2014 Bank of America Chicago Marathon - 2:21:12, 35th Place.
After an excellent summer of training, the week or two leading up to Chicago was not great. With my hamstring feeling very compromised, it wasn't easy to maintain a high level of confidence. A week before the race, I wasn't even sure if I could race. I decided that if I could run, I needed to be conservative and go out in 1:10 - 1:10:30. That all changed on race morning when I went outside for a short jog at 5:30am. I not only felt somewhat normal for the first time in nine days, but there was an energy along Michigan Avenue at that early hour that convinced me it might be worth taking a shot at the Olympic Trials standard. Chris Sloane (who shared a hotel room with us) and I made our way over to the American Development tent around 6:30am. We did an easy 10 minute jog to warmup, then stood around with some of my Saucony teammates in the corral until it was time to go.
When the race finally started, I immediately set myself up behind Florence Kiplagat's male pacer (who was about 6'3" tall... and maybe 120 lbs) but I could tell within a minute or two that the women weren't going out quick, so I moved past them as we came out of the tunnel and saw my Saucony teammate Jesse Davis up ahead. It took me about 2 miles to bridge the gap to him, and once I did I found myself in a nice pack with 6 other guys. I mentally committed to running with that group and the idea of a 1:10 first half was thrown out the window. I was simply going to race these guys as long as I could. After opening up with 5:17 and 5:19 miles, I missed a few splits, so I was surprised to see 15:38 for miles 3-5. We were moving, and rolled through the first half, hitting 13.1 in 1:08:47. This was my fastest first half ever in a marathon (by far!) which was a little crazy because I did less marathon pace specific work than I have in my last few marathon buildups. I never touched 5:15 pace tempos in training during this cycle but I wasn't afraid to mix it up and see what might happen.
This is a good time to point out that because of the aggressive start, there was no "this feels easy" / "build into it" portion of this marathon. I felt like I was running at a high intensity level right from the gun. Andrea said afterwards that I looked "very determined" and that it was "the hardest I've ever seen you run, especially in the last ten miles" I guess that is both good and bad. On one hand, you sort of want to be relaxed for a good portion of a marathon. On the other hand, I know I gave it everything I had, even if I knew I was in a little over my head.
Expressing my stubborn Polish determination in Polishtown
I think the pack started to break apart around mile 14 or 15 and I was on my own the rest of the way. My calves were starting to hurt. Andrea told me that my gait was noticeably compromised by the halfway point, which isn't surprising - I made some sort of alteration to protect my hamstring, and the gastrocs had to pick up the slack. I held up pretty well through 30K, but the 20th mile was the first over 5:30, and I wouldn't be able to bring the pace back down. I was hanging on and just trying to keep the bleeding to a minimum.
Michigan Avenue death march
The last 5K was a death march. I still had a chance to PR when I hit 40K, but the wheels were coming off quick. With 600m to go, you turn and ascend the Roosevelt "hill" (which is a measly 15 foot overpass). I could not believe how it absolutely. broke. me. My legs started to wobble, I felt like I had no control over them, and simply tried to stay upright over the last quarter mile... an effort that was barely successful. With about 15-20 meters left, everything seized up... I had to windwill both of my arms to keep my balance as I stumbled across the timing mats. After I got across the second mat, I let a volunteer just hold me upright for 10 seconds while I regained my sense of balance. It was a comical finish and despite being a little embarrassing, I had to smile - I knew I went for broke and didn't leave anything in the tank.
I hope there is a video of this somewhere
Overall I'm very happy. Yeah, I didn't run the smartest race, and likely would have run a bit faster and PR'd had I gone out a little slower. But on a big stage like Chicago, it was worth chasing the OTQ dream. I'll continue chasing it, because I have zero doubt that faster marathons are in my future. Regardless of whether I run 2:17 or not, I simply love this journey. I love that it's hard - that it requires so much dedication with no guarantees of success. I love the training, working towards a lofty goal step by step... sometimes taking steps backwards and figuring out how to deal with the setbacks. I love that I keep learning more and more about the sport and myself in the process - race to race, year to year. And I love that I get to travel all over the place and compete against the best runners in the country (and the world). When you run 2:21 and come in 35th place, you picked the right race. No matter what, when all of this is said and done (which is a long way off), I'll know exactly where I stand (the stopwatch and tape measure never lie) in the running universe. I'll know exactly how good I can be... and that's something I want to know, even if it's a bit scary to find out.
When I look back at my goals at the beginning of the Chicago buildup, getting back to PR shape was at the top of the list. I definitely accomplished that objective over the past 14 weeks, and gave myself a solid platform to build on again. Depending on how quickly I recover, I'm planning to take a short break, rally for a series of late Fall races, take a longer break, then dedicate 2015 to a pair of long, focused marathon buildups (spring and fall).
Odds and ends...
Nutrition: Breakfast - 2 Powerbars. Race - 1 Powergel 15 mins before start, 3 more during race (5-10-16). Really like the Powergels and tolerate them well, mainly because of the liquid consistency. Didn't drink much - I need to run faster so I can get my own bottles at major marathons! Post-race lunch - Venison.
Weather: Sunny (although the tall buildings blocked it in a lot of spots) and low 50s for most of the race. A little windy in spots, but this is Chicago so what can you expect?
Course: Flat. Awesome. [Map / Elevation] Other than the overpass at 26, none of the small inclines broke rhythm. The route has a decent amount of turns. Crowd support was excellent. Maybe not quite as good as Boston, but close.
Shoes: Saucony Type A6. Best racing flat out there. Saucony had a great presence at the expo and hooked us up with some cool Chicago-branded gear. The team was well-represented in both the men's and women's races.
Intangibles: Andrea was unbelievable this weekend. She managed to get my hamstring back into working condition on Saturday, then got a bike the morning of the race and navigated the streets to be at seven different spots (1.5, 3, 13, 17, 20, 22, and 25) to cheer for me and all of the Saucony runners (and take photos). Her airport nap was well-earned. I had other friends at 5, 6.5, 8.5, 10, 17.5, 23, and 26. I've said this before, but I know I'm very lucky to have such a great support system. I had a lot of family, friends, and puppies supporting from afar.
Mile splits - 5:17, 5:19, 15:38 (3-5), 5:11, 5:11, 5:17, 5:16, 5:17, 5:13, 5:12, 5:17, 5:09, 5:20, 5:14, 5:28, 5:17, 5:27, 5:32, 5:38, 5:32, 5:39, 5:38, 5:38, 5:57, 1:22.
5K splits - 16:23, 16:13, 16:22, 16:21, 16:11, 16:46, 17:17, 17:34, and 8:05 for the last 2.2K.
Comparison to a couple other marathons...
Half 20M Finish
PHL 2011 1:09:33 - 1:46:05 - 2:25:57
CIM 2013 1:09:29 - 1:46:17 - 2:20:41
CHI 2014 1:08:47 - 1:45:45 - 2:21:12
Final thought: next time I go out under 1:09, I'll bring it back under 1:09 too.