My training for the Chicago Marathon was similar to my Boston plan. Only run 3 days a week (1 track, 1 tempo, 1 long run) where the focus is on quality not quantity. My plan had distances and paces to run a 3:25 marathon. I stuck pretty closely to the plan, only missing 3 or 4 days. By the end of the program I was faster than plan on the track, about on plan for the tempo run, and 20 to 40 seconds/mile slow on the long runs. I ran four 20 mile runs, each one faster than the last, with the final one at 8:11/mile pace. Everything about the training results screamed a 3:30 marathon. I trained with my friend Kenny who was also going to run Chicago, and as we got close to the race we tailored our runs for an 8:00/mile race pace which translates into a 3:30 marathon.
We flew into Chicago Saturday afternoon. I tried something a bit different this race for carbo loading. Rather than eat as much as can the day before, I basically carbo loaded the 4 days before the race, supplementing my diet with 100g+ of carbs from a powder supplement. So the night before the marathon all I ate was a normal portion of pasta. I slept well and was up at 5:30 AM. The temperature was 42 degrees as we walked the mile or so to the starting corrals. The starting area was in Grant Park and was extremely well organized. It was different than the other big marathons (NY and Boston) where you spend hours in the staging area. We got there a bit past 7 for a 7:30 start and went right to our corral. We were in Corral B so only a few thousand people in front of us. The gun started and we got off without any delay or congestion. The people around us were definitely running fast and we tried to just get into our 8:00/mile pace. At the half mile mark there was a tunnel and it messed up my GPS watch so I was not sure of our pace. When we got to the 1 mile marker at 7:30 I was a bit worried. Although the pace felt very comfortable it was clear we were running too fast. I mention to Kenny that we should slow down to get to our goal 8:00/mile pace. Although Kenny is a triathlon veteran and a faster runner than me this was his first marathon and we were supposed to keep each other in control with the pace. So we try to slow down but we did the second mile in about 7:30 as well. A couple of more miles went by but we just couldn’t slow down. We generally were running at a 7:42 or 7:43 pace most of the early miles with a few miles under that. Chicago’s course is perfectly flat and had tremendous crowd support. As we ran through the city the crowds were loud enough that it was hard to talk to Kenny. And there were very few dead spots. By mile 5 we still couldn’t slow down and I said to Kenny “What I would give for an 8 minute mile”. We felt so comfortable at the pace we were running that by mile 11 when we ran a 7:28 I just gave up trying to slow us down and accepted our fate. We had trained well (except for Kenny being sick and missing 3 weeks and 3 critical long runs which would come back to haunt him in the end) tapered perfectly and the weather was perfect. So we just ran what was comfortable and that is always the mistake people make in the marathon. I knew all about this mistake it but there was also a part of me that thought “hey the speed workouts we did were way faster than plan, maybe it IS possible that we could do sub 3:25.” I wanted to tell Kenny “we are screwed. Miles 20+ are going to be hell” but I didn’t want to freak him out and burden him with my obsessiveness with the plan. So we just decided to press on running whatever pace was comfortable. The first half of the marathon we did at 1:41:42 and it felt easy. But I still feared that the pace we were on was going to crush us when we hit mile 20.
The course was great as went through Lincoln Park, the North Side of Chicago, Little Italy, Chinatown, and finally back up into Grant Park. The weather continued to be perfect as it reached maybe the low 50s. By mile 16 we started running in the low 8s pace, generally between 8:05 and 8:10. I usually start to really feel bad and slow down in a big way around mile 20. But in Chicago it did not happen until mile 23. I think the extra couple of miles of being able to keep pace was due to the difference in carbo loaded, the perfect weather, and the perfectly flat course. Mile 23 was an 8:26 and Mile 24 was an 8:32. I think this is the point that Kenny dropped back as the lack of long training runs combined with the much too fast first half got to him. With 2 miles left I did the math and I just needed to not fall apart to beat 3:30. I still had saved a little bit of energy but was still a bit concerned so with 2 miles left I had enough to run an 8:19 mile 25 then a slightly sub 8:00 pace on the last 1.1 or so miles. The end of the race had a ton of people cheering you on which especially helps at the finish. There was a baby hill of maybe 200 yards right before the finish and then it is a nice little downhill to the finish. I was able to kick it in at the end and finish passing large groups of people. I waited for Kenny at the finish and he came through about a minute after me. We were both really hurting. I had some Gatorade and pretzels and hobbled to the grass in the park to rest for about 10 minutes. Then Kenny went off to meet his parents and I started to walk to the hotel. The hotel was probably 1.5 miles away. It was in the low 50s but those space blankets they give you after marathons really work when its sunny. I tried to get on a bus but they wouldn’t let me on without paying the fare. So I shuffled to the hotel, got in the shower, got a cab to the airport, and was home by 6:30. I have run 7 marathons and in only 1 of those races (Boston) I ran a smart first half. I think if we had run the first half of Chicago in 1:44:40 rather than 1:41:40, we could have run an even faster race with much less pain in the end.
Overall Chicago was logistically the best marathon I have run and the course was one of my favorites. It is definitely one I would recommend.
If anyone is interested, here is the Garmin map/stats of the race.
This was supposed to be a stress free marathon as I was not really going for a specific time, my training was not great, and I was looking forward to a scenic course in Falmouth. My training suffered in the last 6 weeks as I suffered with runners knee. I ended up keeping most of my long runs on weekends but drastically cut my schedule during the week to 1 run. It worked as I was 100% healthy for the race. As we got closer to the date the weather began to look really poor. The forecast was predicting 35 degrees, slush and heavy rain, and 40+ MPH winds. The drive down there from my brother’s house 45 miles away was in a driving snowstorm. But by the time I got to Falmouth there was no snow and the rain had stopped. I picked up my number and sat in the parking lot for a couple of hours staying warm. It looked like it was going to be in the 30s with wind in the 30+ MPH (but no rain) so wore two l layers of technical shirts, wind jacket, dri-fit hat, and running tights. That ended up being about the right amount of clothes given the weather and wind. I never felt overheated or particularly cold. I was able to walk over to the starting line a few minutes before the start of the race.
The race itself was about 1,000 marathon runners and a bunch of relay runners. I appreciated the fact the relay runners actually had to carry a baton. The race started through the town center and the first three miles were essentially the last three miles of the summer Falmouth Road Race. That brought back great memories, a big hill, and some great scenery. I had heard that the course was a tough one with some hills, but I was not concerned as I had most of my long runs on courses with hills (I ended up be very wrong about this). The first 10 miles or so were not difficult. I was running between 7:55s and 8:05s. I thought it was a bit fast given conditions and training but figured I would just go at whatever pace I felt comfortable. After the first 5 miles or so the course was mainly inland and away from the water, so the wind was not that bad. It was cold but the weather was really not an issue. About mile 10 the course started to get hilly. These were rolling hills where you would have gradual, sometimes steep uphills, then quick downhills. I find I rest better on flats than downhills so I think I was having a hard time getting into a groove. I ran the first half marathon around 1:48 but was starting to worry it was a bit quick and I would pay for that in the second half. I started to realize around mile 16 as the rolling hills piled up that I made a pretty big tactical error by going out too fast. The course started to beat me up and I was surprised at how relentless the hills seemed. There were more people walking up the hills than I have ever remembered in a marathon. I have a thing about never walking in a race. I would run slow, but avoid walking at all costs. So I was going up these hills pretty slow! By mile 18 or so we start to leave inland and are now more in town, running by nice golf courses and starting to see the water again. The scenery was great, but I was just getting pissed about ANOTHER hill! I realized at about mile 18 that this was not going to be a fast day for me. I actually started to hit the wall. It had been a bunch of races since I really hit a wall but I do recall the feeling. I knew I could do it, but it was not going to be fun. So I girded myself to grind it out for the next 8 miles. At this point I was running in the low to mid 9s, so it was going to be awhile in this painful state. I remember someone saying early in the race that the last hill was at the lighthouse at mile 22, but that was not true at all. There was a couple more pretty long ones. The last couple of miles were thankfully flat and on the water. The finish line was in the town center, and they actually announced my name as I crossed the finish line, which was only the second time that has every happened to me. My final time was 3:47, so I essentially ran the second half marathon in almost 2 hours! A horrible split, but given my training and conditions, it was certainly the appropriate time. You can’t fake a marathon with lack of training like you can a half-marathon. My parents surprised me by being at the finish line as well. But I couldn’t do more than say a quick hello and recap of the race as I was already tightening up and getting really cold. So I hobbled over to my car, drove about an hour to my brother’s house, showered, and drove 4 hours home back to Port Washington.
Overall it was a really interesting race. Much different than a big city marathon. There were less water stops, the mile markers reminded me of the old ones on the west side highway path, and very few, if spirited, spectators. The course was definitely the toughest I have run. And I have learned that probably not wise to just treat a marathon like another long run!
Off to the cape cod marathon in a driving snowstorm. This will be an interesting run!
RT @andrewparker: I’m only 130 pages into REAMDE and I’ve already got 2 new startup ideas out of it. #NoSpoilersPlease
RT @ddayman: Congratulations to Matt Blumberg for his election to Chairman of the DMA board for 2012. @mattblumberg @returnpath
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