I signed up for the F^3 Half shortly after the Chicago Marathon. I wasn’t sure what my spring race schedule was going to look like and I wanted to have a race on my calendar to look forward to. I picked the F^3 Half because it really is the ONLY half in January (and maybe February) in Chicago and I had such a blast spectating last year. It didn’t even cross my mind that the weather could be bad on race day. Fast forward to the awful January we’ve been having. Freezing cold temps, gusting wind, and lots of snow. I kept my fingers crossed it would be tolerable (this has been redefined to above 0 degrees) on race morning and it was… barely.
The F^3 Half starts at 10:00 AM which is a bit of a challenge for me because I’m an early riser and I like to get up, throw back some food, and run. I scheduled my morning so that I slept in a little, had time to make almond butter and banana toast, and to plan what I was going to wear. Thankfully, Ian offered to drive me so I didn’t need to worry about freezing on public transportation and packing stuff for gear check. We also didn’t have to leave super early – definitely a plus. Even still, deciding what to wear was a challenge. The forecast at the start was for 15 degrees with 20-25 mph winds with a feels like temperature of 0. Yikes. I opted to layer up with my thickest tights (still not warm enough), a tank top, a sweat-wicking top, my warmest jacket, two pairs of gloves, an ear band, and a hat and risk overheating. I also wore my neck gaiter and put Vaseline on the exposed portions of my face. I felt like a greasy marshmallow.
One of the worst parts of the morning was definitely standing around waiting for the race to start. The wind had picked up and was whipping snow everywhere. The race provided hot chocolate so I had a small cup to warm me up, used a porta potty, and then lined up at the start. One of my only complaints about this race was the start situation. The start line was small and didn’t have any pace signs and runners were backed up pretty far. I started maybe a third of the way back and had no idea what pace anyone around me was planning to run. I ended up passing people by running through the deep snow for the first mile as a result.
An announcement was made that the course was changed at the last minute due to drifting snow and then we were off. The first mile and a half was really challenging. We headed straight into the wind and I was doing a ton of weaving around people. The ground was icy and slick and I could barely feel my fingers or toes. I ended up stopping briefly after the first mile marker to touch my toes and make sure they were okay because they felt so weird in my shoes. I even debating dropping out. [Miles 1 & 2: 7:28, 7:31 min/mile]
Going into this race, I had one goal, run at least 7 miles at marathon pace or faster. I was barely looking at my Garmin (it was under a ton of layers) so I decided to run the first 7 miles fast and then see how I felt for the remainder of the race. Miles 1.5 – 6.5ish were actually pretty tolerable. We turned south and had the wind at our backs and I actually got warm! I took my outer pair of gloves off and opened the armpit vents on my jacket. I debated taking off my hat but it seemed like way too much work and I had nowhere to put it. The ground was not very icy but we were running on packed snow and in some cases mud so I paid close attention to my footing. I took an espresso GU at mile 5ish. I knew I was running faster than marathon pace but I was surprised by how easy it felt. I wasn’t focused at all on my breathing or whether or not I could finish the race, I was battling the elements (overheating at this point) and that’s all I could think about. [Miles 3-7: 7:21, 7:18, 7:25, 7:24, 7:29 min/mile]
We hit the turnaround at mile 6.5 and headed north back into the wind. It was definitely brutal. The path wasn’t nearly as clear heading north as it had been running south and the wind was really cold. A man ran up next to me and commented that the race started at mile 7. He was right. My legs felt fine but at this point, I was mentally ready to give up. I consciously slowed my pace and figured I’d coast in to the finish. I’d put in my 7 faster miles already so I didn’t really care. I ran two slower miles until I caught up to the man I’d seen (and talked to earlier). He was a chatter and while I’m normally not during races, I was so ready to be done that I appreciated the distraction. Without realizing it, my pace picked up as we talked about running in Chicago and why we’d decided to run this race. Eventually, I felt myself start to lose steam and he ran ahead. [Miles 8-11: 8:01, 7:51, 7:36, 7:29 min/mile]
By this point, I was cold. I never run in sunglasses so I didn’t wear a pair during the race and my eyeballs were freezing. My legs felt numb in weird places and I put my second pair of gloves back on. I also started to feel myself bonk. I slowed up a bit, reminding myself that I just needed to finish when I saw an aid station with Clif gels. I grabbed a cup of mostly frozen Gatorade and a gel, drank some Gatorade and had about 1/4 of the gel and within a few minutes, I felt a lot better. I’m not sure if they actually helped or if it was a placebo effect but I felt awesome. We hit the northern part of the course, turned around and headed back south for the last mile, and I started to push the pace. The ground was icy again so I was careful but I was also so ready to be done and warm. During this point, I caught up to my friend and eventually passed him in the last stretch before I crossed the finish line. [Miles 12 & 13: 7:49, 6:58]
Official Finish Time – 1:36:52 (7:24 min/mile) for what I think is 10th female overall (Active.com is being WEIRD with these results). Also, in full disclosure, my Garmin only logged 12.9 miles. Others had a full course though so I’m not sure if my Garmin screwed up or if the course was actually short.
So, if this course was actually 13.1 miles long, this would be a PR for me and given that I ran in nasty conditions, I’ve decided to count it as a PR. I’m really proud of this race. I wanted to quit so many times but I didn’t and I ran a good time (for me). I also wasn’t too sore on Sunday and was able to log another double digit run. This means that my training is going well and I’m improving.
Overall, I’m glad I did this race… now that it’s over. It was pretty miserable while I was running but I definitely feel like a bad ass now. F^3 did a great job considering the conditions – the path was in decent condition and there were volunteers and aid stations throughout the course. I was also so surprised to see spectators out there. People in Chicago are crazy.
What are the worst conditions you’ve raced in?