Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Race Report: Chicago Marathon 2010

ORN: 26.2 miles, 5:40:40, R4/W1(mostly), 13:01/mile

Quick Summary:

Huge. Colossal. Massive. A ginormous street party. The Chicago Marathon was this and more. It was a marvelous experience, even for a guy who normally does not like crowds. I was thrilled to participate.

And the race went well for 23 miles. Bummer that a marathon is 26.2. Severe calf cramps and some dehydration on a day with temps in the upper 80s made for a less-than-desirable finish. Yet that does not color the entire experience.

The Gory Details


The key highlight of this race was a chance to run again with my nephew (but more like my brother, John. We ran the LA Marathon together in March and now it was my turn to host him for another Big City Marathon. He flew into O’Hare mid-day on Saturday. We met up, checked into our hotel near the airport, hopped the CTA train and then a city bus to McCormick Place to register.


After working through that crowd, we walked around the finish area at Grant Park, visualizing what we hoped we’d feel like at the end of the race Sunday. It is a very cool finishing path…we both wanted to feel strong at that point and enjoy it.

Race Day

We were up at 4am, out of the hotel and on the CTA platform at 5am.

5am platform

It was a fun ride downtown on the train…as you might expect the only folks on a subway train at 5am on a Sunday all had round, orange plastic loops on running shoes and seemed anxious to chat with other perfect strangers with loops. We were in Grant Park before 6am, found a place to lie down and rest for 45 minutes or so, watching the sky brighten over Lake Michigan. It was terrific. The crowd began to build and by 7am, we got into the starting grid. We wished each other well and John worked his way to the 4:15 area, while I was quite content to park myself with the 4:45 folks.

start grid

Wow, what a pack it was! Estimated 40,000 people or so. It was palpably different than the half-marathons I’ve run with similar sized packs, as fundamentally different as the half marathon is from the marathon.

The Race

The gun went off right on time at 7:30am. Twenty-four minutes later, I was across the starting line. I anticipated a very frustrating first 2-4 miles, hemmed in on every side by runners too close to one another. Wrong. By the time we cleared the tunnel at the half-mile mark, I had plenty of room to run without bobbing and weaving much at all. It was a very pleasant surprise.

We wound through the heart of Chicago’s loop for about 3 miles. What crowds! Amazing energy and enthusiasm…hard to describe. We then turned north and the run was terrific. Temps at this point were in the low 60s but we also had full shade from the tall buildings and low sun angle.

A high point in the race for me, a die-hard Chicago Cub fan, came midway in the eighth mile. I had planned this ahead of time but didn’t know if I could pull it off…but I did. The northernmost point in the course was the corner of Addison and Broadway, where we turned south back to the loop. But, like all true Cub fans, I also knew that had we gone just a few more blocks west on Addison, we would have arrived at Wrigley Field. So, this was key geography for the runner/baseball fan. Fortunately, there was also plenty of room between the runners taking the corner and spectators on the other side of the barricade. I just eased out of the pack and led the crowd, Harry Carry style, in a loud rendition of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” It was a hoot…folks really got into it. It’s the closest I’ll ever come to singing at Wrigley.

The run back downtown was enjoyable. Cool, tree-lined residential areas and shops gave way to skyscrapers.
Joe at mile 10

We then headed west and crossed the half-way mark and the run remained most pleasant. My pace through mile 15 was marvelously consistent in the 11:30s, doing a 4/1 run/walk ratio and keeping my heart rate in the low 130s during the run segments. I felt terrific and was enjoying the whole thing.

And then.

At the 15 mile mark, we turned back east to downtown and moved, in the space of two blocks, from tree lined streets to open, unprotected strips of asphalt. I notice my heart rate head up, so I slowed down. On my later analysis, this was the key slowing point in the race. I added a full 45 sec/mile to my pace and then more. I still felt fine but had to slow to keep the HR in the 130s.

At mile 20, we turned from 18th Street south onto Halstead, and there was a bank at the corner. Its trusty time and temperature sign said “88F”. That really startled me. It wasn’t humid, so I wasn’t sweating all that much but the heat was certainly building. Right at the 20 mile mark. Great. So, I just kept moving and threw in some extra 30 sec walk breaks to keep the HR in the 130s. I was still drinking water, taking a Salt Stick capsule at the top of each hour and a Gu at the bottom of each hour. Experience told me to just keep doing the right thing and I’d get home OK, even if slowly.

We crossed the Dan Ryan Expressway, hit mile 23 and turned north again on famous Michigan Avenue. Psychologically, this was wonderful…I knew the next three miles were dead straight on Michigan and the next turn would be the penultimate one, heading to the finish line. The scenery improved a bit and I just focused on keeping moving.

Then Ruth passed me. I had seen this peach-shirted lady with the imprinted name quite a bit over the past four miles or so. She was a calm race walker who kept a steady pace. Except she usually passed me while I was walking. This time Ruth passed me while I was “running”. Hmmmm, I say to myself. She’s walking faster than I’m supposedly running. Maybe I should just “walk” with Ruth? I tried this for a while but at the mile 24 marker I found my left shin and then my left calf would cramp up at her "blistering" pace. I smiled and realized I was done and visualized a giant fork poking me. All I could do was just walk it in.

So I did. The hoped-for triumphant run up Roosevelt, followed by the left into Grant Park to the finish line was, instead a calm walk, focused on keeping the leg relaxed and not cramping. I at least had some fun with it…smiling at a cop who recognized I was struggling and getting a sympathetic high five from him…reflecting on how fortunate I was to have health to even attempt such a thing. And, out of all the many runners streaming across the line at the same time, I actually heard them announce my name and home town. Again, perhaps an act of empathy for the guy walking across the finish line. It was nice.

And marathon #17 was over.

Post Race

I struggled for the next 45 minutes or so. No way to sugar coat it. If I stopped moving, one or both calves locked up. I was not the only one, though, as John showed with the photo he took just after he finished an hour ahead of me.

injury at end

John and I found each other and it was great to see him. He was a huge help as I slowly got my wits about me. [In fact, the only fly in the ointment of the whole day happened about this time. I had set down my gear bag while walking around and someone grabbed it and took it. Glad I had nothing in it I didn’t mind losing.]{Ed note: this changed...see below}

By the time we got to the subway station, I could stop and sit without cramping. The 40 minute ride to the hotel in the air-conditioned train, sipping a bottle of water was what I needed. By the time we got off, I was conversant again. A shower and a rest and some light food put everything back into perspective. By 6pm, we hopped in my car, zipped down to Wheaton College, picked up my son Matt and the three of us sat for 2 hours talking into the evening.

Post Race Reflection

Why the cramping? Why has this come up in yet another marathon? I gotta think it is my approach to electrolytes. Clearly, water plus Gu plus Salt Sticks was not adequate, certainly not on a hot day like this, despite the fact I have trained in heat all summer. I’ll figure this out. Because, even in the moments just after crossing the finish line, I was looking forward to “getting back on the horse” for the next marathon I’ve signed up for in five weeks.

This is long, I know. But, as my long-time blogging pal Sarah and I agree, this blog is mostly for my own record. And I hope it is helpful as well for anyone who cares to read.

Persevere. Cramps or not.


Postscript: Five days after the race, I got a phone call at work from the Chicago Marathon office. They found my gear bag...what did I want to do with it?? Amazing and totally impressive. I gave them info to pay for the shipping and it arrived back at my house three days later. While there was nothing huge in it, a couple of items I was glad to get back since I could. More importantly, it spoke volumes about this massive event paying attention to the smallest of details. I was and still am impressed. With this level of detail, it's no wonder why this is such a marvelous event.



John said...

Another great write-up Joe, perfectly capturing the event and all that went with it.

Too bad the heat was so stifling, but I sure enjoyed the race and the entire weekend, in spite of the temps.

Thanks again for the company and for taking care of all the organizational stuff, no easy task. Looking forward to the next one, whenever and wherever that might be!


Sarah said...

Congrats on #17! Chicago is one of the big city marathons I just might have to do one day. Sorry the end wasn't so great but sounds like you had some good highlights. Love the Wrigley Field story! :)

I've never really experienced cramping in a race, or even during running (knock wood!), so I don't have any suggestions. But I'm sure you'll figure it out...or at least have fun trying. ; ) : )

IronWaddler said...

Great job,Joe. I know it was a hot one out there! Great race report and as always I love the photos.

Wes said...

This is a great race report, and a worthy one! Much appreciate your sharing. Your heart rate starts to drift as fatigue and dehydration set in. The idea, really, is not to slow down. Give yourself a little lee way in the later stage of the races to allow for a higher heart rate.

As far as the cramps go... When temperatures start to get that high, I'm not sure there is anything you can do other than drink more water. Keep practicing. I'm sure there were some good learning points in this one for you, with the notable exception of you singing :-)

Congratulations on numba 17!!

David said...

I enjoyed your account as much as you will after #34 when you go back and read those "early" race reports.

I remember that same bank clock sign. I remember the wide open asphalt. I rememer the same high temps (2008). It was a miracle to finish upright, much less in a jog.

I hope your recovery is quick and safe. The next one is not far off.

marmot said...

Great race report..Keep it up and keep inspiring others.. More power!

Darrell said...

What fun to read even with the struggle at the end. Nothing that many of us haven't struggled with. Me as recently as the following week in ABQ. I can certainly imagine you dazed adn confused at the end. Sorry it has taken so long to get to the report. I've found a quiet evening here in Bad Essen, Germany.