Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Chicago Marathon 2013 Recap

This is rough because I wrote it late at night Sunday, I wasn't ready to sleep yet.

First of all, THANK YOU!!!!! I had so much support from so many people in so many forms of communication! Sometimes I, and probably most of us, fear we are alone and no one cares about the things we put our time and effort into achieving results. I was blown away by everyone’s support. In fact I still haven’t gotten around to thanking everyone personally yet.

All good stories start earlier than most people intend, this one is the same. Due to construction and packing my lunch and blogging a quick post on where to get updates about the marathon it was close to 9:30 by the time I left Dubuque and 1 PM by the time I reached Arlington Heights, where I was staying for the night. My parents and I quickly jumped in their Toyota van and headed into the city. Driving in Chicago is stressful. After something like 90 minutes we were at the convention center with the runner expo to pick up my packet and shirt. At the moment we were in there, there had to be 5000 other people. It was crowded! We picked up my bib, then had to walk through all the vendors to pick up the shirt, while probably by design, it was totally a hassle. I don’t want to be side tracked by some new supplement or shoe, I want to check in, get my stuff and get out. 

After that we drove part of the second half of the course and headed back out to the suburbs. During this time I was getting rather thirsty until we stopped at a gas station. Not ideal to not have any water for four hours the day before a marathon. Former neighbors of my parents live in retirement apartments in the most upscale retirement center I have ever seen. We had supper with them and I was pleasantly surprised to have a vegan (pasta) mean with basically no hassle. After eating I did some reading and watching a movie then tried to go to sleep. I was sweating a fair amount, which might have contributed to issues the next day. 

At 3 AM my alarm went off and I had my cliff bar and some juice, exactly like I had done twice in training. Later just before 5 AM my parents started rustling around and we got to it. I made coffee and after each quickly packing our one bag we were off. At around 6 AM I arrived at gate 1 and headed in and quickly found the American Development tent and fenced off area. It was a really good situation, warm air, a tent, a place to run .1 mile laps around, a slew of port-a-potties. I walked around the start then did a slow 1.5 mile jog at about 6:50 before they took us to the start just after 7. I tried to walk and jog as much as I could, but it was a little cramped, and my sweats were off, yes, like 25 minutes before the race on a 48F day. At ten minutes before the race I ate my larabar and drank about 8 oz of gatorade. With five minutes to go I lined up and at four minutes they released the A corral, had 30 seconds of silence for the Boston victims. It was fun to be so close to the front to see Ritz with Alberto and another Chicago guy there to help him with everything. 

Finally, the race was off! It was packed, and I was behind dozens of women, but in the frenzy of the start I told myself to relax and take it easy. After about a quarter mile to see how easy I was taking it and my watch said 6:14 pace, so I picked it up a little. We went down through a tunnel and back up having basically no concept of pace until hitting the one mile mark in I think 5:21 or 5:25, too fast, so I slowed down. Seconds later I was caught by all the lead women. I looked to my right and right there, four feet away running stride for stride with me was Rita Jeptoo. Immediately I thought, ‘she won last year in 2:22 and has had a good year (winning Boston) since then. So, I’m slowing down.’ I did slow, and then fell in with a group of men and one woman (Aliakandra, Duliba) who I had never heard of. 

We seemed to be relaxed and hit the second mile at 11:00, which I thought meant a 5:35, which is what I was aiming for. However, to run with the group they picked things up a tad, just a little, down to 5:30 pace for us to cross 5k in 17:08. I thought nothing of it, the first mile was fast but now were were settling. However, right after crossing the 5k I guess that wasn’t good enough because Duliba and a couple of the men accelerated, and unforunately I was caught up in the first part of it too as we were closing on Jeptoo and the other lead women. When I realized that I slowed down again. The marathon was great, a clock at every mile marker, on both sides of the road and a timing mat at every 5k, with a clock at a couple of them. 

This is part of why this was a great experience, in the 4th mile I was closing on a woman, never mind the men, who went on to run 2:19. Obviously, that was a mistake, but again a big part of running races is mental, feeling like you belong up in the front. 

So after the 4th mile I ran in a sort of no mans land drifting backwards with some guys for a bit then behind them, hitting the 10k in 34:14, thinking, ‘hum that’s still too fast.’ So I continued to try and relax and take it easy and run slower, I was basically by myself for a number of miles. 

At the front of marathons people typically run in packs, while later on it is a steady stream, so after falling off the back of a pack it could mean some time before you are within arms reach of someone. 

Seven miles in 38:11 or so, and again I thought, ‘wow, that’s fast, slow down!’ The next few miles I disassociated some by mildly interacting with the crowd enjoying the scenery, hoping that might help me relax and slow down. When I came through 9 miles under 50 I thought, ‘huh, that’s pretty fast.’ 

At ten miles in 55:14 I was just shocked. That was the point I was like, ‘ok you idiot, slow down now! You’re not trying to run 5:31 pace for this thing!’ Which worked, somewhat. 

11 miles in 1:01, 12 miles in 1:06:3X, 13 miles in a scary 1:12:05. When I saw the clock I initially thought it was the half and that I was going to run within 20 second of my PR in the first half of a marathon, nope, only 62 seconds...

I managed to slow down more to a comfortable pace then, I wasn’t really checking splits, but 14 in like 1:18 at which point the women leaders were finally out of sight more than maybe 60-90 seconds ahead of me, and 15 in 1:23 and 16 in a satisfying 1:29. At that point I thought, ‘great! I have 10.2 miles to do in a little over 60 minutes, just barely under 6s will get me under 2:30, but this just might be the day for a bigger breakthrough!’

At mile 17 in 1:35 I knew that this was now the tough 1/3 of the race left. Knowing that doesn’t make it easier.

At mile 18 I was getting tired. Not terribly so, but enough that I made a mental note that I didn’t feel as good as I did coming through mile five in 27:05. I have positive split all my marathons and I thought that was what was going to happen here. Besides, hitting the halfway point in 1:12:50 was faster than I wanted so a nice 1:14:00 second half would have been just fine by me. 

This is also where it starts to get hazy. It seems like I am breathing hard and working hard yet my legs aren’t moving as fast as they used to. 19 miles in 1:48 I think and then 20 in 1:53:11, which is a little slower than CIM in 2011 but I thought, ‘HA! I opened in 34:14 and I have to do is a little under 37 to get under 2:30.’ Which at this point 2:30 was now the goal. Mile 21 in 1:58 high and 22 in about 2:05 flat. I’m still thinking, ‘4.2 miles in 25 minutes, well now it’s going to be close to breaking 2:30.’

Unfortunately the 23rd mile happened. 

From this point on I didn’t look at, or at least remember any splits or paces. I know I didn’t check my watch after 22.3 miles. I could feel myself going backwards. I had hit the wall. My glycogen was run out. People like the lead American women were now passing me. I know I saw the clock at 23 miles, maybe it was 2:12, I can’t remember. I know I saw it. At that point, between how I felt, how I was starting to get passed, and whatever that split was, I realized I wasn’t going to break 2:30, kind of a mental blow, but I hoped that I could run 2:30 again or even a 2:31. 

That last three miles are on a long strait-away, it’s beautiful really. Grass and trees on the left and my image of a brownstone house on the right. I was in bad shape. After that 23rd mile split I thought about calling it quits and DNFing. The thought of not breaking 2:30 was heartbreaking. I quickly thought that I would enlist at the next marathon and take a better paced shot at it. However, the thought of quitting, and all the many people who have supported me in the past, or on that day, and letting them down, meant I was going to live through it. It also meant I was not going to walk.

I felt like a lead ballon, hollow on the inside, but as heavy as can be. My right calf was hurting fairly bad at that point, and still is 12 hours later. You should see me limp. The wall hurts. I naively thought based on my two previous experiences, and conversation with other skilled runners that for some of us, fairly well trained, we just didn’t hit the wall like other people. Our wall means running 6:15 pace. I know that I thought that myself, I just never articulated it, because I know my friends have hit the wall, and the science behind it is very real. I just never thought it would happen to me. 

Running totally out of glycogen is so strange. Running low on it, like I was miles 18-22, and many times in training, was inconvenient, but running out of it: painful. My legs just had no gas. Yet my upper body and mind were still functional. I managed to drink copious amounts of gatorade at the last two aid stations. 

The finish was interminable, 40k... 25 miles... 1 mile to go... 41k.... 800 m to go... Fortunately, the runners who were coherent and passing me were very encouraging, telling me to hang in there. I was surprised how few people were in the 2:30s range.  Even at the finish the last guy to pass me said something to the effect of, “c’mon break 2:40!” The finish by the way is brutal, at mile 26 there is an uphill, one of the biggest on the course, not big, but when you’re running 8:00 pace flat out, it certainly ain’t small. 

So I finished in 2:39:21 and I was determined to stay standing, but it wasn’t pretty. Less than a minute after finishing two medical people came over to me and helped me to the medical tent. Some girl by the way told me that one of the athletes I work with in Dubuque says, “good job!” She was gone before I could process it. In the medical tent they massaged my legs a little and found me some water and gatorade and asked me questions about who I was and where I was. They took my pulse too, I don’t think they took my blood pressure. At one point I had my head leaned back eyes closed and mouth gaping open and they shouted at me, “open your eyes!” It kind of shocked me back, as I continued to slur my words. After only 10 minutes I said I was fine and was discharged as I could walk out on my own. I stumbled over to the American Development corral were the country was represented, BAA, Boulder Running Company, Oiselle, Virginia, a number of old college jerseys. 

I called my parents who were wandering around the city, after having cheered me on multiple times! My mom and I went to Panera before walking another .7 miles back to the van to meet up with my dad, who rode his bicycle 23 miles over the course of the morning! You thought spectating a cross country course involved movement? Try spectating a marathon. 

I managed to drive back to Dubuque without getting an accident despite the fact my right leg is in enormous pain. Overall, I laugh and smile. This is not at all how I wanted this race to go. However there are so many positives from the experience. I ran stride for stride beside Rita Jeptoo, and even was closing on her, although at the wrong point in the race. Chicago is a totally flat course, you could run a 2:03 there on a nice day if you had that kind of speed and training. I have a feeling I will run Chicago again, and it was nice to see how everything works, from the expo the day before to the pre-race morning procedures to the course. I am happy I hit the wall. Strange to say, but in all my training, thinking I hit the wall, I never actually hit the wall. There is running low on glycogen (sugars) and there is running out of it. The two are not the same. I am happy my parents were there to see it, at least the first 2/3 of it. Plus, I did have good training leading into this race. In the last 30 days I’ve had two of my best workouts ever. I guess this means I’m going to have to run another marathon.

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