Brief Summary: How can I summarize the Chicago Marathon? It's a massive event, a world-class event, a 26.2 mile street party, a mecca for the best, a magnet for first-time marathoners, a fund raiser for every cause knowable. And in the midst of 40,000 of my closest friends, I managed to complete my second marathon in a week feeling very good at the end.
Why the Chicago Marathon? Why two marathons in a week? My wife isn't the only one who asked this question. When registration opened in February, I didn't even bother to mess with it. I was put off by the high registration fees, the sheer size of it, the associated expense for housing and parking and just plain wasn't interested, even though it is only a little over 2 hours from my home.
But then I spent a weekend with Cory.
Long-time readers of this blog might remember my weekend to the Bayshore Marathon last May. Cory, a very enthusiastic runner, mentioned he had run Chicago 14 straight years and had figured out how to do it more efficiently. Hmmm, I said to myself, if I ever do Chicago again, I'll do it that way.
Fast-forward to late August. A runner who had registered for Chicago had an injury which made it impossible for him to train. Did I want the bib, a mutual friend asked me? Once more I went Hmmmm. I was registered for the Wineglass Marathon in upstate New York just a week before Chicago. Could I run two marathons in a week? I wondered if I could tag along with Cory- could I tap into his logistic experience and cut the total cost of the experience?
The answers were "You'll never know till you try" and "Yes." I was in.
Part one was Cory's pure enjoyment of going to the Expo on Friday every year, just to see what is available, especially the freebies. He picked up my bib, saving me the trip and hassle of fighting my way through that mob in downtown Chicago.
Part two was doing the race inside a single day.
Race Day came early...I was up at 3:00am, in Cory's driveway at 3:30am, picked up an hour with the time change and were safely parked in the Millenium Parking Garage near the Start line by 4:40am Chicago time...nearly 3 hours before the Kenyans would cross the starting line. Cory and I put the seats back and slept for an hour before starting pre-race prep. After waking up, I fixed some hot oatmeal, using my mobile set up for race-morning eats.
The garage filled up and I guess neither Cory nor I looked like marathon rookies. Total strangers kept walking up, knocking on the windows and asking us questions. At the right time, though, we finalized the preparation, put on our throw-away sweats and headed for the starting corrals.
This race is so big, it has three entrances to the starting area. Cory, a speed merchant, earned a spot in corral C, thus he got to go in entrance 1. We parted here, warmly wishing each other well. My bib was for corral L, which was an appropriate spot for my expected pace, conveniently. But that meant I walked over a quarter mile back to entrance 3. Since all the corrals above "K" would not even be allowed to edge towards the start line until 8:00am, there wasn't a lot of rush. I had a nice conversation with Bruce and we slowly made our way to the start line. At about 8:16, I crossed the start line and my second marathon in a week was underway.
I truly didn't know what to expect, so my race plan was flexible. The weather was wonderful, one of the best years in memory for this race, with the temp right at 40 at the start, not much wind and mostly cloudy skies. This was a ton better than the 88 degree temps which I described in my Chicago 2010 race report. So I settled on using a 3/1 run/walk ratio through mile 18 and then evaluating. My deepest hope for this race was to make the turn onto Michigan Avenue (mile 23.5) and run with joy, enthusiasm and no pain to the finish line.
The race simply unfolded. I found a rhythm earlier than I anticipated I would, feeling pretty comfortable by mile 3. Periodic inventories of "how am I feeling?" from the feet up came back positive. The fans in Chicago are huge; virtually continuous and 3-9 deep in many places near the heart of downtown.
What strategy there was to be in this race came "naturally". Around mile 4, I really had to find a porta-pottie...no delay really possible. Alas, others had similar needs and I stood in line a full 6 minutes, watching thousands pass a few feet away. Once finishing, I pulled back into the stream of runners and was shocked to see I was just behind the 5:25 pacing group!! Wowzers, that was no where near my 4:50 target! How to recover, in the midst of the mobs of runners?
I ran through one walk break, passed the 5:25 group and assessed my plan. I reminded myself I had run another marathon just a week before. So, I chose to stick with the 3/1 ratio, be patient and enjoy the ride.
Which I did. A funny moment occurred around mile 8 1/2. Running through a row of bars and cafes, one was blaring the local TV broadcast of the race. On the screen was a reporter interviewing the winner of the marathon, asking him about his strategy in the last 3 miles. Wow...he's already done, breathing easily, giving an interview and I am a mere eight and a half miles into the race!! Yeah, that's how big the race is, how fast a 2:04 marathon gets over and how far back in the back I was!
We got back downtown, made the turn west and hit the half-marathon mark. I was very pleased to see my time of 2:28:27. That meant I was picking up some time without expending too much effort. I was pleased with how good I was feeling.
We got to the 15 mile mark, the spot when the wheels started to come off the wagon for me two years ago, and another conscious inventory came up positive. I was feeling comfortable, gradually passing the 5:10 and then the 5:00 pace groups. The miles kept clipping by, just under 11 minutes each.
At mile 18, I assessed whether or not to bump the ratio to 4/1. I felt just a bit of fatigue in my quads, so opted not to change and reassess at mile 20. We got to mile 20, where a bank thermometer stands guard (which showed 51F, a wonderful contrast to the 88F I hit at the same spot in 2010), and I decided now I could bump the pace a bit. Remarkably, the 4/1 felt better than the 3/1 at this point. I kept passing people. We motored through Chinatown (always a fun point), headed out towards US Cellular Field. In these miles, I was very happy the advertised banana handouts were available. While I usually like to stash bananas along the course the night before a race, I opted not to try this on Chicago's South Side on Saturday :-). The bananas were perfect...I ate four half-bananas between mile 17 and mile 23.
We crossed the Dan Ryan freeway, wound through ITT and, marvelously, there was the left turn onto Michigan Avenue. I could not get the grin off my face as I approached the turn...my inventory was only positive and I realized my goal for the race was virtually in hand. I made the left, gave a high five to a spectator, turned off my beeper and proceeded to run continuously the final 3 miles.
And what a run it was down Michigan. It was everything I had hoped it would be. I was smiling, basking in the atmosphere of this world-class event. Mile 24 clicked off at 10:16. Around mile 25, I passed the 4:50 pace group--another milestone. At the mile 25 marker, my watch showed a 9:30 mile...my fastest yet for the day. I was passing many, many people, having to weave my way along. Eventually, I could see the final right turn of the race, and I knew it was nearly over. We turned on to "Mount Roosevelt" (as this, the sole hill of the race up Roosevelt Avenue, is humorously called) and midway up, I hit mile 26 with a 9:16 mile, the fastest mile of the day. A left turn, a short downhill and the marathon was done. 4:48 and change...I beat my goal, felt terrific and finished marathon #32, my second in a week.
Post race was just fun, as it always is when you feel good at the end. I grabbed some food, called my wife, shot off some texts and made my way back to the car. Cory was waiting for me...he's so fast, he had a tight hammy and still ran a 3:44...man, he's good. I pulled on some warm clothes, we walked to a pasta place on Michigan Avenue for a post-race-carbo-load and then drove home. I took a shower and went out to dinner with my wife...wow, what a fun, full day.
The race was more than I could have hoped for. The two races were astounding. I was incredibly blessed to have nearly perfect weather on consecutive weekends, which certainly helped. Amazingly, I had no blisters, no soreness, no pain, no physical problems at all in the days after Chicago. I'm deeply grateful for the opportunity to run.
There is more to add about run/walk and race plans but that will wait for another post. Thanks for enjoying this with me.