Sunday, July 26, 2015

Amita Fitness 5K -- July 25, 2015

So when you look at the above photo, what is the first thing you notice? Hopefully you see that I have not just one finisher's medal, but TWO! That's because for the first time in my almost-16-year running career I won an age group award! I was 46th overall in 29:13 and second in the 45-49 age group! Not a bad result from a last-minute decision to run the race. Earlier this week the trip to Peoria for the Detweiller At Dark cross country race was cancelled due to lack of interest, which was a bit disappointing but I still wanted Kev and I to race this weekend. So after looking at the local race calendar, we chose this one, mostly since it was a night race and looked like fun.

As the day went on I was a bit worried as it was seriously hot! I had decided to wait to just sign up at the race because there was a threat of storms in the area on Saturday, but when they didn't materialize we decided to head on over. Still, when we arrived at the race site on the AT&T campus in Hoffman Estates, it was 88 degrees and the humidity was sitting at about 75 percent.

Still, there was a bit of a breeze so it didn't feel all that bad, and thankfully the temperature dipped a little as race time approached.

It was certainly a busy place to be as they had three races going on at once. The half marathon and 10K started at 5:30 p.m.and the 5K started at 6. 

Kevin and I got there just in time to get registered and watch the start of the earlier race. One thing I noticed early on into the race is that there were Kenyans at the front of the pack! The race paid prize money and so a group of them were there to take their shot.

Personally, I love to watch the Kenyans (and Ethiopians) run. They are just so beautiful, their strides are so long and efficient, and their feet don't even make a sound when they run by you. Like this picture of race winner Abraham Chelanga, it is just stunning. He won the race in 1:09 but back in May won the Cleveland Marathon in a time of 2:16. He won the race by three minutes over Edward Tabut, who won a marathon in Lincoln, Neb. in 2:17 two months ago as well.                    
After a bit of a warmup, we headed over to the starting line to get staged for the start of the 5K. While the 10K and half marathon seemed to have a lot of participants, the 5K field looked a bit sparse. There were over 700 combined entrants in the earlier race, while about 250 started the 5K. Oh well, in the end I guess it worked out!

Kev decided to stay back and start the race with me. That was OK, I knew that he was a bit concerned about the weather as he had never raced in those kinds of conditions before. While I figured since he had been training for cross country this summer he could improve on his time of 28 minutes and change he ran in a 5K back in May, I wasn't too worried about it. It's good to just keep him running for fun, the serious racing will come in a few weeks.                       

Once we got settled in for the start, we were off! The race went through the AT&T campus and the surrounding area, which for the most part was pretty well-shaded, although there were a few hills that needed negotiation.

Entering the race, I had three goals in mind: 1) run the entire way (minus any water stops, since it was in the mid-80s after all), 2) have even splits and 3) as always, pass more people in the last mile than pass me.

The top two goals were the most important for me. While my previous two races I had posted pretty good times -- 28:06 and 28:02 -- they were rife with mistakes and bad pacing. Saturday I went old school, with just music and my watch, instead of using the Runtastic app that I had grown a bit too dependent on.

Our start was a bit on the conservative side, but we must have lined up a little further back than we should have as we passed a lot of people in the opening mile. It was certainly an interesting experience because we could see people running the 10K and half on a different course a handful of times during the race.

As we approached the first water stop at just under a mile, I took a little extra time there as I felt like I was beginning to ramp up the pace a little much. But after a couple of cups of water we turned a corner and hit the first mile in 9:27. Given the conditions and my conservative pacing I was very happy with that.

Just around the mile we encountered one of the more challenging portions of the course, a long uphill that was well over a quarter-mile long. What made it even tougher is that we were running straight West towards the setting sun, and with the wind behind us I warmed up really fast.

Once we crested the hill we turned around on a hairpin and went back the way we came, back downhill and back into the wind. The downhill was nice and while I don't normally welcome a headwind, the breeze felt very good and cooled us off almost the way running the other direction had warmed us up.

After the first water stop I must have pulled away from Kev a little as he was about 15 seconds behind me at the hairpin. I gave him some words of encouragement and tried to get him to surge up to me.

Halfway down the hill we made a right turn and got some relief in the shade, but at about 1.5 miles there was another incline that was a little tough. Well, it was actually the start of a tough stretch that almost did me in!

Near the 2-mile mark we were heading back West again, and it felt like with each stride we were getting closer and closer to the surface of the sun! I needed to give myself a little motivational talk at this point...we were going behind this warehouse and it was just really desolate. Kev referred to that area as Death Valley, and it was pretty accurate.

I hit the second mile in 9:16, which I was REALLY happy with. That put me right on a 29-minute pace, perfect for the conditions and what I was trying to accomplish. But with Death Valley lurking, I had to dig a little bit and keep going. No matter what, I wasn't about to stop!

I kept hoping for a water stop, but amazingly enough there was only the one for the entire race. Normally I don't get too concerned about that but in these conditions I could've used one.

Once we got around the warehouse/office building, we headed back East on a long downhill that paralleled Interstate 90. Just like the early downhill, the breeze in our faces was an absolute lifesaver! I tried not to check my watch a bunch but stole a few glances at it here and there. Just five more minutes of running left...just four minutes...three minutes.

We took a left turn back into the campus and up another small incline. I was looking for the 3-mile mark but it was hidden around a little curve and I didn't see it until I was almost right on top of it. Still, I hit my watch there and was at 9:35 for Mile 3. I was doing a bit of a happy dance at that point because I was so happy to have hit my goals!

I crossed the line strong and finished with a smile on my face. I grabbed some water and my (first) finisher's medal, then hustled back to cheer on Kev at the finish. He was a bit behind me by then, but I looked up and saw him absolutely sprinting his way to the finish!

He crossed the line in 30:33, good for 64th overall. I was so proud of him because I knew he ran the whole way and really battled his way through the conditions. Running in hot weather is tough, and to do even remotely well you just have to experience doing it. This will do him wonders down the road.

More than anything, it was just an opportunity to do something fun together. If you have teenagers you know that their lives hit fast-forward once they start high school. I couldn't believe how quickly those four years went for Matt, who is now beginning his sophomore year of college! I'm glad that Kevin seems to be enjoying his running, and plans on starting a blog to talk about his first impressions of high school cross country.

We got some water and collected ourselves for a few minutes before going over to where the results were posted. I found my name and noticed something strange (well, at least for me) to my name was a large "2" where it listed age group places.

Wait a sec...are you trying to tell me that I actually won an age group award? I have to admit that I was a bit of a skeptic, because I thought the race was bigger and they would update those results sooner or later.

Still, we hung around for the awards and when the 45-49 age group category was announced, I was the second place finisher! It was certainly a cool feeling to go up and get my medal. I usually run bigger races that have faster people, so I have never, ever even sniffed an age group award, so needless to say this is a day I'll remember for a long, long time!

In a lot of ways, I needed a race like this badly. Despite running decent times, my last two races beat me up a little bit and left me thinking that I had to get back to just having fun with my running and not spend a lot of time worrying about times and performance. Sure those are important to me, but Saturday's run was just so much more satisfying because it was just a lot of fun.

With marathon training starting up next week, things will have to get a little more serious, but I have a lot to celebrate this weekend. Not only for the race, but also Sunday Darcy and I celebrate our first wedding anniversary! It's been such an amazing year (not just last year but the four that we have been together) and I am thankful for having her in my life. I certainly dedicate this award to her because if not for her love and encouragement I may not even be running any more. She has made a difference in my life in so many ways, and I'm as crazy about her as the day we first met.

Have a great rest of the weekend everyone!

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