Ever since I graduated high school and was no longer running competitively, I have been a solo runner; once in a while I’d do a 5K or 10K with a friend, or an occasional long run with a buddy, but 95 percent of the time, I train and race on my own.
When my friend Casey texted me in March asking if I wanted to do the Rock ‘n Roll Chicago Half Marathon, my instant thought was “no way.” I did the 2015 race and was scarred from the 90-degree temperatures and humidity and never thought I’d do it again. However, I knew from past discussions that Casey and I were very similar in running styles and speeds, and since she lives close, I thought it would be a good opportunity to train together. After a quick reconsideration, I complied, and so began my redemption of 2017.
Soon after, we started planning our long runs together on Saturday mornings. Since the Hot Chocolate 15K in October, I hadn’t run more than five miles, and honestly, anything over three was a rare occurrence. Also, I always have a short period of struggling when the weather warms up, so when we went out for our first run of just six miles, I was pretty nervous.
Thankfully, I was quickly reassured; the run itself went fast, and having Casey to talk to made it go even faster. “This is going to be good,” I thought.
We then continued our long runs for the next five Saturdays after that; not only did having a partner give me some distraction when I did feel like quitting, but also gave me a sense of competition, which somehow always creeps out of me when I least expect it – I didn’t want to beat her or go faster than her, but I didn’t want to let her beat me, if that makes sense.
As an ever-aspiring morning person, getting out of bed before 8 a.m. on the weekends is very unusual, and honestly, brutal for me. But because we were training in the peak of the summer, I knew we had to get our runs in early, and knowing Casey was getting up and waiting for me to run forced me to roll out of bed. It also let me take guilt-free naps later that afternoon, so that’s always a plus.
My favorite run we did together was our eight-mile, which we did on the Lakefront Path. Changing up the scenery is always a good thing, but being in the heart of the city where we knew we’d be racing was the epitome of motivation. It was hot that day though – even starting at 6:30 was rough, and we had some malfunctions with our fitness trackers, but in the end, we finished together, and that was a great feeling.
Our 10 mile run was pretty difficult for us both; with her knee injury and my hips tightening at every hill, we both were checking our watches frequently. Despite the last mile being a seemingly never-ending straightaway, having someone to celebrate the accomplishment with made it that much more rewarding.
There was one weekend where we didn’t get to run together because I was on vacation, and I will say it was the worst run I’ve had all year. I didn’t go until about 10 a.m. because I knew I was on my own schedule, and that alone threw me off, not to mention the humidity was in full force. As they say, “you never know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” and I felt that first hand that day.
I was most grateful for my running buddy on race weekend. We went to the expo together on Saturday, and even though we didn’t stay long, it was nice to be able to walk around and enjoy it with someone, rather than browsing solo. We went out for dinner, aided in each other’s hydration and talked race strategies the night before, which is usually when I get the biggest butterflies, but Casey kept me excited.
Come race morning, I have never felt more ready to race. I did do one other half last year by myself, and while I was happy with the results, I felt a PR coming before I even crossed the start line. In fact, I allude my PR to Casey, because usually I freak out about exhaustion and like to go out slower to save my energy, but she pushed me more than I would have the first 10K, making me realize my potential.
Although we didn’t finish the race together, I came in four minutes faster than my last half marathon and 15 minutes faster than the 2015 race. Talk about Rock ‘n Roll redemption. (Plus, the weather was absolutely perfect for a July race, read my full recap).