Can you guess how Chicago went? The good: 3:40 is my new marathon PR. The bad: it is far short of my Boston qualifying standard of 3:20, and rather short of my "acceptable" B goal of 3:30 for this race. The ugly: cramps and blisters ruined the final miles - and my race.
It is tempting to write a long, borderline histrionic race report, aggrandizing my marathon effort as if it were some Odyssean battle of good versus evil. Of course, runner and non-runners alike know that the marathon is really a battle with oneself. We battle our bodies' perceived limitations; we battle the obstacles life throws in our way. We battle inertia, mockery, self-doubt. We battle injuries and time crunches, inadequate rest and competing obligations. We battle and struggle and scratch and claw and sacrifice with the hope that on race day, we will know it was all worth it because we picked a goal time we thought we could run and we actually ran it.
After my third marathon attempt, the battle continues.
Here is my weekend recap/31st Chicago Marathon Race Report. Read at your own risk.
TRAVEL & THE EXPO
I believe that I have previously acknowledged somewhere herein that I suffer from a (self-diagnosed) mild case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I like things to be a certain way, can be rattled when they aren't, and - while I consider myself to be somewhat adventurous - I thrive on routine. I made similar travel plans this year, stayed with the same wonderful friends, got my Saturday haircut at the same barber shop, ate my pre-race pasta dinner at the same place and otherwise fell into comparable patterns from last year's Chicago adventure. By doing things a second time over, I created "traditions".
My trip began inauspiciously when I received an "Orbitz Alert" that my flight would depart a half-hour late. I arrived about a half-hour before the scheduled departure, and was hurried to the gate area, since the plane was actually leaving on time. That meant no time to buy water, a paper or anything, but at least I didn't miss it.
As we boarded, I met another marathoner - easy to spot in a race shirt, Asics running shoes and SmartWool socks - who'd been doing the Pfitz 18-week, 55 mile-per-week plan with the hopes of breaking 4 hours. We chatted a bit and wished each other luck. I found out later that she just missed her goal. Darned heat!
I got to Chicago a little ahead of schedule and made my way to the blue line, to transfer to the red line before hopping on a shuttle to the Marathon Expo. Kid-in-a-candy store is the only way to describe me in a 10,000 square-foot area dedicated to all things running. The centerpiece of course was the Nike booth, official apparel sponsor and purveyor of some very nice gear. I'm not a big fan of Nike in general, given its sweatshop history and the fact that it's muscled its way into sports such as soccer by brandishing gobs of money so as to buy not just celebrity pitchmen and women, but entire national teams and athletic federations. I checked my reservations at the door and bought myself a wonderful (if overpriced) layer, along with a Chicago 2008 t-shirt for each of my 3 kids. The gear blew away what New Balance offered in 2007.
At the Expo, I saw several of the stars of "Spirit of the Marathon", the documentary which I saw last year, and which I saw again on Thursday night before flying out. I also saw Olympian and running wunderkind Ryan Hall signing autographs at the Asics booth. The place was immense, and the only that saved me from spending far more money than I should on things I don't really need was the fact that before long I'd gone into sensory overload. That, and the fact that everything being marked at full retail offended my bargain-seeking sensibilities. I'll likely load up on more gear when the prices drop before the holidays.
The highlight of the Expo, though, was meeting up with some of RW online forummates, known to me previously only by screen names and half-inch avatar photos. I met Screaminzab, 320orbust, LARunner, bird22, dvc2002 (I think that's it). It was very nice to put faces and names to training tips and race times. We laughed and wished each other well.
After the Expo, I finally made it my hosts' home in the Gold Coast area of the city, unpacked, washed up and prepared to go to dinner with my first childhood friend and his wife. We had a wonderful middle eastern meal full of exotic spiced flavors, along with the kind of barely controllable laughter that only people with long common histories can share.
When dinner ended, they dropped me off for the big FE (Forum Encounter) at a pretty lame karaoke bar. I met some more of the "usual suspects", including squirrel1.1, MN RunnerGuy, Chooch262 and some others who mostly post in a different forum. It was fun to hang out for a bit, and at least I got to meet Pace Runner briefly before I headed home. When one isn't drinking and doesn't sing, the options in a karaoke bar are pretty limited. Add to that the cure little young woman who confirmed that she is far closer to my almost 12 year-old daughter's age than she is to mine, and I felt like the old man who needed to go home, take some Metamucil, remove my teeth and go to bed wishing that Johnny Carson was still on the air.
The order of the day was to be mellow. I tried to sleep in, but was up at 7:00 (8:00 my time). I went for coffee and some pretty junkie breakfast food, and met my hosts' at their boys' water polo tournament. It's a rigorous sport to say the least, and I couldn't believe how much energy these boys expended.
I got my haircut. My host D & I took a leisurely 4-mile run through Lincoln Park, on part of the marathon course. I threw in some strides and let D heckle me about how he used to run 35:00 10Ks, sub-2:55 marathons and numerous ultra-marathons by doing nothing more than running around 100 miles per week (15 miles per day M-F, then 30-40 more miles on the weekend). No speedwork; no hydration strategy; no watch or heart rate monitor; no concern for lactate threshold, VO2 max or any other physiological cues.
I ate some lunch, where I ended up talking to a lovely young woman who was studying for the GRE's. She had note cards with vocabulary words, and I was on a roll when she quizzed me, so much so that she asked me to take the test for her. We chatted about school, life, education, work, Israel and the marathon, before I went to the store for fluids and carbs (as great as my hosts are, they don't cook and don't keep a very well-stocked larder). I tried to go to the movies, but the movies were all pretty lame. Call me crazy, but "Momma Mia" and "Pineapple Express" just didn't seem like good pre-race fare. I needed the Steve Prefontaine film festival, but it wasn't happening.
Napping eluded me. I worked my legs over with The Stick, the self massager which caused a secondary baggage screening when I boarded my flight. I tossed and turned until 6:00-ish, before washing up and dressing for dinner at the same Italian place where we ate last year. I ate gnocchis and grilled chicken, along with salad, bread (lots) and water (lots & lots). The 10 year-old boy of the family who'd followed 6 water polo matches with a full soccer game, fell asleep during dinner.
I awoke at about 3:00 am with a full bladder. I awoke at 4:00 with pre-race jitters. I got up a little before 5:00 and started eating, before being able to go to Starbucks in time for it to open at 5:30. As I got there a few minutes early, there were a couple of street guys talking loudly and less-than-elegantly. I also noted many folks, young, hiply dressed, especially women in shockingly short dresses (where were they when I was single?) apparently coming in from quite the night out. I got my and my host's coffee (he offered to drive me to the start, bless his heart), and was on my way back to get dressed. Breakfast was a small bagel with cream cheese, a honey-sweetened Greek-style yogurt a banana and lots of Gatorade and water.
En route to the steps of the Art Institute, D told me that his luxury SUV indicated that it was 67 degrees with 89% humidity. While those numbers may or may not have been accurate, they were certainly close. Unlike in 2007, I wasn't sweating merely standing around, but it was clearly warmer than it should be at 6:30 a.m. on an October Sunday in Chicago.
I had a very specific pacing plan, calling for a few "slow" early miles and allowing for a slight fade at the end. This was "the" plan to help me get to Boston. Despite how things played out, I think it was (and is) a sound pacing strategy.
Below are the splits. Bear in mind that the slow later miles involved walking through aid stations, stretch breaks to deal with cramps and at least one curbside attempt to remove and re-lace my left shoe.
- 8:07 (included epic port-a-potty stop of at least 45 seconds)
- [missed the Mile 12 marker]
- 8:18 (cramping twinges began)
- 9:00 (giving up on any thoughts of Boston; trying to stave off cramps)
- 8:23 (getting it back together . . . briefly)
- 8:59 (struggling; my stride is a mess now; left foot is both numb and in pain; feeling the blister; bank thermometer read 83 degrees)
- 10:20 (dealt with my left shoe for at least 1+ minute)
- 9:29 (cramps getting worse, more severe & frequent, and affecting both calves and right hamstring)
- 10:19 (2 stretch stops; walked aid stations)
- 8:49 + 1:36 (did not stop running at all, but pushing any harder gave me more crampy twinges; minimal satisfaction out of passing people in the final stages)
The last mile reminded me - sadly - of a toned-down version of 2007, with apparently dozens of runners dropping off with cramps, dehydration, heat stroke or sheer exhaustion. All of the people I saw on the ground were receiving some sort of help, so I didn't have to decide about whether to keep running or do the right thing and help a fellow runner in distress.
When I saw the mass ahead of me veering towards the right, I was overjoyed at being so close. When I saw the 26-mile marker, I tried to pick up the pace, knowing that a 3:39-something finish was possibly within reach. According to my watch, despite everything that had happened, I was running close to a 7-minute pace, but it wasn't enough. I missed the 3:30's by the most infinitesimal margin.
I stopped for a "finisher's photo" against the Chicago backdrop after I got my medal, some water, some ice and a cool towel. I had to walk for what seemed like an eternity when the not-very-nice volunteer/security person would not let me through a fence to go back the Endurance Pavilion. I made it into the pavilion area and went to the massage registration table. Two nice women put me on a table, and stretched me out. My hip flexors screamed, but they did a nice job and I think they helped speed up my recovery.
I tried to eat, but nothing was very appealing. I put down a yogurt and an oatmeal cookie, but the thought of drinking a beer made my stomach turn. I was in a haze, chatting with other runners about their race experience and finally made my way to a semi-private changing area so that I could towel off and get into some dry cotton clothes before meeting D who'd volunteered to pick me up this year.
In my post-marathon haze, I did something incredibly bone-headed: I left my relatively new running shoes in the tent, along with my very pricey custom orthotics. I've e-mailed the marathon office, but am not holding out too much hope. I'll have to have my chiropractor fit me for new ones.
After an awesome shower (where I forced myself to stand under cold water for a while in lieu of an ice bath), I rested up during the afternoon. I called some family and friends to express my mixed feelings about a disappointing PR. I watched some trashy television (too embarrassing to state the titles of the movies and shows), nibbled on pretzels and candy, drank a lot of water, and rallied to join my hosts and another old friend for sushi for dinner. It was a great meal which hit the spot.
At this point, I'm going to stop, and will give myself a few days to digest the race, ponder what lessons I can learn and decide what's next. A half-marathon in 3 weeks? The Philadelphia Marathon is 6 weeks? Preparation for my 40-mile birthday run?
I don't know, but - as one well-known runner has observed - "Runs end; running doesn't".
Thanks for reading.