Monday, July 29, 2013

BTN Big 10K Recap

Forever I'm a Spartan!

We have our sunglasses with us because look at all that blinding sunshine!
Saturday was the second annual BTN Big 10K. It's sponsored (duh) by the Big Ten Network and is tied to the Big Ten Media Days, which are also held in Chicago. The race is followed by a large tailgate, and it's a really fun bridge between the spring game and season kick-off. (Still 32 days until our first game? Boo.)

Michael and I both ran this race last year and really enjoyed, so we decided to make the trip back. You can read about our non-race adventures here. We arrived Friday evening via the Amtrak and walked from Union Station to our hotel, which was about 1.5 miles. Since we were traveling light, the walk was doable (and free!).

After checking in we walked to the L to ride over to packet pick-up. Last year pick-up was in the Fleet Feet Sports running store in their inventory storage room. Everyone was polite and organized, but it was still a giant cluster.
What I wanted to say to everyone picking up a UofM shirt.
This year it was in a random atrium about three or four storefronts down from Fleet Feet. (I'm still not sure what the building was, but there was tons of space.) You got your bib in one room and shirts and bags in another. The bibs were organized into section by number. I was surprised to find no line, especially since there was no race day pick-up and tons of bibs left, with only two hours to go. There was a short line for shirts, but we were probably in and out in about five minutes.

Packet pick-up spoils.
I really like the shirt this year: it's a more vibrant green than last year's, it has some cool chevrons on the sleeves (not pictured), and the race name is off-set to one shoulder on the back. My only complaint is the weird smell. Even after washing it once, the shirt still smells terrible. I saw on the race's Facebook page that other people noticed this, so I'm glad it wasn't just me. I might have to make it an exercise-only shirt, which is too bad because it would be fun to wear around everyday.

I'm also a total hoarder of soft-side backpacks, and this one is actually perfectly sized for my torso. The booklet on top of the bag was a program with all the race information; I thought this was a fun touch to tie into the football team but still give us all the relevant information.

Now, some of you may have noticed that I'm already missing one of the three tear-offs from my bib. Yes, the very nice packet pick-up man had to take away my free beer tag after checking my age. The thought of having a beer after running sounds completely unappealing, but I still felt like lame without my tag. (Still 37 days until I'm legal? Boo.)
Or at the race, potato, potahtoe.
The next morning dawned with a 5:15 wake-up call. In proper Eager Feet fashion I refused to get out of bed until Michael practically pulled me out by my ankles. We left the hotel around 5:45 and I had 1.5 7/11 blueberry muffins I bought the night before on the way to the race. Not trying anything new on race day is overrated.

The race start was in front of the Adler Planetarium, which was about 1.5 miles from our hotel. We followed some locals to the start and went to find gear check. It was only in the high 50's, so I had worn my jacket for the walk. This was organized by bib number and each booth was run by a small army of children. (This will be important later.) The gear check area was also filled with a gloriously short bathroom line. People using the ones close to the start line were so far down the hill, I was worried they might fall into the lake.

After the pre-race routine was done, we made our way to the corrals. Last year was self-seeded, but this time there were eight corrals determined by estimated finishing time, with a 90 second gap between each one. I was in corral E, which would give me a six minute delay from the actual gun. I placed myself close to the back, because I was pretty sure my last 10K PR would put me at the slower end of my group. (I ended up passing a ton of people, even some who walked in the first mile. Huge pet peeve of mine. No way you can run a sub-60 if you do that.)

There were some pre-race announcements, including remarks from one of the BTN commentators and Jim Delany, the Big Ten commissioner. A UofM guy made everyone around me uncomfortable by booing Delany and then declaring all of us giving him odd looks were "idiots". Umm...okay.
Can you think of a single instance when the conference treated Michigan poorly? Because I sure can't.

After the national anthem came the six minute shuffle to the start line. This time went more quickly than I expected. Of course, I got stuck heading out to the grossest fight song in the history of the world, while getting hit by the previously mentioned guy's giant flag. Ick.

The course was a simple out-and-back along the lakeshore. After the first mile, we ran through a tunnel in Soldier Field, which was horribly hot despite the cool weather and made me lose my GPS. It was fun and made good echoes, so there was a lot of good Go Green-Go Whites that drowned out every other cheer. I skipped the first water stop because I felt like my pace was really great and didn't want to get stuck in a giant crowd. (One change I would make is putting the aid stations on both sides of the course.) I was pleased when I hit the second mile mark to find my GPS had estimated the lost distance correctly.

Normally, I would put some sort of race picture here, but apparently all the employees at MarathonFoto died and are never going to post their proofs. Use your imagination.
Except less rainbow and more pain.
I hit the second water stop near the turn-around to grab some Gatorade. The small part of my brain still functioning seemed to believe I could be on track for a PR; the rest of my brain confirmed this because the lemon-line Gatorade tasted good, which is physically impossible. I definitely felt like I was working hard but nowhere near dying, so I tried to pick up the pace. For some reason I struggle the most in 10Ks between miles three and four, but I didn't hit that mental block here. 

I swung through the last aid station in between miles four and five for some Gatorade and water to help settle my stomach. At this point I felt like I had a lot left, so I kept pushing. I started to pass lots of people who were starting to struggle, which was a great mental boost. When I posted a sub-9 split for mile five, I really went for it. Normally the last .2 in the 10K also gets me down, but in this race it was a straight-away towards the planetarium, so I felt more motivated to sprint at the ends. (Normally I only manage a slight increase in speed.) I hadn't paid attention to my total time except for my splits, so I was thrilled when I stopped my watch at the finish line and looked.

Time: 56:08 (avg. 8:59/mi)

Not only had I PR-ed, but I had done it by 1:40! I knew my last 10K was not the best effort possible because I spent part of the race trying to sleep-run and I was feeling good the morning of this race, but I never expected such a huge PR. This makes me want to add a 5K to my schedule sometime soon and try for a PR in that distance.

Time for some introspection! Last year this race was my first 10K. It's weird looking back and remembering how I thought a five mile training run was the longest thing in the world. I didn't pick a very good plan and probably didn't train as much as I should have. I did have a fun race and finished in 1:10:38. While it wasn't an all-out effort, it was significantly faster than I had ever run the distance in training.
How I felt at the time about running fast.
This year I ran about 13.5 minutes faster. If you had told me that last year, I would have laughed in your face. I'm certainly not trying to say my time is superhuman fast, but I never thought I would be able to run a race this long and average a time with an 8 in front of it. (Let's all ignore that the numbers after the colon are 5 and 9.) The only speed I do is one tempo run a week, which keeps me happy. I'm hoping that by keeping that regimen up plus all the endurance from getting into marathon shape while lead to more PRs. It's easy to feel down because I can be super slow at all the times, so it was nice to be able to get a year-long view of my improvement.

After I finished, I made my way through the long finisher's chute. They had a ton of snacks and in some sort of miracle there was purple Gatorade. I thought I was hallucinating. I also got my medal from the roving volunteers. There was an awesome race backdrop for finisher photos, but my camera was in gear check and Michael was at our meeting spot.

Post-race swag: Spartan sunglasses, BTN rally towel, and medal.

I found Michael at the entrance to the tailgate and made him hold my junk while I waited in the super-long gear check line. I nearly had my eardrums burst by the ladies behind me, I'm not sure why screaming was necessary. Finally I got to the front and found out what the delay was. I really appreciated the middle school kids coming out early on a Saturday to help, but they were abysmal at finding our bags. I waited 15 minutes before finally having to direct a kid to a bunch of bags they never checked. (I don't want to sound like a cranky old lady, but they kept bringing me bags because they were "close" to my bib number. Uh, no, I really need my bag, not someone else's.) At least I helped another Spartan wrangle her bag back. I am glad I checked my coat though, I got really chilled after I cooled down.
Why yes, that number is only two away from mine, but it still doesn't have my coat in it.
Finally, it was tailgate time. Our first stop was the Michigan State tent to get our green sunglasses. I was very disappointed that there was nothing else. Last year I was able to get a full-size football schedule poster and a small schedule card. At least the sunglasses actually block UV rays, so I can wear them to games this fall. We also got to chat with a coordinator for the Chicago Spartans alumni group, and she was impressed we had traveled in just for the race.

It was also during this point that I felt really awkward missing my beer tag. I felt like I looked like a lush, that I had needed to pound my giant cup of beer before I could even get my sunglasses. I wish they had just drawn something on the tab instead to make it unusable.

After that stop, it was time to try the post-race food: chicken sausage. As a Midwestern girl, I was bumming about this chicken sausage replacing last year's brats, but I wanted to at least try it.

Apple and Gouda cheese flavor on a pretzel bun.
It was actually super delicious! The light apple flavor with pockets of cheese really added some pop to the meat. It's available at Costco, and I'm hoping to be able to get it again. Meijers has really good fresh pretzel buns, so I think I can recreate the taste pretty well. We enjoyed our food while watching the field goal kicking contest. (This made me appreciate kickers even more, everyone sucked hardcore at this.) And then...the Scarlet Knight appeared.

Oh God, you're not in my conference for another year. Go away!
The Terp was also there. (I guess he has some weird name, but I refuse to acknowledge that fact.) I guess they were pretty acceptable by Big Ten standards, especially when the Nittany Lion rolled out in its scarf. That's what nightmares are made of. Sadly, I have seen picture proof that Sparty was there, but we never saw him. I nearly got run over by the Wildcat, though.

We stayed for the school spirit contest. Some people were pretty creative. A lady had made her own "split-fan" tank top for Ohio State and the Hawkeyes, and it looked sweet, and I felt bad when she didn't win. My favorite part was the audience cheer-off for a tie between Spartans and Wolverines for the most spirited group. Some of our cheerleaders were there, and we were deafening, but it was so quiet for the Michigan group you could hear people talking. Great moment.

Overall, the tailgate experience was much better than last year. There was tons of space for the activities and stage, plus the school tents. They also had banners up in the eating area by school so you could meet up with other people. I never felt crowded in, and it definitely felt like a tailgate atmosphere. All in all, I had an awesome race and a really fun experience. We will definitely be back next year.
Sparty on.

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