I had my secret weapon: Hand and Toe Warmers! The toe warmers stick to the top of your socks (on the outside), and the hand warmers go inside the palm of your gloves. They were awesome!!! When Mike and Liz came to pick me up, I gave them some as well. They were truly heaven-sent during the race! Take it from me! Do not run a winter race without them!

Breakfast was two pieces of toast with Almond Butter, some applesauce (no bananas in the house!), and a cup of milk. Then I packed my CARA Gear Bag with a spare set of dry clothes (for after the race), my GU gels, Yak Trax, muscle milk, and a few other odds and ends, and hopped into the car at 7AM when Mike and Liz pulled into the driveway. I brought my gym bag as well (cuz it had more stuff just in case) and threw it into the trunk. The drive down to Soldier Field was uneventful and it was nice to chat with Mike and Liz.

Of course, the first thing that we notice is that it is definitely snowing downtown. And not lightly! So I knew this was going to be an adventure for me! Runing when it is freezing cold and snowing! We walk to the course start, take a few photos, and then head to gear check. I decide not to wear the Yak Trax (which turned out to be fine) because the course looked plowed enough to be safe.

We timed it pretty well because once we got into the start area and picked the pacing sign we felt would work for us, the race started maybe 15 minutes later. We decided to hang between the 10:00 and 11:00/mm pace signs. We all decided we would take this race nice and easy -- no PR attempts here -- given that Mike and I had just ran at Disney, and, because of the weather and wanting not to get injured by slipping and falling or something.

The race started off slowly. In fact, we weren't even really sure when it started. I don't think there was a starting gun or horn (or if so, I didn't hear it). People started moving so we moved too. It was snowing pretty good at this point, and continued to snow for at least 2/3 of the race. Mike took the lead, with me behind him, and Liz behind me.

The first few miles were pretty normal as far as how it felt. The course in those first few miles did have some slushy sections where keeping your footing was tricky. But once we got past that, the course was pretty decent. Mike was well ahead of me and Liz. I kept to a 10:45/mm pace for the first 4 miles, not wanting to push it. At the 3.5 mile mark, the course doubled back unexpectedly (the course had gotten snowed over and wasn't passable) so I saw Mike coming back toward me. I took my first GU at 4.5 miles and took a walk break while doing so. I saw Liz and we high-fived as she was coming up on the turn.

Then we headed back to the race starting area. It turns out that they turned the course into a 10K "loop" to compensate for the route change. So we actually passed through the 'finish line' for the 10K runners as we then began the second loop of the race. This was strange to me.

In fact, when I got to the 7 mile marker, I made a mistake and turned right when I 'should' have turned left. There was no volunteer standing there to tell me this. So I turned right, ran up a HILL, and then when I got to the top I realized I was not in the right place. So I ran down the hill and finally found a volunteer who told me where to go. I was really PISSED OFF for losing time and wasting energy on a hill I didn't need to take. That was my first negative mark for this race.

Then I started to feel tired around Mile 8.5 when I had my next GU break. I walk when I eat/drink but when I started running again, my legs felt tired. It wasn't a 'bonk' feeling, just tired. I didn't eat anything 1/2 hour before the start of the race like I usually do so that might have had something to do with it. But I started to wonder if running a Half just two weeks after my very first Half at Disney had been a good idea after all. Doubt is a bad thing to let slip into one's head. So I was trying hard to dismiss the thought. I slowed my pace to 11:15/mm and started taking 1-minute walk breaks every 3/4 mile or so.

When we got the 10 mile marker, there was this HUGE slush puddle. Runners stopped to figure out how to get passed it without getting shoes wet. I gave it a try but ended up getting some of the water in my shoes. Yuck! The only thing that saved me were those toe warmers! My feet were wet but not cold!

Half Fanatic #825 Michael Hoyt took my picture as we ran togetherAround this time, I had been playing "leap frog" with another runner. I would pass him when I was running and he was walking, and then when I walked, he would run passed me. We kept doing this for about 1.5 miles. So at Mile 11, I was going to pass him but instead I walked alongside him and introduced myself! He laughed and we talked for quite a while, both running and walking together. Turns out he ran the Goofy at Disney! And, he was a Half Fanatic who just finished 52 Halfs in 52 weeks to earn his 10 Moons!

How cool was that! Especially since this race would serve as my qualifying race for membership into the Half Fanatics! So we talked about the group and his experiences. He said there were about four other Falf Fanatics running the race. In fact, he drove here from Indiana just to run this race. We ran together until about mile 12.5 when he said he would run ahead and finish so that he could take my picture at the Finish Line and post it on the Half Fanatics FB page.

He and I had passed the 2:45 pace group leader a while back so I wanted to make sure that they did not pass me before I reached the Finish Line. I don't know, I just didn't want to finish with a time slower than that. So I ran. When I got the Mile 13, I was running in a tunnel underneath Lake Shore Drive. I picked up the pace and finished pretty strong. Finish time: 2:44:09. Not even close to my finish time at Disney due to the amount of walking I did, but between the weather conditions and my energy level, I am more than happy with the results. I finished my second Half Marathon in 14 days! Wow! I didn't know if I could do it, and I found out I could! And, without injury!

Finishing the Chicago Polar Dash Half Marathon all smiles!Crossing that Finish Line (and yes, Michael was there with his camera) was exciting! It represented another milestone for me in my running, not only conquering the fear of running another Half so soon, but also conquering the elements in the process. Finishing a race really gives you a sense of accomplishment that comes from putting yourself out there where it is only you against the road. You have to rely on your own physical and mental strength to get you through it. It is hard to explain.

My running partner Mike was there when I finished and took this photograph. It was great to see him there since I had only seen him twice during the race. We both waited for Liz to finish and in our tired states, celebrated each other's accomplishment. But then I got hit with disapointment.

They had run out of Hot Chocolate!!! Seriously, folks???? After running 2 hours and 44 minutes you think I could at least enjoy a cup of your promised Hot Chocolate! That was my second negative mark for the race -- you don't run out of the Hot Chocolate! The warming tents were NOT very warm either. The food was okay (not the bagels tho) with PowerAde. Muscle Milk, bananas, peanuts, and string cheese.

The medal is very nice! I like the stained glass a lot! My only issue (and negative mark 3)? Why not have different medals for the different distances? The race had 5K, 10K, and Half Marathon distances but everyone got the same medal. That isn't right. I understand it keeps their costs down. But at least the Half Marathoners should have gotten a different medal with some kind of distance indicator on it. Dom't get me wrong -- I loved the race goodies (a nice polar fleece sweater and the medal, and I got a beanie hat too). Oh well...

When we got back to the car, we changed into our dry clothes (I wore the Polar Dash Fleece and Beanie) which felt so good, and headed back home. My legs were a little tight but not really sore. My knees and the pads behind my pinky toes were a bit sore this time, and I could tell my piriformis was tight. Good thing I had a massage scheduled at LifeTime Fitness that afternoon (and it was heavenly; it hurt so good!)

All in all, it was a fun experience and a good race! I learned more about myself and how I respond to situations, and how to work through that. I had a great time hanging with Mike and Liz (I look forward to more races this year with the two of them)! And I look forward to getting the notification back from the Half Fanatics saying I am "one of them"!

As for doing more races with the organizers of the race (Team Ortho), I will have to think about that. The postponement, the lack of hot chocolate, a few other little things, all kinda left a bad taste in my mouth. But then again, no one is perfect and I have heard good things from Mike about their other races. So we will just have to see.

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