About to start this madness. You may clickenzee to embiggen!
I learned about the F3 Half Marathon four years ago when I came out to watch Peter Sagal run it. It's in Chicago, on the lake, in January, and it was @#$@#ING FREEZING. In fact, the "F3" stands for "@#$#@CKING FREEZING FROZEN". It was so incredibly stupid to run this race, I thought, that I'd like to run this race. Back then I had just barely run a 5k and the thought of 13 miles was nuts. But anyway, I signed up for the next year AND I RAN IT! And it was freezing, 15 degrees with 20 mph winds howling in off the lake, and I ran (in a time of 2:09:22) and it was awesome and I signed up for the next one because it's insane to do anything like that. The next year I ran it 20 minutes faster (1:49:44) which was my fastest half marathon ever and I thought I was going to die at the end.
This year I was again ready to run hell bent for whatever -- I wanted to PR again. The weather had all the threats of being warm -- in the 30 degree range, and there was a blizzard raging at home, If I wanted to run in crappy conditions, I'd picked the wrong race. But if I wanted to set a new record, I probably picked a good one. I left Philadelphia at 5am, landed in Chicago at 7:00
Welcome to the party capitol of America I guess.
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I took a cab to meet silveringrid at her office and get keys to her apartment, then I needed to pick up my race bib about two and a half miles away. Checking the bike share app to see if there were any nearby bike rental kiosks I saw this:
Lots of bike rental places in Chicago.
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Which brings me to a digression -- for as cold as it is, Chicago is something of a bike riding paradise when compared to Philly. We do have a new bike share, but Chicago has LOTS and, it's got protected bike lanes. But despite all the bike amenities, I walked from downtown to pick up my race number at the running store and then I had a couple of hours to kill before I was supposed to meet Peter Sagal at WBEZ to go for a short run. I was a little wary of this since he's a lot faster than me and I figured I should be saving my legs for the race, but I figured if I missed my goal by 30 seconds and I'd run with Peter the day before it would be all good in the end. In the intervening year I'd missed four opportunities to break my PR -- the closest I came was 15 second in the Rock & Roll half in Philly, where I was wearing a bathrobe and carrying a half gallon of milk, but every other effort, I'd missed by at least two minutes. I'd skipped a lot of training during the summer because it was freakishly hot and figured I was just paying for that. Anyway, after picking up my race number I decided to walk to WBEZ to meet Peter. I asked where it was and the clerk in the store told me it was "really far" and I'd need to take a train. Looking on my phone, it was only 4 miles. It seemed weird to tell someone who was about to run 13 miles that 4 miles was beyond walking distance. But I walked, met up with Peter and Eli Finkel a professor at Northwestern and, as Peter described him "probably the world's foremost expert on on-line dating." Eli and Peter were scheduled to do a run and hammer out a discussion they'd started a while back about whether or not running on a treadmill while watching TV (which Eli does) actually counts as running. (More specifically, Peter is of the belief that you're missing out on a lot that way. Eli was of the belief that he didn't care.)
I was hoping to run the race in 8:20's (meaning one mile, 8:20 minutes) and these guys started out way faster so it was pretty much all I could do to keep up. Consequently, I didn't talk much, but it was good practice for not just blurting things out. I had to REALLY think I had something worth saying. It was an interesting conversation.
Questions, interesting ones, I think formed along the lines of
* Is there a spiritual _thing_ that runners experience that makes it different from other exercise?
* Is there a proper way to be "a runner"?
* Is running outside a better way to experience "running" than inside?
* Do you have to like running to be "a runner"?
* Are you losing something of a spiritual experience if you're not paying attention to your running?
* Can one member of a club do all their runs indoors on a treadmill & meet up with everybody else for beers at the end and still be a proper member of that club or do you need to suffer through shared experiences to be a real member of a club?
Anyway. We ran two miles out and two miles back. On the way back, conversation drifted to on-line dating -- specifically things like how algorithms pair people up ("You and LonelyForU42 are a 63% match!") and how people don't actually know what they want when they fill out their dating profile.
We got back to WBEZ, I was a little worried by this point that walking 7 miles and running 4 faster than my race pace might doom me BUT, I've been having a lot of discussions about attitude & sports with the people in the West Philly Runners and I'd come to believe that thoughts like this are toxic and so I classified it in my head as a "shakeout run" -- which I'm not even sure what that means, but I've heard people say it. "This was my shakeout run before the race, it makes me stronger."
Me, Dr. Eli Finkel, & Peter Sagal, not being impressed.
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In any event, I took an Uber to Silveringrid's and hung out with her cats until she got back from work. I had my traditional dinner of mashed potatoes and went to bed early.
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The F3 Half Marathon used to start and end out in the middle of nowhere -- like in a frozen field -- but as the race has grown in size, the last two years it's begun & ended at Soldier Field, which is sort of nice because you're inside and warm right up until the race starts and then when you're done, you just go back inside. Part of me thinks this is cheating, because you're not suffering in a frozen field and, let's be honest, if you're not in this race to brag about suffering in a frozen field, why are you running it in the first place? But another part of me was happy to be warm.
At the start, it was about thirty degrees out, which is nothing as far as running long distances. I kept my jacket on until the end though and then handed it off to Silveringrid and ran in a long sleeve shirt and a short sleeve shirt over it.
A lot of running is distracting yourself and you're golden if you can find something to focus your attention on apart from how sucky it is to be running fast. I was gleefully able to distract myself in the beginning by trying to guess at what point I would be able to feel my fingers and then at what point I'd consider my hands "warm" and then at what, if any, point I'd actually start to feel hot. (By mile 3 I could feel my fingers and I was positively warm by mile 4. I pulled up my sleeves at mile 8.)
My plan was to run 8:20's the whole way and throw on a little burst of speed at the end with whatever I had left but in actual practice I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to convince myself to speed up. This is a problem with probably almost all runners -- they go out too fast thinking they can bank time. ("You cannot bank time" is one of the immortal rules of running.) But I felt so good at the beginning I figured I'd speed up a little to give myself a cushion to crash at the end. At some point I fell in behind a woman who was running perfect 8:05's, she had two people with her who looked to be pacers (people who run with you to keep your speed) -- they were all running in lock step and their speed never varied. "Wow," I thought, "here's someone doing all the work. I'll just stay with them." So I put my head down, concentrated on my playlist and kept their shoes in my sight. If their shoes moved ahead of me, I needed to speed up. At the turnaround at mile 6.5 or whatever I saw the strawberry, Joanne Singleton headed back. She was only about 45 seconds ahead of me. I wanted to text Silveringrid, who was following my race on Garmin Livetrack -- because last year the strawberry kicked my ass by a huge amount. As soon as I thought of it it dawned on me that the type of person who would text someone in the middle of a race is the type of person who's not busting their ass in the race, and the important thing was that I beat my time from last year. So I stuck my head back down and charged along. And at mile 8 I was still with my unofficial pace group and the thought crossed my mind that I actually felt pretty good. At some point in a race it starts to suck and you know it's going to happen. I was very happy that it hadn't started yet, it was just uncomfortable, and here I was, running 8:05's -- way faster than I'd planned.
The suck started at mile 10 and my mind & body had a significant battle over whether or not I needed to keep up. "You're way ahead, you can let them go and slow down, all you need to do to PR is run a 28 minute 5k, which you can do carrying a gallon of milk." Then the other voice goes, "If you stick with them, you can probably come in at 1:45 and totally obliterate your PR!"
This went on for a while and ultimately I slowed down, waved to my pacers who didn't know they were pacing me, and figured I'd try and stick to my original goal pace of 8:22. I did mile 10 in 8:13, mile 11 in 8:22 and then the wheels started to come off, I got tunnel vision, but as I came around a bend I could see Soldier Field in the distance and knew it was close. I threw in everything I had and managed the last mile in 8:29, but it wasn't fun.
I finish, victorious, but the look on my face tells the other story.
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You start having this internal monologue somewhere along the lines where you're promising yourself all sorts of things when you finish. "Body! Don't stop and I will give you ice cream and beer and french fries! Body don't stop and there will be a hot tub at the end of this!" -- in any event, this time for the last two miles I was telling my body that it could lay down at the end. Someone handed me my medal, I took a bottle of water and laid down at the top of a hill where Silveringrid found me.
I finished in 1:47:56 -- knocking two minutes off of my PR which, in the running world, is smashing it.
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I recovered in a few minutes and headed back to the finish line to pick up some food. Peter & I have had a debate or a discussion for a while now as to whether or not running clothes need pockets. I think they do. They need lots of pockets. They need pockets with zippers too. I mean, if you find $500 on the ground while you're running, where will you put it? Peter likes to be One with the running. Nothing more than a house key on his person, no phone, no music, just him and his suffering. Me, on the other hand I run with a phone, and headphones and my credit card and my drivers license and a handkerchief and bus tokens.... And also, at the end of the race, there are often an astounding number of food options -- not just bananas and bagels, which everybody expects, but all sorts of fitness bar sponsors and weird kinds of potato chips people are hoping you'll fall in love with, and if you're just trying to collect these things with your hands, you're going to get a banana and your water and then you're done. With pockets now ... well, you can sample the world.
To those with pockets go the spoils!
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There was an after party, and there were badass looking shuttle busses (they looked like they were from Mad Max) taking people to the after party. I looked at the shuttle busses. Silveringrid looked at the shuttle busses. A runner stopped and said "Thanks for pacing me, I was staring at the back of your shirt for the last five miles." That was nice to hear. He got on the bus. Silveringrid & I decided to just go home. Getting on a shuttle bus seemed like a lot of work.
Wandering around Chicago looking for someone to show my medal to.
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We went out to a diner near her house. Then I took a bath that lasted about an hour and later that night we went out to a party a friend of hers was throwing. Molly Robison played.
The next day I met up with Peter who had been at Ord Camp, a sort of Ted Talk weekend style thing, and we went out to dinner. He introduced me to some really interesting people who'd been there. Schuyler Towne, who's very into locks, security and how people interact with locks and security, and another guy named Moshe Tamssot, who'd saved the museum of holography from going out of business.
Lock & security expert Schuyler Towne, Peter Sagal, thinking something, Moshe Tamssot, head of the Monks of Invention, and me.
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The blizzard blizzarded back home, but I got on a plane and made it out with no problems, back to the cats, back to the wife, all was good.
What's the most awful and wonderful thing you've done lately?
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