Saturday of Memorial Day weekend is one of my favorite days of the year. I love this Saturday for the promise of all the summer days ahead and to run my favorite road race, the Soldier Field 10-Miler. I’ve been running this race for years, with the exception of 2011 when I was 6m pregnant. This was Fleet Feet’s 10-year anniversary of the race and it was well executed as always.
I woke up at 4:45am a little bit groggy but excited to put my race clothes on and head to Soldier Field. Like last year, I was traveling solo, my sweet husband was in charge of the boys and we decided they would meet me at the field after the race.
As I walked to the starting corral, coincidentally I met up with a dear friend I hadn’t seen in a while. We chatted and started the race together which is always a nice distraction to the task at hand.
My race plan was simple, find a comfortable pace and hang with it for 10 miles. Before children (BC), when I had a structured training plan & did more races, my competitive self would have set a race pace goal and did everything possible to hold it. Since my training regimen is looser these days and I’m managing a strained hamstring I decided to run to have fun and finish to finish.
The day’s weather was perfect for running; 50 degrees, overcast, and a slight breeze out of the NE. The first mile marker came up quickly, as it always does with the excitement of the start and flow of the sea of runners. I looked at my split and ran an 8:16 mile. It was comfortable but perhaps a little too fast. The second mile passes, still holding comfortable, 8:05 mile. Wow. I was surprised to be running faster so I slowed down. The third mile rolls by, 8:11. Typically by the third mile I’ve settle into my pace. I continue to push along enjoying the solitude of running and being one with my thoughts. (I never run with earphones, I personally find music distracting but understand how others use it for motivation.) Mile 4 is consistent, 8:13. At the end of mile four the out and back course makes a u-turn and heads north. Woah, the modest head wind took me by surprise. A breeze had been blowing off the lake but I wasn’t expecting this head wind too. This would explain the first four miles; a tail wind was helping me along. I now thought my splits would slow down to the 8:30 pace I was initially anticipating. There were four tall men running in front of me, so I tuck myself behind them to enjoy a little draft as we ran north. Mile 5 was still consistent at 8:13.
The next mile felt more labored as I ran to stay with the guys, they were providing ideal wind protection: mile 6, 8:03. I was very surprised I was running faster, but it would explain my increased exertion. As we all cruised along mile 7 I was beginning to feel the cumulative effect of the race. My hamstring is not causing me a lot of discomfort but I feel it and I’m working to keep up with the men. I thought, “Cassandra this is the last three miles of the race of course it’s tough, your running faster than you anticipated, and now your paying the price. Just keep going but listen to your leg.” I look at my watch at the 7-mile split, 8:06. “How is it possible that I’m running faster when I feel I’m running slower”. I work to keep their pace, but I’m convinced I’m laboring because my training hasn’t held me accountable for fast, long miles. We pass mile 8, 7:54. “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” I think I actually said that out loud when I looked at my watch. I just ran a sub 8-minute mile – at mile 8! Now it’s confirmed. I’m working harder because I’m running faster. It’s not because the miles are catching up to me.
I let the guys gradually slip away because I wasn’t confident I could keep their faster pace, but I held them in my sight. They were my rabbit to get me to the finish line. The last two miles were challenging – they always are. To be honest, I hadn’t run 10 consecutive miles since last summer and speed training is what strained my hamstring. I continued to tell myself to “push through it, you can do it, just push”. Mile 9 finally arrived, 8:15 pace. It was 20 seconds slower than the last mile but it felt just as labored.
It’s the home stretch. Soldier Field is straight ahead. I’m excited to run around the stadium, under the concourse and across Soldier Field’s 50-yard line to finish. Runners are passing me, they have gas left in their tank. I feel like I was slowing down, more so than I wanted. “Stay consistent Cassandra”. I kept thinking about of all the pregnant women who train every week with Active Moms’ Club, and how they rock through their workouts in their 3rd trimester. They do it, I have no excuses. Keep pushing. I pop out of the concourse onto the field, runners are streaming past me sprinting to the finish line. I feel I’m in slow motion, I push but have no sprint in my legs. I cross the line and hit my final split, 8:13. I’m astonished! Mile 10 was THE hardest and most labored mile of the race, and I ran it just as fast as the first! My run is complete. It feels awesome to stop running and take in the massive stadium and spectator all around. My final time, 1:21:34. My third fastest 10-miler at Soldier Field (narrowly missing 2005’s race by more than 17 seconds when I was in peak running form training for Ironman)! I had no idea I had it in me, and so proud of my performance.
I continued walking to stretch out and met my support crew in the post race tailgate field. My boys were waiting for momma with hugs and kisses and anxious to run around themselves to enjoy the day. I’m on cloud nine. What a race! I love that my boys are with me to take in the crowds and experience race day with mom. Lots more races to come boys – lots more!
This run rekindled my love to compete. I’m anxious to get back into triathlons…but perhaps tri’s will have to wait until the boys are in school and momma has a little more time to train.
Did you run Soldier Field this weekend? Tell us about your run.