Butterflies… anxiousness… deep-breathing…stretching… 10 minutes before the start of the 2011 Chicago Marathon… In the D Corral… discussing last minute race strategy with my good friend Chris Humphries… and to my right – Spiderman. And he wasn’t dressed in Spiderman clothing.. he was full body painted as Spiderman. This suddenly relaxed me… this was going to be fun. The horn sounded… the elites took off… and we slowly moved forward… I was walking along with Chris and Spidey… and suddenly the painted up dude races to our left… to relieve himself… right next to a woman who was squatting with one leg straight out to her left.. relieving herself…. I shook my head.. this was going to be fun….
I had multiple possible goals for this years race. I wanted to best my PR (4:20 May ’11 Flying Pig – Cincinnati) but also wanted to redeem myself over a terrible race a year ago (Chicago Marathon 2010) in which I had only been running for 9 months… had run too many miles while injured (achilles and quad) but somehow felt I could break 4:30. The race was miserable for me… the heat got to me (was 82F at noon) and I walked a lot more than I ever dreamed I would. I finished in 4:51 .. terribly disappointed with my time. 2011 would be different. In the back of my head I wondered if breaking 4 hours was possible. We would find out.
My race plan was very simple. Plenty of GU (6 in my pouch) and plenty of salt/potassium tabs (20). I wasn’t going to cramp. No way was I going to cramp this race. My last marathon (Flying Pig in May) consisted of quad cramps wrecking me from mile 21 until the finish. I had been using the supplements all summer in the heat and they seemed to work. Not one cramp in any long runs.
Start slow. All of my long training runs (20+) in the hills and heat of Birmingham, Alabama had been pretty solid. And all had begun with 2 slow pace miles. So, the first 2 miles were consistently 9:20 / 9:25 pace…. although my adrenalin said go faster as many people were flying by me.. I kept the pace. I truly believe that was key for me as it was going to get warmer in a hurry.
I crossed the 5K mark in 28:59 (9:20) on Lasalle and noticed that all of the 3:55 pacers were gone… I was beginning to see a few 4:15 pacers running with me now. I slowly jogged through the aid station.. and decided to take on a GU earlier than planned.. I was already soaked.
As we continued up LaSalle I suddenly spotted my wife and kids on he right side of the road somewhere around mile 4. It was great to see them ..and eliminated the fear that I had that I wouldn’t be able to find them due to the huge crowd lining the course. I continued to run with a 4:15 pacer… and then on Stockton hit the 10K mark at 57:33… a nice 9:12 pace since the last checkpoint… feeling really good at this point..
I decided to get a cup of gatorade…and a cup of water at every aid station…sometime drinking very little gatorade… but always all the water… I would GU every 30 mins …
Making the turn on Addison is a neat feeling in this race as you are at the most northern point on the course and the crowds continue to be loud… then turning south on Broadway for miles 8 and 9… and then to Clark and the 15K checkpoint… I was very pleased.. hitting it at 1:24:54 (an 8:48 for that last 5K) and my mind now went to maintaining pace and reaching the halfway mark in less than 2 hours.
Down Sedgwick in the heart of Old Town I remember crossing the 10M marker and I was at 1:29 …and below a 9 min pace… but still feeling strong… I wasn’t running with music.. so I began looking at the faces in the crowd… reading backs of shirts… Continued down the long, flat Wells St… heading back into downtown.. huge crowds… it was getting hot… crossed the river and then passed the 20K mark (1:52:39) – again the last 5K under 9 mins
As I crossed the 13.1 marker at 1:58:53 my mind turned to the possibility of breaking 4 hours. I had put that out of my mind before the race because of the “yellow” conditions…the heat would surely zap me on the backside… but now I was a full minute ahead of where I had planned to be.
I hit the 25K mark at 2:21:20 on Jackson Blvd and I repeated the words “MAINTAIN”..”MAINTAIN”..over and over… just maintain pace and you will easily have your PR…. but maybe ….
I passed the 18 mile marker…and then came the 30K split (2:50:26)… right on pace… and feeling pretty good… although my left foot arch was beginning to hurt.. not badly…but nagging… I began worrying that I was now landing more on my heel… due to the pain… but it wasn’t going to stop me… I wanted this…
I remember turning on Halsted and mile 20… and my watch was at 3:02…. and the final 10K was in front of me. Maintain pace. It was possible. Could it be possible? Maintain. I remember crossing the bridge and thinking .. “just a 58 min 10K is all I have to do”… while the whole time I know that I was tiring. My legs were becoming very heavy.
I stopped at the aid station at mile 22 and decided to walk all the way to the water from the gatorade. That would take about 90 seconds and I would get my legs back under me. However, it became very hard to start running again. My mind wanted to stop. I finally got going again.. but my legs were shot.
I turned on Michigan and then hit Mile 24. I was now stopping and walking every 2 or 3 mins… not walking long…but long enough to realize that I was not going to break 4 hours. I tried to think positively.. but my brain now said “4:02 is the same as 4:04 is the same as 4:06 is the same as 4:10”. All would be PR’s so why go through this pain. So I continued to walk a little but made sure I ran at least 2 minutes before I had to stop. I was exhausted.
Then hitting mile 24 the crowds began to get larger again….. the noise level became intense again. I did not want to be seen walking. I ran a slow pace…but kept running to mile 25.. decided to stop and walk one last time for 30 seconds and then run to the finish. The crowd was huge.
As I passed the 800 meters to go sign, I found energy to raise my arms to the crowd… they cheered louder… this was amazing. It then hit me that I was going to finish this race at least 40 minutes faster than the previous year. All of those 4:30am long runs on the weekend in that ‘Bama humidity was paying off. I had the wheels to run that last mile without stopping… turning up the hill on Roosevelt … high-fiving everyone who stuck their hand out… then down the hill…and the final 400 meters to the finish.
Seeing that Finish Line sign in front of me brought tears to my eyes. I looked at my watch. I was going to shatter my PR. In this heat.
I crossed the finish line in 4:08:55. A 12 minute PR and nearly 43 minutes faster than last year.
Will I ever have another chance to break 4 hours? I hope so. Have I had moments rethinking the last 10K and what I could have done differently training wise to make that happen? Yes.. and I was momentarily disappointed.
BUT – As I am very, very proud of this race. My family is very proud of me. I have watched my kids tell others that “My Dad runs marathons!” and it makes me smile. I am blessed.