"If you’ve raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in thickets by the Jordan?" (Jeremiah 12:5). Our journey is intended to be more than simply "stumbling" through the days while the world "wears us out.” We are made to experience the thrill of "running with horses” and to navigate life amongst the "thickets." The RWH blog focuses on both the spiritual race of which Jeremiah speaks, and the physical act of running that I absolutely love. In short, it's where "the miles meet the Message" to provide insight, perspective & encouragement that might enable you & I to successfully run either of the races set before us. May our course be purposeful and may we be passionate in our pursuit of the abundant life He desires for us.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The 2012 Chicago Marathon (Race Recap)

The following recap is intended to be concise, a less is more approach. The objective is to provide an interesting overview of this recent marathon weekend,  and share a few of the adventures (or misadventures) that stand out from my experience. This is not a mile-by-mile account, but more of a general summary. In fact, I intentionally put time between writing this post and the race itself, in order that only the most memorable of thoughts come to mind. Trust me, I've really tried to keep it brief. 

Now, without further adieu ……

Race Expo: I arrived in Chicago on Saturday morning and easily made my way downtown, parked and walked through the expo doors ahead of schedule. The initial observation was that, by far, McCormick Place allows for one of the largest, most open expos that you will find.  Because of this, I was really glad that I have learned to make a list of booths and areas that I want to / need to stop by so that I don’t just wander around.  A wise man once taught me that the purpose of the expo is to pick up the bib, the goodie bag and any final instructions for race morning. Everything else keeps you on your feet, and in your wallet, longer than neccessary.

I started down my list.  First up was the Gatorade Sports Science Institute study.  I had agreed to provide various samples before and after the race, as well complete a series of surveys (more information here: Gatorade Study ).  At the expo I filled out some paperwork, was weighed and asked to provide saliva and blood samples.  In exchange, I received a bag of Gatorade swag and will have personalized results mailed to me in 4 to 6 weeks.  In the name of running science, I love it!

Next, the bib and bag – check, followed by information for Chicago Rapid Transit in order to take the train in and out on race morning – check.  Then to the Nike pace team area.  Here I spoke to some guys about which group to join, debated whether I would join one, decided I would, then decided I wouldn’t, then decided I would, but only after starting a couple of minutes behind them in order to get a better time, then decided …… well, you see how this was going. I never did come to terms with strategy around pacing, but we’ll cover this on race day. The final check of business was a quick sweep of the hall, just in case something caught my eye.  I do usually enjoy the presentations and main speakers.  Unfortunately, the timing did not work out to see Dick Beardsley, and I really wanted to get to the hotel.

So, I have almost swept my way to the exit when I notice a book signing. It was Lopez Lomong at the Team World Vision tables. I had read articles about Lopez, how he had spent most of his childhood in a Kenyan refugee camp, was adopted at age 16, came to the US and eventually carried our flag at the opening Olympic ceremonies in Beijing. His story is fairly popular, but as I glanced through the book and listened to him speak with others, I was hooked. Actually, I was inspired and wanted to learn more.  I purchased the book, got in the line for the signing and talked to Lopez for a few moments about his work in Sudan and with Team World Vision. I then had a great conversation with the TWV runners.  As I walked away, I realized why I enjoy race expos, and running in general, so much.  Some of our sport’s biggest names are so accessible and willing to spend time with other runners for great causes. I have since completed the book and plan on using Lopez and excerpts from his book in the upcoming Run For God season two study.  I would encourage everyone to give this book a read, you will be so glad that you did.  The title is ‘Running For My Life: One Lost Boy’s Journey From The Killing Fields of Sudan To The Olympic Games.’

Lopez Lomong at expo book signing

Pre-race: The good news is that for most of the week I really wasn’t very nervous about the race. The bad news is that for most of the week I really was nervous about catching the right train at the right time on race morning.  I must have looked at a dozen transit maps and, even though I had purchased a day pass at the expo, I was still thinking through the various scenarios for getting from point A to point C by 6:30 a.m, with A indicating the nearest transit station and C, my starting corral downtown.  The funny thing is that after all of this planning and wringing of hands, I checked into the hotel and suggested my plan to the desk manager.  Her response was “No, no, no, I can make this much easier for you.”  Sure enough, the hotel shuttle to the airport allowed for an easy transfer, and more importantly, a seat on the train.  By the third stop, of what would be 20+ station stops to downtown, this 5:00 a.m. train was full of runners.  Moral of the story is not to worry all week about local logistics; just ask the locals.

The temperature was perfect (note: the use of perfect is not an exaggeration or overstatement, but rather the exact description necessary to describe “perfect” conditions).  As daylight began to creep through Grant Park, the mercury hovered around 40 degrees.  No wind, no chance of rain, slight overcast giving way to bright sunshine by mid-morning …… PERFECT! 

Following many of the 45,000 runners, and at least 3X that in family and spectators, I made my way to the bag drop. One thing that I have learned over the past couple of years, is that there is a definite advantage to experience and faster times when it comes to maneuvering through pre-race. I was fortunate enough to be in the upper tier of competitors for bag drop locations and starting corral assignments.  Please know, this is absolutely not intended to come across as an elitist mentality, but the fact that you are surrounded by more serious runners does make life a little easier as you move through these activities.  The bag drop was much closer to the start, everyone had their bags labeled correctly and moved swiftly, the porta-jons were more plentiful (maybe not as many nerves?) and the starting corral was more focused and evenly paced as the gun went off. Again, I love the first timer atmosphere.  In many races I am right there in the middle of the starting line party.  However, with 18 weeks of training, focused on a once-a-year time target, coming down to this moment, I want to be shoulder-to-shoulder with others expecting the same. 

At about 7:00 a.m., (30 minutes from the start), I moved into the corral for my pre-start rituals. Maybe I am overly paranoid, or maybe I am simply very observant, but I firmly believe that some type of racer profiling was taking place.  Corrals are fenced off along 5 or 6 city blocks.  Starting with the Elites, corrals then go from the letter ‘A’ to maybe ‘O’ or ‘P’, I can’t recall.  All based on previous finishing times.  To prevent a runner from moving forward, you have to show your bib for entrance into the corrals (bibs are color coded and labeled with corral letter).  So, just because I am somewhat, shall we say “more stout” than 95% of the runners in my corral, I was seemingly asked repeatedly to show my bib.  I started wondering if they were going to ask for identification. Did they question those 20-something, 150 pound, compression sock wearing runners entering all around me? Nooooooooo!  :) Actually, I did chuckle about it.  Heck, I would question me too.  That’s the beauty of my running testimony, anyone can do this.  You don't have to look like a runner to run. Having others do a double take should be taken as a badge of honor. 

T Minus 5 Minutes!
Anyway, the entire pre-race made me smile.  I sent Christy a text before I dropped my bag , it read, “C, this is really high energy, it makes me smile.”  Indeed, the atmosphere was electric and it didn't hurt that Springsteen was filling the air of downtown Chicago. I stretched, configured the iPod, slurped down the first GU and with five minutes to go, chugged my traditional ½ bottle of Coca-Cola.  Recall that I don’t drink caffeine during the 18 weeks of training.  This is the first intake and I get that real good shock to the system over the first few miles.  I also despise Coke.  I am a Diet Pepsi guy.  But I tried it once for pre-race and it worked.  Hey, if ain’t broke.  Which, by the way, as with all previous marathons, breakfast consisted of bagel with peanut butter and banana around 4:00 a.m. That still seems to do the trick. 

The Chicago Marathon: ‘Born to Run’ blasted from the speakers as the gun sounded.  My corral begins to walk, then walk faster, then pause, then walk fast again, then jog and then finally cross the start line at pace.  It took us just over 3 minutes to cross the start, which really isn't that bad.  And we were off.  Mile 1 observation; I am always amazed at how many runners have to peel off in the first ½ mile.  There were rows and rows of porta-jons lining the start corrals, yet after running only 3 – 4 minutes many find it necessary to pull over and do something that typically would have them arrested.  For some reason, relieving oneself in public is perfectly OK on this morning.  Let’s just say that I am really glad we were running in the street and not hopping up on the sidewalks, at least in this first mile. 

Feeling great through Chinatown!
The first several miles go great.  I am out a little faster than planned, but not much.  I had abandoned the idea of a pace group when I couldn't find the 3:35 pacer sign.  I opted to set the Garmin on an 8:12 virtual pace and go from there.  I had been warned about the tendency to go out fast in Chicago.  A flat course, a wild scene of spectators, a cool morning and a variety of entertainment along the course (thinking about the flamboyant “dance” teams in one particular part of town) can all combine to blow your pace early.  I did pretty well in this area. I tried to keep even splits, after being talked into this approach from my good buddy Paul earlier in the week, and I held a 7:58 +/- 10 for most of the first 18-20 miles. I had also been warned about the buildings and tunnels taking a toll on your Garmin.  For the most part, the GPS corrected itself within a ¼ mile, except for mile 13 where it was out at a turn.  You see the 9 minute mile that was actually an additional .15 of distance.  There is also evidence of a lost signal in my final distance.  There were very few tangents, but there were still enough turns that I should have been near 26.35 vs. Garmin's 26.25

At halfway I was feeling really good.  I set a half PR by over 3 minutes, yet still didn’t feel like I had exerted too much energy to miss my ultimate objective, a sub 3:40.  I decided to keep the 7:58 pace and try to hang on.  One concern that came on around mile 14 was with a hamstring twinge that I normally don’t feel until the final 5 or 6 miles.  Usually this is an indication of dehydration and glycogen depletion, but I really felt like I had done a better job in this area.  I ran through these twinges and they never caused me to pull over and stretch, but I was definitely on the verge of panic.  I started hitting the Gatorade stations and taking in some extra chocolate that I kept in my belt.  Seemed to work.  They came and went, but never as bad as I experienced in the past three events. I really do need to figure something out in this area. I had switched to Honey Stingers during the race, instead of GU.  They taste better, but I’m not sure they are as effective.  Time to experiment. Also open to any suggestions from readers - help! 
Mile 20, starting to think too much .....

As most marathoners know, the true halfway point of a marathon is mile 20.  This race was no exception.  It wasn’t a wall, but I definitely shifted into “hanging on” mode at this point of the race. Splits slowed and my focus went to calculating times needed to meet my goal.  At mile 18, I had delusions of a possible 3:30 finish.  At mile 22, I had hopes of a 3:35.  At mile 24, I started doubting a 3:39! Fortunately for me, I find that the body is often stronger than the mind at this point of the game. The saying is that “it is all mental."  Forget about it, my saying is “let the mind go blank and let the body do what it was trained to do!” That said, I did try a few mind games to get me through.  One was to consider all of those that knew I was running Chicago.  I really didn’t want to let them down in this pursuit of a PR.  The other was to think back over the training and remind myself that almost every single mile and every single early morning was completed in preparation for this moment.

Happy to see the finish and the clock! 

Trudging through these final miles, I finally saw that mile 26 clock. The flatness of the course gave way to a slight uphill with just over 600 yards to go.  With 100 to go, we turned left and went back downhill.  I could see the finish line and I did the math, I would be in the 3:35 range; 3:35:21 to be exact. Having fallen short of pre-race expectations in the previous two races, it was awesome to have come away with an 8 minute + PR and even more exhilarating to experience the feeling of hanging on for those final miles. 

Crossing the line, I received a medal and began the long walk down the park.  Correction, this was more of a stumble and sway than a walk, but no pain no gain, right? Eventually I arrived at the bag check area and a small changing tent.  I thought it was odd that a 45,000 participant race would have a 20X20 changing tent for post-race.  The only one in sight.  This is not a complaint, just an observation.  I was glad that they had this tent as the temperature had topped out around 50 degrees and the wind was starting to blow in off the lake. I found a chair in the corner and proceeded to exchange a wet shirt for a dry one, shoes for sandals and the visor for a warm hat.  Leaving the post-race area, I retraced my steps to the train and my ride back to the hotel.   Once back at the hotel it was a 25 minute ice bath followed by a long hot shower.  I took time to text a few updates, make a few calls and then I closed the books on state #5. 

In closing, I leave this recap with a list of top ten takeaways from the Chicago Marathon.  I would love to hear about your experiences in Chicago, or discuss any questions you might have on running Chicago.  I was blessed with the health the desire to run another race on this day, and for that I am extremely grateful.  I do not take any run for granted. Lord willing, next up is Myrtle Beach in mid-February.  Looking forward to running with some friends from Florence, SC.  Hope to see you there. 

Chicago Marathon Weekend Top Ten

#10.       The “perfect” marathon weather
#9.         The signs that read “Total Stranger, I’m Cheering for YOU!” - I like the spirit of that.
#8.         The “Playlist of the People” – Family and friends created my playlist.  Loved it.
#7.         Meeting Lopez Lomong at the expo, then reading his book.
#6.         A flat and straight course.
#5.         Participated in record breaking race; Kebede (Ethiopia) set course record 2:04:38.                      Exactly one minute off world record!
#4.         Seeing Hal Higdon, my “coach” for the past two years, at the expo.
#3.         Massive crowds on overpasses and sidewalks.  Floated through first 5 miles.
#2.         Fist bumping an entire group of finishers that came in around me.  No words, but                      we all knew what it meant.
#1.         3:35:21 

And their off ..... the start of the 35th annual Chicago Marathon
No joke, midway up right side you can see me! I've tried to point it out on image (click to enlarge)
Always, always, always, "gear up" the night before!

Ladies race came down to a fraction of a second! 
Men's champion broke course record by a minute, 2:04:38
Official Results (click on image to enlarge)
Familiar with Chicago? Here's the course