Saturday, November 5, 2011

Hot Chocolate 2012

This day was a complete success. From the easy wakeup (5:00 is not so bad, after all) to the omelet, to the fact that I get to set the clocks before bed tonight, I don't think there has ever been a perfecter day.

Yes. Perfecter.

Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

Well, if we are to go back to the very beginning, we have to re-cap this race last year. It was my first actual race - the Hot Chocolate 5K. I didn't sleep the night before; nerves about destroyed me! I remember wondering if I could do it, and then finally finishing, and being just absolutely wiped out. In the end, I finished the race in 2010 at 49 minutes and 56 seconds - or 50 minutes in actual time. My average pace was 16 minutes and five seconds per mile. I ran what I could, walked most of it, and did my best. The only thing that was important was that I finished, and that felt really good.

Fast forward to this year. After a full year of training, racing (racing? Is it racing when you run this slow?), injury and recovery, I decided to venture into uncharted territory. I was running a 15K.

Am I completely nuts? That's three times as far as I ran last year. That's further than I have ever run before. But, seeing as I'm training for a half marathon, it seemed logical. When I registered, back in February, I figured it would be good to have one long race under my belt before the half in February of 2012. So I decided to do it.

I met up with my running pals from Schaumburg Life Time Fitness and we carpooled in. Linda, Pam, Dee, Megan and Shelly were the perfect accompaniment for a day of merriment. As Linda and I were the only ones going for 15, the others hurried to the starting line for the 5K. Linda and I, naturally, stopped to take photos in the parking garage.
Please note that the woman in this photograph looks happy, and not completely crazy.

Soon, we found ourselves in beautiful Grant Park in Chicago. It was a clear, sunny day. A little chill in the air, but that's perfect running weather! After waiting for about three years to get into a bathroom (this seems to be a trend in Chicago race porta-potties) we made our way toward the starting line.
But not before we took the traditional long-arm photo.

The run itself was incredible. I started off feeling incredibly strong. I knew in my heart, my soul and my gut that I had done everything I could to prepare for this race. The rest was just in the doing. So off I went.

The first mile passed before I even realized it. That's the beauty of running through Chicago; this city is so incredible, it's easy to get caught up in the surroundings. The first half of the race, really, seemed effortless. (This, I remember thinking, is a new sensation. Effortless? For serious?)

When we ran around United Center, I knew we were about halfway done with the race. I was starting to feel a little fatigue in my legs and discomfort in my knees, but other than that, I was totally happy in the moment. Joyful, even, with the way I was actually able to continue moving forward.

My RunKeeper crapped out on me, so I had no idea how I was really doing. Mile split timers showed my difference between each marker, but I would have to do math to actually figure it out. I felt like I was within reach of meeting my threefold goal: Finish, smiling, before the sweepers picked my ass up. I figured I had two and a half hours, start to finish. I was hopeful.

I ran the full course, with the exception of walking up to and away from water/Gatorade stations. I tried to take a wee walk break around mile seven, but my calf felt a little wonky walking, so I just continued to run.

Time passed. I smiled. I felt strong, powerful, capable. I thought back to last year, and how hard it was to mostly walk a 5K. I marveled at how much difference a person can make in just one year.

And then, blissfully, the course turned back on to Columbus Drive; the finish line was within sight. In mere moments, I heard my friends. Linda jumped off the curb to run me in toward the finish, and Pam, Dee, Meg and Shelly were hollering in support. I started to tear up. That made it really hard to breathe! So I promised myself I would keep it together until I crossed the finish line, and I propelled myself forward.

To say I was emotional would be something of an understatement, to say the least. After a year of hard work, of injury, of physical therapy, of giving it my all, I was crossing the finish line in what I knew would be something to remember. With one last push, it was over. Nothing left except more Gatorade, a bottle of water and ... chocolate.
Ran into Diane (and her husband Justin) just past the finish line. They already had their chocolate. They have been incredibly supportive over the past year; I love them.

What would a race called Hot Chocolate be without delicious chocolate? Sponsored by Ghirardelli, this is one race you don't want to miss out on if you have any interest in the ooey gooey addiction I like to call melted chocolate. Seriously. Fondue is served with a pretzel rod, Rice Krispy treat, marshmallow, apple slices, a banana and ... your finger. Nope, I wasn't going to waste a single bit. (Note the glob on my lower lip; I ate that, too.) (The blob, not my lip.)
One satisfied, happy runner.And here's the full posse, full of chocolate and joy. Back row: Linda, Me, Kristen's Friend and Kristen. Front row: Pam, Shelly, Dee and Megan.

I can't stop smiling. This race just felt incredible. And with good reason, as fate would have it. The unofficial times have been posted, and it would appear that I absolutely shattered my performance a year ago. Now, let's be honest - shaving two minutes per mile still means I'm a slow runner. But this is progress, and that's what it's all about. When all is said and done, here's how my race shaped up:

I came in 631 out of 644 in my age group. Nope, not last, although that would have been okay!

8841 out of 9061 overall. Yep; 220 people were actually slower than I was. I didn't know that was possible.

But here's where it gets really interesting:

My overall time was 2:09:33, with a per-mile average pace of 13:54. Scroll back up and check last year's pace, okay? I'll wait.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I took a little more than two minutes per mile off my average pace, while tripling the length of my race. That felt good. A year's worth of hard work paid off.

But it's not just me. My ability to run this race today has been a collective effort. Everyone who has run with me, everyone who has encouraged me, everyone who believed in me or told me I could do it, everyone who told me I could heal from injury and be stronger than ever ... today was a culmination of all of that. I am proud, yes, but what I am mostly proud of is being worthy of the faith others have put in me. I don't have words to express what it's meant to me to have this incredible support network at my side, but I can say one thing for sure:

I could not have done it without you.


Mi said...

Wow. You are an inspiration. If you can do a 15K and increase your time while increasing your distance, maybe there is hope for me doing my first 5K -- or at least getting through my first month of training.

Of course, maybe it would help me if I knew I were running toward chocolate. There's an idea.

Rock on!


Maggie said...

Thanks, Michelle! I am a slow runner. I will probably always be a slow runner. But it's about progress, right? You can do it. If I can, seriously, anyone can. You might even find you enjoy it!