Chicago Marathon - Chicago, IL

Finish Time: 3:09:25

Average Pace: 7:13/mile

Final Place:  1,616 out of 44,257

 

This was the third and final of the domestic world major marathons - all of which, I completed within an 11-month time frame. Running them so closely together gave me the chance to really appreciate the aspects that make each of these marathons unique, yet all excellent in their own right.

I arrived in Chicago with lofty goals. I was finally healthy, had a very good training cycle, and I was sporting a new pair of Vaporfly 4% marathon shoes. Based on my training and general optimism about my work ethic, I felt confident that I could push myself to a PR (sub-2:58) and was stretching for a 2:55. 

I arrived in Chicago early Saturday morning for what would be a very quick 1 night trip; I was scheduled to head back to Atlanta Sunday night. That meant that I needed to cram all of the pre-race activities into one day. Straight from the airport, I went to the expo; completed my shake out run; made a quick run to Whole Foods; and went to the runners meet-up before finally returning to the hotel room for a good night’s rest before the race. In hindsight, I spent way too much time on my feet on Saturday. But hey, it is what it is.

But that's not an excuse for not hitting my target. Let's be clear, yes the weather was a little warmer than ideal. And yes I had a short trip with a significant amount of walking the day before the race. BUT - (1) I was healthy, (2) I had a very good training cycle, and (3) I felt 100% mentally prepared. On race morning, I was in a very good position to race my best race. I just didn't.

Race morning started at 4:00am. I shared a hotel room with Derek (who was also in wave 1), and we were (more-or-less) on the same schedule. Within 30 minutes, I was dressed and had eaten a bagel, drank 8 oz. of a blueberry smoothie, and was halfway through a cup of coffee. The morning was starting off smooth and went exactly as planned. I left the hotel room and made it to the Palmer House by 5:30. It was here that I was scheduled to meet with the rest of the Autism Speaks team - I ran this race on behalf of Autism Speaks in honor of my oldest son (who is on the spectrum) and in the months leading up to the race, I was able to raise over $1,000 for the organization. Shortly after arriving, I was able to take a group picture with the rest of the Autism Speaks team. There were lots of amazing people in the group, all with their own unique paths that brought them to raise funds for Autism Speaks.

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My corral (wave 1, corral A) was scheduled to close at 7:20, so I left the Palmer House at 6:45. I thought this would be plenty of time, given that the start line was just a couple of miles away. This was a mistake; I was wrong. Given how thick the crowds were, and the need to go through long lines at the security checkpoint, I found myself with less than 20 minutes to make the corral and in desperate need of a restroom. Problem was the lines were super long! It took a mad rush, but I was able to use the restroom and make a dash for my wave... clearing the entryway with about 2 minutes to spare. So here I was, already tired from all of the running and scrambling to make my wave, halfway through the national anthem, when all of a sudden it hit me. I have to use the bathroom... Again! 20 seconds later the race starts.

 

Race Start Through 5K (Average Pace - 6:47/mile)

The race started smoothly. I was able to get to race pace immediately, but I couldn't stop thinking about how badly I needed to use the restroom. I mean I had to go badly! And this was a first for me. In the entirety of my marathon career, I have literally never needed to use the restroom during a race. Never! And here I am a mere half mile into the race, and I feel like I'm about to burst. I had no idea where the porta potties would be because, again, I've never had to even think about restroom locations. I got through mile one and I'm frantically searching for a restroom. By mile 2, I'm sweating! ... and not from the running. I ask the person to my right, "do you know when the porta potties are coming?" They don't know. I ask the person to my left... they don't know. The streets are barricaded and lined rows deep with spectators, and there's nowhere for me to go. I can't escape the course. There are no restrooms in sight. I'm desperate. A decision has to be made. The course makes a hard right and then the majority of the field shifts to the left in order to follow the tangent (blue line). I stay to the right. I look around to make sure I don't have anyone near me.

Then I proceed to pee on myself.

Yes, you read that correctly. I couldn't hold it, and I couldn't concentrate on running with the overwhelming task of holding it back totally taking over my mind. So I did what I had to do. And, honestly, it really wasn't that bad. After another mile or so, I was covered in sweat and really didn't even notice it anymore. There's a first for everything right? Stuff happens lol.

5K Through 35K (Average Pace - 6:48/mile)

There isn't a ton to say here. I was extremely consistent for the first 35K. Looking back, I'm able to see that my average pace for the first 35k (~22 miles) remained essentially flat at a 6:48/mile average. The crowds throughout the race were great and, for the most part, I found myself surrounded by a consistent group of excellent runners. But there was that one guy who kept running right on my heels around mile 19/20... He actually clipped me once. He was really starting to stress me out, but eventually I moved to the side to get some water and he passed by. Thank God!

My hydration plan was pretty simple. I took Gatorade at the early aid stations, up until mile 6. Starting at mile 6, I switched to mostly water and I began taking additional nutrition alternating between powergels and Gatorade Endurance chews every 4 miles. At mile 6, I took a PowerGel. At mile 10, I took a roll of Gatorade Endurace chews, At mile 14, I took a PowerGel, and finally at mile 18 I took another PowerGel. And then that was it. And that was probably part of my demise. According to my plan I should have taken my next supplement at mile 22. But the thing is, my stomach just didn't seem up to the task. I decided to skip it. So from mile 18 on, the only thing I took was water (mostly) and the occasional swig of Gatorade. No matter how many marathons I run, I never seem to learn - this was a bad idea. But we'll talk about that some more in the next section.

I truly enjoyed the diversity of the crowds and neighborhoods throughout this course. It was such a stark contrast to what I experienced in Boston, and it really felt like NYC Marathon - lite... and I mean that with all due respect. Sure the crowds lulled a bit on the western stretch, but I never felt completely isolated. And I actually enjoyed the momentary breaks in the dense screaming crowds. Those moments when things quieted a little allowed me to hear my footsteps, focus on my breathing, and bring myself into total control of the moment. I run alone 99% of the time in my training cycle, so I'm used to (and appreciate) the natural rhythm that accompanies the "silence" of running. Those sounds that come from our own bodies that we sometimes take for granted, but that (in the grand scheme of things) help us remain in tune with our own bodies. That's the thing about runners, particularly endurance runners; we spend so much time in motion that we become accutely aware of our own bodies - the sounds it makes and the way it feels. We know when something is off because we spend so much time paying attention to it. Sometimes in the hoopla of a big city marathon, I find myself lost in the noise and energy of the crowd. But those moments of silence, whether it be during the western stretch of Chicago or the bridges of NYC, allow me to find myself again and remember what I love so much about this sport. 

Speaking of my body, I felt really good throughout the entire first 35k of the race. Did I say that already? I didn't see many people that I knew along the course, but I knew they were out there. In fact, I think the only person that I saw and recognized the entire time was Phillip King, and I saw him around the halfway mark. And at that point I felt good... really really good. I distinctly remember casually considering when I should "drop the hammer" as I ran past the 20 mile marker. I was considering dropping the pace to 6:30 at that very moment, but then I decided that I better conservatively wait until the 22 mile marker. "Yea, that a better plan" I thought. "Starting at mile 22, I'm going to drop pace to 6:30/mile for the last 4+ miles and finish with a strong negative split." 

35k Through Finish (Average - 9:12/mile)

And then mile 22 came. And I was tired... very very tired. Somehow, I went from feeling overly optimistic and relaxed at mile 20 to holding on for dear life at mile 22. Four days later, and I still don't have an explanation for this. Maybe it was the rising temperature; maybe it was because I abandoned my supplemental nutrients; maybe it was that one week when I skipped that one workout lol. Maybe it was all of this combined. Or maybe on this one particular day, I simply wasn't tough enough. I don't know. But what I do know is that my race ended at mile 22, I just had to continue for four more miles in order to collect my medal. I went from 6:48/mile for the first 22 miles to 9:12/mile for the last 4.2 miles. That's a slowing in pace of about 2.5 minutes/mile for 4+ miles. 2.5 x 4 = 10, and that simple back-of-the-envelope math will tell you how a bad last 4 miles of a race can take you from a 2:59 to a 3:09 at the snap of your fingers. Just like that, 18 weeks of training can go down the drain.

And that, strangely enough, is what makes the marathon so appealing for me. You can dedicate months, years, early mornings, skipped dates, and foregone desserts for just one race. And that race can fall apart in a matter of seconds or minutes. It's such a strange thing. But it's so unexplicably appealing to me. Perhaps that's why less than a week after the toughest finish in my marathon career, I've already begun making adjustments and penciling in my schedule for the next four months of my life. Funny how that works. 

Since the race, I've received hundreds of messages. Most of them contain some combination of congratulations and sympathy for me missing my goal. Thank you all! And sorry for those who've I've failed to send a reply. My bad.

So how do I feel? I feel extremely proud of my performance. I know that I gave everything, but on this day everything was not enough. And I'm okay with that. I'm more than okay with that - after all, it's our shortcomings that make future goals achieved that much sweeter. I'm already back to "work"... and I put the word "work" in quotes because I absolutely love the process. The unique sort of pain that comes with running a marathon all-out is actually enjoyable for me; admittedly, more so in hindsight than in the moment.

My finish time was 3:09:25. And despite falling short of my goal, I should note that this is my second fastest marathon completed. And that's not so bad. Oh and thanks to my new age group, I technically "BQ'd" by a whopping 35 seconds :)

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