So, out the usual sense of consideration for my dear readers, I'll jump to the end first: I ran the 2010 Chicago marathon in 3:18:00, exactly 22 minutes better than my 2008 effort in similar conditions. Now, onto the narrative portion of our episode.
As many of my running friends know, Chicago and I have a bit of a love-hate relationship. I lost my marathoning virginity in the Windy City in 2007, when temperatures reached nearly 90 degrees and all sorts of chaos resulted, not even counting my own 4:03 marathon debut. I returned in 2008, thinking that lightning couldn't possibly strike twice. I was right, as temps only reached about 84 degrees, and I broke down with cramps a full 5 miles later than the year before.
In 2009, I decided that Chicago and I should take a break from each other, maybe see other people/races, and I skipped the party. Runners were treated to perfect, traditional fall weather. The course record fell, Boston qualifiers abounded and many a new PR was set.
The symmetry of the 10-10-10 date was difficult to ignore, as was the pull of so many virtual friends making Chicago 2010 their fall goal marathon. I backed off my plan to pace at NYC, signed up and did what I could to get ready. The woes of the training cycle are chronicled in prior posts, or - more accurately - in the dearth of prior posts over the past few months.
I left very early on Friday, and spent the morning with my friend Paul, his lovely wife Tiffany and their daughter Isla. See pic below.
Paul picked me up, we went for an easy 4-mile run, washed up and then went to the Expo. We met up with other friends from the RWOL Sub-3:20 Thread, including Chris, Stevi, Nick and Walter.
I checked in and tried to get some rest in advance of a busy evening. I met my friend Meredith at the Art Institute, before joining her for a reception for those who'd run to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Let's just say that it was not an easy evening for her, but she is a paragon of grace in the recent wake of having lost her husband to cancer. She is 30 years old.
Meredith joined me and my friends (and prior years' hosts) David and Louise for a delicious Chinese dinner, and it was wonderful to see them, catch up, hear inside scoop about Chicago politics from two natives and just reconnect with people I like so much. After dinner, Meredith and I cruised around looking for dessert. We ended up at Leonides Chocolate Cafe, ordering Belgian chocolates and gelato. While scoping out the gelato flavors, I found a crisp $100 bill tucked into the trim of the ice cream case. What a stroke of luck, I thought. I looked around to see if anyone appeared to be looking for it, keeping a watch out until the place closed. No one seemed to be searching for a lost Benjamin Franklin, so I consulted with Meredith and my own conscience, and kept it.
So, I made it back to my hotel and was ready to crawl into bed (after all, I'd gotten up at 3:45 am to get to the airport), only to toss and turn all night thanks to a noisy hotel ventilation system. This is a major blemish on an otherwise great weekend, so I will move on here. Suffice it to say, I'm still tired . . . and miffed.
Saturday was slated to be another busy day, with periods of mellowness scheduled into the program. I had breakfast with Dan, his wife Stacy and Charlie, more RWOL friends. We ate at a wonderful hip Mexican place called Xoco, where the breakfast empanadas, churros and coffee were excellent. I then ran 3 easy miles with David (at least I could continue that routine from years past) and saw his kids before meeting Amy for lunch with the Team Reeve people.
The afternoon brought some down time in my still-noisy hotel room, before meeting my childhood friend Marc and his wife (who's my sister's cousin-in-law) Nicole for dinner. I managed to consume half of a gloriously ginormous pasta plate at Francesca's and even drank a beer, amending my prior taper practice of going alcohol-free for my taper. It may have helped. With Nicole and I yawning at about 7:45, Marc deposited me back at my hotel, where I went through the joyously tedious process of laying everything out for the race. From head to toe (plus "accessories"):
- Shorts (went with pretty short RaceReady shorts)
- Zensah compression sleeves
- Wright socks
- Mizuno Wave Ronins, with orthotics
- Gels - Accelerade and Gu Roctane
- Body Glide
- 3:10 pace tattoo (which would not stick and would have been useless anyway)
- Sharpie, to write my name on my arm
After my poor night's sleep, I was ready to get up and prepare for the race. The hotel room mini-fridge froze my pre-purchased Starbucks Venti, which ended up tasting terrible after defrosting/reheating in the microwave. I ate a plain bagel with cream cheese, a yogurt parfait with fruit and granola and a banana. I drank lots of water and Gatorade. I went to the bathroom. Repeatedly.
Once I was dressed, Body Glided and sufficiently fueled/hydrated, I made my way over to the start. The masses were en route, with runners coming in all shapes and sizes. As I headed east towards Millennium Park, the sunrise silhouetted the Art Institute. It was a beautiful - if already overly balmy - start to the day.
I meandered through the chain-link maze and found the Bank of America Customer Upgrade Tent. My little gold wristband allowed me access to a private area, and - most critically - open port-a-potties. I took advantage of them, and headed over towards the seeded corral entrance at about 7:00 am. The lines were forming, but the mass was moving steadily. Marathon security officers did not mess around, though, refusing entry to anyone without a proper bib.
In short order, I had found the front left corner of the B Corral, and did some light stretching just outside the area where the wheelchair racers awaited their call to the start. I got a friendly greeting from the Team Achilles lady whom I'd met at the Reeve Foundation luncheon while I kept an eye out for Amy and Matt. I spotted Amy, and then Matt was upon us. We were resplendent in our coordinated Endurasoak singlets.
Amy griped about her dead watch, and I asked her to write my RWOL name (ESG) on my arm. She mocked my skinny upper arm before drawing a smiley face on my right biceps. I'd written RON on my left arm, and the letters were plenty big, thank-you-very-much!
The national anthem played and it was just about that time, the moment where all the anticipation, nervousness, sacrifice, doubt and excitement funnel together to create the hard-to-articulate feeling that keeps so many of us coming back to the marathon again and again. For a split second, it truly feels like anything is possible, and that greatness lies just a few not-so-short miles away.
One of the truisms of running the Chicago Marathon is that the first mile is a bit of a pacing nightmare. Those of us with an unhealthy codependent relationship with our GPS watch suffer the most, as the signal goes wacky as soon as we head into the first tunnel, and does not get much better with all the tall buildings around. I went by feel, trying not to waste too much energy weaving around other runners. Amy and Matt stayed close, and we hit the first mile marker while 7:15 was on my watch. Perfect pace for a 3:10 marathon, but I was not feeling good. I asked Amy for a swig from her water bottle, as I had that familiar adrenaline-fueled cottonmouth feeling. That helped, and I tried to settle into the pace.
It didn't take long for me to realize that sub-7:15/mile pace was not realistic. While the early temps were not oppressive, the humidity was another story. I was sweating a lot, and I felt like I was working too hard too early. Thinking about what lay ahead, I quietly let Amy and Matt go at around the 5K mark, and I dialed down the pace towards the end of the fifth mile.
I never really felt "right" or comfortable early on. I needed to pee, and my stomach was a tad rumbly. Fortunately, that was about to change.
I took a non-caffeinated Gu Roctane (pineapple) at around 1:30 into the race, not wanting to risk GI problems for the umpteenth time in recent races. It went down fine.
When I saw the split for the half (1:36+), I started thinking about my goal again, and decided that a 1:40 second half (about a 3.5-minute positive split) would get me a nice new PR. Knowing that 7:39/mile is 1:40 half-marathon pace, I strove to keep the miles at or under 7:30 for as long as I could. The little bit of time banking was to allow for what I deemed the inevitable fade. It almost worked.
OK, the heat was on the rise, but the plan seemed to be working. I clicked off the desired pace and - for only the second time in marathon "career" - hit the 20-mile mark feeling functional and relatively in control. I passed the spot where I fell apart in 2007, and pondered how it feels like I'm a completely different person now. As a runner, I suppose I am.
Still, these miles required intense focus. I thought about how sweet a new PR would be, on the streets of my first marathon, the place which almost appears to have a personal vendetta against me as far as marathon weather is concerned. The thoughts in my head were mostly positive, encouraging, hopeful. I took more Endurolytes and a third gel (Accelerade again). I never broke stride, not for one instant.
Around Mile 20, a bank thermometer read 81F. As I passed it, I literally gave it the finger.