Monday, April 13, 2009

Back to the ole Runnin' Grounds


It's always fun headin' back to the alma mater..most people head back in order to join up with old friends, see the old sites and sounds, and reminisce on the great times had. I was fortunate enough to do all of the above....AND run in the first annual Illinois Half Marathon!

Over this past Easter weekends, I went on down to Champaign-Urbana to race in the first ever Illinois Marathon/Half Marathon. The day before the race, my plan was to run with Jacqui and help her run a new PR for the half marathon. We were both given free race entries for meeting the elite time requirements, and I was also given a free hotel room to stay in the night before. I really felt like an elite athlete with all of the special attention! The week before the race, my work schedule was a little mixed up and it ended up that I was on schedule to work Friday all day (until 9 pm). I told Jacqui to go ahead and drive down to the race with her mom while I worked and I would just head down there as soon as I was off work. Being on my feet running around helping customers really wore me out, but mid-way through that Friday Jacqui had let me know that I was seeded 2nd out of 10 of the 'elite' runners. My competitive side got me thinking that maybe I should actually do the race considering the first three overall finishers won a decent amount of money. Well after thinking about my race plan during work, I decided that I would go out with my normal race pace and see what place I would be sitting in.

Once off of work (9:30 pm) I went home, packed my bags, and hit the road for a 2.5 hour drive down south. Luckily, my dad, brothers, and brother's fiance all waited for me so I had a group to drive down with. My dad did the driving so it allowed me to rest and sleep a little bit during the drive. We ended up checking into the hotel around 1am, and I was welcomed to an AMAZING surprise in my room. Jacqui and her mom had checked into my hotel room during the day and put streamers, candy, pre race snacks/drinks, and our race packets in the room. It really was amazing, and feel so grateful to have such an amazing girlfriend in my life!! I ended up hoppin' in bed and trying to sleep a little bit before the 6:45 am wake up call.

Race morning, Jacqui and her mom stopped at the hotel and we walked over to the race start. My dad, brothers Jason and Alex, and Jacqui's mom did the 5k while Jacqui, my brother Jerry (who only ran 2! yes 2! miles between the Chicago marathon and this half), and myself all did the half marathon. We did a little warm-up, some strides,and then stood on the line to wait for the race to start. I wasn't very nervous and had mixed emotions on what to do for the race. I told Jacqui to race her pace and then off we went.

The first mile...I had a feeling top 3 would be manageable. I had completely forgotten my watch, so I did not know any mile splits/times. There were mile markers, but no clocks or timers! After about the first mile, I was sitting in third place with the top two (one being super Chicago area runner Jeff Jonaitis, aka JJ) a little bit in front of me. I listened to my body and went through the first few miles at a comfortable clip. It was really great going through all of the areas that I had run in for my college years. An extra bonus was hearing the cheering of my name by family/friends/students! At around mile 6, somehow I caught the two leaders and tried to stay tight with them. One of the runners seemed to be struggling a little bit and eventually fell off pace to leave just me and JJ up front. There was a clock a little past the six mile mark (which leads me to believe it was the 10k marker) and when I went past it read 31:40. Wow, that is movin'! I was still feeling great and pushed the new few mile until I couldn't hang on to Jonaitis anymore around mile 9.5. I was getting ready to just finish up the race and claim my 2nd place until the unexpected came along. Just past 10.5 miles I saw the lead bike coming towards me. He yelled, "turn around, you were supposed to turn back there!" I freaked out a little bit and was very confused. I saw JJ coming towards me, so I turned around and followed the biker. By the time I got back to the turn, the third place runner had made the correct turn and was now in the lead. I was pretty upset which made me start running hard in order to reclaim my position. Once I passed the leader, I was in first place! I knew JJ would be coming up fast and as expected, he flew by at mile 12. I was able to jog the last mile in and take up the sounds and sights. It really was awesome coming into the stadium to finish up the race right on the 50 yard line. My time was 1:11:50 or so..but with the extra half mile due to the mixed up course, I think my time would have been closer to 1:09 or under. So overall...a good race for me. Ran right around 5:15 each mile and felt strong.

Along with the 2nd place finish I was awarded a $400 dollar check! Pretty excited about that considering the hotel and race entry were paid for! As for Jacqui..her race went perfectly! She ended up at 1:25 (6:30 per mile!) and a new PR by 3 minutes. What makes it even more impressive is that she had PR'ed by 3 minutes in the first half marathon this year a few weeks before. So overall...that is 6 minutes off her best half marathon since last year! I can honestly say that it has been more exciting seeing the improvements that she has been making than my racing. I think that she is going to start turning some heads and making people worried about racing her in the next year!

My brother Jerry also had a good race and finished just under 2 hours. How can anybody do that!?! No running and jump in last second to run 13 miles...not normal. My dad, Jason, Alex, and Jacqui's mom all did well in the 5k and really enjoyed the day. The weather and course were perfect...no complaints at all!

After the race, I was able to get a massage at the Mettler Center (where Jacqui and I worked while at school). Then we all went out to Alexander's Steakhouse to eat some of the best steaks around. That is honestly one of my favorite restaurants anywhere.

Overall, it was an exciting and fun weekend. Jacqui's mom, Jacqui, and I all drove together over to Henry, IL (very small town) for Jacqui's side of the family to celebrate Easter the following day.

Now it is back to the training grind for me. Next race will be: "The Race That's Good for Life" 5k on Sunday. Just gonna treat it was a hard effort and hopefully test my speed out..pretty exciting! I'll try to keep everyone updated on what's going on...and also I'll post some pics from the race as soon as I get them!

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