Chicago Marathon... Perspective

After 18 months off from Marathon'in I decided it's time to get back on the saddle and tackle the flattest one around the Chicago Marathon.  It also helped to be able to get a guaranteed entry!  After a failed attempt to break 55:00 at Broad Street this year, but alas a PR nonetheless, I started up my Chicago cycle 15 weeks out at the end of June.  Unlike my previous Marathons I was equipped with a plan, previous experience to pull from and the luxury of having 4-5 teammates all targeting Fall Marathons themselves to sync up with.  I was ready to go.

This cycle I managed to get in 3 races along with hitting several key workouts I had been eyeing for the past year as I prepared to tackle the Marathon again.  I focused on what I deemed my weakness coming into this marathon, which was longer runs at MP or a little slower, but runs that required long periods of focus while you ran just above your thresholds.  I have always felt I lose focus far too often in races and these workouts would be key to not letting that happen while out for 26 miles race day. A couple quality long runs in the 20-22 range at NCR indicated that my goal 6:00 pace felt a little hard in August but it was very doable for the race.  Early September I tackled a trip with some teammates to New Haven for a 20k as a tuneup race 5 weeks out and ran a nice big almost 2 minute PR for a half equivalent and followed that up with a 24 mile run I was planning to use as a test run/time on your feet effort a couple weeks out.  I even changed up my taper being more experience to the marathon to a two week taper and stayed sharp still even the week of the race with two efforts.  As I left for Chicago on Friday I have never felt more confident in the training I had done, and that I had accomplished everything I wanted to training wise heading into the race.  To quote myself, "All the work was in the barn".

As I arrived in Chicago Friday evening and driving through the city, I knew this was going to be my first real city Marathon.  Boston is amazing but you are only in the city for a short amount of time, as with Chicago you are twisting and turning through city blocks the entire race.  Saturday morning's shake out run was something extra special as I headed out and got to do a run with professional athlete Emma Coburn, who was a totally cool person and at least faked interest as she asked me about my previous marathons and goals for this race.  It was a fun experience that you don't get the chance to do everyday but I was really just trying to stay loose all weekend.  Too long have I focused too much on race strategy and not just been a little more relaxed heading into the race.  Saturday night I felt I got a good night sleep as I got up race morning I felt ready as I'd ever be.

As we walked the longest .7 miles of my life to the starting line I saw more and more people and started realizing what 45,000 people was going to be like.  Despite leaving over 80 minutes before the race, between getting in security gate, doing a light jog and ushering into the A corral, which had about 2000 people lined up shoulder to shoulder 20 minutes before the race, ugh.  I very politely in the beginning worked my way through the crowd and then maybe a bit rudely pushed as the race was close to starting and I was to far back.  In retrospect I should have just stayed put, the race is long enough.  By the time the gun was about to go off, I was practically touching the elite runners, and then we were off.

I've replayed the first three miles in my head about 30 times now and I don't know what I was thinking.  We went through a tunnel and I knew my GPS watch was off so I was just going by feel but at about .8 miles I rolled up on pro athletes Sara Hall and Alexi Pappas and next thing I know I saw the mile split 5:29.  So much goes through your head when you rock a split 31 seconds fast in mile 1 of your marathon, but you need to just squash it all.  No good can come from letting doubt creep in at mile 1 of a 26 mile race, so I settled in and just let people pass me as I tried to find a more comfortable pace.  Until I rolled through 2 miles in 11:07, if anyone was around they would have actually seen me slap myself in the face at this point as I was completely off pace and in territory deep down I knew was unsustainable based on all training.  I shook out my arms and confidently told myself, well at least I have 1 minute in the bank now.  First 5k ended up 17:52 as at least I had slowed down to 5;45 pace for mile 3, and had a good deal of elites blow by me as evident by their fancy water bottles they were carrying while I waited for the next water stop!

The next 5k I started settling in around 5:50's and a pack of about 13 runners rolled up on me around 5, so I just hopped in with them and they pulled me along until about 8 miles when I slowed down again just to try and get comfortable.  My splits were slowing but it was fine, every split was still under goal pace and I wasn't feeling terrible yet.  As I rolled past an Elvis impersonator I started realizing I was going to set a half PR in a couple miles as I was still cruising but in today's theme I was riding Solo.  The pitfalls of going out too hard is you get passed a lot and it was hard to latch on to any of these groups because they were all going much harder than I wanted to at this point.  I rolled through the half in a new PR 1:17:31 but I honestly didn't feel great.  But I need to stay positive what's done is done focus on the now I kept telling myself.  At worst case I had some serious time in the bank for my goal and I'd have to really blow up now to not break 2:40.  And that confidence followed me from 14-17 as splits still felt solid and I had finally found a group to run with until...

Mile 18  I remember the moment like it was yesterday(it was) it happened so fast.  I was rolling 5:50 pace and it felt smooth and then I looked down and saw my mile pace this mile was 6:24.... I said no big deal let's surge and get it back to 5:50's and we'll be fine.  Did a 1 minute or so surge looked again 6:30 pace, oh no.  It all kind of went downhill there but thankfully I clung to some 6:15 for the next 3 miles but all the doubt had crept in.  Miles 19,20, went by and the 2 minutes I had banked at the half were all gone by mile 20.  Mile 20 is an easy split for 6:00 minute goal pace, 2 hours on the dot!  And that's what I was at, only instead of feeling ready to attack the last 10k I was fighting for my life.

Sitting here as I type this I can honestly say I never have felt this terrible at any race of my life.  I used every trick in the book to survive.  Every runner that passed me I clung on to for as long as I could to get me moving, every fan who pointed out my struggles I smiled and did a surge, every sick beat that was dropped I used it to put on some quicker pace.  None of it worked, but at this point I knew 2:37 was out the window, it was about sub 2:40 or at worst a new PR.  Too much work had been done these past 15 weeks to let myself leave Chicago without one of those two things.  The last 5k every overuse/weakness that I have been dealing with in the past year came back, my weak glutes acted up my hip had a sharp pain, even my back acted up, everything was waiting for me taunting me.  As I saw the 1 mile to go sign knew 2:40 was out but a PR was coming as long as I finished so I gutted out to make that PR as fast as I could.  I crossed the line in 2:41:20, a 3 minute 43 second best.  I was a little dejected but had great teammates to greet me and give me some perspective and to be happy.  As I got to my phone I am always amazed at how many people honestly care.  When you are out there on the course you are alone but getting my phone and seeing the support from friends/family who tracked me and were following along with my race is amazing.  It was easy to get over my dejection when soo many people have such nice things to say.

A day later as I look back and write my recap it's still a little bit of a mixed bag but you can never be upset when you run a time you never have before.  As the results show I ran 2:41:20, for 199th place and 3rd Marylander.  I was top 200 in a race featuring 45,000 people, I only dreamed of one day finishing top 200 in a world major marathon.  But there is always room for improvement, I can't help but feel that by going out too hard I cost myself a time I had trained so hard to achieve.  I only have myself to blame, I knew the splits yet I choose to keeping digging into the well early on and ended up in a world of hurt with 8 to go.  But no matter what I am proud that I gutted out a PR still, because I could have easily given up and walked away from Chicago with nothing but regrets.  Another injury free season, with great training with friends and to top it off an amazing experience with my Falls Road teammates in Chicago.  As I titled this blog, perspective, because at the end of the day that's what it's all about.

I leave you with a couple fun pictures from the weekend: