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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!!!
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.