Smile Politely

To PR or not to PR, that is the question

There is a looming date on the horizon, and it is only two weeks away. The date is 9/9/2012. That is the date of the Chicago Half Marathon, a race I hope to PR at 13.1 miles. In relative terms, the course is flat. Where the Christie Clinic Illinois Half Marathon has an overall elevation change, of -21 feet, the Chicago Half Marathon’s elevation gain is 13 feet. In that way, it looks like you’re running downhill in Champaign, right?

That’s not the case. Look at the course elevation profiles as provided by



By comparison, Champaign looks like you’re running through the Rockies! Chicago is flat as a pancake. Sure, there is elevation change in both, but in Chicago the changes are much less dramatic. They’re more like little hiccups in the road, not long, hard hills that get in your way.

What does this mean to me? It means that the Chicago Half Marathon is perfect for a PR, and it’s the race I’ve been setting my sights on.

Eight weeks ago, I started training for the race. I’ve been running all spring, of course, but with a race date approaching, it was time to get serious, especially if I’m going to PR. For me, a personal record in the half marathon is 1h 32m 05s. That race occurred in Columbus, OH, in 2010. Two years ago is a long time ago. I’m two years older. My training in 2011 wasn’t what it should have been. I wasn’t in top form. I didn’t race as much as I should have, and I just felt burnt out on running. It happens. You do something for so many years, you’re bound to have an off year. 2011 was that year.

This year, things have been much different. Although it has been ungodly hot, it has been dry. Thank you, drought! You’ve taken all the moisture that would normally saturate the afternoon with 80% humidity and made it 30%. It’s amazing what a change in 50% humidity will do for a training regimen for running. Ninety degree temperatures just aren’t the same when you factor in humidity.

I’ve also hit the treadmill more than I normally would, thereby keeping the training on track, even if it is hot and muggy out. Sure, running outside would be better, but sometimes you just don’t feel like going out there. And this way, I can watch Battlestar Galactica on DVD while I run.

The 10-week half marathon training I’ve used is from Runner’s World. The goal is to run a 1:30 half marathon. Every time I think about running this pace, it kind of freaks me out. I’m racked with worry and doubt. Although I’ve been following the training plan religiously, getting up early to beat the heat, running five and six days a week, training as much as 45 miles a week in running, I’m worried I won’t make it.

Here is what I ran in week 7 of my training last week, the highest mileage of the training:

  • Sunday – Rest day
  • Monday – 6 miles with 3 miles at half marathon pace (6:52 per mile)
  • Tuesday – 6 miles (7:57 per mile)
  • Wednesday – 8 miles total 1 mile warm-up, 8 X 800 meters at 3:10 pace and 8 x 400 meter rest between, and 1 mile cool down
  • Thursday – 5 miles (7:57 per mile)
  • Friday – 5 miles (7:57 per mile)
  • Saturday – 15 miles (7:57 per mile)
  • Week total – 45 miles

It’s grueling. It’s exhausting. It’s also very challenging and rewarding. I’ve never, ever, been a high mileage runner. I’ve usually hung around the 25 miles per week at most. This has changed my running in a very fundamental way. I can’t say I’ll always be a high mileage runner, but I definitely see the benefits of doing it.

So, what if Chicago doesn’t work out for me? I’ve got backup plans. I’ve run one half marathon already this summer, Madison last weekend for training. After Chicago, I have a half marathon outside St. Louis in October and Indianapolis and Schaumburg, IL, in November. That’s four chances at a PR if one doesn’t work out.

What are the worries? What is keeping me up at night? There are oodles of things that could go wrong with a PR attempt. The weather is the biggest concern. It could be hot, too hot, or windy. Had my training been different, I would have raced Madison rather than use it for training. It was 50 degrees at race start. That’s amazing for an August race. That doesn’t happen very often.

Injury is another concern. Who knows how healthy I’ll be come race day? I could be sick or feel pain somewhere that could affect my pace.

Travel is another worry. When a race is in another city, getting there can add to the challenges of a PR. You’re in a new place. You might not sleep well in the hotel the night before. You might have to walk far to pick up your packet. Your food options may be limited. Finding pasta the night before a race can be a challenge sometimes, depending on where the race is run. Some friends ran the Tybee Island half marathon. You may want to bring pasta with you if you travel there because they couldn’t find any pasta on the entire island. Cooked or packaged.

PRs are not to be taken lightly. They’re a lot of work. They’re personal records for a reason. They’re meaningful events that don’t happen very often. At some point, I’m going to reach a point where PRs become less lifetime PRs and more era PRs. Like, a PR in my 40s, or yearly PRs. In any event, I’ll be happy if I do well in Chicago. But, a PR would be nice.


Cover image from 2012 Illinois Marathon. Courtesy of Travis McDade.

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