The Tune-Up: 2015 Fort2Base 10 Nautical Miler

I’m not exactly a sucker for weird distances.

The yearly Get Lucky Half Marathon has a 7k race near me that I’ve never run, the Polar Dash had a 14-miler in 2014 and a 15-miler this year (which leads me to wonder how long they’ll be able to keep that up), neither of which I’ve run, and there was a 4-miler in the city that I never added to my calendar. Call me traditional, but I like benchmarking my abilities against standard distances that I’ve run repeatedly in the last six years. The idea of an “automatic PR” never really called to me.

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But my father-in-law put it best when he said that Fort2Base was an opportunity to run a race with different units of distance. Anywhere else in the world, a half marathon is 21.1 kilometers and you’ll see markers at every kilometer. Short of running a race measured in leagues, light years, parsecs or Planck lengths, there aren’t many reasonable options besides miles and kilometers.

The family can get quite silly on command

The family can get quite silly on command

Enter Fort2Base, a point-to-point race that starts in Highland Park’s Fort Sheridan and ends in the Great Lakes Naval Station, which sports two races of 10 and 3 nautical miles. My in-laws had put together a large family trip to run it last year and the rave reviews convinced me to slate the race as my August speed test. The fact that I would achieve an instant PR was a footnote in the decision making process.

We began the race by running through and around Fort Sheridan, a former military barracks that has since been mostly transformed into a residential community and cultural hallmark of the North Shore. The stone water tower, once the largest structure in Chicago, kept watch over a large, oval-shaped park. I remember this monument fondly, as it was a key part of the North Shore Half Marathon, which I ran in 2010. As we traced our way around it, I saw the first mile marker at about 1.15 miles, the exact distance of one nautical mile.

Once out of Fort Sheridan, we hopped on the biking and running path that sticks to the northbound Metra commuter rail. We ran on this trail, in a nearly unbending, straight line for another eight miles. However, I soon learned that the mile markers weren’t nautical miles as advertised, but standard miles. In other words, that first marker was long. With an annoyed grunt and a quick headshake, I got back to running.

Cresting the top of Hero Hill

Cresting the top of Hero Hill

Under grey skies and with a gentle tailwind, I was rocketing through the course. By mile 7, I was behind a gentleman in American flag shorts and the first female, who seemed to be locked in stride. I passed them and briefly enjoyed my lead, for both had yet to turn on the afterburners. At mile 9, we left the tree-covered path and entered the Great Lakes campus for one large loop before finishing. The station’s red brick clock tower stood as the area’s centerpiece, overlooking the many spectators in the grassy field that unfolded in front of it.

Not long after entering Great Lakes, the course took a service road toward the lake, where it plummeted until we reached the shores of Lake Michigan. It was there that I crossed the 10th mile in 1:06:36, a PR at the distance by over 90 seconds. However, my legs were heavier now, and my lungs were starting to burn. The acidic buildup couldn’t have been more poorly timed, as just ahead was Hero Hill, the upward climb back to the campus.

In just under thirty seconds, that climb put another four miles of pain in my legs. I reached the top gassed but no less motivated to finish strong. A few strides later, I encountered another obstacle as I came face to face with a rapidly advancing wall of rain.

Mid-downpour, just past mile 11

Mid-downpour, just past mile 11

Any part of me that wasn’t already covered in sweat was soon drenched. The sound of raindrops bouncing off me was oddly like rubber, as if I had fashioned a shirt out of a tent. My spongy footsteps found it impossible to avoid puddles and I had no choice but to splash through what remained of the course. I couldn’t help but think of the many times I’ve promised other runners that it will never rain so long as I’m still running.

And then, just as soon as it arrived, it was gone. The skies never truly opened to reveal the late August sun, but it seemed for the moment that only one mercurial storm from the west would be visiting us today. One final turn and we were on the edge of the large, open field that acted as the clock tower’s welcome mat. I didn’t have a sprint left in me, but I pumped my arms with every last ounce of energy. Hero Hill and the sudden downpour had siphoned off a lot of time from my pace, but I was not going to complain about my 1:19:08 finishing time. It was good for 18th overall, and 3rd in my age group.

Once the race was over, I exited the finisher’s chute and positioned myself along the barricades to cheer for the rest of the field. Among my in-laws, the usual diehard runners were part of the field, several of whom will join me in Berlin in just over four weeks, either as runners or spectators. But the true surprise was Steph, who signed up for the 10-nautical miler, fully aware that there was a shorter distance available to her. Though she justified it with far more colorful language, I want to believe that she threw down because it was an opportunity to have a shared experience with the family, even if it did involve a sport that she doesn’t hold in such high regard.

The back features the Great Lakes Clocktower in symmetrical fashion

The back features the Great Lakes Clocktower in symmetrical fashion

Once everyone had crossed the finish line, we took the ceremonial post-race picture and made our way back to the hotel.

Much like the North Shore Half Marathon, this race sells itself on a beautiful, tree-lined course with one gut-busting hill. We were lucky this year to have nearly perfect weather, which is not a guarantee in mid-August. The icing on the cake is the high quality of the t-shirts, bibs and medals. And if that weren’t enough to sell you on signing up for 2016, the race pictures are free! The cynic in you might think that you get one or two blurry shots, but I managed to find ten excellent pictures. If most typical race photography services are feeling generous, they will charge you $20 per digital download, so this $200 value was not lost on me. Big, much deserved props to the organizers for partnering up with Gamefacemedia for this generous perk.

All told, if you need a good fitness primer for a fall marathon, a great tech tee to use during training, or a new standout medal with beautiful details, Fort2Base fits the bill.

Finishers!

Finishers!

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State 6: Illinois (2010 North Shore Half Marathon)

(Note: This wasn’t my first half marathon in Illinois.  As I live in Chicago, I ran three in 2009: the Magellan Developments Spring Half Marathon, the 13.1 Marathon and the Chicago Half Marathon.  However, for purposes of this blog, I started from zero at the start of 2010.)

Last year, I ran the inaugural 13.1 Marathon in the south side of Chicago as my second half marathon. The first race at any distance is a fun venture into new territory, an uncertain and even anxious experiment that can validate or void your training routine. But the second one is equally special because it’s your first chance to improve your time. This year, the 13.1 fell on the same date as the North Shore Half Marathon in Highland Park, a suburb of Chicago about thirty miles north of the city. Though I was very happy with the 13.1 Marathon, I decided to try a different, quieter race.

My original plan involved friends of the family who live in Glencoe. I was planning on staying at their house and taking an early train Sunday morning to the race. However, those plans fell through, allowing friend and fellow ’06 wildcat Ryan “Pauly A” Pollyea to offer his family place in Buffalo Grove as a base of operations. I don’t recall exactly when our paths first crossed at Northwestern, but a detailed history of our friends shows a vast overlap. It wasn’t until our senior year when we both worked as managers at Norris University Center that our social circles began to more closely intertwine.

However it wasn’t until the fall of 2006, when we managed to convince a student shuttle bus to drive us from Ryan Field to Joy Yee’s that we started to hang out more often. Between ski trips, Cubs games, NU away games, burger joints and Tony’s Burrito Mex, it’s been good times. So it was with no hesitation that I accepted his offer to crash at his family’s place for the night. After yakking it up about everything from old family pictures to the heavy topic of senescence, we watched half of “Young Frankenstein” before passing out.

The next morning was misty, with temperatures in the lower 60’s and the humidity hovering discouragingly above 85%. That said, it was much better than the thunderstorms that had been predicted since Wednesday, so I wasn’t complaining. The North Shore Half Marathon is organized by Running Away Multisport (RAM), which has a series of races in the Chicagoland area and is very well known for excellent swag bags. I had been given a red bib, which let me into the first start corral. This must have been the result of a clerical error because I was ahead of the 7-minute mile corral. Someone at RAM must see great potential in me …

Highland Park provides a very green, residential course

The race began promptly at 7 with a slight descent down St. Johns Avenue in the center of town. It was my first taste of what the rest of the course was to be like: sloped, green and serene. The course runs three miles down on St. Johns, past Ravinia to the north border of the Lake Shore Country Club, where runners turn and start heading back north on (flashback) Sheridan Road. Up until mile 7, the entire course had been a predictable pattern of ups and downs, seldom allowing for a perfectly flat stretch. However, right before mile 7 is the real backbreaker. After turning right onto Park Avenue, runners find themselves widening their stride as a steep downhill takes them to Park Avenue Park on the shores of Lake Michigan. But what goes down, must come immediately back up. Though not a long hill, I definitely slogged upward and saw my overall pace bleed away two seconds.

The course continues with its rolling hills from there, making a right onto Patten Road into what looked like an in-progress subdivision. Up until this point, the course had been covered with a dense tree canopy, giving this city-suburb race a bucolic character. It was therefore a bit disappointing to run through a stale, almost de-forested neighborhood right when you need the energy. Fortunately, there was a big payoff in the form of Fort Sheridan, a military barracks and water tower built at the turn of the century that was the tallest structure in Chicagoland at the time. After a loop around the tower greens, the course runs right under the water tower before re-entering the bleak beigeness of Patten Road.

Despite the hills, I had been running confidently, averaging a 7:44 pace by mile 10 (a PR at that distance). However, after the loop at Fort Sheridan, the hills and humidity were taking their toll and I began to lose steam. For the next three miles, my pace crept up slowly and the possibility of a PR receded. By mile 13, I was two seconds away from my Boston time, so burst down St. Johns Avenue in the final stretch to end the race at 1:41:01 – my second fastest time, but only by twelve seconds.

Overall, I was very happy with my experience in Highland Park. Yes, the hills were a bit challenging, the humidity drained me and the stretch on Patten Road was very uninspiring, but the majority of the course was lush and peaceful … almost too peaceful. In fact, once you left the city there were very few crowds to support the runners. This isn’t a big deal for me, but crowd support tends to make or break races for certain types of runners and this one was definitely low on the cheering.

Signature Kuma's Burger (Ryan), Judas Priest (Me)

After any race of significant distance, it’s important that your muscles recover appropriately with a protein fix to repair any tissue damage. What better way to do this than by visiting what is inarguably Chicago’s best burger joint, Kuma’s Corner. Thanks to this epic slab of beef, my legs were one step closer to the 2nd running of the Chicago Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon in August. Onwards!