Back in November, I signed up for the Indy Mini Half Marathon to be held this coming May. Perfect, I thought, I’ll have lots of time to train throughout the spring with no pressure over the winter.
Of course, things never quite go as planned. Which is why, a couple weeks later, I got Twitter-pressured into signing up for the aptly named F^ing Freezing Frozen Lake Half Marathon scheduled for January 29. The 13.1 mile “fun run” would lead a pack of crazy runners along the lakefront in January.
In 40-degree November, it seemed slightly insane, but not terribly so. After all, several friends were doing it, and it would be good motivation to go run a couple days a week, even after it got cold. (Never mind that I had never run in winter before, let alone through one of the coldest Decembers on record.)
As cold December and icy January progressed, I started to worry I wasn’t prepared enough. My mileage dropped a lot in December – damn cold – and January started off poorly with an entire week of illness, followed by more frigid cold. In fact, going into Saturday morning, I had only 11 miles under my belt for the entire month of January. I knew that wasn’t nearly enough and was kicking myself for not getting a 9 or 10 miler in there somewhere.
The race itself became more of a Cluster F^ing Freezing event, as the city of Chicago discovered the plans for this “grass roots” fun run and demanded their cut, in the form of permits, liability insurance, etc. The organizer sadly emailed us and told us that the “official” event was off, but we could all run our own 13.1 and then meet up with our beer tokens afterwards. (David goes into more detail behind the change of plans.)
Luckily, the same group that had Twitter-pressured each other into the race sprang into action, trading tweets and emails to reorganize plans for a massive fun run, replete with pirate and ninja costumes. (There were supposed to be tutus, too, but that didn’t quite pan out.)
So I set out at dawn Saturday morning to drive into the city. I had chugged down water the night before but woke up parched, as the house is very dry, despite constantly-running humidifiers. I was careful about how much water I drank, though, since an “unofficial” and “unsupported” race meant there were likely no bathrooms along the way. I brought my own small water bottle to tuck into my pocket.
We gathered, snapped a couple pictures, and marveled how lucky we had gotten – it was in the upper 20s with just a light wind off the lake. For late January, it could have been far, far worse, with sleet or single-digit temperatures. In fact, I had debated which UnderArmour to wear – was it too “warm” for the extreme cold gear? (I later learned that yes, indeed, it was.)
We set off, a group of maybe 50 or 60, and my friends and I quickly settled into a comfortable pace near the back. I thanked Cate and Jenn for slowing to my pace, as I knew it would be a long slog, and I was better off taking it easy since my training wasn’t up to par.
Quickly, we realized we needed a pit stop. Jenn often runs the lakefront path and knew of an open restroom near Diversey. We took a short detour, found the bathroom, and walked into a cloud of cigarette smoke. Two homeless men were inside, sitting on stools, smoking. They had even turned one of the stalls into a closet. They demurely ducked out and waited for us to finish our business.
The first few southbound miles were relatively uneventful. I started to get a stitch in my side, but water and a few dried apricots helped. We kept around a 10-11 minute pace, which felt comfortable, and Jeff even noted we were running negative splits at one point. There were a couple spots we weren’t quite sure where to go – the race director had given inaudible instructions about where to veer left or right to stay on mostly-cleared paths - but we seemed to do fine. We even warmed up quite a bit, and I peeled off my gloves and considered unzipping my jacket’s vents.
Going north was harder. The wind was coming off the lake, and I put my gloves back on. We stopped for a water break and stretch around Oak Street Beach, where some Polar Bear Clubbers were preparing for a plunge. My right calf felt tight, but stretching seemed to help.
Until a couple miles later. I started feeling more frequent twinges of tightness in my legs – first in my hamstrings, then in my right calf. My hips were complaining about the distance as we hit about 8 miles, so we slowed even more and took a couple walk breaks.
Shortly after nine miles, my right calf clinched up in a tight knot, pulling my foot up with it. I stumbled, stopped and stretched along a fence, trying to unlock it. Jenn coached me about adjusting my posture and taking even shorter strides. We started running again, and I made it another quarter mile or so before it seized up again, even tighter. I winced and screeched to a halt, trying to hydrate and stretch and force myself forward. But I couldn’t.
Those last couple miles were terrible. I kept trying to run, but after five or six steps the calf would shriek in protest. It felt like someone was twisting a knife into it, like those terrible charley-horses I occasionally get at night. But instead of being in bed, I was upright, shivering as the wind cooled the sweat on my brow, three miles from my car. Cate offered to run ahead and get the car but I kept insisting I could make it. (In retrospect, if this had been a fully supported race, I would have taken the golf cart at this point.)
Jenn and Cate were fantastic, sticking with me even though walking meant we froze in the wind. We finally finished around 2:42ish, reaching the finish as the organizers were taking down their tent.
Afterwards, we warmed up, drinking hot cider spiked with Jamesons and eating bananas while we stretched. The drive home was tough – of course, I would pull my right/driving calf before the 40 mile drive home – and I spent the rest of the evening gingerly stretching and foam rolling.
But I finished, and for that I’m thankful. And I set the bar nice and low for a big PR in Indy – when I’ll have lots of springtime miles under my belt.
One of the instigators for our mass participation, Sue, really captures the thought process shared by many of us in her post.