Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Race Report: Chicago Marathon 2012

Travel Day
TKB and I met up with Joe VI at KCI around 9am the day before the race for our flight.

I guess if 50% of your training miles are together, you tend to think alike.  I didn't check to see if our cycles had aligned yet.
Once arrived in Chicago, a quick orange line train to downtown and we were soon checked into our hotel where we met up with Ben. Off to the Health Expo and Packet Pickup we went!  We weren’t exactly sure where McCormick Place was but we decided to hoof it.  The hotel people said it was about a mile away.  Actually, it was two miles but we were OK with it.  Our training plan called for two miles that day, so why not a leisurely walk?

Halfway there, we picked up the fifth member of our clan, Ken.  Ken happened to be in Chicago for a wedding, so it was absolutely perfect.

The Health Expo was huge.  It had your garden variety booths of local races and running stores but also had the major vendors like Nike, Mizuno, Brooks, Gatorade, and so on.  Packet Pickup was painless, as you would expect from a major event like Chicago.

They had a wall with every registered participant.  Found me.

See... found me.... can you "found" me?

We probably spent about two hours at the expo before it was time to get Ken and TKB back to the hotels.  (Ken was staying at The Drake Hotel while we at the Congress Plaza).  TKB was Kenny’s date for the wedding, which was perfect because Joe VI, Ben, and I were going to be pretty boring company.

While TKB was getting ready, we took off for dinner.  We eyed a pasta place but decided to stop at Potbelly’s instead.  Potbelly’s is a local sub shop so I had a sub with veggies and chicken.  Something light to match up with the pasta dinners and lunches I had been having for three days straight.

After stopping at a CVS and a bakery for a 12 pack of water, Gatorade, banana, and a bagel, we were back to the hotel around 5:30.  The rest of the evening was spent watching TV and getting ready for the morning.  I had a date with a melatonin at 10:00pm and off to slumberland I went.

The alarm went off at 5:00am.  Bagel & banana downed.  I got dressed and woke up Joe VI for a trip to Dunkin Donuts for some wake-me-up-and-race juice.  After last week’s race, I decided to add this to the mix.  I’m not sure if it does anything but it seemed to work then.

Thanks to this, I dunked a few things about 30 minutes later.
This walk for coffee helped settle some nerves.  According to the forecast in the week leading up to the race, it was going to be starting in the upper 30s.  My cell phone read 43° and seeing 40s made a whole world of difference.  I was prepared to use my arm warmers and start the race in a fleece sweater if needed!

Our plan was to be out of the hotel at 6:45, get a warm-up jog in, and head to the start corrals by 7:00. By getting in 30 minutes early, we hoped to get somewhat close to the front of Corral “B”.  Our plan was foiled a bit because being on the top of the 14th floor hotel made it a challenge to get down to the lobby.  We waited for a long time to get an elevator that wasn’t already full. People from lower floors were getting in it while it was traveling up.

It excited me knowing that someone at a homeless shelter is wearing a KC Royals shirt.
We soon found a set of port-a-potties with no lines and then jogged over to our start corral.  I guess we got our warm up jog in anyway.  I’m not sure what time we got to our starting position in the corral but it was after the national anthem.

After 7:20 the corrals were closed and the elites were introduced. I decided at that time that the long sleeve shirt had to go.  I getting rather warm amongst the bodies of Corral B.  I still held onto my $1.00 gloves I was wearing though.  Soon enough the crowd lurched forward a few times and we were officially off and running!

Miles 1 – 3
If you were lucky enough to catch my auto-post at 7:35am on Sunday, you would have read that I threw out my pre-race plans for the marathon.  I registered for this with the intent of Boston qualifying (BQ) and so I’m going to do everything I could to achieve it.  I planned out the first 16 miles of the race to match my capabilities.  If I blew up and even missed a PR, then I was still going to be happy that I tried.

Planned: So miles 1 – 3 were going to be 8:00 minute pace, 7:45 pace, and 7:30 pace.

Running through downtown Chicago was a battle of GPS reception with the tall buildings and the occasional tunnel.  I have a footpod but it’s not as accurate.  I did elect to use the auto-lap feature instead of manually marking the miles, which was good because I missed the first mile marker.

Actual (via Garmin): 7:59, 7:14, 7:40

Huh?! This data was impacted by the poor GPS reception.  I knew this around mile 2, so I did a quick calculation that I needed to hit mile 3 in 23:15 to be on target and I think I was a bit ahead of it.  Fine with me.

I was still feeling great!  I’m hitting my goals and the systems check read, “FANTASTIC!”

Miles 4 – 6
These miles were supposed to be at BQ pace of 7:14.  I wanted to settle into the pace to see if I could manage it.  I was still feeling good. My breathing didn’t sound like a horn from a clown car.  My perceived effort was still in check.  I decided earlier in the week not to have my Heart Rate on my first Garmin screen. I knew that if I would watch this I would slow down with concerns about blowing up late in the race.  Since I had already decided that “blowing up” would be OK, no need for that read out.

Actual: 7:08, 7:17, 7:13

We are out of the skyscrapers at this point, so I’m trusting these figures a bit more.

How about that?!  I’m still hitting my mark.  My body is still feeling great.  I’m starting to feel a little labored but I’m cruising along.  I did take a gel at mile 5.

I had caught up with the 3:15 pace group while running down La Salle around mile 4 to 5. They were a huge pack of people.  I had made a conscious decision to move to the southbound lanes of La Salle as it is divided by a median but once I hit these people I moved out because I couldn’t pass.  That was probably why mile 5 was a little slower.

Something that was kind of neat was spotted during this stretch.  I saw people taking down tables off to the side of the road.  It was the tables that held the hydration bottles for the elites.  They don’t necessarily take cups from volunteers but have actual water bottles waiting for them on a table in the middle of the road.  They just snag one up and run on.  I could also see the helicopter used for videoing the elite’s race.

Miles 7 – 9
Goal: Start catching up with 3:10

I had decided to set the Virtual Partner (VP) on my watch at a 7:14 pace.  So when I hit mile 7, I could check that and see how far behind I was.  My ultimate plan was to shoot for straight 7 minute miles until I caught them.

Actual: 6:57, 7:07, 6:54

My VP said I was .18 of a mile (or around 1 minute, 15 seconds) behind them at the start of mile 7.  I had to take this with a pack of salt tablets because I knew my watch wasn’t as accurate as it needed to be and I was likely further behind them.

My splits were right on target of straight 7:00s for the average pace.  Systems check was still great!

It was at this point during the race that I started to play mind games.  I was already working the scenario of when I would tell myself “BQ was lost.”  By starting that now while I still could push through, I thought it would help me later.

It was also at this point that I shed my gloves.

Miles 10 – 12
Goal: Wherefore art thou, pace group 3:10?

My VP said I was about a football field length behind them.  I kept hunting for 3:10 pace group bibs. People who signed up for a pace group were given bibs to put on their backs.  Every time I would see one of these I would hope they were for 3:10.  Most were 3:15 but I would also see an occasional 3:05.  Did I pass the 3:10?!  Surely, no.

Actual Splits: 7:03, 7:05, 7:16

Whoa!?  I’m still hitting around 7:00s!  And I was still feeling good!  My legs were starting to talk and the balls of my feet were definitely noticeable, but nothing I wasn’t already prepared for.  The pain was in the legs but I could keep it pushed down.  My cardio was still doing very very well.

The one 7:16 did include some inclines on a bridge but I probably shouldn’t blame that.  I did make myself slow slightly though.

Gel at mile 10.

Miles 13 – 15

Could I possibly be slaughtering my half-marathon time?!   We were back in the downtown area and my watch was going to be a little questionable.

Actuals: 6:51, 6:50, 7:19

Whoa again!  Two sub-7s through the half marathon point?  The legs were starting to notice some wear now.  As you will see, this was the last time I would see anything under 7:00 pace.

Even though my VP had told me I had well passed the 3:10 pace group, I still never saw them.

Half marathon time: 1:35:24.  That’s over 10 minutes faster than my existing half marathon PR!

Gel at mile 15.

Miles 16 – 18

The plan was to have caught the 3:10 group by now and I did not.  My legs were killing me at this point.  I kept wishing, begging, pleading to every muscle fiber to keep up the turnover.

Actuals: 7:26, 7:35, 7:56

At mile 18 I finally hit the point I was talking about earlier: “BQ is lost” had finally come.  I tried with all my might to push harder.  I tried kicking up the pace for 100 meters just to rejuvenate my legs.  It wasn’t working.  The legs wouldn’t kick over faster.  But you know what……

I had the biggest smile on my face.

I had made it to mile 16!  I had matched my pacing strategy to near perfection and it simply wasn’t good enough.  My 25K time (15.5 miles) was at a pace of 7:17.  Those 3 seconds off the pace added up over the course of the 15.5 miles amounted to never seeing the 3:10 group.

The average pace had also taken its toll on my legs.  Usually when I say that I “blew up” I generally refer to hitting the wall or running my heart at the red-line so much that it needs a breather.  All of that felt fine, it was the beating I had put on my legs that was slowing me down.

It was also around these miles that the clocked had ticked past 2 hours and 5 minutes of racing.  By this time the elites had started crossing the finish line.  Crazy.

Miles 19 – 21

Goal: 7:14 Pace
Actuals: 8:29, 9:08, 9:37

I was definitely being passed by lots of people as I slowed down.  I was starting to play leapfrog with some people but also passing others…. even people who looked faster than me.  I saw some people leaving the course.  I was still surviving and moving along… just at a much slower turnover.  Looks like they had the same plans as me and was just as successful.

I think it was at this point that I was walking the aids stations. Not the entire aid stations because they all spanned TWO city blocks.

Mile 22 – 24
Goal: 7:00 Pace

Actuals: 9:49, 8:44, 8:58

At the 21.5 mile I had my first thoughts of dropping out of the race because it finally happened.  It was something that has never happened to me in any race of any distance.  My left hamstring seized up on me.  It was an awkward stop.  Even worse was the timing.  We were coming up on a turn and I had positioned myself to the inside.  So now I’m hobbling around the corner hoping I don’t impede anyone’s race trying to cut the corner as well.

I hobbled to a stop eventually when I was out of the way and stretched a bit.  I drank some Gatorade to get some electrolytes in me.  I started again.  One step, then two, then a bit faster pace and I was back to cruising along under 9 minute pace.

In my previous marathons I would stop to stretch after mile 20 so this was mostly on target.

Miles 25 – 26
Goal: 7:00 Pace
Actuals: 9:29, 9:35

Well, the sub-9:00 pace didn’t last long but that’s OK.  Walking the aid stations a little longer now and there are a bit more of them.  At this point, the race had turned back north onto Michigan Avenue.  I could see the McCormick Place where the Health Expo was held and thought, “That was a looong way to walk yesterday and now I’m running it?!”

Quit your complaining, you are almost done!!!

Mile 26.2
Goal: Go crazy!
Actual: eh… who really knows.  My Garmin distance was off.

I had been envisioning this moment in my head.  I watched a documentary over a year ago called “Spirit of the Marathon” where they filmed a handful of people training to run their first marathon at Chicago.  It is very inspirational.  I remember watching them turn onto Roosevelt Rd. and then down Columbus Dr. I was finally doing it myself.  I actually thought the stretch down Columbus Dr was longer from the film but right as I turned there was the red sign with big white letters: “FINISH.”  There were bleachers on both sides for spectators (mostly cleared out since the elites had finished nearly an hour and a half earlier.)  It was very cool.

I look like I'm running about 1 mph.  Honestly, I probably am.

Finish: 3:29:26
Age Group: 681 / 3,502
Overall: 4,047 / 37,455

I had lost Joe VI almost immediately under the start line.  I knew he was going to take off to chase down the 3:05 group, so I had tried to not let him take me with his pace.  I was definitely thinking a lot about him in the last 10 miles of the race as I finally allowed my mind to wander away from the pain. I was looking forward to seeing how he did and to hear about his race.  While he didn’t reach his BQ goal either, he did complete his very first marathon in a great time.  Good job, Joe VI!!!

Apparently the girl behind Joe literally fell apart.  A quick tape job and she's back at it.

Ben was also on the course still as he started in a wave later than us.  He was completing his second marathon and he also got a stellar PR too!

Ben in that sweet sweet Adidas jacket (see below).

Once again, this is a world-class event. You walk about half a city block before reaching anything.  They have to make room for 45,000 people showing up at the finish line (something other races have trouble with, even smaller ones).  First up is the space-aged warming blanket (Yes, Please!), then your medal (Very Cool!), then a bunch of refueling options (YES, Please!), and then the free post-race beer (YES, PLEASE!!!).

312 Urban Wheat.  So good.
TKB was wandering around Grant Park trying to get to me.  I eventually caught up with Joe VI and we collectively decide to meet-up in front of the hotel.  As you can guess by now, our hotel was extremely close to the start/finish line.  It was across Michigan Avenue from Grant Park.  Thank you, Lauren (Joe VI’s wife), for getting it reserved within days of registering for the race back in February!  This saved us a lot of time.

Days Later…
It’s Tuesday after the race and I’m still sore.  I think I have a lot to learn with recovery.  Compared to my previous marathons (and half-ironman), I don’t remember being this sore this far out. It could be because I pushed myself harder than any other race.

I did skip the ice bath (because the bathtub would still be filling up today) and elected to drink pop and beer instead of water the rest of the day.  Monday was a lot of walking around (good) but I should have done some stretching as well (not so good).  The dehydrating flight home wasn’t all that great either.

The hope is to get a short jog in Wednesday morning to get back into things.  I do have a 50K coming up!

Final Thoughts
When I tell people my goal was 3:10 and then turn around to tell them I finished 3:29 may sound like I had a bad day, but just the opposite.  I pushed myself farther than I expected I would.  BQ may not be in the works this year or next but I’m seeing things that make me look forward to putting it back on the board.

One Last Thing
As I posted on Facebook, this day had double meaning. I wouldn't have been able to complete this race without the love and support of TKB.  The marathon also marked "mile 11" of our life long ultra-marathon.  I love you, Tricia!

The sign TKB was holding for me.

Worth It!

Dinner at Giordano's. Nom Nom Nom.
Ben getting ready for his start.

The back of his sweet, sweet jacket.

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