I do dumb things. Not all the time, but when it comes to running I can make some terrible choices. This week I decided to race a local half-marathon, two weeks away from Ironman Chattanooga. Typically this would be a time to reduce mileage and intensity and coast into the “A” race feeling good and raring to go. My Ironman plan called for a 2-hour run for Sunday, and even though I had already decided that racing would be a bad idea, I went ahead and signed up for it anyway. This race benefits the local high school foundation and so I didn’t mind contributing to that cause. I figured that I would push comfortably hard, and if I sensed that I was overdoing it or possibly straining myself too much, I would dial it back and coast it home. Ha! On with the race!
I woke up to an absolutely beautiful day, temps in the mid-50’s with low humidity and hardly any noticeable wind. Perfect running day. I met up with my son Ben and did some pre-race chatting with him and then got ready.
The first three miles of this race are basically flat, and I felt awesome. I was floating along and at the 3-mile mark, I noticed my watch had a 22-minute split, which I felt would have been a pretty good 5K time! It wasn’t long until we hit the hills of the nature preserve.
The course is on my typical training route so I knew what to expect. I planned to take it easy up the hills and take advantage of the downhills. My first mistake was taking a gel right around the 4-mile mark, which was the beginning of one of the big climbs. I struggled to breathe as I was trying to swallow that junk. A little of it seemed to lodge in the back of my throat which caused me some irritation that lasted the duration of the race. It wasn’t killing me, but it certainly was annoying.
It was also about this time that I realized that I was once again the caboose of the front pack of racers. All the speedsters were ahead of me and I was bringing up the rear. Not a soul behind me that I could see. So I focused on keeping up with the group of three runners right ahead of me and tried to keep a steady pace.
Around mile seven I started to catch the group of three that had been ahead of me, but they then started to pull away. It was still way too early for me to start any sort of kick, so I just tried to keep them in sight. Around 9.5-miles into it I caught one of them and started working on the rest. By mile ten I found myself pacing behind another runner wearing an Ironman visor and I ran with him to see how he was feeling. I had just taken my last of three gels and the energy was starting to come back. I said to him lets get that guy ahead of us but he couldn’t go with me, so I started reeling in Mr. Pink Shoes. As I was working on that guy I could hear what I thought was the Ironman visor guy catching up with me, but when he passed me it was another guy that had caught me and was pulling ahead. I told him to “go get it” and he put some space on me. As we came to the big hill going over Route 45, I pulled him back in and we both passed Mr. Pink Shoes guy. I used the downhill after cresting the bridge to kick hard with about a half-mile or so to go and it seemed neither of those two guys had any kick left. I crossed the finish pretty much with no one in front of me and no one right behind me. I’ll take that.
Ben finishing in 2nd place
Repping FNRC and bringing it home
So, did the decision to race this close to an Ironman kill me? No. It was still not in my best interest to run it, but I’m glad I trusted my instincts and ran the race. Racing may not be the main reason I run, but it’s up there.
For my 19th time, I hereby do declare I WILL NEVER RUN ANOTHER MARATHON AGAIN! This time I MEAN IT!
This Chicago Marathon will definitely go down as one of my most memorable. The race was my third long distance race this year that was run in the rain. It brought back memories of Boston last April, cool temps, wind and rain. This was a light version of Boston though. The temperature was near 60 degrees instead of 40, and the rain wasn’t pouring. The wind was only noticeable when running certain directions, and only briefly. Thankfully, Boston taught me how to manage crappy running weather, but you can never be fully prepared. And it turns out I’m not sure I was fully prepared for this one.
I was looking forward to running Chicago, as my son was going to be running it as his first marathon. Notice I didn’t say that we would be running it together. He’s fast, I’m not. Well, not as fast as he is anyway. But I looked forward to sharing that experience together.
Here’s the lowdown on how the Chicago Marathon went for me.
After finishing the Boston Marathon I needed to give my body a break. I was beat. I showed up at Boston way overtrained and worn out. The day after Boston I ended my three year running streak of running at least a mile everyday, and told myself I had to get myself right again.
After a trip to the doctor, I learned what I was kind of assuming, that I had thyroid issues. Blood tests confirmed it, and now I’m taking a synthetic thyroid medication for the rest of my life. I had thought that it might change things for me metabolically, but my doctor buddy said not to expect miracles. He was right. I really struggled to lose the ten pounds I had gained over the winter and spring. Eventually, I did drop a few pounds, but nothing like what I had expected. One positive was that I wasn’t as tired as I had been before, so that is a plus.
In mid-June I began following the same 16-week advanced training plan that I usually use. I also had been doing some triathlon related training, hoping to throw in a couple of races before the longer mileage weeks started to kick in. I ended up doing a sprint triathlon in June and the Chicago Triathlon in August.
I was a little nervous about the training after struggling with the Boston training and the race itself, but it actually went pretty well. The highlight for me was the 20 mile training run I did three weeks out from the race. I was able to hold my 8 min/mile pace fairly easily through that run and it really gave me a confidence boost. You can read about it here: The Dreaded 20 Mile Training Run
I took Friday off and headed to Chicago to attend the expo with Ben and his girl friend Emily. Every year that I had gone to the expo I would see proud Boston finishers parading around in their Boston Marathon jackets and be somewhat envious. This year, even though I didn’t really need a jacket, I decided I was going to peacock the hell out my one Boston Marathon finish and sport that damn jacket at the expo. I wasn’t alone. I saw numerous Boston 2018 celebration jackets.
We ended up getting there around midday, and man was it crazy! I had never seen it so crowded before.
Ben and I got our bibs and started the trek through the expo. We ended up spending money on mostly disappointing official Nike marathon gear and other odds and ends. We caught a glimpse of Deena Kastor and then decided to get out of there. The expo can be overwhelming after awhile.
Saturday, we all met downtown in the late afternoon and met at our hotel, the Chicago Palmer House Hilton. The hotel lobby was impressive, the rooms not so much. It’s location to the race start area was ideal, but a little bit of a hike from the finish. The Chicago Hilton is a better option for being closer to the finish, but I didn’t book it fast enough and had to settle for the Palmer House. I will say there were better dining options nearby, and I opted for the Corner Bakery and got some loaded baked potato soup and bread for an evening carb load. I had already eaten some pasta at home around 1 pm, so I think I had enough carb loading for the day.
Ben and I talked some race day strategy and I laid out my options for what to wear in the race. I had already kind of chosen the outfit, but I had brought some options in case I changed my mind.
Sleep went well except for a weird moment in the middle of the night where I found myself sweating like crazy. I got up, used the bathroom, and went back to sleep. The alarm finally went off, and I got myself ready for the day.
Ben met me at the room and after some last minute assurances, we decided it was time to head to the corrals.
We were advised to go into the corrals by entering into a specific gate based on our corral assignments, but I wasn’t having any of that. The first and closest gate was at Jackson and we got in line. Just as we were getting near the inspection point this Chinese guy cuts in front of us. Then he couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t let him carry in his sling bag because only the clear plastic gear bag was allowed. Fortunately, they let him put it into his gear bag, which he should have done in the first place. Off to a great start, but we weren’t done with him yet. As you pass security, there are event photographers ready to take your pre-race photo, so Ben and I decided to do so. Just after the guy takes our picture, we realize the guy photobombed us.
I’m smiling in the photo, but I was laughing right after it when I realized he was in the photo too! Here’s one without Mr. E10796:
Ben and I got to the split where Corrals A and B went one way and C through E went another. I told him that I loved him and that I was proud of him and that I don’t tell him that enough. We hugged and I headed straight to the toilets.
Once in the corral I found it pretty empty as I was there pretty early. So I headed to the front of it to the rope that separates the C corral from D and just hung out. I used my portable urinal (my nearly empty Gatorade bottle) under my plastic bag three times before the race started which surprised me, as I had used the port-o-lets twice before getting into my corral. Nerves I guess. After the anthem the start horn blew and I pulled the plastic garbage bag off and tossed the bag and bottle over the fence, and we started the 7 minute shuffle to the start line. Ben said he crossed the line within 10 seconds. It took me 7:18 to cross it. I gave him a head start.
Start to 5K: Overall Time: 0:25:12 / Ave. Pace 8:07 min/mile
I started off well and felt pretty strong, although my first split was about 8:15 min/mile which surprised me a little. It is hard to concentrate on pace right at the start because we are still packed tight a little, and you spend more time getting through the field than thinking about pace. It was in that first half mile that my Garmin lost track of me as we were under Randolph Street and Wacker Drive and put my split a couple of tenths off at each subsequent mile marker. Ben was going to hit his lap button every mile, but I’m done with that business. I had decided I was warm enough without my homemade tube sock arm warmers and stuck them in my shorts in case I needed them again.
Our Cheer Crew was amazing. Kari and Rebecca, along with our friends Jeff and Jill were there, plus Emily and a couple of Ben’s running buddies from Loras College braved the wet day to cheer us on. Although I had told Kari to stick with Ben, I saw Jeff and Jill up through the half way point, and then Jeff at a few other spots. Seeing everyone was always a big pick-me-up.
5K to 10K: Overall time: 0:49:03 / 5K Split: 0:24:31 / Ave. Pace 7:54 min/mile
It was raining pretty steady now but I wasn’t cold really. I managed to get my pace under 8 minute miles and was feeling good. Nothing out of the ordinary through here, just still going north.
10K to 15K: Overall time: 1:14:29 / 5K Split: 0:24:27 / Ave. Pace 7:59 min/mile
Miles 6 through 9 really had nothing remarkable about them. Right about the 10K mark the 3:25 pace group went by me and I took note of that. I usually see an Elvis impersonator through this stretch, but I’m guessing that he wasn’t into the rain this year. I did start to sense I was getting a blister on my left pinky toe from my shoes being soaked. That was a little surprising because I had lubed up my toes very well. Kept my average pace near 8 min/miles.
15K to 20K: Overall time: 1:39:55 / 5K Split: 0:25:26 / Ave. Pace 8:11 min/mile
As I neared the halfway point, I started to tell I was slowing a little. The effort was getting harder even though I was on top of my nutrition plan. I felt okay, but that would change as I passed the halfway point.
Halfway: Overall Time: 1:45:42 / Ave. Pace 8:29 min/mile
I hit the halfway and felt not so great. I was only 45 seconds over my intended split of 1:45:00 for the half, but I knew that I was losing it. My average pace dropped from 8 to 8:30 min/mile and I really didn’t see how I was going to maintain it.
Halfway to 25K: Overall Time: 2:06:32 / Split: 0:20:51 / Ave. Pace 8:36 min/mile
At the 14 mile area I saw Jeff and Jill and said I wasn’t feeling good any longer. It seemed like I was being drained of my energy. We had just passed a couple little inclines downtown, but I don’t think that was a factor. I was starting to realize that this was going to be a get to the finish line in one piece marathon for me. My time goal of 3:30 was slipping away.
25K to 30K: Overall Time: 2:34:01 / 5K Split: 0:27:30 / Ave. Pace 8:51 min/mile
I generally call this section the Dead Zone and it was no different this year. It’s mainly just runners along this portion as it is the farthest west part of the course. I will say though, that I expected the rain to drive away the crowds this year and in reality, the course was pretty populated with cheering fans. My time is creeping closer to the 9 min/mile average.
30K to 35K: Overall Time: 3:03:47 / 5K Split: 0:29:46 / Ave. Pace 9:35 min/mile
Running through Pilsen and Chinatown are highlights of the race usually, but not this time. I just wanted to get past the 20 mile mark and know I had 10K to go. It was in this section that the 3:30 pace group passed me by like I was standing still. I was resigned that my goal of finishing 3:30 was gone, and I also knew that being sub-3:35 for a Boston Marathon qualifier was pretty much out the door. I was a just finisher now.
35K to 40K: Overall Time: 3:37:22 / 5K Split: 0:33:35 / Ave. Pace 10:49 min/mile
Hello 3:35 pace group. Goodbye 3:35 pace group. I was walking the aid stations now and willing myself to keep moving forward. In 2016 I was passing these zombies, this year I was one of the un-dead. Along this section I did get a pick-me-up though – I saw the guy that is always at Ironman Wisconsin on Old Sauk Pass wearing the orange afro-wig. He was cheering us on here as well. I stopped and said hello to him because we spent some time with him on that course cheering for Jeff and his sister Jan.
40K to the Finish: Overall time: 3:52:07 / Split 0:14:46 / Ave. Pace 10:50 min/mile
I saw Kari and Rebecca waiting for me after the 25 mile mark and I stopped to say hello. Not much longer and I would be done.
I started to press forward and make it up Roosevelt Road and head to the finish. As I was climbing Mount Roosevelt as we marathoners call it, a volunteer said to “Fight up the hill!” I told her I was a lover not a fighter. She laughed and then I heard her yell, “then Love up that hill!”
As I headed toward the finish I heard my name get called out from the stands. I turned to look and saw Calvin Jordan, a fellow runner from New Lenox that I had met this fall. I made a beeline over to him and said hello. I think he thought I was nuts not sprinting for the finish, but I was glad to end the run with a friendly face and hello.
The goal for me was to take advantage of a 10 minute Boston qualifying cushion that I would receive just by turning 55 years old. But in September, the BAA decided to reduce the qualifying times by 5 minutes. So I went from needing a 3:40 marathon to 3:35, which didn’t seem to be out of the possibility for me seeing that I had ran a 3:25 in 2016. But this just wasn’t my year. I wanted to join Ben and Emily in Boston in 2020, but instead of being in the field, I will happily go to be a spectator.
I think my main issue this year was volume, and essentially too much of it for a guy in his mid-fifties. When I finished Boston in April, my body was beat. Everything hurt. So I dropped the 3+ year running streak I had and worked on rebuilding myself. I was really feeling pretty good again come summer, and when I did my 20 mile training run in late September, I held that 8 min/mile pace well. Just wasn’t my year this year.
But I must say I’m very proud of my 3:52:07 finish. Being sub-4 hours is always pretty cool.
Ben made me very proud. He crushed his first marathon in 2:47:11! After the race he seemed like it was just another day of running to him! Not tired at all. The next day I went out and got my Chicago Tribune and saw that he was in the banner photo at the top!
We wrapped up race day back at the Corner Bakery with some hot soup and then headed for home.
I spent this Father’s Day in my typical fashion, goofing around doing my typical stuff. I enjoyed a nice bike ride with Kari and spent some time swimming on a very hot day. The extended family appeared and more swimming and good food and talk was enjoyed.
At one point in the conversation we talked about the need to purge some of the junk in our house, and I admitted that I was the hoarder in the family. “But I’m a neat hoarder!” I exclaimed, and the wife agreed.
After dinner everyone was getting ready to leave for home. I noticed that Ben’s car had a brake light out. I thought I had a spare, so I attempted to fix it. It turned out I had a different bulb than what he needed, but I remembered that my mom had this old cabinet thing with a bunch little odds and ends in it. Sure enough, the bulb we needed was in there. My mom had saved the bulb, and I had saved the cabinet full of junk. We swapped out the bulb and off Ben drove.
I had barely got my tools put away when Ben pulled back into the driveway. I could see that his front tire was flat.
We pulled the tire and I couldn’t see any nails or punctures anywhere. I filled it with air and pushed it around the back to the pool to check for leaks. The problem became apparent immediately, the vavle stem was leaking.
That could have been a problem, but thankfully I had a tool – a tool that was my Dad’s that I had kept. It’s probably been in my possession at least 40 years or so. A simple little device to remove and install a valve stem core. Hoarder? – pffft. Please.
I tightened the valve stem and tested it again and it was still leaking. The valve stem core must be bad, no longer holding air. That’s a problem, because I knew that I didn’t have any extra valve stem cores laying around. I may be a hoarder, but I’m not crazy.
But wait! The tool itself was just a cap on an old valve stem, and the valve stem itself probably had a core in it. Sure enough, I pulled it out and was kind of shocked to see that valve stem cores had not been reengineered in 40 years. I put the old one in and surprisingly it no longer leaked. Fixed!
So on Father’s Day, I was able to save my son’s day, thanks to my dad leaving behind a simple tool for us to use nearly four decades later. Dad to the rescue for sure.