Sunday, February 4, 2024

F3 Lake Half Marathon Race Recap

The F3 Lake Half Marathon is Chicago's unofficial start to race season. Although it's been around for 15 years, I've never done it. The weather in January in Chicago is unpredictable and usually awful. This year, except for one week in January, we've had really mild, sunny conditions. My friend and fellow Brooks ambassador Frankie put pressure on me to sign up. I took a leap of faith and hoped for the best as I filled out the application. My youngest son wanted to join me, so I signed him up too!

The race starts at 10 am outside of Soldier Field in downtown Chicago, so I picked up my son at his north side apartment about 8:30. We were driving when I realized that I had forgotten my pre-race smoothie. UGH. I had had half of it before I left the house and was planning on finishing it on the way to the race. Even better, my son didn't eat anything before he left the house. I had some Frooze Balls to eat on the course, but I didn't want to break into them. I hoped we'd find something at the prerace party to eat.

Once we parked the car at Soldier Field, we walked up the stairs to the United Club where the pre-race events were taking place. Runners were starting to file in and we ran into several people I knew, including Cynthia Wheeler, a couple of my friends from the bike path, and some Trail Sisters. Chicago races are always a fun place to see friends. Frankie arrived a little while later and we hung with him until it was go time. There were plenty of bathrooms and no line, which was a win! Sadly, there weren't any prerace treats that we could eat. 

This is actually after the race with Frankie and another Brooks teammate, Dan

We joined the mass of runners making their way to the start line. Runners were supposed to line up by their desired pace time, but by the time we got outside, the very small chute was packed and there was nowhere to jump in! The national anthem was sung and at 10 am, the elite runners took off. We spotted an opening at the front of the chute and when the 2 hour pace group ran by, my son jumped in. I went into the chute when the 2:10 pace group passed by. I thought that was the 10 m/m group. 

Can you find me?

My first mile split was 9:41 and I knew I was running too fast. I kept trying to slow down, but running behind the pace group made me feel as if I had an imaginary leash pulling me forward. One of my Brooks Teammates, Keegan, was at mile 2 with his running group. He ran with me for a little bit, told me I looked strong and sent me on my way. 

I stuck with the pace group for the first 4 miles. At mile 4, I stopped for water and they kept going, never to be seen again. By mile 5, I was starting to struggle. We were running into a cold, damp wind off Lake Michigan and it was starting to affect me. My heart rate was too high. I regretted those fast miles at the start of the race. I kept telling myself to hold on until mile 7. I knew we were turning around to head back north and would have the wind at our backs.

It felt so much better to have the wind at our backs and I thought I would be ok after that. At mile 9, I started to experience shortness of breath and had to stop several times to walk. It felt as if I could have used an inhaler. I did a lot of run/walking the last 4 miles and it really bummed me out. I did my best to keep my head in the game. As has happened to me many times in the past, I was playing cat and mouse with the runners around me. There were a few groups of spectators shouting encouragement, which is always helpful. I thought I heard my name but maybe I was hallucinating? No, it was one of my Brooks Teammates, Nez!

At about mile 11, I ran into another one of my Brooks teammates, Billy, who ran ahead of me and videoed me running. He offered me water, but I declined, thanking him for lifting my mood! Feeling energized after seeing him, I picked up the pace a bit. 

I continued my turtlely pace toward the finish line. When I entered the chute, I actually was able to pick it up, sprinting across the finish line. I collected my medal and walked towards the end when I spotted my sons and their girlfriends. I was so happy to see them! My son had a similar outcome to mine--he got slower as the race went on. Since he didn't fuel, that doesn't surprise me. His girlfriend told me he only ran twice before the race. All things considered, his 2:06 finish is pretty impressive!

I finished in 2:17:16, 7 minutes off my goal of 2:10. I was pleased that I did that well, considering how bad I felt. The chaos of the start line contributed to me jumping into a pace group that was faster than I planned and I should have corrected that once I realized it. How often do we runners say never judge a run by that first mile? It's good advice for a bad run, but it's also good advice for a good run. I went out too fast and I paid for it.

I also have to blame the weather. Sure, it was 40 degrees for the race, which is a dream come true in February in Chicago. But there was a heavy fog over the city and my oldest son told me later that the air quality was poor that day. I'm pretty sure that both of those things contributed to my high heart rate and breathing issues. 

Since I forgot my smoothie, I wasn't adequately fueled. I did take a few Frooze Balls throughout the race, but they were too dense for my stomach and made me a little queasy. Usually, I carry Tailwind with me and I will go back to that plan if and when I run another half marathon. I was so grateful that I wasn't running this one in the bitter cold--I don't know if I would have been able to finish.

Overall, I really liked this race a lot and would recommend it to anyone who wants a fast, flat half marathon. The out and back course is completely along the Lake Michigan shore and when the skies are clear, affords a great view of the Chicago skyline on the trip north. The United Club in Soldier Field was a great facility for both pre and post race activities. I can see why this is such a popular race! There were over 1700 finishers this year.

Have you ever run this race? Would you run a half marathon in January in Chicago? What's the worst weather you've ever run in?

I'm linking up with Jenn and Zenaida for Tuesday Topics. 


  1. Fantastic job, Wendy!! So many challenges, and yet you conquered the course!
    I can't believe your son went unfuelled into that race, haha! He did amazingly well!
    Sorry about the breathing issues - so annoying, especially when you have the wind in your back and you're on your way home. Have you had these issues before?

    1. I haven't ! But I later found out that the air quality was 'poor', so maybe that is what affected me.

  2. That stinks about your smoothie and lack of prerace food available! It is so hard not to go out too fast. I think your time was great considering the challenges you faced! I do not think I would NOT want to run in Chicago in January, lol! I ran in freezing cold heavy rain once with heavy winds, it was awful! I could barely see!

    1. Our weather has been so unusual this winter and I took full advantage of it with this race! Yes, it can be pretty awful here in the winter.

  3. Congratulations! You never know what race day is going to throw at you, but you made it all work. And- it was a learning experience. You pretty much know what went wrong, and how to correct them next time. I agree, Frooze balls would be a little dense if you're running a half marathon. Gels would have been better, but I don't know if those agree with you.
    To answer your question, no I would probably not run a half marathon in Chicago in January!!!

    1. I've determined that not much agrees with me during a race--even Tailwind has made me queasy in the the past!

  4. Oh, I'm so proud of you! It sounds like such a challenging day but you still did so well! I've never had a frooze ball, but I don't know if it would have worked out for me in the moment, so it sounds like you can make adjustments. I don't know if I am prepared for that kind of race weather. The cold is one thing, but the wind...I don't know if I'm made for that!

    1. Once I turned around and the wind was at my back. It made a huge difference for me!

  5. Congrats on a strong finish. Sounds like you faced many challenges and you didn't let them defeat you.

    And your son? Amazing. Oh to be young.

    I've run a few halfs in the winter... in the rain was the worst... of course when it is cold, it is so hard to breathe too. I definitely need to fuel before a race and try to happily walk when needed (it's hard on this old ego.)

  6. WE just never know how we will feel on race day or any day we run. Not eating before a half would have really been rough for me as well. A 10 am start time and temps in the 40’s in Chicago is just about as good as it gets. Way to push through and finish strong. Love how many Brooks friends are in Chicago!

  7. Well done, Wendy! Congrats! I had no idea that race had been taking place that long. Your son did great too! I've never run it because it is always cold when the race takes place.