After some race plans fell through, I headed to stay with my parents the night before the race. They only live about 45 minutes away, so not too far to drive over in the morning. My brother was also running the race and staying at my parents, so we got up and rode over together. Parking was not too bad, and we ran into Assembly Hall to use the bathroom. He met up with his friends while I headed to the start line. This race is only 2 years old and they try to improve it each year, however they do not have a corralled start yet. So, lining up is a bit difficult. I stood near the 1:45-2:00 finish group and found the 8:50 pace group.
When the race started, it was pretty mild and overcast. I had originally planned to stay with the 8:50 group, but felt the pace was a little slow. I felt great out of the great and ran my first mile in 8:07. In hindsight, a little too fast, but again, I was feeling good and it is definitely a flat and fast course. I dropped back to about 8:30 for miles 2-5. I was running near a a group of two married couples. They were rather funny, so I stayed with them for pacing and entertainment. At one point, on of the husbands said the group was going to fast and needed to slow down. Then he took off ahead and left the rest trying to catch up to him. All was good, until mile 6. I had a few side cramps so stopped to stretch those and get some water. I seemed to be fine and slowed my pace just a bit. Then came mile 7. By this point, the sun had come out in full force and the humidity was on the rise. I also started having more side cramps. I stopped about 4 times between miles 7-9 trying to stretch them out and catch my breath. This section of the course is through a local park along a trail. Up until that point, everything had been along the road with tons of crowds and water stops. Through the park, the trail is narrow and people are very crowded. There are no water stations and no place for any spectators. At this point, my pace slowed considerably to about 9 min miles due to all of the circumstances. I saw the 8:50 pace group pass me, but I was still ahead of the 9:00 pace group and felt okay.
I finally made it out of the park and was able to stop and stretch enough to get rid of the cramps. Miles 10-11 felt pretty good, although I was pretty hot. I was definitely at a slower pace, around 9:15/mile, but I thought I still had a chance to come in under 2 hours since I had done so well at the beginning. It was really hot, but I tried to keep going, hoping to get that goal. However, at mile 12, I fell apart. It was so hot I couldn't breathe. I stopped for water twice and walked through both stations. They changed the ending of the course, so I wasn't sure exactly what to expect. I finally rounded the corner and I could see the finish line, but could not breathe. I had to stop and walk around mile 12.8 to catch my breath to make it to the finish. It was just so humid. I finally made it to the finish line in 2:00:29.
I was seriously mad at myself. I should have tried to suck it up and not walk those few seconds at mile 12.8 or ran through one of the water stations. Ugh! So mad to have just missed coming in under 2. But, I couldn't be too upset. It was so hot, I was just glad to finish. I saw many runners hauled off the course, several on stretchers with oxygen masks on. I even saw people collapsing at mile 12.5 - trying to make it and just overheating. It was unreal. Worse than the Kentucky Derby Marathon the weekend before.
After finishing, I was trying to find my family and friends. I couldn't find them but ran into my old college roommate who I had stopped to see the day before. We got to catch up a little more and talk about the race. She did really well, considering she had a baby in November! I hope I can be like that one day! I gave up on my family and started walking back to my car when I ran into my brother. He was coming to wait for me and get his stuff from my car. I was pretty disappointed about missing the family at the finish line. It was the first time my parents had ever come to one of my races. They saw my brother finish (1:35 PR for him - clearly he got the natural athletic ability in the family). They saw some of his friends and others they know finish, but no one saw me finish. I usually come in around 2 hours, give or take a few minutes so I figured they would see me, but no such luck. I'm bummed I have no pictures from the day and no fun family reunion post-race.
The post-race food for this race is great - pasta, cookies, bananas, candy, bagels, pretzels, pizza, etc. But, it was too hard to carry everything, so I grabbed some water, a banana, and of course, a handful of candy. Plus, I knew were we all going out to lunch. We did that and hit up a few bookstores for Illini gear on campus before I headed home. I did hit up a few of my favorite places before leaving town - grabbed a pizza from Papa Del's and lemon custard from Jarlings. Yum!
I don't know why, but I am kind of a crowd watcher and also track other interesting things along the way. A few things I saw/heard/noticed along the way:
- Lots of people going barefoot, including several marathon runners. Unreal. I just don't know how these people do it, especially around a college campus with all sorts of litter, broken glass, etc.
- My favorite sign of the race: "Run like you just stole something!" Pretty funny. I've never seen that one before.
- Crowd support over 11 of the half-marathon miles. I am not sure about the remainder of the marathon course, but the crowd support here is great. There are people everywhere and they line the end of the race like you would not believe. It actually was hard to stop at mile 12.8 because so many were yelling to keep going (I should have listened to them and felt more guilty for stopping).
- It was very hard to get around town. The traffic pattern due to the marathon course was a nightmare. You had to drive about 10 miles out of the way. Thankfully, I know all of the out of the way places. Those that were only in town for the run, were stuck waiting for a very long time!
- The downside of this race is that the post-race activities are not organized well. They had finisher photos, but I had no clue where those were located, so I didn't get one (again, no photos from the weekend). Also, you had to walk up the steps of the football stadium to get the food after finishing. Then, you had to go to the other side of the stadium to meet up with people. Because everything was blocked off, it required going all the way out of the stadium and around.