To qualify and gain entry into the Boston Marathon you have to meet a time standard, what is commonly referred to as a Boston Qualifier (BQ). For my age group that means I have to run a sub-3:30 to even be able to apply. But since the Boston Marathon is such a popular and prestigious race, many runners want to vie for the 25,000 or so slots. So to keep it a competitive race, they award the faster runners first. Those that are 20 minutes under the qualifying times are shoe-ins. So are the 10 minute and 5 minute under runners that apply. I got my BQ at the 2015 Chicago Marathon, running a 3:28:19 on a somewhat warm day for the race. I had qualified! But I was a ‘squeaker’ – a runner that has a small margin of being under the cutoff. My cushion was 1:41. One minute and forty-one seconds. Today, the Boston Athletic Association announced the cutoff time – 2:09. I missed the cutoff by 28 seconds.
To say it didn’t affect me would be lying. But the disappointment of missing out on what is generally accepted as the pinnacle achievement by twenty-eight seconds stings somewhat. 28 seconds. Where could I have lost 28 seconds in my BQ run at Chicago? Did the weather set me back? It was warm, and it was definitely windy in the last 5K, but I had a personal best race that day. Did I not train enough? Where could I have gained 28 seconds? I had not stopped for any bathroom breaks. I had limited my time spent getting through the aid stations. I had hit my splits very well. I ran the tangents. My nutrition was all going to plan. Truthfully, I think I gave it my best shot.
As I finished the 2015 Chicago Marathon I glanced at my watch and saw my time. My reaction was very strange. I had a sense of overwhelming joy at being under my qualifying time, but I knew that the current BQ cutoff was a whopping 2:28 for the 2016 Boston Marathon. I realized that my time probably would not be enough. I had my own personal “ABC Wide World of Sports” moment – I was experiencing the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat all in the post 26.2 mile finish chute. I was both happy and upset. Then I went to Devil Dawgs and had a hot dog.
It didn’t take me long to get over it. I was proud that I had qualified, and extremely proud that I had just set a marathon personal best for myself by ten minutes! So I patted myself on my back and moved on to my 2016 racing season, with the expectation that I would apply for the Boston Marathon when it opened in September of 2016.
September arrived and I hit submit. I knew that it was long shot, but I have spent probably close to 15 or more years attempting to get into this race, so why not? And then this eternal pessimist started to become an optimist. I had come across a Runner’s World online forum that was discussing the cutoff time for the 2017 Boston Marathon. Among the contributors that were posting on this forum were statistics loving runners and stat crunchers who almost took joy in trying to guess what the cutoff would be. Amazingly enough, they were mostly predicting that the cutoff would be less than 30 seconds to even as small as ZERO cutoff! I absorbed it all. One guy I questioned as to what he thought my chances were replied that I was “definitely in”. All the stars were lining up for me. The previous year’s qualifying marathons had been hot, which meant many runners had difficulty qualifying. The 2017 Boston was to be run on the day after Easter Sunday, which would more than likely keep many more away. And they had indicated that the field size may be around 30,000. I waited for two crazy and stressful weeks. Then the email came. 28 seconds.
I left work at noon and had already talked myself off the ledge. As I was driving home listening to my typical classic rock radio station, one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite bands – STYX – came on the radio. I pulled into the driveway already rocking out to Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man) and I was struck by the chorus:
“GET UP! GET BACK ON YOUR FEET! YOU’RE THE ONE THEY CAN’T BEAT, AND YOU KNOW IT! AWW, C’MON! LET’S SEE WHAT YOU GOT. JUST TAKE YOUR BEST SHOT AND DON’T BLOW IT!”
I put on my running gear, and went for my planned marathon training plan run. I have the 2016 Chicago Marathon in ten days. I plan on taking my best shot at another BQ.
Running the Chicago Marathon is an awesome experience regardless if this is your first marathon or one of a many. But if you have never ran Chicago before, here are some things to keep in mind as you prepare for a great weekend and race. Full disclosure – I’m not a running expert, I’m just a guy who has experienced the joys of running and like to share my thoughts and experiences.
I will assume that you have adequately prepared and trained for the race. Trust the training you have done to get you to race day. Enjoy the taper that has prepared you to arrive on race day morning fresh and raring to go. Race day is almost here!
READ THE PARTICIPANT GUIDE – It seems like a no-brainer, but I always shake my head when people ask questions about the race that are clearly covered in the guide. The guide will be mailed to you and can also be downloaded from the event website when it becomes available.
ENJOY THE EXPO – The expo at the Chicago Marathon is one of the best around. The expo is free and open to all. First up is packet pick-up. Only YOU can pick up your packet, and it has to be done on Friday or Saturday. There is no race day pick-up. You will need an ID, and either your participant guide, the emailed version of the guide or a smart phone that has the participant info scanned into to it to get your bib and check bag. From there you will head to the far back of the expo to get the shirt. This forces you to walk through the expo. If you feel the shirt size you selected is wrong for you, here’s your chance to exchange it at the booth that handles that. If you have forgotten anything that you think you might need (gels, visor/hat, gloves, etc.), you should be able to easily find it at the expo. Nike is the official gear for the race and will be selling tons of stuff with the official logo, but the other athletic companies will be there as well. On your way out, make sure you pick up a poster. This keeps it from getting smashed and wrinkled up while walking around the expo. I like to frame mine. If it is your very first marathon, consider buying the finisher plaque. It’s a little pricey, but you only have one first-time marathon finish. The expo is less crowded on Friday during the day, but if you have to go on Saturday try to limit the time you spend walking around.
PLAN YOUR TRIP INTO THE CITY – I drove in from the suburbs for my first Chicago Marathon in 1999. The unexpected traffic at 5am left me sitting on the expressway and I almost missed the start. I ended up parking at Soldier Field and ran about a mile to earn a place at the end of the field that was already moving. That forced me to have to zigzag through 25,000 or so slower runners. I think I ran an extra mile just navigating through the field. Then I had to walk what seemed like another marathon back to the car from the finish at the end of the race. Driving in for the expo the day or two before the race gives you a chance to figure out your route for your drive in the morning of the race. Take some time to plan out how early you need to leave to get into the city and find parking that will be accessible to the start and finish of the race. Nothing is worse than having to walk a couple miles back to your car after 26.2 miles of running. And if you are staying at a downtown hotel the night before, you are in good shape. But you still need to know how long it takes to walk from the hotel to your corral. I would normally advise to limit walking around the city the day before, but it pays to walk from the hotel to the entrance to your corral gate to know how to get there.
EAT EARLY THEN RELAX – Carbo-loading is a honored tradition, but I have seen more and more athletes dialing it back quite a bit. The trend seems to be to start fueling up on carbs the days leading up to the race and not just the night before. I will eat a normal sized carbohydrate based meal the day before, but I tend to place greater importance on nutrition during the race. In the past I have found that if I am downtown on the eve of the race, getting a table at a local pasta place near the hotel is going to be a really long wait. Plus you will be standing around on your feet waiting for a table. Look into getting a reservation for yourself a couple of days ahead, or plan on eating before the crowds, sometime around 3pm or so. You will have no worries finding a table and plenty of time to relax in the evening. And salt everything!
LAY OUT YOUR RACE GEAR THE NIGHT BEFORE – Take the time to get your stuff together the night before, lay it all out and check to make sure everything is in good shape. Trying to find your race bib, safety pins, socks, etc. in the dark at 5am is not good for your nerves. I like to put Skin Glide on my feet to prevent blisters, so I will place that near my socks. Wear your bib number on the front per the race rules – this will allow the photographers to be able to sort your photos. There is adequate liquids (water/Gatorade) on the course, so you shouldn’t need a fuel belt. But if you have a special relationship with yours, then by all means wear it. You won’t be the only one. If you feel you need to bring extra band-aids, or salt capsules, or sunglasses, make sure you lay all of that stuff out as well. Don’t forget sunscreen. Although the sun won’t make much of a difference at the start of the race, it’s easy to get burned later in the morning once you are out of the shadows of the downtown buildings.
CHECK YOUR WATCH – If you have a fancy GPS style running watch, make sure that you have charged it fully. Also check to see if you have enough storage room to handle the data from the race. People tend to forget to clear all of those summer training runs from the watch and then find that they do not have enough space to store the race data during the race.
CHECK THE WEATHER – Keep an eye on the weather forecast. Make sure you have comfortable running clothes for a variety of conditions. A good plan is to dress just warm enough with layers that you can shed if you warm up. You can always shed layers, but can’t put them on if you don’t have them. A large garbage bag will work as a rain coat and warming device that you can toss easily. Just be prepared that they may not let you past the gate if you are wearing it before entering.
DECIDE ON A POST RACE MEETING PLACE – Finding your family after the race will be a challenge. If you are staying at a downtown hotel, it has been my routine to just meet everyone back at the hotel room. The finish area will keep pushing the runners through until you hit Balbo. If you pick a common place to meet, say like Buckingham Fountain, expect to find that half the field has chosen that as their meet up place. Pick one away from the crowds and the immediate finish line area.
TRY TO GET SOME SLEEP – I’ve had races where I have tossed and turned all night, and others where I slept like a baby. Don’t be concerned if you don’t get a restful night of sleep. You will still be able to run the race just fine. There will be plenty of time after the race to nap. If you are considering using a sleep aid, make sure you try it out prior to the night before the race.
SET AN ALARM – Set another alarm. Have someone else set an alarm. Double-check your alarms. Set your alarms for at least 5am. This will allow ample time for you to wake up, make sure all of your bathroom needs are taken care of, eat a light breakfast, take care of some more bathroom needs, get dressed, go to the bathroom again, etc.
NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY – This is the golden rule of racing. Now is not the time to try the new shoes you bought at the expo (unless you forgot yours!). It is not the time to eat something completely out of the ordinary for you. Nothing new on race day!
EAT A LIGHT BREAKFAST – I always follow the same routine on race morning that I do during training. I will eat the same thing that I always eat for breakfast, a toasted bagel and coffee. If you run on an empty stomach, now is not the time to eat a banana nut muffin. Nothing new on race day!
GET TO YOUR CORRAL EARLY – This is the mistake I make over and over again. The corrals are accessed by five gates, but if you are in the first wave – Corrals A through E – you need to go through Gate 1. That’s a lot of people to move through the gate. Only runners with bib numbers will be able to get through the gate. The corrals open at 5:30am. Wave 1 corrals close at 7:20am. Don’t be stuck trying to get through the gate to get to your corral. Also, they will only let people in with the correct corral assignment into the corral. If you are in Corral D and your buddy is in Corral E, they won’t let either of you enter the gate that is not assigned to you.
HEAD TO THE TOILETS/GEAR CHECK – Once you get through the gate, you don’t have to head directly to your corral. Getting there early will give you plenty of time to chill out. If you are checking your gear, find the gear check tent and drop it off. Find the line for the toilets and try to make one last attempt before heading into your corral. Avoid walking through wet grass and getting your feet wet. Wet feet = blisters.
ENTER YOUR CORRAL AND RELAX – Once I get in the corral I like to find a dry place to sit down and relax, but once it gets crowded there won’t be any place to sit. Enjoy the circuses, conversations, and the Anthem. It’s GO TIME!
Some runners will treat the Chicago Marathon like an event, and others will race it to the best of their abilities. Whatever your goal, whether to just finish or possibly even qualify for the Boston Marathon, here are some tips.
RUN NEGATIVE SPLITS – Studies have shown that running the second half of the race faster than the first half will produce the best results.
HAVE A PLAN B – You can hope for an ideal day for the marathon, but that may not happen. If it’s a going to be a hot day, you may have to dial back your expectations some. Conversely, if the day turns out to be beautiful and you are feeling great, you may want to push a little harder. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
PACING GROUPS – There will be pacing groups that will be running in the race. You can officially join one of them at the expo, or just latch on to one and try to hang on. The leaders of these groups are proven runners and consistently hit their mile splits. They will NOT be running negative splits, they will hit the average pace expected for every mile for the desired finish time (i.e. for a 3:30 finish they will average 8 mins/mile). You will see them holding a sign with the finish time they are expected to hit. But be aware that once the race starts they will drop the large sign and may carry a smaller version. If they aren’t carrying a sign, they definitely will have the expected finish time bib pinned to their back. Also be aware that there may be more than one pacing group for a specific finish time (i.e. Corral B and Corral C each may have a 3:30 pace group). If you started with the Corral B group pacer for 3:30 and end up with the Corral C group pacer you won’t hit your time because the second group started later than the first.
RUN THE THIN BLUE LINE – Most people running the race, even those that have done it numerous times, are unaware that there is a painted blue line running the length of the course. That blue line is the official race route. If you stay on that line you will run the most direct route. It’s hard to do at times due to the amount of people running with you, but running the tangents is always smart racing.
AID STATIONS CAN BE TRICKY – There are 20 aid stations and they are sporadically spaced apart. Each will have tables on both sides of the road. There will be large blue banners for water and large orange banners for Gatorade. The common advice is to avoid the first few tables as they will be crowded, but if everyone is doing that then the back tables become crowded too. I look for my opening and take it. Make eye contact with the volunteer or point at them so they know that you are coming for their cup. They may then try to extend it a little for you. There will be toilets at each aid station. If you know you need to stop, try to spot them right away and head there or you might pass them by.
WATCH YOUR STEP! – The aid stations can get very slick and you could easily slip with all of the water/Gatorade/gels/cups/banana/garbage on the ground. Also, watch out for course jumpers. These are spectators who have decided that they would rather be on the other side of the course and then just dart straight across. You will cross the river four times in the downtown area on bridges that are made of metal grates. These can be tough on your feet. There will be some thin carpet laid down over a small section of it. Head for the carpet if the footing bothers you.
ENJOY THE SIGHTS – What makes the Chicago Marathon so much fun is the city, crowds, and circuses of running through 29 neighborhoods. There will be awesome entertainment along the way. Take some time to enjoy the race! My personal favorite is high-fiving Elvis around the 10 mile mark.
AVOID MENTAL FATIGUE – It’s easy to get physically tired running 26.2 miles, but this race can drain you mentally as well. The crowds and the noise almost make me wish I had earplugs at times. And unless you know exactly where to look for family, spending time studying faces in the crowd will drain you. Try to know ahead of time where they will be. Or pick a side of the course to be on and tell the family that you will be running on that side. Also, try breaking the race up into small segments, for instance every 5 miles, instead of counting down each mile.
USE THE COURSE TO YOUR ADVANTAGE – If race day is warm, try to stay in the shadows of the big buildings of the early stages of the race. Conversely, head for the sunshine if you are cold. If there is a head wind or you feel cold, tuck yourself in behind a group of runners and use them to block the wind.
AVOID NON-AID STATION OFFERINGS – Somewhere near the last 10K of the race there will be a guy passing out cups of beer. In Pilsen, there will be good intentioned people passing out orange slices and pretzels. In my opinion, unless you really need a lift, I would pass on these offerings just because you just don’t know how they might affect you. Nothing new on race day, remember?
SMILE FOR THE CAMERA – There will be several photographers along the course. Sometimes there will be a sign that says “photographer ahead” and sometimes you will later see your photos and don’t remember them being there. The common places are near Mile 12 when you cross the river, at about 21.5 miles in Chinatown, and a big group of photographers taking photos from above around the 23 mile area. And of course, at the finish. Here’s your chance to look like a champion!
WATCH OUT FOR THE HILL – How hilly is the Chicago Marathon? It’s the opposite of hilly. There will be a few up and down sections over bridges and such, but it’s basically a flat course. But there is one hill of note, and it comes at the 26 Mile mark on Roosevelt Road. You will turn right at the corner and climb this hill for about a couple hundred yards, then it’s a left turn and a downhill to the finish. Just a minor nuisance really.
STOP YOUR WATCH – Don’t forget to stop your watch at the end. And don’t be confused if the official time being displayed on the clocks is different from your time. The official clocks start when the race begins, but you will be chip timed starting when you crossed the Start Line and ending at the Finish Line.
You will be going on quite an adventure running through 29 different neighborhoods. In truth, the road you are running on will be pretty much the same, with the exception of some rough feeling bridges, so there are not too many surprises. Here’s some advice on how to handle the miles.
MILES 1-5: You will be super excited and filled with adrenaline at the start. Try to hold back your pace. Let the rabbits go, resisting the urge to get caught up in the tempos of the other participants. By the time you get to Mile 5 you should be in a comfortable pace, and no longer bumping elbows with everyone. You will be tempted to bypass the water/Gatorade but you shouldn’t, especially if it is a warm day. Don’t get behind on staying hydrated or fueled. It’s too hard to catch back up. There aren’t too many highlights through these miles, just lots of tall buildings.
MILES 6-10: This section of the race will be exciting. Lots of fans and entertainment on the course. You will also be as far north as you will be on the course just after Mile 7. From then on you are heading back into downtown. By Mile 6 you will probably warmed up fairly well and might want to think about shedding a layer. But if you are cool, wait until you get past Mile 8 because you will be heading south and there might be a change in wind direction that could influence your comfort. Keep taking hydration and fuel. The highlights in this section include Lincoln Park, and a glimpse of Lake Michigan near Lake Shore Drive. Also, Wrigleyville and Boystown will certainly be entertaining. Rifle spinners, cheerleaders, and other crazy stuff.
MILES 11-15: As you head back into downtown, the crowds get very big again. Old Town’s tree-lined streets can provide some shade in this section. Coming up is the half-way point just as you turn west. If you are running for a charity, you will see those cheer sections around Mile 14. It’s a huge pick-me-up even if you aren’t part of their group. Take a look around you – you will probably notice by now that you have settled in with a group of similar paced runners, and you will probably be with those same runners for quite some time. After Mile 14, things change.
MILES 16-20: After Mile 14 the crowds become very thin and sometimes non-existent. You have entered the dead-zone. But you will be prepared for it from all of those lonely miles you put in during training. The scenery through here is pretty blah. It will be quiet until you get to Pilsen around Mile 19. If you haven’t taken an assessment of yourself yet, now’s the time. Have you been hydrating? Taking in gels or other food? How are your splits looking? How do your legs feel? Make some adjustments and remember your race plan goals to see if you are still on target. Also, around Mile 20 is the time when the dreaded “Wall” makes an appearance. Actually, I find the wall to be easily overcome by just keeping yourself fueled with gels and other food. Keep your energy up and you will not have to deal with the wall.
MILES 21-25: Ah, Chinatown! This is the section that is always the reminder that we are winding this race down. About five miles to go! But your mind can play tricks on you because you start heading further south at this point, farther away from the downtown finish line. It’s not long until you hit Michigan Avenue and start heading north again. There will be fewer crowds here as most will be wanting to be near the finish. Just keep getting to each aid station and keep moving forward!
MILES 26-26.2: Make the turn onto Roosevelt Road and tackle that hill! You are almost home! The trip down Columbus Drive will be very short, but you will want it to last longer. Soak up that finish! Great job!
Hooray! You did it! You finished the Chicago Marathon. Well done. Your job isn’t over yet, though.
KEEP MOVING – You should definitely stop running (ha!), but don’t stop moving. Keep the blood pumping until your heart rate comes back down. There might be some mister-type fans for cooling if you need it. And those mylar type wraps/blankets that they pass out will make a difference as your warm body cools down and you find yourself now slightly chilled.
AVOID SITTING – That curb may look like a great place to rest, but getting back up from it will be difficult.
GET YOUR MEDAL – This is what you came for, right? It’s hard to miss the many people passing out medals, but I’ve seen more than one person backtrack to get one. And please, only take one.
REHYDRATE AND REFUEL – Take a water or recovery drink and try to rehydrate. If you can eat something, try some pretzels, chips or eat a banana to help get your sodium and potassium levels back up.
IF YOU NEED HELP, SEEK IT OUT – There will be course marshals in the chute sitting up high on stands monitoring everyone walking through. If they notice that someone is not looking right, they will get someone over to them. But if you aren’t doing so well, maybe feeling lightheaded or nauseated, there are areas near the Medical Tent that volunteer medical professionals will be at to help you recover. Their goal is to keep you out of the main medical tent, which is not where you really want to end up. If you make it there you are probably going to get an IV, or an ambulance ride to the hospital.
TAKE YOUR TIME GETTING TO THE EXIT – You probably are ready to go find your family, but make sure you are in good walking shape before leaving and meeting your loved ones at your previously agreed upon meeting spot. You probably won’t be allowed back in once you leave. Get your finisher photo taken again with your medal, use the bathroom, grab another water and make sure you are in good enough condition to make it to where you are heading.
That’s about it. Thanks for reading and enjoy the Chicago Marathon!
Results: 20:52 Official, 20:45 Garmin watch – 17th overall, 16th Male overall, 3rd place M50-54
I enjoy racing at the Frankfort Park District Short Run on a Long Day 5K for a couple of reasons. First, it’s held on a midweek evening which means most of the day has passed and all you need to do is worry about running and not the million other things you have to do that day. I also enjoy the fact that it brings out some good competition and allows me to race against a higher percentage of my faster peers. At another local race that was run in my town in late April I would have finished second overall, so this race tells me more about myself than placing high in a race that had no competition.
The race day this year was hot – 89 degrees – when I checked the car thermometer. I decided to not let that bother me, and I decided that I would push myself anyway. During warm-up I was jogging shirtless past a couple of moms who were pushing their kids in strollers. One of the kids said “Daddy!” which prompted me to chuckle and say “Daddy must be hairy too.” That seemed to get me in a good mood.
The start was typical, too many slowpokes in the front that I would have to navigate around. One guy asked another what time he was shooting for and the guy said around 21 minutes. That guy I thought had a chance at that. But when he asked the other guy, said he wasn’t sure, “maybe 22 or 23” minutes. I immediately thought of the movie Mr. Mom when he responded 220 / 221 – whatever it takes. This guy looked like he would be over 25 minutes to me.
As usual my son Ben also ran the race. He did his typical college runner thing in warm-ups, and then found an old high school buddy to run the race with. He made his way to the front of the line at the last minute. Must be cool to have the speed to back that up! He finished second overall for the 3rd year in a row I think. He keeps losing to the same guy. Not really fair for Ben, as he is coming off a mandatory 2 week recovery period from track season. And he had a head cold. I’m guessing he’ll beat this guy someday.
The guy that starts the race likes to stand right in the middle of the road and warn people not to run him over when the race starts. I find that to be the dumbest thing, but typical of a race that is run by the park district versus a race that is run by a runner or running club. He hit the siren on the bullhorn, snapped a picture and we all took off. I was hitting Z4 heart rate within the first 1/4 mile. The group spread out pretty quickly and I focused on getting my breathing rhythm under control. The first mile hit and I missed the water stop. I was getting quite a dry mouth, but I didn’t worry about it. For some reason the water stop was positioned on the left hand side of the trail we were running on, and in my opinion it should have been on the right. When running on a trail, all users should stay right, and there were definitely other bikes and trail users on the trail that would force us over. Matter of fact, one kid that passed me around the 1/2 mile mark shouted “BIKER UP!” which startled me somewhat, but had he not yelled that I may have not seen the guy.
When we hit the one mile marker another guy got on my shoulder and asked how I was doing. Apparently he was feeling me out. I said I was doing good. He mentioned that he thought the split on the clock was too fast, and I agreed. My watch split said about 6:15 for the first mile. He tried to talk some more but I zipped it and focused on catching the next guy. I dropped him and never saw him again.
When we made the turn off the trail and onto the side streets I started to catch a lot of guys that had gone out too fast. From that point, about 1.5 miles into the race, I kind of fell into no man’s land again. This happens to me a lot, I end up being the slowest of the faster runners or the faster of the mid-packers. I don’t remember passing or being passed from that point on.
Around the two mile marker I saw a lady by a table that had cups of water on it. Apparently she was the sole worker for that water stop, but it was on the far side of the road on a turn, which meant that I would not be able to take the tangent if I wanted to get some water. Since I was really hot, I decided to make a try at it and she met me halfway. I took the cup and splashed it on me. What happened next was a surprise – I almost felt hotter! Not sure if the temp of the water was an issue, or that I was just too hot for it to do anything. I can remember my tri buddy Alex mentioning this once, and I took note.
I could feel myself starting to fade, but between mile 2 and 3 there are a lot of turns, which meant I could look back and see how close runners were behind me. There was no one around that I was worried about. I came upon a guy who said good job and was spraying a hose for us to stay cool. But again, he was on the side of the street that would require me to move over from the straightest line to get relief. It was too late to take him up on the water anyway, as I was determined to kick to the end.
Once I got to the last tenth of a mile I knew I had no challengers, but I pushed myself anyway. My son was there yelling at me to go all in, a payback in a way for all the times I yelled at him in junior high and high school to push harder. Now that he is a D-III runner, I usually just yell “Good Job!” or “GO Ben!”
My watch said 20:45 at the end, which was a little disappointing seeing that it wasn’t as fast as I thought I could run, nor as fast as I thought I was running. But seeing that it was so hot, I guess it is a pretty respectable time, all things considered.
I ran the Frankfort, Illinois Half Marathon today and found myself really questioning my sanity. First of all, I am in the middle of training for Ironman Lake Placid, and I usually avoid racing any distance road race to avoid doing something stupid and end up injured. But my training plan tapered this week with the instruction to do an Olympic distance triathlon on Sunday. Seeing that it is April in Illinois, good luck finding one. So I substituted the half marathon on a Saturday to end the week.
Second, this race seems doomed weather-wise. It was 40 degrees and pouring last year (I didn’t run it last year), and this year was predicted to be more of the same. I have never not started a race that I signed up for (and paid good money), and I really didn’t like thinking that I was going to blow it off. Fortunately, the rain held off at the start and I took my spot in Corral A. I found it slightly humorous that I was seeded in the first corral of this little local race.
So the gun went off and I found myself running along the guy holding the 1:30 pace group sign, a sign basically made from a dowel rod, two paper plates, and plenty of clear tape. We chatted for a while, but I knew that I would probably be better off not trying to stay with him. We passed the first mile and he said our split was 6:51! Okay, definitely need to back off the gas a little. I mentioned to him that I was surprised the big guy in green was ahead of us, holding that sub-7 minute per mile pace, but that guy started to slowly pull away. Pacer Guy said he had to pick it up in order to stay on pace. I found this particularly funny, because he basically had no one with him to pace! Maybe he grew tired of me, I don’t know. I do know the 2 hour pacer guy came in a little late and the guy with the microphone was razzing him a little. Maybe 1:30 pacer guy didn’t want to suffer the same indignity! Pacer Guy didn’t have a bib, and wasn’t racing because I asked him. So I let both the Pacer Guy and Green Shirt Guy go and I fell into a more comfortable pace, because I knew what was coming.
After a few minutes I found myself running alone. The Pacer Guy and Green Shirt Guy were at least 100 yards ahead, and there was no one immediately behind me either. I find myself in this situation all the time and it puzzles me. I guess it is a matter of perspective, but I can either say I am the slowest of the faster group or the fastest of the slow group. Maybe mid-packer is what I truly am. But it is tough to be in the mid-pack WHEN YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE! Trivial, I guess. The loneliness of a long distance runner.
I also realized at this point of the race, I was slightly overdressed. I took off the ear wrap and gloves and could feel myself cooling down. I thought about tossing the long sleeve shirt but kept it, because I remembered during my warm up that the wind would be blowing in my face on this out and back run. Glad I kept it on.
Standing in the elite (!) Corral A, I took notice of the competition. There was the typical thin twenty year olds who look like they just finished their college running careers, the backward hat guy, a couple of girls who I could tell had “game”, the guy with some race team singlet, and another guy who clearly didn’t belong in Corral A because his number was 438 or something, and we were all wearing very low numbers. Plus, he kept asking questions about the course. We racers in Corral A never come to Corral A without knowing the course and how to attack it! SMH, dude.
But the most interesting aspect of my fellow competitors in Corral A was that many seemed to be in my age group by the look of their greying hair and fuddy-duddy race outfits. I had looked at last year’s results and figured if I had a good day, I might win an age-group award, but looking at these guys I wasn’t so sure. They had the look of confidence, and well the look of fast, old guys.
Back to the action – At about four miles into the race, we turned off the mostly flat bike trail and headed into the nature preserve. Since I live in this area, I consider this area my home turf. I know every little hill, bump, crack, twist and turn as I have run this trail nearly every run since it opened in 2001 or so. I knew what was coming, about six miles of very difficult hilly terrain. So I paced myself up the hills and flew down the other side, over and over again. At about Mile 5, a group of volunteers were passing out water so I took a cup to wash down the gel I just ate. As I was doing that, the volunteer said “You’re looking good!” I replied, “Lady, I’m not even the fastest old guy!”
And that was true. I hadn’t caught any of the old dudes that had started with me in the race. I had a good idea of where I stood, about 14th overall, when I had the opportunity to count the lead out pack earlier in the race. At the halfway point, I had only been passed by two runners – the two girls with game – and that was it. I also saw Race Team Singlet Guy walking on the side of the trail after getting through Round 1 of the hills. As I hit the turn-around and started back into the fury of hills, I could see that he dropped out. Yes! I made up a position! But I could also see how far the Fast Old Guys were ahead of me. Way ahead of me.
Back into the hills and that’s when the rest of the racers got a view of the awesomeness of the Corral A starters! Out and backs are interesting, as you get to see the lead runners and how far ahead of you they are. I got a little depressed when I saw the leaders already heading back while I still had a half mile to the turn-around. I wonder if the back of the pack runners get that too. They and I shouldn’t, we’re awesome too!
The trail got pretty crowded and I was no longer able to take the straightest line and run the tangents. But I got plenty of “great job’s!” and I returned the complement. I have been running since the late 1980’s, and truthfully I think this is the biggest running boom that I have seen in a long time. Glad to see so many others taking up the sport, especially the longer distance stuff. The lone runner that I actually know personally, Holly, saw me and we exchanged hello’s!
At Mile 9 I caught Green Shirt Guy, and as we continued leaving the hills behind us, he didn’t seem to want to keep up. But I didn’t get to enjoy passing him for too long, because within a mile I got passed by White Shirt Guy. I had dismissed White Shirt Guy earlier because he didn’t look the part of my other Corral A competitors. We were wearing real running shorts and looking every bit the part of running legends, and this guy had a pair of baggy shorts pulled over some tights. And he was wearing earphones! I got to say, I see people wearing head and earphones in races all the time. I never take them seriously because I think its a crutch for them, like they can’t do such a boring activity without music! And if they can’t run without music, my thinking is that they probably aren’t doing intervals and hill repeats either. But maybe I misjudged White Shirt Guy and his earphones.
White Shirt Guy passed me quickly as I was trying to down my second and last gel, but he was panting pretty hard and I felt like I was floating along. My immediate thought was that he is kicking way too early. I grabbed a water from another volunteer and said something that I would quickly regret: “That guy sounds like he’s suffering.” He wasn’t.
We turned on to the path and briefly headed west until a quick turn around and then it’s a 5K or so straight back to the finish. It was then when I saw the pack starting to form behind me, and the lead that White Shirt Guy was building. I figured I better keep pace with White Shirt Guy, and focus on the race ahead instead of what was behind.
The wind was now blowing straight into our faces. It wasn’t that strong, but it was cold and it made me duck my head a little. It had also started to sprinkle just a little. As I crossed Wolf Road one of the ESDA volunteers shouted my name. It was a kid that I had coached and had on my baseball team when he was about 11 or 12. I tell you that really gave me a pick-up! I actually had a little adrenaline flow through me from that. Glad I made an impression on the kid. And I am thankful that he was impressed.
I kept the pace until Mile 11 and started to draw White Shirt Guy in slowly. I could see the big bridge that goes over Route 45 ahead at about 12.5 miles and knew I would pace up it and try to fly down it. I made up some space on him and it was then that I knew I probably had him. As we came upon the 13 Mile marker, he took a quick look over his left shoulder, but I don’t think he saw me as I was running far right. I made my move and passed him quickly. I don’t think he even heard me, because he didn’t make any sort of effort to match my effort. Another reason not to wear earphones in a race! I heard him struggling and finally give an exasperated sigh, and I kicked to the finish line with what I had left. He kicked too damn early. And he wore earphones. I don’t get beat by runners wearing earphones.
I walked to the car and grabbed my sweatshirt and sweatpants to keep warm and then I walked back to the finish and watched quite a few runners finish. The race directors Jim and Bev own the little running store near the finish line. My son worked for them last summer. I spoke with Jim and he reiterated how great of a kid he was. Even though he has told me that once before, I still beam with pride. (Note to my son – use Jim as a reference on your resume!)
Bev walked up and had the current list of finishers and she let me have a look. There it was: 12th place overall. 4th in the 50-54 age group. I finished in the top twelve and didn’t even medal.
Every year on December 31, I like to look back on my running year and add up the miles, crunch some numbers, look at the stats and jot down some notes about the experiences that running gave me.
Also every year I seem to proclaim that it was the best year ever for me. 2015 is no exception.
I set an unintentional goal at the start of 2015. I say it was unintentional because I decided to run on January 1, 2015. A short and easy three mile treadmill run. It was uneventful, really. But I had purposely avoided running on January 1 in previous years to avoid trying to start a running streak. Well, I ran again on January 2, and then again on the 3rd, 4th, 5th, etc. The running streak was on!
I really just wanted to see how long I could do it, knowing from my past that I would probably need a day off to heal from overdoing it, or just a mental break from the running routine. Life gets in the way – vacations, sickness, bad weather, family responsibilities, etc. – all could have derailed a year long running streak. But I was finding routine in this streak. I came home from work at noon and went for a run. Wake up the next day and repeat. The goal of making it 365 days in a row seemed doable. I decided that while most “streakers” attempt at least one daily mile, I would try to do at least two. Because I am a gunner.
A couple of threats to completing the streak popped up. I tried to slalom water ski while on summer vacation in Minocqua, Wisconsin.
I tried to get up on one ski and pulled the upper right quad slightly. Shook it off and then decided that I would just drop a ski instead. Well, that trick ended with a pulled left hamstring. Fortunately, I had already run that day, but the following day it was sore. I attempted a really slow jog down the Bearskin Trail and started feeling pretty good. My marathon training plan had me running 12 miles, but I decided that would be too ambitious, since we were packing up and heading home that morning. After about a mile, I made one longer than average stride to miss a bad spot on the trail, and it was then I felt it go south. I turned around and started to limp back home. I was able to shuffle after about 5 minutes of walking and was happy to finish with a 2 mile run. The following day was a long car ride back home from vacation, and after getting home I was able to shuffle through a 3 miler. It took a little longer to no longer feel the hamstring pull, but after about two weeks it was feeling pretty good.
The other threat was catching a stomach bug late October. Although I wasn’t vomiting, I did have spells of nausea, and lots of the other stuff. I started feeling mobile around late afternoon and decided to attempt a couple miles on the treadmill. I got through one mile in 10:50, and just did not have any energy left. One of the hardest miles I can ever remember running. I went upstairs and took a 30 minute, hot and steamy shower. So the illness didn’t end the streak, but my goal of at least two miles a day would be dashed.
The last possible unknown in attempting the streak was lurking after the Chicago Marathon. In the past, I usually took off about 3 days from running post-marathon, mainly to heal, but also because I was sore and it usually hurt just to move. This year that would not be an option. I ran the marathon, made sure I ate a lot of protein post-race, and did some muscle massaging with my roller, and hit the trail for two miles on Monday afternoon. Surprisingly, although very stiff, I wasn’t doing too bad. Until I got to the small little hills – downhills in particular were brutal! But I got my two miles in, with three the next day, and I was back to the 7 miles and more by Wednesday.
After the marathon, I didn’t really see anything in my way of completing the streak through December 31. I just kept putting in end of year taper mileage and having fun. But another aspect popped up – I could see that my annual mileage total might hit the 2,000 mark. That was
unbelievable to me. 2,000 in one year had been unthinkable. I guess all those two milers I ran instead of taking an off day added up and made a difference. So now the goal was 2K! And I hit it in late November. Now, with a month to go, I had 2,100 miles in my sights! In the last couple of weeks, I could see that it would take some 8 and 10 mile runs to get there, but it wasn’t a problem. December had been an unusually warm and running friendly month weather-wise, and I felt pretty good for running all year long. In the last week, the RUSH fan in me took over and I planned my runs to hit that magical number of 2112. With a four mile run on December 31, I held the Red Star proudly high in hand.
With all of the focus on the streak, and then the final year-end tally, I can’t forget how awesome of a running year this was. I kept thinking that the streak might have an adverse effect on performance. Boy, was I wrong! Distance-wise, the streak paid off. I set a marathon personal record, as well as a PR in the half-marathon. Not by a little, but I really smashed those marks – the half by about 3 minutes and the marathon by a whopping 10 minutes.
CHICAGO MARATHON RACE RECAP
Other than the streak, my “A” race was once again the Chicago Marathon and the focus for most of the summer. This time I decided to mix it up and get serious and find a decent training plan. I found one that really interested me from the race site itself, a 16-week training plan by Nike+. It was a good mix of training – tempo, speed-work, distance and recovery weeks. I had my son, who is a NCAA DIII XC runner at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa look it over, and he made some nice alterations and a plan of his own based on it. I took his advice under consideration and away I went. The big difference from this plan and my previous training attempts was that it had lots of longer distance long runs. Mostly 12, 14, 16, 18, and 20 mile runs. It became apparent that it was serious about logging long miles. I think that was a vital aspect to my performance in the race.
The race was predicted to be a warm one, with some wind. Although I opted to run in a singlet, I kept it tucked in and donned some arm warmers for the early morning start and tossed them later into the race.
The plan was simple, run 8 minute per mile splits until I hit the halfway point, and then pick it up ever so slowly with negative splits for the back half. I would hit the aid stations for water, and I took a salt tablet before the race and every hour into the run. I also had a belt full of GU, downing a packet every ½ hour.
The plan was going very well, and when I got to the 13.1mile mark, I decided not to push the pace until about mile 16 or so. It was starting to warm up. When I got to 16, I still felt as good as I did at mile 6, but I decided to extend that negative split push until mile 20 to hopefully avoid the dreaded wall. At 20, I made the decision to start picking it up. But what seemed like I was going faster, was just me thinking the effort was increasing my pace. It wasn’t. It was just taking more effort to maintain the 8 minute miles! I got to mile 23, and with a 5K to go, I GU’d again and started the straight line march back to the finish line. Somewhere with less than 2 to go, I saw my wife and the kids and shook my head. I was hitting the wall. Really the wall was hitting me. The wind that had been forecasted all day was now a headwind making my effort of finishing strong extremely hard! But somehow I found the determination to just keep passing people and get to the end.
I had been checking my watch pretty closely those last three miles. When I got to mile 25, I figured my sub-3:30 marathon, Boston Qualifier was on pretty solid ground. The emotions hit me hard when I crossed the line in 3 hours, 28 minutes and 19 seconds. A BQ by 1 minute 41 seconds, and a personal record by 10 minutes! I was very thankful for the streak, the plan, and the ability to finally get that Boston Marathon qualifying time and have a race of a lifetime. I honestly believe that with a better weather day, I could have been 3:25 or even 3:23.
Outside of running, my triathlon buddies once again had another great year. I could finish dead last and still have a great time, because triathlon has become more of a gift of spending time with my friends enjoying pushing ourselves.
– LEON’S WORLDS FASTEST TRIATHLON
Dave, John, Alex and I took on Leon’s Worlds Fastest Triathlon in Hammond, IN in early June. It seemed like a good idea at the time. The race had been a USA Triathlon national qualifier, and we were kind of hoping for the same this year. But they hosted the military championships instead. The race was interesting! We arrived to see that the forecast for the day was strong thunderstorms. As we waited to get in the water, the promised storms hit, and the race was delayed. After they rolled through, we were told that the race was now a shortened sprint. We were told that the road used for the Olympic bike course was underwater, but we had the feeling that the delay of the race start was pushing up against turning the roads back over to the City of Hammond. I for one was happy. The swim was okay, but I really didn’t put in much swim training leading up to the race. I kind of paid for that mistake. The bike and run were interesting. A complete downpour throughout both made for a crazy ride and run. Heading east on the bike I was easily hitting 25 mph, but heading back it was more like 15 mph! Dave and John had built a big lead over me in the swim and bike, but I made an effort to chase them down. I caught John about a mile into the run and I could see Dave ahead of me after about 2.5 miles into the 5K. I pushed hard, and I was really at the Z4 redline when I had just about 200 yards to go. He turned and saw me, then he beat me down with a kick that I no longer had. I finished a couple of seconds behind him, but I still had to hand it to him. Great job racing.
– LIFETIME TRI CHICAGO
This year, good friends Jeff and Jill joined us at Chicago. We all did the Olympic distance and had a great day. I ended up besting everyone except Alex, of course. But it was very good to see Jill giving triathlon a try, and especially Jeff overcoming some anxiety about the swim to essentially become a very good triathlete.
– ITU CHICAGO WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS & OPEN AGE GROUP TRI
September came and Dave, John, Jeff and I did the ITU in Chicago. It was a repeat of last year, and we really enjoyed it the year before. This year was the World ITU Championships and I expected it to be crazy. In reality, it didn’t seem as well run as the year before. Race morning was weather affected and they shortened the swim to essentially a sprint distance. The rest of the race went off as planned. Good racing by all four of us, but this time I came out on top. It was on the last lap of the 10K run that I caught Dave and beat him to the finish. I may have an edge at the Olympic distance, but it’s just a matter of time before those guys catch up with me.
SCHAUMBURG TURKEY TROT HALF MARATHON
I finished the year with a great half marathon in Schaumburg after Thanksgiving. I have done this race before, and like the forest preserve setting and the generally flat and fast course. I felt emboldened by my marathon PR, so I decided that I might set out on a 7:15 minute/mile pace. There was a pace group at that split time, so I thought I would hang with them, but it took me 6:40 and 6:50 minute miles for the first two miles to catch up! I ran with them for about two miles when I realized that I felt stronger than 7:15’s and slowly pushed ahead. I ended the day with 7:04 pace average and a PR of 1:32:36. I’m starting to like the half marathon distance.
So, that pretty much sums up the year. Started with a streak as a goal, ended up setting personal bests in number of runs/hours/miles in a calendar year, and set two PR’s in the half and full marathon distance. 2015 was a GREAT year!
Goals for 2016? Well, the “A” race has already been set. Team Dave, John, Chris, Alex and Jeff, now known as the “GUNNERS” will head to Lake Placid, New York for Ironman Lake Placid in late July. I am really looking forward to the fun times training and racing with my fellow Gunners in 2016!
RACES IN 2105
5/4 – St. Mary’s School Titan Dash 5K – 20:48 – 6:41 ave. pace – 5th Overall!
5/7 – Leon’s Triathlon – 1:04:57 – Dave outkicked me at the end
6/17 – Short Run on a Long Day – 20:43 – 2nd in A/G, 22nd O/A