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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Chicago Marathon

without much excitement I pound these keys, but I know that I will be happy I put down my recap once memory starts to fade. Especially since I never did recap my lone Boston Marathon back in 2012, although I now have a better understanding as to why I did not.

So far I am 0-2 in the big marathons, as far as performing well. I won't go into the details of that Boston race, but suffice to say the heat got me that day, as it was one of the hottest days on record with the mercury rising to almost 90 degrees.

But as for this race just a few days ago, the main thing that played into the poor showing was my lack of self control in pacing myself from the beginning. 

coming off a strong 2016 where i raced frequently and training throughout the year, i decided, as mentioned in the previous post, to sign up for the Chicago marathon. Jan. 1st I raced, but did not keep signing up for races like i did the year prior. My running in the winter and spring was ongoing- but it was lessened as I did not have mini goals to shoot for with regular road races to keep me honest. As Spring let on, I knew I had to at some point begin to take seriously the idea that I had 26.2 miles to run this October. While I began to get more consistent in late spring into summer, life kept getting in the way, and I started to feel the reality that I was not where i needed to be mileage wise/training wise with mature preparations for the marathon. Where I typically would build up long runs to be able to tackle the mid to high teen weekend long runs, I was neglecting them until about a month to go, at which point I finally got in a 13 mile run, and only 2+ weeks ago jumped up to an 18 mile run - which actually, given the terrain (mountains in Blowing Rock) i was pleasantly surprised with. But my pace was even and slow and my legs did not feel as good as they should towards the end, but not surprising given my lack of training. 

Never mind not doing any workouts, the lack of long runs was what I came to Chicago with. My evaluation of what i needed to hit for a pace that could get me through as evenly as possible-still needing a little luck on my side for the final miles - was to run 8-815 per mile. After completing the aforementioned 18 mile long run 2 weeks prior, I got my legs fresh and was feeling as good as can be expected days before the race. 

The forecast was going to be a little warmer than ideal, so an added variable was thrown into the mix -where an email encouraging runners to slow the pace to compensate was sent out the week of. I knew their warning was legit, experiencing the heat first hand at that Boston race, and I intended not to ignore the advice. Getting into Chicago 2 days before race day, I began carb loading on deep dish pizza and pasta, and got on the hotel treadmill for an easy 2 mile shake out the day before the race. I was healthy, legs feeling good, and knew I was as ready as I could be. Still, with only averaging 4 days a week, and about 25 miles per week of running all year, I was hoping to be around 3:30-3:40 for my finishing time - which would be about 8 min per mile, and I thought if I went over 8 min per mile pace in the beginning maybe i could drop it down the second half like I did under similar training my last marathon in 2016 at New River. 

With the gun going off at 7:30, runners were encouraged to get down around 5:30-6am. The race set up was bigger than Boston, as it should be given it's a larger field by about 15-20k people. My first realization as to how big this race was was experiencing the HUGE expo the day before. The morning of the race was cool and perfect temperatures with degrees in the low 50s Fahrenheit. But we all knew it wasn't going to stay there. I drank water, chomped down a granola bar, and sucked up a gel before the race and was ready to go. 

Oh - another thing that I was aware of needing to be careful of was being in the first Wave and the first Corral (which means I was just behind the elite men and the closest to the start of the race) as the runners in these spots are going to be faster than those behind you. Throw in 40,000 runners, and you basically were stacked in with folks who would be well under 3 hours finishing all around me at the beginning. So being cautious was even more imperative to hit my pace at the start. 

The gun went off, and off we all went. The buzz was immediately felt as we started down Columbus Dr. (right past our hotel the first half mile of the race-Sheraton Grand), and seeing the swarms of spectators, let alone the throngs of runners ALL around starting off with much excitement. Right away my legs felt super fresh, springy, and light. I didn't go with the group, and tried to find a relaxed comfortable pace, hoping it would be around 8 mins per mile. Talking with my friend and fellow runner Josh Brewer the day before, I decided even if I was a little quick and under my pace the first couple miles that I could come back to where I needed to be, not wanting to waste the adrenaline that was stored up and let out the first couple of miles. When we past the first mile marker I asked a runner beside me our time, and he said 7 mins flat. Uh oh- didn't want to start out THAT much quicker. but the pace felt so easy and comfortable. I started thinking about how i felt the other marathons i ran, and i remembered they all felt easy and i had to be intentional not getting too quick - but i started to wonder - given how great i felt - if 8 miles was too conservative a target, and also - i did intend to take advantage of the buzz the first couple of miles anyway. 

The races first few miles are downtime, and the crowds are huge. As we past the first 5k maker, my time of 22:42 I knew I had slowed it a tad from 7 flat, and still feeling slow and in control I thought I was fine. Around this time, or slightly before, i think mile 2, i saw that I was in lock step with the official 3:05 pace group/leader. I remember thinking - wow - this doesn't feel hard, if i keep it up I should have a Boston Qualifying time. This NEVER was even an idea to be this fast or to shoot for such a goal, let alone even the thought of me trying to get a BQ. I should have realized here I was starting to get carried away from my plan.

On I went, and right there I stayed on pace. Looking at the 10k clock on the course I knew I wasn't slowing down, and now being 6 miles in also knew that I hadn't slowed down were I only going quicker the first few miles--i was beyond that. I was holding this pace and subconsciously and even deliberately I was staying with the 3:05 pace group, while also feeling - at this point - that I could even still go harder the second half of the race. Around mile 10 I started to think that my legs were beginning to feel slightly taxed, and that this early in the race that should not be the case. In marathons were i was smart the first 14 miles felt like a walk in the park, like i was holding myself back. While i wasn't feeling like i was pushing it, at this point, i also was not feeling like i was holding myself back either. About here I stopped to pee and lost some time, and got behind the 3:05 pack, but I didn't fret about it at least. I felt like i was definitely going to be way under 3;30 so i let it go, and around mile 11 the 3:10 back came up to me.   

taking gel at mile 5 gave me a boost, and mile 11 i did the same, and got a quick little boost again, heading into the half at 1:35. Here my legs definitely felt a more used than they should this early, but I wasn't noticeably slowing down a great deal. Soon after the half, at 25K (15.53 miles) I started to feel some slight cramping in my legs. Over the next 3 miles to where I hit 30k I slowed from 7:17 per mile to 7:25 per mile (total), meaning the last 3 miles I was over 8 min per mile pace - and i could tell. At 30k I wasn't nervous, but I was well on my to the pain effecting my mind as well. I knew I had 8 miles to go, and I felt like I was done. I had run the first 10 miles easy, the next 3 okay, and the last 5 slowing down more and more to where I was definitely in the mid 8's and feeling like I didn't have it in me to hold anywhere near a decent pace to the finish. From 30k to 35k is the area known as the Wall - for any level of marathoner, irregardless of fitness. Something about 18-20 miles is where the body starts digging to find extra stores of glycogen and nutrients as the body begins to be fully taxed. I've always felt the pain during this part of the marathon, but this time it was the worst ever. It wasn't something I knew I had to get through and just keep pushing til the finish, but this time it was - i know I'm not going to get through it and it will go away, i have to experience this crushing misery until the finish line. 8 miles of pain. 

Looking back when the fatigue and muscle cramps in the legs began the second half of the race, it's amazing how much it took out of me mentally knowing that my lack of training, and foolish pace set me up to realize that there was no way out. Had I gone my pace, and put in the training i knew this period would be temporary and my legs would have enough to hold until mile 26. Now all my mental fortitude was going to be used to not quit and drop out of the race.

from 18 miles to 21 miles I was at near a 10 min per mile pace. This stretch was where i succumbed first to walking. As bad as I felt I never wanted to walk because remembering Boston, it only made it that much harder to resume. Yet the leg pain was so intense I had no choice. Between brief spells of walking I would try and shuffle my legs. Fighting through the last 3 miles to where I went from 8 mins to 10 min per mile, at mile 21 i still had over 5 miles to go and the mental anguish was daunting. It never go easier, and only worse. From 35k-40k (miles 21-24) I went from 10 mins + per mile to 15 mins plus per mile.  One foot in front of the other is all i was trying to do. I wanted to stop, but I knew i had to stay in motion. I would think of my daughters, my wife, my dad - who ran this marathon back in 1981 and which gave me the inspiration to sign up for it- and my cousins/family who were in town and would be at the finish. I was a, and dry heaved, and the sun was only warming things up. Bananas, oranges, Gatorade, water - i was consuming as much as I could at every opportunity despite the upset stomach of my insides reeling because i knew with my body shutting down, neglecting intake of nutrients would resign me to a total collapse. With the sign reading 5k until finish i knew 3.1 miles was something I COULD push myself through, but I was doing every mental trick, prayer, and thing i could to keep going. 2 miles to go - i started shuffling more than walking but the pain was excruciating. I thought, this is hell. Where I had felt this before at Boston, it was not nearly as long (Boston only did i feel like this the last 2 miles or so). I vowed I would never come as under-trained and overconfident to a marathon again. People were seeing participants at all levels hurt, and the encouragement from some of the spectators was immensely valuable. 
I tried to stay in the moment, and visualize the end where it would all be over, and tell myself that this is temporary. The future present moment won't feel like this, and all i can do is just be present and not fight the pain but let the future come to be by moving my feet forward. 

I mile to go. As i looked back on the last several miles, i realized that space time is warped at the end of a marathon. The beginning miles tick off quickly and the end they go on forever. While technically the distance is the "same" the chemical makeup of the brain after sustained fatigue registers the miles unequally, and we are subject to this new reality. The 3:30 group had passed me somewhere after mile 20, and the 3:45 pace group passed me somewhere after mile 24. I had a glimmer of hope that I would still be under 4 hours at the finish, but even that was over weighed by just the desire to not quit. Shuffling to the end, I saw the final turns and knew I would make it. I came to the finish in 3:47:58. It was a little surprising given what I went through that I was still faster than Boston (3:54) but that was only thanks to my fast pace the first 16 or so miles. Plus Chicago being a flat and fast course, compared to Boston's hills. 

The walk from finish to family reunite area felt like forever as my mind and body were trying to normalize, taking in protein shakes, beer, water, cold rags, and aluminum blankets - simultaneously fighting chills and the need to cool down. But I had done it. I had danced with the devil, and I hadn't quit. I finished under 4 hours, and I consider the race equal parts bitter (obviously the pain/costing myself a better time had i run smarter in the beginning) and sweet (finishing the race and not quitting or dropping out). 

The marathon is a huge physical and mental test, a life experience, and I know i'm richer for having gone through it. Thank you God for keeping me safe! Amen. 


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