Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Race Report: Bank of America Chicago Marathon

Warning:  LONG Post Ahead

Back in May after a couple of months off completely from running, I started over from scratch and began my journey to the Chicago Marathon.  After 5 months of training, 720 hot and humid miles logged it was finally time to head out!

Friday we arrived in Chicago and first order of business was to get checked in at the Hilton in downtown and then hop the shuttle over to the expo.  I haven't run a race of this magnitude since the NYC Marathon back in 2010.  The expo is HUGE and full of fun things to look at and a million opportunities for vendors to drain your bank account.

We piddled around the expo for a bit and then made our way back to the hotel where we had planned on meeting my coach.  Coach Mike Morgan and I have talked so much over the last few months that it was nice to finally get to meet!  He would be running the race as well but as part of the elite field so it was really cool to get to hear some of the behind the scenes details of what the elites have to go through.  Everything from drug testing to getting their race day attire/uniforms pre-approved, media events, strategy meetings, etc.  As we were talking, Luke Humphrey popped in to say hello.  If you are familiar with the Hansons Marathon Method then you likely already know he is the co-author of the book and owner of Hanson's Coaching Services.  We went over my race-day plan and more importantly where the good Chicago pizza joints are :)  Getting to meet them was definitely a highlight of the trip and something I'll always remember about this race.  Despite what stress they were under for the race and the pressures that being on that "level" presents they were so nice, so humble and genuinely kind.
Luke - Me - Mike
Saturday was my day to kick my feet up and pretty much do a whole lot of nothing.  Brandon and our friend Fonzie headed out to go explore Chicago and I hung back at the hotel.  While out picking up my lunch I walked across the street to the start/finish line and got my bearings down.  Seeing the set up happen definitely helped to allow the excitement take over my nerves!  Corral F is where I would be lining up in less than 24 hours!

I also had to re-live a piece of my childhood and go take a picture at Buckingham Fountain AKA the Married With Children fountain!
Love and marriage, love and marriage....
Saturday night we put on real clothes and headed out for one last pasta filled meal at The Rosebud.

The days leading up to the marathon I had zero appetite, none, nada.  So basically I force fed myself a $22 plate of spaghetti while Fonzie dined on his $70 steak....another Chicago memory that I will forever remember.  After dinner it was back to the hotel to rest up and get some shut eye!

Sunday - RACE DAY!  Even though we were within walking distance to the start line I still set my alarm for 5:30 so that I could get my bagel in my system in case my stomach decided to play games with me.  At 7am we made our way to the start line and unfortunately this is where Brandon had to say goodbye and good luck.  Security was tight, so no spectators were allowed anywhere near the starting area.  A kiss, hug, and a good luck was followed by 'see you at the finish line'!

The corrals were shut off at 7:45 and at 8am we were off!  I had read about GPS being spotty during the race because of all the buildings, but I really underestimated just how spotty it would be.  I only had consistent pacing/GPS for about 30% of the race.  This caught me off guard and proved to be a huge challenge.  I can run by feel but having trained in MUCH hotter and humid conditions my perception of "feel" was way skewed when running in a much cooler climate.  Don't get me wrong, the 50 degree temperatures were awesome, but in that regard it was a bit of a challenge.  I made my way through the course and at around mile 3-3.5 I experienced something that has never happened to me before in all my years of racing...I fell.  For the most part I caught myself but my hip took the brunt of it and pulled in a really forward and weird way.  You cross over the river several times during the race and on those bridges there is a metal grated surface.  For the race, they covered this surface in a thin carpet-like material.  I guess the carpet had taken a beating for a few hours because there was a buckle somewhere in the carpet at that crossing and myself along with a few others tripped and fell.  My instinct was to just get up as quick as possible (there were herds of runners around) and keep moving.  My hip nagged at me throughout the rest of the race but that pain seemed minor compared to what was on the course at around mile 9.  Going into mile 9 there was a runner who appeared to be my age who had dropped in the middle of the road.  Lifeless.  A guardian angel was watching over him and the story being told is that another runner stopped to start immediately administering CPR. Receiving immediate CPR likely saved his life.  Over the years I've seen lots of people getting medical treatment on the course for various things, but never have I seen someone dropped in the middle of the road, completely lifeless while medics were working to revive him with CPR.  I slowed down to say a prayer for the young man and the medics that were working on him.  That shook me to the core and was a reminder that your finish time is NOT that important.  Finishing the race and getting to go home that night to your loved ones is what is important.

My emotions finally settled down and I continued through the course.  I was feeling ok through the first half but my legs never really felt "fresh".   When I hit mile 14 I saw Brandon and Fonzie for the first time.  They handed off a fresh water bottle and I continued on!

I saw the guys again at mile 16 and then started the long stretch to where I was supposed to see them again at mile 21-22.  The course was FULL of spectators!  I have to say, Chicago throws one hell of a party on marathon day!  This is the stretch of the course that is the hardest for me.  Things start to ache and you know you're not quite to that home stretch.  At mile 21 the streets were packed with so many people that I knew it would be almost impossible for me to see Brandon.  Our plan before the race was that if he got to mile 21 and it was packed, just get back on the train and meet me at the finish line.   That is exactly what happened.  At mile 22 I took a walk break to take in some Gatorade and stretch my hamstrings that were starting to cramp.  I knew early on in the race, especially after the fall, that I wasn't going to meet my "A" goal.  Despite the disappointment of that, I knew that I still had the opportunity to land a pretty hefty PR.  After a couple minutes of walking I picked it back up and pressed forward.  This is where the cumulative fatigue training that Hanson's focuses on really kicked in.  Sure my legs hurt, but they seemed to move forward at a relatively easy rate.  I ran all the way until I got to the last .2 miles of the race.  When I turned the corner and saw that dreaded hill that lead to the finish line I just couldn't mentally will myself to run up it.  I walked up the hill and then high-tailed it to the finish line!  Marathon #3 was done and I did it with a 12 minute PR!  I made the long walk out of the finisher area and on to Michigan Avenue which is where Brandon would be looking for me.  It's a little scary to be alone after a marathon and that feeling that your legs could give out from you at any moment.  After a few minutes they spotted me and boy was I happy to see them!  Brandon said my Mom needed a photo to prove that I was indeed still alive.  This picture cracks me up for so many reasons!

Did I hit my big goal?  No.  Things didn't exactly go smoothly on the course and that happens, but I sure as hell am happy with a 12 minute PR.  That's the really funny thing about running, you can train your heart out but race day can throw you a curve ball that you never in a million years could have expected.  How you choose to handle that curve ball dictates how you will finish.  I could have easily thrown in the towel after all of the craziness that happened in the first half but instead I got out of my own head and just kept cruising.
Official Finish Time:  4:41:06
After looking at the splits from my official results I can tell that I suck at pacing without a Garmin.  I was allllll over the map.  I know that with proper pacing I can hit my "A" goal.  I know it!  My nutrition for Chicago was on point.  I felt great both during and after the race!  My stomach didn't start doing back-flips around mile 23 like it has done before nor did my my stomach churn for 24 hours post-race like it did before. This time around I felt as normal as could be and that is something to celebrate! I was stiff and sore, but overall I felt great.  One of the things I've learned in the last two years is that your strength as a runner isn't 100% based on your performance on race day.  Proper training and nutrition will lead to you not feeling like you've been run over by a bus post-race.  That signals that you HAVE trained your body to endure the rigors that a marathon puts you through.

I've been asked so many times how I liked this race compared to others.  I have a million thoughts running through my head so I thought I'd keep my opinion on Chicago into three pros and cons:

Chicago Marathon Pros:
1) It's a really flat course
2) The crowd support is hands-down the best!  I had so much fun on the course that I didn't even wear my headphones.  They were in the first few miles but I didn't turn them and after awhile I just tucked them down into my sports bra.  26.2 miles of enjoying the sights and sounds was incredible!
3)  The race organization was absolutely flawless.  Whoever your event director is, give them a big raise.  The volunteers are just as much a part of the organization and they were rock stars!  Not only did they do their jobs but they also cheered us on as much as the spectators!

Chicago Marathon Cons:
1) That really flat course is great for a lot of reasons, however an entirely flat course also leads to only using one set of muscles for the entire race.  My quads were on FIRE by mile 19-20.  FIRE.
2) Gatorade was nice to supply their endurance chomps at the majority of the water stations.  This was a nice gesture however on top of a crazy amount of cups and Gatorade spilled all over the streets, you also had to contend with avoiding getting chomps stuck to your shoe.  Despite having brought my own water, I had to tiptoe/walk through most of the aid stations to avoid busting my butt (super slippery) or stepping on chomps.
3)  Spotty GPS signal. This no fault of the race at all, but I still have to put it in the con category if you're trying to hit a specific time.

Overall, the Chicago Marathon is a MUST run race!  It takes a lot to be thrown onto the list of World Marathon Majors and it did not disappoint in the slightest.  This is a trip that I will truly never forget. It was filled with so many wonderful memories and reminders of just how blessed life is.  A lot of people just don't understand the marathon thing and that's ok.  When you're out there surrounded by 45,000 others who share the same dreams, that's all that matters.  You still fall into the 1% of the population who actually have the balls to even step up to the challenge of the marathon.  I don't know that I will ever qualify for Boston, but I do know that each and every race gives me the opportunity to do something better than the race before.  If you stop dreaming, you stop living.  Runners dream big.


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