Race Report – Biggest Loser Half Marathon 2016 – Chicago

In less than 6 weeks, I will have run my 4th Marathon major. The Berlin Marathon is on September 25, 2016. Training is going quite well and is in full swing.

On the weekend of August 13, my training plan called for running a 10k race. Since I was in Chicago, I looked for a 10k but couldn’t find one. I found a couple of 5k races and the Biggest Loser Half Marathon. I signed up for the half.

Binita and I arrived in Chicago on Saturday afternoon. Amit picked us up and we went straight to pick up my bib packet. I was assigned bib number 855. I like odd numbers. I like when there is a 7 or a 5 in my bib number. I also like consecutive numbers. With consecutive 5s, I was quite happy!

We went to Kevin’s 50th birtyday party on Saturday night where I saw his daughter Katie after 20+ years and met his son Rocco for the first time. It’s always nice to see Sande and Kevin. It brings back fond memories from my days in Columbus, Ohio.

The half marathon was scheduled to start at 7:30AM on Sunday (August 14). As usual, I slept sparingly on race eve. I was up almost every hour. Finally at 5AM I got out of bed and started my slow routine to get ready for the race. I decided to wear my dark blue Lululemon shorts, a plain white Lululemon dryfit shirt, black&white Zensah calf sleeves, adidas orange boost shoes, Asics tech socks, Rudy Project sunglasses and my Boston Marathon visor.

The race plan was simple. Start slow and finish strong. This was a training run, hence discipline and pacing was important. I planned to eat two gels before the race, four more gels at mile 5, two more at mile 8 and two more at mile 11. I knew it would be hot; I planned to drink water as needed. I wanted to run around an 8-minute mile which would put me right at the 1:45 mark.

Biggest Loser Half Marathon – Soldier Field

I Uber’d down to the race start. It was an easy, trafficless ride. I arrived at Soldier Field (starting line) just before 6:30AM. With an hour to spare, there already were a few runners expending nervous energy. It was warm out. The sun was already up casting long skyscraper shadows into Lake Michigan. The water looked inviting. It would be a hot race today. I sat on the pavement on the southwest side of Soldier Field as my thoughts hovered around my race plan. I saw a group of 20something runners. They looked fast. One of the guys had his shirt off. He was cut. With him was a girl in printed yellow shorts. She was cut too. They were obviously fast. Since this was the “Biggest Loser” race, there were dozens of middle-aged runners who had allowed life to take them to the edge of obesity; they were all at different stages of getting back into fitness. I cheered them on silently.

Ten minutes before the race start, we gathered in the starting corral. I checked my running inventory. Sunglasses, check. Visor, check. Music, check. 3 packs of gels, check. Calf sleeves, check. Garmin, check. Mio heartrate monitor, check. All systems go, check! I opened a gel pack and ate 2 gels. Someone sang an out-of-tune rendition of the the Star-Spangled Banner. A couple of minutes later, exactly at 7:30AM, off we went.

Try this link to see the flyby on Strava. I’m not certain that it will work on your browser.

Miles 1, 2, 3: I started in the front corral. We headed East towards the lake and took a 90-degree right turn to head south. Since this was an out-and-back course, we would head south along the Lake Michigan shoreline for about 6.5 miles before turning around back to the finish line.

About half-a-mile into the race, I realized that I had started out too fast. My pace was around 7:30 per mile and my heart rate was already into the mid 140s (level 2). I knew that if my heartrate went flirting up into the 150s (level 3 and 4) in the early stages of the race, I would have serious issues during the latter stages of the race.

As I ran on, I noticed that 3 distinct groups were forming. I tagged the first group as the sub 7:30 pace runners, the second group as the 7:45 pace runners and the third one as the 8:00 pace runners. I was firmly in the third group of runners. I was running next to a girl with a headband in orange, a guy in gray and an older guy in blue. The older guy passed me easily and caught up to the second group of runners. He looked older than me (note: I sometimes think that I am still in my early 30s).

In the first mile, my pace was way faster than I wanted and my heartrate was flirting up. Before I finished the first mile, it was already in the 150s. I slowed my pace in the second mile and further still in the third mile but the heat had already set in. Lowering my heartrate would require a substantial slowdown; something I wasn’t about to do. I’d be fine for about 9 miles and then it would be a matter of survival!

Miles 4, 5, 6, 7: The course meandered around grassy areas with skyscrapers on the left and Lake Michigan on the right. The sun was harsh with temperatures well into the mid 70s and humidity creeping up. By mile 4, I had caught up and passed a few laggards from the second group. They had gone out way too fast. At each mile marker, I picked up two cups of water; one I drank and the other I poured over my head.

Keeping cool was important but the sunny course dotted with a few shaded trees was of no help. The windy city of Chicago was not-so-windy today! As planned, I ate a gel pack (4 gels) at mile 5 and gulped water right after. A black shirtless guy passed me. I’m not sure if he was part of the race or just a casual runner. I told myself that he was simply running a mile or so. I let him go! Right after the 5-mile mark, I saw a few fast runners coming back towards me. There were a couple of superfast runners (sub 1:30) followed by a few others. I could see that the heat was affecting them too. I saw the girl in the printed yellow shorts (I would later find out that her name is Maddie; she was the second female to finish).

Biggest Loser Half Marathon – Struggling and Drenched

My heartrate by mile 6 was approaching level 4 (upper 150s). My stride felt smooth but my pace slowed. I continued to gulp down as much water as I could while running. As I turned around at the half-way point, I had pulled ahead of the guy in the gray shirt and the older guy in blue. I was running alone. By mile 7, I was struggling in the heat. I was craving for shade. I wanted to walk but kept going.

Mile 8, 9, 10, 11: The struggle was real. With the lake now on the right and the tall buildings on the left, I still had 5 more torturous miles to go. I ate two more gels at mile eight. My pace slowed to near 8:30 per mile as I stopped at each water station for 15 to 20 seconds to drink multiple cups and pour more water on my head. I was drenched and struggling but kept running.

After I crossed the 10-mile mark, a girl in neon passed me. I dug deep to keep up with her. She was fast but wasn’t running a smart race. As the course zigzagged through the meadows, she wasn’t cutting corners on the curves. This helped me keep up with her. At mile 11, I stopped for water as she ran on. I passed by a few runners who had overheated. A guy in black, a girl in lavender and a girl in funky shorts were all walking.

Mile 12 to finish: At mile 11, I ate another two gels and got my second wind. With 2 miles to go, I was actually able to pick up the pace. I passed a bald guy and a guy in green easily. I thought of the biggest lesson I would learn from today’s race. It’s not so bad when you make the mistake of going out too fast in a half-marathon, but in a marathon it is a killer mistake!

I stopped for the final time at mile 12 for water. As I finished the race, I had nothing left in me. Someone gave me a nice looking finisher medal and a cold, wet towel that I wrapped around my neck. I was drenched but needed to cool down. I drank tons of water and waited for the results. When they were announced, I wasn’t surprised to learn that I had won my age division. I wasn’t happy with my official time of 1:46:49 at an official average pace of 8:09 per mile, but in hot and humid conditions today, it would do!

Biggest Loser Half Marathon – 1st in AG


Biggest Loser Half Marathon – Drenched At The Finish Line
Biggest Loser Finish – not my best effort but won AG
Biggest Loser Medal and Bib Number

The Berlin Marathon is less than 6 weeks away now. I have a few more weeks of long runs, interval training and progression runs before I start to taper. The training continues…

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