Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rich's Chicago Marathon Experience


Well this was my first marathon and I managed to squeeze a lot into it. It's a long report so jump to the end if you only like like the numbers. I made a couple of newbie mistakes, and a couple from the huge drop in temperatures. In any case I'll start at the beginning.

The Expo: I must've gained a couple of pounds with all of the gummies and cookies and smoothies that I kept pounding back during the race expo. But this was an experience in itself. Tons of vendors, lots of freebies, and a ton of buying opportunities. Went to the Nike pace booth to get a pace band to keep me on track for 4:00, and they were actually giving out pace tatoos instead! No chafing concerns with these babies. But, mine is still half on my arm a couple days later... Also Bought a Nike Marathon shirt that I had customized with "Drag me to Hell 26.2" on the back!

The race: Ok, it was cold. It was very cold! Just above freezing at the start and it only heated up to 41 f by the end. Better than the heat any day though. Started off with shorts and a t-shirt, and wearing disposable arm-warmers (an old pair of black socks with the toes cut off), a dollarama head band, and a cheapo pair of stretchy gloves. I must commend Chicago on the porta-potties, quickest line up I've ever seen at any race. Considering the 45,000 runners that's noteworthy and a testament to the great organization.

They had me seeded in Corral C which was pretty close to the start with only 4500 runners ahead of us, and another 4,000 in my corral. The slowest pace for the bunnies was 3:45 at the back! Yikes, what was I doing here? I could've moved back or waited for slower pace groups to catch me, but knowing that I start on pace and expecting most others to start too fast, I was fearful of getting stuck behind the hordes. The gun goes off and it's rock and roll time, get to the starting line just as Born to Run hits the speakers. Within minutes I'm in trouble. Left shoe feels too loose. I was worried that with a lack of support I would pay for it down the line, so I'm already stopping just .5 miles in. Lost at least a minute getting the gloves off so I can untie and retie my double knot. Definitely made a mistake not putting the bungees on these shoes. Then I make another mistake and try to compensate for the lost time right away by speeding up. Ok, see my wife at mile 4 for an early boost but that was the last time I'd see her, as we missed each other at mile 11, and she got to mile 21 behind me. Bigger problem is that my left foot is starting to hurt now. I tied the shoe too tight and it's squeezing my foot too much. Argggghhh! Ok, fine, I just got back on track, but take pit stop #2 at mile 5 and lose another minute dealing with the gloves and the laces. And once again I'm over correcting too quickly, but I figure as long as the heart rate stays low I'll be fine.

Meanwhile despite my own pitfalls, I'm loving the race. As expected people are everywhere, and they are loud and we're loving it. Not knowing Chicago too well, I also loved the fact that there's a video of the entire marathon course available in high speed to familiarize yourself with the course, and a detailed description of the many different areas we were passing through. Chicago has ample water stations and I'm drinking my Gatorade at each one with the quickest walk breaks I can muster to down the cup. I'm quickly back on pace and feeling confident. But the fates were against me. After 5 years of long distance training and no required bathroom breaks, now I gotta go. Are you kidding me??? Ok, what's another break at this point (mile 8 )? A bit of a line up and I'm realizing that if I keep wasting my chances that sub 4:00 I was so confident in would be quickly fading. Did what all the self respecting male marathoners do and wizzed in a bush instead of waiting for a spot. By this point I'm finding the course getting more crowded as slower runners surpass me and my marathon of unintended breaks.

I do my best at passing some of these guys and quickly find myself running comfortable with the 3:55 pacers. Forcing myself to slowly get back on track this time, I find myself at the halfway point in 2:00:03. I give myself a big fist pump at that point. It was a huge boost knowing that I could overcome all of those obstacles and still come in on pace half-way through without deviating too far from the plan. My HR was staying nice and low even through my speed variances. Of course all of this good news meant that I had to stop for the porta-potties again. What the Kenny? Lose over a minute waiting to get into a p-p this time rather than risk getting arrested. Ok, gotta adapt. This never happens. Must be too cold. I'm not sweating enough, so better cut back on the drinking to every other aid station and hope I'll have enough glycogen to avoid the wall.

The only good news I figure is how comfortable my pace has been. So, I get right back on task of chipping away at that lost minute + of time. Start running 8:40's and 8:50's , deciding that if my HR stays low, and risk of dehydration is obviously nill I can afford it. Back on track or close to it by mile 18, and never bothered to check on my tatoo band or watch after that. I decided to focus on getting to my wife at mile 21 and see what I had from there. I really didn't want to miss her again here and was lifting my hat up in the air hoping she'd spot me as I ran on the left side where I expected her. Figured the hat would help as absolutely no one else wears a hat with silver wings (at least not since the 80's). Was a huge downer when I realized I wasn't going to see her. But on the positive side I was having a blast running through Little Italy, and then a Mexican area, before hitting a wild Chinatown. Incredible entertainment everywhere on this course. I've never seen anything like it.

Just after mile 22 before we head back to Michigan Ave. for the final stretch they have a huge video screen and we're all waving at ourselves as we turn the corner. 4 miles to go, and I know I'm ahead of pace and feeling good. I pass another couple of Canadian guys wearing Around the Bay shirts and we chat a bit before I continue to push the pace. Mile 24 is by far the highlight of the race for me. They had an announcer really pumping up the runners, at which point I realized how close I really am to finishing my first full. A guy looks over with me as we're running and says something about the wall, I just smile and say "There is no spoon" and left a confused runner in my wake. I'm just loving the pump up job and am getting a little emotional at this point, I have the biggest smile on my face that I have ever had in my life, which was funny considering how often I've faked smiles in a race to make me think I'm having fun. Unfortunately 2.2 miles is still a long way, and I gotta still finish this race after that high fades. Just decide to start focusing here. Give my wings on the hat a pump for good luck and start picking out victims to pass. I am passing a huge amount of runners now, including one brave (stupid?) soul with a 3:10 pacer bib on who is jogging in a terrible looking hunch as if he's been puking the last 10 miles, but was too proud to call it a day.

I'm definitely picking up the effort now. Not really going much faster, but the effort feels like I am, and I am passing everyone. Get to the final pimple on the course that many have complained about, but my only complaint was that was when I caught up to the 3:55 pacers again and they abruptly slowed down in front of me forcing me to zig around rather than play bunny bowling.

Cross the finish line in 3:57:xx for a nice negative split in full #1.

First words out of my mouth were "That wasn't so bad". I quickly added "No, maybe it was" when I saw the dirty looks I was getting. In any case, I went back to the Nike Store the next day hoping they might have a nice finishers jacket like you always see around, but they were junk. I ended up getting a Chicago finishers sweatshirt that I had customized with "Better Stronger Faster 26.2" The Bionic Man mantra that was running in my head the last 10 miles. Got a good laugh when the printer remembered me, and went "Must've been a good race to go from Hell to this".

Here are the splits for those who like the Numbers. Very close pacing even with all of the long breaks. No plans on #2, but if I'm in similar shape I figure I should potentially break 3:50. I may be hurting now, but I was really holding back during the race in fear and respect of the wall.

START TIME 07:34:00
05K 00:28:29
10K 00:57:10
15K 01:26:02
20K 01:53:59
HALF 02:00:03
25K 02:22:41
30K 02:50:00
35K 03:18:18
40K 03:46:25

Chip 03:57:50

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