NYC Marathon Thoughts

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Runner waiting to cross the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

One year ago this weekend I woke up at 2 am, got on the subway and headed to Manhattan to start, what I was should would be, a wonderful running journey.  I was a guide for an Achilles International Foundation wheelchair athlete and was able to help that athlete  go through all five Burroughs and finish at Central Park.  The hills throughout this course were so tough on wheelchair athletes that I could feel the pain and strain that he had to go through to reach the top of each one.

Running the NYC marathon was the most unique and rewarding running experience of my life.  Not only was I amazed at how many people came to cheer us on through the 26.2 miles, but I couldn’t believe how much the city embraced the race and allowed it to rule the whole city for a day.  This race bring NYC to, as close as possible, a stand still every year.  So many city streets are blocked off, bridges are closed, and Manhattan is surrounded by runners yet the people come out to cheer and enjoy the happiness and agony that they runners experience throughout the course.

Samsung Galaxy 5 Upload 07-07-2014 2723I had never been to many of the parts of NYC that we ran through and was so excited to get to know the city outside of lower Manhattan.  As a runner I got to see so many neighborhoods in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.  Each of these neighborhoods was unique and had their own qualities.  Some had tons of fans cheering us on, while other were quiet and relaxing.  Being early in my running career this race will serve as a turning point where I went from loving running to loving the ability to run.  This race was an experience that I hope all runners can experience at least once.  The NYC marathon serves as a reminder to me of the freedom that running can provide and the ability it provides for me to explore the world.

I am sad that I am not preparing for the race again this week but I know that in the future I will definitely run NYC again.  For all of those who are running good luck, and for any runner who is thinking about running NYC, definitely do it.  The benefit is definitely worth all the hard work.

-Runner

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Race Recap: 2014 Chicago Marathon

Simply put, the Chicago Marathon is one of the best Marathons in the world and definitely one of the best races I have ever ran.  I has some of the best features and qualities that runners, spectators and professionals look for in a race.  Between the 1.7 million spectators cheering you on, and the huge expo and the adventure of running around the city on such a beautiful day, there is not much that could improve on this experience.

Race Criteria: I have divided my experience into five categories that cover what I think is every aspect of a race.  Just to make it easy each category will be numbered 1-20 for a total out of 100 to rank the race.

At the Expo

Race Organization: 19/20
This is my second Marathon Major that I have completed (first was NYC Marathon in 2013) and my 6th marathon overall and I feel comfortable saying that it was the most well put on race that I have ever had a number for.  Throughout the months that I was registered and selected for the race I received multiple e-mails from the race about the progress of the planning, the schedule and any events that had recently happened involving the race.  Lastly, I was so impressed that I received the participant guide in the mail before the race.  This would make any runner feel more comfortable and, as a runner who has never ran in Chicago before, I felt much better going into the race that I would have otherwise.

Expo: 18/20
Expo Welcome SignThe expo took place at McCormick Place and this convention center is a wonderful host for such a large expo.  The only negative part involving the McCormick place is that it is just tough to get to.  There is no mass transit station near the convention center so the traffic around the center was chaotic.  Not only was the center hosting the race convention, there was also a large convention of plastic surgeons that was taking place at the same time which just added to the number of cars and people trying to enter the convention hall.

Once I arrived at the expo  I was simply impressed.  I have been to large expos before, including at Boston and New York City but the Chicago expo was the best.  The race implemented a lot of new technology that greatly quickened the check in process.  They used a QR code on my participant guide that they mailed before the race to scan it and get all my information.  I quickly went to my corral to get my bib and was quickly able to move to the back of the hall and get my t-shirt.  After getting my shirt my friend Kathleen and I walked around the expo and looked at some of the best displays I have seen at any expo.  Every major company had a display and many were offering special deals exclusively for that race.  I will go over some of the things that I got in the extras section but overall I had a blast walking around the hall.

Nike + Personal WallCourse/Race Experience: 20/20
If you read my run review you can tell what I thought of my race experience.  The volunteers were great, the crowd was the best that I have ever seen, and the course was one of the best that I have ever ran.  The course was flat, the weather was great and the energy was electric.  All of these characteristics allowed me to set a PR by exactly 26 minutes!  Although I thought the course had a few to many turns, I would not change anything about it.  The course, much like New York, allowed you to see the whole city and experience the neighborhoods around the city.  I have been to Chicago dozens of times but some of these neighborhoods were ones that I had never been to and I loved being able to experience the personality of these many neighborhoods.

Post Race: 16/20
Every runner cannot wait for the post race celebration, because that means that the race is over.  After I ran through the finish line and relaxed after having post run high and made my way, slowly, to the post run area to meet up with Kathleen.  Going into the area I quickly found that there was not much available.  Although there was the obligatory free post race beer, and some refreshments for sale, there was not much else.  I found that it was mostly full of families waiting for runners to finish, or waiting for the runner to recover before they could leave. Kathleen and I waited here for a while until two other friends finished up and were able to meet us before heading to a great post race dinner.

Extras: 18/20
Phone CaseEvery big race has great extras and this one was no exception. While at the expo I saw many products that had Chicago spins including a couple that I had to purchase. A couple of these extras were given to me.  I am a member of Nike + and just for being a member Nike gave me two extra gifts.  These gifts were a phone cover with the course on it.  Although the cases were only available for Samsung S4 and the IPhone 5 it still makes a great souvenir and one that I will definitely hold onto.  Also they gave away a black bandana that included a map of the course. Although these are not expensive, they show the care that the sponsors took in the runners.

Goose Island Bottle OpenerThe coolest extra I have ever seen, before Chicago, was in Boston where I saw that Samuel Adams had a special bottle opener for the race.  When at the expo I saw that Goose Island had a special bottle opener and I had to buy it.  Not only is this opener a unique gift from a Chicago company for a Chicago event but it really shows the love that the city has for the race.

MY OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 91/100
The Chicago Marathon is a great race and no matter how many people or other blogs told me that before the race I had to experience it for myself before making a judgement.  Now that I have experienced all there is to experience about the Chicago Marathon I agree with everyone’s assessment.  The race is a great race and I know that I will do it again in the future.  Leaving Chicago the night of the race I knew that not only did I have a great time at the race but I was lucky enough to experience another great race.  Chicago was my 7th Marathon but it was my favorite.  Not only did I get a great time, I also had a great experience, and was able to really feel happy about the whole race.  I encourage EVERY runner to run in Chicago and I hope to see you there next to me in the future.

-Runner

 

Chicago Marathon Run Review!

In 2012 Bride and I went to Boston to see her sister’s senior recital and when I found out the weekend was the same weekend of Patriot’s Day I made a point to stay and watch part of the Boston Marathon that day.  Throughout the whole weekend as we walked around the city I was able to experience a true big city marathon for the first time.  The whole city was a buzz with the energy of the marathon.  All the news stations were talking about the upcoming race, all the papers had the latest information and the light poles were decorated in Boston Marathon colors.

Last year this love of big city races grew when I was able to run the New York City Marathon.  Turning the corner off of the Queensboro Bridge and into Manhattan was one of the greatest feelings that I have ever had as a runner.  The crowd was amazing and the people of the city truly embrace the race and what it means to so many of the finishers.

This past weekend my love of big cities races continued to evolve and grow.  I had the honor of running the Chicago Marathon on Sunday along with 45,000 others including two very close friends. I felt lucky to get my name drawn earlier in the year and ever since I looked to this race as my goal.  I knew that the course was notorious for being flat and the place that the elite runners come to for a chance at a new world record so I knew that this was a great opportunity for me to reach for a great PR.  That opportunity, plus knowing how well the race is put on and how much the city embraces the race (which I will write about in my race review later this week) made this weekend a wonderful opportunity.

PRE-RACE:

I will go over the expo and other events concerning how well the race was executed during my Race Recap early next week.

It is closing in on 3 years since my first marathon and I have been searching that whole time for a pattern that I can follow as a pre-race routine. I have tried different foods, sleep patterns and advice concerning how to prepare your body without much success before my Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon in VA Beach on Labor Day weekend. While there I figured out a pattern that worked for me that I wanted to replicate that same pre race routine which includes, of all things, Chick-fil-a the night before for dinner.

The night before the race I stayed with two great friends, Huyen and Andrew, who were both running the marathon as well.  They live on the north side of the city so we just hoped on the red line and headed down town the morning of the race.  We entered the staging area and I was able to quickly check my bag at the red bag check.  The one issue I ran into was that we just arrived a little late and after checking my bag I had to rush to my corral before they closed them at 7:20am. I was able to make it to the corral a few minutes before it closed and I pushed my way towards the front of the corral near the 4:00 pace group that I planned on staying with throughout the race.

The start was spectacular including introducing all the elite runners to the whole crowd of runners and quickly after the elite runners stepped off the first corrals started. At 7:41 I crossed the start line and took the first steps of my 26.2 mile journey.

Just got to the starting area.

Just got to the starting area.

MILES 1-6

  • 5K 28:20, 9:07 min/mile

The start was exhilarating, like all big race starts are.  I quickly found the 4:00 pace team and stuck with them.  The first couple of miles winds around downtown before heading north on LaSalle and into the park that is home to the Lincoln Park zoo.  Throughout these early miles there were constant crowds three, four deep, sometimes more.  They were loud, excited and cheering everyone on their way.  The early miles of any race are easy when looking back on them but these were definitely made easier because of the enthusiasm permeating from the fans.  Heading north on LaSalle St./Dr. you first hear the silence of a road race when you enter Lincoln Park.  Soon after entering the park I was shocked at the quietness that occurred.  Luckily I wasn’t the only one since multiple runners around me commented on the same quietness.  Luckily this quietness would not occur often during the next 21 miles of the race. Between miles 5 and 6 there were 2 water stations and our pace team was quick to give us the warning that after the second water station during the 5th mile there was not another one until just past the 8 mile mark.  This long gap was an anomaly but one that, without running the race before was hard to notice and could cause your race plan to change.

MILES 6-13.1

  • 10K 56:40 (28:20), 9:08 min/mile
  • 15K 1:24:59 (28:19), 9:07 min/mile
  • 20K 1:53:33 (28:34), 9:12 min/mile

Mile 6 exited Lincoln Park, right around the 10K mark, and entered the first neighborhood area where the crowds were not packed on each side of the road.  We went up next to Lake Shore Drive at mile 7 and was able to see parts of the lake over to the right side of the road.  Around 7.4 we made the left turn onto Addison St. and reached the northern most point of the race. After a brief time on Addison we turned onto Broadway and headed back south towards the Loop and downtown. Miles 8-10 contained many different neighborhoods, each with their own attitude and crowds.  As I approached the 10.5 mile water station I was excited because my friend Kathleen (from Sister to Sister Running Blog) was working the water station but unfortunately I didn’t get to see her because I thought she was working the right side but she ended up being on the left side of the road. As I approached the 11 mile marker I realized that we were back downtown and the crowds were accordingly larger that they were just a few miles earlier in the more sparse neighborhood areas. After mile 12 we passed over the river and experienced the worst part of the course.  When crossing the bridges, which all runners had to do 6 times, there was a thin fabric over the grates that still caused the grates to dig into your foot as you went over them. As I went through the 20K mark I knew the Half marathon point was close and turning the corner around 12.75 you could watch the screen on the corner and watch the runners go by. When I got around the corner I could see the half marathon point and the starting point for the rest of the race.

MILES 13.1-18

  • Half Marathon 1:59:42, 9:08 min/mile
  • 25K 2:21:47 (28:14), 9:06 min/mile

The half way point is always the a great part of a marathon.  From there you start counting down the miles, rather than counting up. As I went through the half way point I felt great.  I had actually never felt so good after running a half marathon.  My legs were feeling fresh, I was in a great state of mind and I was confident that I could reach my goal time of 4 hours.  On top of that, I knew that if I just followed my pace team I would make it to the finish under that goal.  We passed the half marathon point just under the goal pace (at 1:59:42) and I knew that I could do the second half at the same pace.

Mile 14 started with one of the greatest parts of a race that I have ever ran.  The Charity Party was a loud few blocks where each of the many official charities of the race had a tent and and supporters cheering.  This was also the place where many of the runners for these charities were able to get extra refreshments.  Although they were there representing their charities, they continued to cheer just as loudly for every runner as they did their own.  Once again the Chicago crowd surprised me and spurred me on to the next mile.  miles 15 and 16 were uneventful except that I continued at the 4 hour pace, with the pace team and was still feeling good.  Mile 17 began the final section of neighborhoods with Little Italy being first.  The crowds were great and at 17.5 there was the Power Gel station.  I had never really had one before and was not impressed with my strawberry banana selection.  I prefer GU but that could just come from using GU more often than the Power Gel.  After the water station it was on to mile 18 and what I thought was finally the beginning of the end of the race.

MILES 18-24

  •  30K 2:50:14 (28:27), 9:10 min/mile
  • 35K 3:20:43 (30:29), 9:49 min/mile

The section that I just finished have always been the hardest part of my previous races.  I find that miles 12-18 is always the hardest.  You still have a ways to go, the crowd is usually sparse during these miles and you cannot imagine the finish line yet.  When mile 18 comes the finish line is all of the sudden a reality and you can envision crossing under it with a great time.  As I past the 30K mark I knew that I was going to PR (my previous PR was 4:32:42 in St. Louis in April) it was just a question now by how much.  I continued with the 4 hour group and noticed that it had gotten quite a bit smaller since the half marathon point and we began to see more people with the 3:45 pace markers on.  Passing mile 20 is always a milestone and today was no exception.  20 miles is usually the longest training run that anyone does and the last 10K of the race is ran on heart alone.  Between the 20 and 21 mile markers there are 2 water stops.  As I approached the second I felt a little soreness coming on so I decided I would get a banana to combat the pain.  After eating the banana I passed the 21 mile marker and all began to go wrong.

My stomach, not my legs had given up on me.  I felt like I was going to puke and the feeling brought me to a walk for the first time in the race.  I began to contemplate the best place to run over and throw up without getting to much attention.  I decided to push on at a walk and let my stomach settle down.  I walked for about a half mile at what my watch said was about a 20 minute mile pace.  At that point my stomach was settled so I began a slow run and quickly got back up to my nine minute mile goal pace, knowing that I had lost the chance of breaking 4 hours.  As I went past mile 22 and approached mile 23 I came to a turn where I got to see First Cellular Field where the Chicago White Sox play, and despite my negative attitude for missing 4 hours, the baseball fan inside of me couldn’t help but love to see the stadium while running in such a great race.  As I went through the 23 mile marker my attitude began to change and I realized that I was looking at about a 4:10 finishing time and how could I be upset with a PR by over 20 minutes!!! Mile 23.5 is the best turn anyone can make in the Chicago marathon.  Here is where you turn onto Michigan Ave and can see the city skyline ahead of you and you know that all you have to do is run strait and you will make it to the finish.

What a beautiful day for a beautiful race.

What a beautiful day for a beautiful race.

MILES 24-26.2

  •  40K 3:54:24 (33:41), 10:51 min/mile
  • FINISH TIME: 4:06:42, 9:25 min/mile
  • PLACE: 14,348 out of 40,801

The skyline is ahead of me, acting as a compass, rather than a wall.  I know that I will run down Michigan Ave. and make a hard right and go up a hill before turning into Millennium Park and the finish. The crowds are picking up again and all I can do is smile at how happy I am.  My legs are obviously tired but I know that my fitness will get me to the end.  The final water station was just after the 25.2 mile marker.  Everyone is cheering and encouraging “just one more mile”!!!  The one cheer that I hate the most during a race is “you are almost there”, since you usually start to hear it at around mile 2.  But at this point it is true, and music to my ears.  Yet, in my head I know that after turning right at the southern end of Millennium Park I have to go up a small but punishing hill before turning on Columbus towards the finish line.  I can’t even remember taking the turn or how tired my legs were as I ran up the hill, all I remember is seeing the finish line ahead and going towards it.  After stopping my watch I read what it said 4:06!!! a PR by 26 minutes!!!

CONCLUSION

Although my goal was a sub 4 hour race I can not ever be upset with getting a PR by 26 minutes.  Entering this year my PR at the marathon was 5:02, set at the 2012 Marine Corp Marathon, now after Chicago I have cut almost an hour off that time!  I have trained hard but it was definitely worth it.  I always miss the training after a big race like that, all the emotions and the energy all you want to do is get out there and do it again but everyone knows that is the last things your legs will allow you to do. I cannot wait to see what my future races have in store for me and I know that with continued training I am not only going to break the 4 hour mark soon, but I am confident that I will be able to get a better time than I could even hope for at this moment.

Thanks for sticking with me through all of that rambling.  I loved my adventure at this race and would recommend it to anyone else.  What a great weekend, and what a great race.

-Runner

A Few of My Favorite Things

Runner completed his 7th marathon this morning in record time! Props. I, on the other hand, was home in McLean lounging in bed all morning. I wanted to share with you a few of my favorite things…

The Aerolatte Milk Frother was a gift I asked for last Christmas that I have used and loved. For just under $20 you can make endless frothy cups of coffee. All I do is heat up the milk that then stir with the tool for about 15 seconds. It takes a little practice not to get splashed on but so worth it. It’s battery powered, so no cords. It turns my simple K cup of coffee into a latte.

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Uncle Joe’s Barbeque Sauce was a discovery Runner and I made at the 2011 DuQuoin State Fair. Years later and states away, it remains our favorite sauce.

My favorite milkshake award goes to Good Stuff Eatery’s Toasted Marshmallow Shake. Ok, I was skeptical at first too… I mean the toasted marshmallow Jelly Belly is not good. However, in this creamy shake the smoky charred flavor and the sticky sweet taste of a marshmallow are delicious. So good. I’m transported to back to summer camp. Chef Spike’s milkshakes are insanely rich and thick – so be sure to share!

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I highly recommend Essie Play Date. I bought this soft purple nail polish for Tanya’s wedding and it’s awesome.

http://krex.se/2012/03/essie-go-overboard-mini-collection/

What are you loving lately?

Chicago Here I Come!

Well the time is finally here.  This weekend is the Chicago Marathon.  Since January 2012, when I ran my first Marathon, I have ran 6 full marathons with Chicago being my 7th and this is the one that I have looked forward to the most.  I have ran many big marathons, including the New York City Marathon last year which was the largest marathon ever, in terms of number of finishers and there is nothing like feeling the energy from the crowds that are all over the course.  I knew when I finished the NYC Marathon that I wanted to work to get into the Chicago Marathon this year and I was sure to register for the lottery on the first day that it was opened.  The day that the lottery was picked was one of the most nerve racking day of my running career and when I finally got that e-mail I was so excited and couldn’t wait to turn on to Michigan Ave at the end of the race.

The Chicago Marathon has always been a goal of mine.  I was born and raised in Illinois and even though Chicago is over 300 miles from my hometown it has always been a city that I have loved visiting and have many fond memories of.  In just less than 72 hours I will be done with the race and I will be able to smile with my accomplishments and know that I have completed a major goal of mine. Each race is special and this one is going to be special for every person that crosses that finish line on Sunday and I will be no different. What will be different for me is with my own accomplishments and the large steps forward I have been able to take during the training.

I am, admittedly, a very busy person.  Last year I got married, after proposing after my first marathon, and between working well over 40 hours most week, travelling and living it is was often tough for me to fit my training in.  This cycle I strove to make sure that I got in as much training as possible and despite having to take approximately a month off due to some IT Band issues.  I began to run in the morning to make sure that I got the miles in and allowed my miles to take a front seat to other activities.  I got up early to run instead of letting my schedule dictate weather I got to run or not I found time in my schedule to run.

Going into next year I have taken many steps forward and I know that because of the Chicago Marathon I have become a better runner, gained a better sense of commitment to a cause and have become more focused on issues that I feel passionate about.  I am thankful for all that the Marathon has done for me so far and I am sure that it will not disappoint.

Look for my race recap next week, but just a heads up, this will be a great race.

-Runner