A local running/triathlete friend of mine advised me the other day that he has a friend who is considering racing an iron-distance race but has already signed up for a marathon that is two weeks after the Ironman. My friend remembered that I had dealt with the same issue last year and asked if I wouldn’t mind if she contacted me to discuss it. Of course, I didn’t mind, and I am flattered, but I haven’t heard from her yet. But it got me thinking about what I would actually tell someone that is considering such a dumb idea. As you read the below keep in mind that I am not a certified expert, not a coach, and really not qualified to tell anyone how to do anything. It’s just my experience and how I dealt with it.
WHY DID I DO SUCH A DUMB THING AS TO SIGN UP FOR TWO BIG RACES SO CLOSE TO EACH OTHER?
In 2017 my teammates and I were debating about doing Ironman Louisville, which was on the same day as the 2017 Chicago Marathon. I kind of wanted to do the marathon since it was the 40th anniversary of the race, but I knew if we chose to race the Ironman I would have no problem skipping the marathon, and that’s what happened. I returned to the Chicago Marathon in 2018 because I have legacy status and want to retain it.
Although I was getting a little tired of running Chicago and figured that all I needed to do to keep my legacy status was to sign-up every other year, I signed up for it again because the window to apply was pretty short and I needed to make a decision. Not long after that, my buddies decided we were going to do Ironman Chattanooga. That put the late-September 2019 Ironman race two weeks prior to the October marathon on my race calendar. Of course, I wasn’t going to skip the Ironman with my friends, so I thought that maybe I should defer the marathon to the next year for a small fee. But then I figured that I would just race the Ironman and take a victory lap at the Chicago Marathon and walk away from it for a while. So that was the plan, train hard and race the Ironman and take it easy for the marathon.
HOW DID I TRAIN FOR THE TWO DIFFERENT RACES?
That really wasn’t an issue for me, seeing that there is an actual marathon in an Ironman race. So I followed the Ironman training plan that I always follow and just figured that I would use the two weeks in between the two events to recover. Ideally, I would have preferred my marathon training long-run to be around 20 miles and three weeks prior to my marathon, but that wasn’t going to happen. I just needed to make sure I utilized the two weeks between Chattanooga and Chicago for recovery and not overdo it.
SO WHAT HAPPENED?
My plan got flipped upsidedown. And it resulted in a Boston Qualifier! A BQ was never in the plan! The weather turned extremely hot at Ironman Chattanooga, with day time temperatures hitting the mid-nineties with a “real feel” around 100 degrees. Definitely the hottest day I have had to race in. I had to adjust the race plan to fit the conditions of the day, but I only really did that because it forced me to do so. The swim took me a little longer than I expected because the water was too warm to compete in a wetsuit, so I opted to swim without it. The bike for me was right about what I normally ride for an Ironman – 6:47. And Chattanooga has an extra 4 miles of biking than all the other Ironman races. The marathon, however, was very humbling. Right out of transition I stopped and told my wife that I felt pretty good, all things considered. I started out with a good jog and started to head out of town and then it was an uphill grind in the hot sun. I slowed to a walk and was able to shuffle just occasionally. And then the horrible hills hit and I walked some more. I spent the first half of the marathon trying to recover and finish the race under the cutoff. I was seriously doing the math in my head to make sure I knew what I had to do. And then the second loop began and I started feeling pretty good. I had rehydrated and refueled myself well enough to press pretty hard in the second half. I finished pretty strong and felt really good. The 5:11 finish time is my personal worst (PW ?) for a marathon, but I was pretty happy with my 13:37 overall finish time. You can read my race report here: 2019 Ironman Chattanooga Race Report
I took it pretty easy and tried my best to recover from the Ironman prior to running the Chicago Marathon. After a full week of rest I “eased” back into running with four runs of 5, 6.5, 10 and 4 miles and then rested three days before the marathon. I can remember my muscles still feeling pretty sore but they felt functional enough to run pretty comfortably. The 10-miler I ran was done at 8:34 pace and it gave me some confidence that I might be able to push myself in the race a little bit. I decided that a sub-3:35 BQ might be reachable, so I planned to run 8-minute miles and shoot for a 3:30.
Things went pretty well during the race and I held pace until I started to struggle with it in the last 5 miles or so. Although I kept at my nutrition well, I was getting pretty tired. I knew the 3:30 wasn’t going to happen, but I kept pushing to hit that 3:35. I turned and ran up Mt. Roosevelt until a calf cramp almost did me in. Fortunately, the race was almost done and I made it in just under the BQ by 13 seconds! 3:34:46 was my time, and although a BQ-13 isn’t going to get me into the Boston Marathon field, I am now up to three BQ’s, with one really memorable Boston Marathon finish in 2018. I can’t complain about that.
WHY DO I THINK I DID BETTER THAN I EXPECTED AT CHICAGO?
I think there are a couple factors at play. The Be Iron Fit training program I follow for Ironman training is really good and it prepared me well. I’ve never felt underprepared using this plan in my four Ironman finishes. So not only was I prepared for the Ironman, I was also pretty well prepared for the marathon two weeks later.
But the real reason I think I did well was that the heat of the day at Chattanooga forced me to not overdo it on the marathon portion of the race. By having to walk about half of it, it saved my legs to the point that the next day I sauntered down to the Ironman Village to buy my finisher’s jacket like a BOSS! I felt like I hadn’t even run a marathon the day before.
SO WHAT IS MY ADVICE TO OTHERS THINKING OF DOING THE SAME DUMB THING?
I think you need to pick what race is most important to you. If you have a specific time goal for a marathon or possibly a BQ, I would advise you to focus your training on that goal and not sabotage it by adding a less meaningful race that could possibly prevent you from doing your best in the race that matters more. Pick your “A” race and use the other race to supplement it if you are convinced that you want to still do both events.
If you really want to also do the Ironman in the same year, maybe pick one that is a couple of months out from the marathon. I read a post the other day stating that you should give yourself a couple of months of recovery between Ironman races; that is pretty sound advice that I would agree with. I did Ironman Lake Placid in July 2016 and then raced the Chicago Marathon in October and got my second BQ and stamped my ticket to the 2018 Boston Marathon. So for me, there definitely was some precedent in racing an Ironman and a marathon in the same year with positive results.
I did this when I was almost 56 years old. It takes me a lot longer to recover from races than it did in my 30’s and 40’s. So maybe a younger person might be in a better position to do an Ironman and a marathon a couple of weeks apart. But if you are just out to enjoy both races, I have to admit that it can be done without ruining yourself.
Lastly, if this is your first Ironman make sure you are aware of what is involved with it. Marathon training and racing are tough, but Ironman training is pretty intense too. Also, if you think marathon entry fees and hotels are expensive, plan on the Ironman being nearly triple that cost. Ironman is not cheap.
WOULD I EVER DO THIS DUMB THING AGAIN?
Nope. Never. Not a chance. No way, José!
Actually, as I was typing this post I took a break to sign up for the 2020 NYC Marathon Lottery, which is three weeks past Ironman Louisville, a race I already signed up for.
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.
Preparing for a marathon means following a plan, a plan that takes you up in mileage over several weeks (16 for me) and gets you ready to tackle 26.2 miles. This is Week 13 of 16 for me, and it was time to do the dreaded 20 mile training run.
This year I decided to join in with the local Frankfort/New Lenox Running Club that I have been following and run their 20 mile training run. This club really did a great job putting on this event. The route was run on my local trail, had awesome volunteers, plentiful aid stations with anything you could have needed, and even a local team of specialized volunteers called CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) aiding with traffic at several street crossings.
We started at the still sleepy hour of 6 am in downtown Frankfort, Illinois after a group photo in the dark that surprisingly turned out well.
I don’t know why I get nervous before long runs like this, especially when I am doing them alone. This was just billed as a training run, not a race. But regardless, I still was a little nervous. As soon as the photo was taken, I hit the trail.
I was in a pack of about 12 people at the start, but by the time I got 100 feet into it I was in second place. Not that I was racing it!
The trail was in great shape for the early morning run. Most of the brush clearing that the forest preserve does in the summer/fall seemed to have been all cleaned up, and the trail was not yet overrun with cyclists getting in their weekend miles.
I could see a couple of runners ahead of me and I could tell that they were pulling away from me through the first two miles. The girl was moving super fast. They caught another runner and the male dropped back and ran with her. It wasn’t long before I caught them and realized it was a guy from the group named Pat that had also run the Boston Marathon in April. He ran with me for the next two miles to the 4 mile turn around point. We had a great conversation about Boston, running and triathlon. He decided to drop out at the turn around and told me he was heading to the 14 mile aid station and would see me there.
It was now just me and the super fast girl ahead of me, when around mile 6 I was passed by another guy from the group whose name I learned was Gavin. Gavin killed it. He was moving too. There’s some good runners in this club.
I got back to the 8 mile aid station, which was our starting point and filled up my water bottle. I think they were slightly surprised to see runners already returning from the first out and back. It was awesome to have the aid stations. I probably could have left my water bottle at home, but I like to be able to drink when I wanted it.
Around the 10 mile mark I couldn’t take my sweat soaked shirt anymore and I took it off and wrung the sweat out of it. It could have easily been a cup or more of sweat. The day started cool enough, and there was plenty of shade when the sun finally made an appearance, but it was humid and I was sweating. I kept up with my run plan of taking a salt capsule every hour and it kept me in good shape.
Soon after turning around at the 14 mile mark, I could see that another runner Dan Doyle had made up some time on me. He was closing the gap and finally caught me at Wolf Road when I stopped one final time to top off my water bottle. We ran the remaining 3 or 4 miles together. He was planning to do an extra two miles but he said that he was starting to feel like he was going to cramp up. He ended up doing an additional mile. He’s looking to get a Boston Marathon qualifier in Chicago, and I think he has a real solid chance at that. You never know with the Boston Marathon numbers game.
I wasn’t planning on writing such a long report for a 20 mile training run, but I haven’t posted anything about my marathon training so far. I was a little concerned about how I was going to fare, seeing that Boston was a terrible run for me and that I came to the conclusion that I was way overtrained. After Boston I dropped the 3+ year running streak I had and took some time off to let my body heal. Missing out on those recovery days after hard efforts was killing me. I think I trained pretty well through the summer to get to this point. It’s kind of hard to know sometimes, as the hotter summer temps produce slower times even though I was putting in hard efforts. What was clear about this run was this: performance on race day is so different than when you are just out there working on a training run. Even though this highly supported 20 miler was not a race, it had a vibe of one, and it allowed me to see where I stood. The previous weeks’ 18 mile run was done on a much cooler day and I seemed to struggle to eventually finish with an 8:15 average pace. Today I averaged 8:05 on a much warmer day and felt strong at that 20 mile mark finish line. A great weather day in October for the Chicago Marathon will hopefully make for another 3:30 or 3:25 finish for me. This run certainly was a confidence builder. I don’t think I have much to dread anymore.
One last shout out to FNRC for hosting this run and doing such a great job. The cold drinks and popsicle at the finish line was the best ever!
I am a Boston Marathon finisher. I never thought that I would be able to say that, but after running through some of the harshest conditions for a race I have ever run in, and possibly the harshest weather in the race’s history, I finished the 122nd running of the Boston Marathon. It wasn’t easy getting there, and I should have known it wasn’t going to be easy being there. But it made for a lifetime memory.
Here’s a marathon worthy recap of what got me there, the few days beforehand, and the race itself.
The Pursuit of Boston
When I began running in 1989, marathons weren’t even really on my mind. I started to run mainly to keep my weight down, and because I was bored. I bought a pair of MacGregor brand running shoes from Kmart and put on a t-shirt and gym shorts and started an evening ritual of running around the apartment complex. A mile or two turned into five. The crappy MacGregor’s were replaced with Nike’s. It wasn’t long until I entered a couple of road races and caught the competitive running bug. I was hooked. Within a year and a half, I ran my first marathon in 1991. That lead to a few more, and I eventually came to know about the grand daddy of all marathons, Boston. I wanted to someday run it.
But they don’t just let anyone who wants to run it do so. You have to earn your way in, you have to qualify. Oh sure, nowadays the fourth and final corral holds about 7,000 charity runners who don’t have to meet the qualifying standards that the others meet. They have to raise a significant amount of money for a charity, which is a noble thing. I will gladly run along side them and congratulate them as a finisher. But for those who want to count themselves as one of the select few, meeting the standard that the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) sets for it’s marathon is the only way to go. It was the only way I wanted in, but there was a catch – I was no where near fast enough.
Getting in isn’t easy. In order to keep the race competitive, the BAA has time standards which you have to meet. In the early days, the standards were simple and very fast – only a very select few could do it. As interest in the race grew, and the race itself grew larger, the BAA set the standards we have today, standards they could change any time they want to. For me, a male runner in the 50 to 54 age group, I had to be under 3.5 hours. Over the years I had perfected finishing marathons typically around three hours and 45 – 50 minutes, which meant a younger me probably had to run 30 minutes or more faster than I was able to do. It seemed impossible to me. But as you age, the standards get a little bit slower. As I neared 50 years old, the standard started getting closer to my ability. I was now about 8 minutes away from qualifying, and I was also getting faster.
The possibility of actually qualifying for the Boston Marathon started to become realistic for me when I made some changes and additions to my running. First off, I stopped winging it and started following a marathon running plan. Concepts like periodized training, and building mileage gradually with the addition of speed work were methods I had not known of or I had ignored in the past. I usually just ran and ran as comfortably hard as I could. That only got me so far. Training with purpose improved my times significantly. Secondly, I became a triathlete and an Ironman. Ironman training was very detailed and methodical as well, and the addition of the cross training activities of swimming and cycling made me more of a complete all-around athlete and runner. Third, I started a running streak in 2015, running at least a mile every day. It added more miles to my weekly totals, taught my body how to deal with a large workload, and how to adapt to tired legs and endure. Lastly, after completing my first of three Ironman races, I started to believe in myself. I believed I could do it. I was very close.
In 2015 I finally qualified, running a 3:28:19 at a course known for being fast, the Chicago Marathon. It was bittersweet however, because not only do you have to meet the qualifying time, there are too many runners who do so than the Boston Marathon can host, so they take the fastest of the qualifiers first until the field fills up. I missed the cut by 28 seconds. Disappointing, but I knew that after getting that rejection to my application in September of 2016 that I would be running Chicago again the following month. Now I was determined. I had finished Ironman Lake Placid in July 2016, which would also prove to be a wild card in my build up to Chicago. I was a lean, mean running machine and ready to do it. At the 2016 Chicago Marathon, we were given a beautiful day for a race and I improved my time to 3:25:08 – 4:51 minutes under the qualifying time. I was in.
Race Week – April 12 – 16, 2018
Here are the pre-race week activities.
Thursday, April 12
Kari and I flew in on Thursday and I was already a bundle of nerves because of the forecasted weather, and the fact Ashley and Rebecca were flying on their own for the first time. But thankfully I have the best life partner in the world, Kari, and I let her handle all of the side circuses that were occurring. We tried to settle in and wait for the whole crew to show up.
The flight in will always be memorable because of this dope I was sitting next to. He was definitely trying to prove he was the alpha dog, hogging the armrest in the manner he was doing. He also wanted to be upgraded to first class and wasn’t getting the satisfaction he was seeking. He finally got up and pretty much tossed his seatbelt into my lap. I flipped him off as he went into first class, and took his seatbelt and fastened it back together. I thought he was gone, but he got rejected in first class and made his way back to his seat. I had already placed my elbow on the arm rest and decided I wasn’t budging. He started pushing very hard. I had to apply pressure consistently back until I decided that I’m a better person. I moved and focused on my wife instead.
When we finally deplaned, I headed to the bathroom and the only urinal available was next to this jerk. I waited for another spot to open.
We got our bags and took a cab to our hotel. The slightly annoying rush hour traffic was only trumped by the fact that the trip from the airport to the hotel was mostly through tunnels. Pretty boring, but we made it.
After check-in, we headed over to the finish line, which was about 2-3 blocks away. I wanted to see Boylston Street where the race finishes, and visit the running stores there. Upon entering the store I was impressed with the history lining the walls. Lots of old pictures, old running shoes and the like. And then Boston Billy walked in.
I couldn’t believe that multiple Boston Marathon winner Bill Rodgers was in the store at the same time. He came in to drop of a framed photo to the staff, made some quick small talk with them and was gone like he was making a break from the lead pack for the win. Next time, I will assert myself and ask for a photo!
After some more finish line area sightseeing, Kari and I opted for dinner. What do you want to eat in Boston? Lobster, of course. We inquired at the hotel and a local place was suggested, but when I saw the prices, this guy who grew up knowing money didn’t grow on trees opted for the lobster roll sandwich instead. It was still lobster, and it was pretty good.
I had my first freakout of the weekend walking back to the hotel. The restaurant was cold inside, and I was also cold from having walked around. By the time we made it back to the hotel I was shivering. If I was shivering now, how was I going to handle race day, with it’s cold and rainy forecast? I got back and warmed up and watched some Bruin playoff hockey to get my mind off of it.
Friday, April 13
Upon getting up, I opted for a one mile treadmill run in the hotel gym to keep my running streak alive. After showering up, we tried another suggested restaurant for breakfast that really wasn’t built for breakfast. We should have opted for a Dunkin’ Donuts, as they are practically on every street corner in Boston.
My life long buddy Dave and his wife Carla were the first of the Cheer Crew to arrive. Dave wanted to join in on the fun at the race expo and check out the excitement. John Hancock, the major sponsor of the race provided a bus from downtown to the race expo and we took it over there. As race expos go, this was pretty typical. Stand in line, prove who you are, get your bib number, get your event shirt, walk through the expo and buy junk. We did just that. Kari was a trooper and stood in line to pay for the $300 worth of Adidas junk I wanted. The must have at this race is the Celebration Jacket, which oddly enough people wear as soon as the receipt is printed. I wanted no part of that until the race was over, but I did make sure I got mine.
Me and 2 of the Crew
Didn’t stand in line, just snapped a pic
Lady wasn’t having any of my BS
The line Kari stood in to by junk for me
After the expo, Kari and I met up with Dave and Carla at a burger joint halfway between our hotels for a late lunch. My burger hit the spot and everyone was excited about the evening plans. Kari had the great idea of taking in a Red Sox game, and fortunately for us we were able to get great tickets for the Sox vs. the Orioles on the nicest day of the weekend. After a trip back to the hotel for a while, we all walked over to the oldest baseball park in the league, Fenway Park. Not sure why I expected it to be more run down than it was, but it was a really great looking ball park. The seats though were designed for the small people. My 6’4″ buddy was a little scrunched, but we endured. Red Sox won 7-3. After the game we made the easy walk back to our hotels.
Excited to be at Fenway!
Me and my besties
Our view of the game
Saturday, April 14
I needed to burn off some energy, so the first thing Kari and I did was get dressed and run three miles around the area, including down by the banks of the River Charles. Very nice riverfront they have there, with a nicely paved path. Saw some serious runners doing the same thing we were doing, only doing it much faster. The weekend also included a 5K race, and there were several runners heading there as we made our way through Boston.
Upon getting back, we opted for an overpriced breakfast at the hotel, which at least was better than what we had the day before. Then we hopped into a taxi and headed to the airport to pick up our two daughters. While waiting there I saw a girl carrying around an Ironman Louisville 2017 backpack and told her that I had done the race as well. We shared stories of that race and talked about our nervous energy about the marathon.
With the girls collected and lunch finally consumed after a lengthy delay waiting for our food, we did some more sightseeing. We walked the finish line area and went inside the Boston Public Library, which had some really cool old murals and stuff.
On Boylston Street
Area where the bombings occurred in 2013
It had been 5 years since the 2013 finish line bombings in Boston. Lots of events and memorials occurring over the weekend.
A highlight of the trip included a Boston Duck Boat tour, which I really enjoyed. Our guide was funny and made sure we saw most of the important sights of old Boston.
Kept warm inside the boat
Where the Sons of Liberty planned the Revolution
Cemetery where Revere, Sam Adams, Hancock, et. al. are buried
Dinner was at California Pizza Kitchen, which was accessible by hamster trails from our hotel, meaning we didn’t have to walk outside. I wasn’t expecting much, but the loaded baked potato soup was outstanding, as well as the pizza I had.
Back to the room to relax and turn in for the night. I woke up around 2:30am with some acid indigestion, which I always feel like it is a heart attack happening. Kari woke up as well and brought me some Pepcid or something which did the trick.
Sunday, April 15
Back to the hotel gym for a mile on the treadmill first thing in the morning. We ate breakfast again at the hotel, and waited to meet up with the rest of my Cheer Crew, my in-laws Gary and Darla, and my buddy John.
At Paul Revere’s house
We all ate at an Italian place near Paul Revere’s home and did a little walking around the area. We also took the Trolley Tour, which also highlighted several great spots in Boston. It’s a nice tour because you can ride and get off at various spots and hop back on at any time. The only thing I wanted to do was to walk the Freedom Trail, a self-guided tour of Boston’s historical area, but I wanted to limit walking at this point, and the weather was getting cold, wet and crummy. A sign of what was to come.
Back at the hotel I planned out my strategy for what to wear the following morning and for the race. It took a while, but I finally decided on using various layers with the option to shed whatever I wouldn’t need during the race. This is what I chose: a sleeveless tri top, a very tight long sleeve cycling jersey with pockets, a long sleeve tech shirt, a polyester windbreaker for the top half; a pair of track tights/shorts, long running pants, calf compression sleeves for warmth, and a pair of socks; a pair of cheap liner type gloves and a pair of nicer Brooks gloves. For my head I opted for a visor and a beanie.
Before bed I had a good chat with Ben about pre-race nerves and then it was lights out. One of the nice things about the Boston Marathon is that it starts mid-morning, so I didn’t have to get up super early. That was a good thing, because I didn’t really sleep very well.
Marathon Monday, April 16
Even though it’s Patriots Day in New England, the locals and in particular anyone associated with the race refers to it as Marathon Monday. The alarm went off at 5:20am, and I was already awake. I got up and took a peek outside the window. Yep, just like they had predicted for the past two weeks, it was raining and it looked cold and miserable. If it had been any other race, I might have passed. But knowing how much it meant to me to get there, the amount of cash I dropped on being there (!), and the fact that my Cheer Crew had also came to provide support, there was no chickening out.
After the bathroom, I started in on fueling myself for the race. A banana, a bagel and a coffee was a good start. I was concerned for my feet, as my fingers and toes will prune up in the shower. I decided to coat my feet first with Skin Glide, a lotion form of Body Glide. Then I hit the entire bottom of the feet with Body Glide. Finally, I added copious amounts of Vaseline all around my toes. That combo has worked pretty well in the past for most marathons and Ironman races. I got all the aforementioned running junk on and then donned the rain gear. The marathon is a point to point race and you are bused out to Hopkinton, Massachusetts and wait until the start. That means an hour long bus ride to the high school there, and then an hour or two of sitting around waiting for your wave to start. All of which meant, I was going to be doing that in the rain and cold.
To keep me warm and dry for the morning commute to the start line I was glad I layered up with a sweatshirt and pullover, along with a zippered/hooded rain coat. For pants, I found a pair of “sauna pants” in Walmart for $8 which were perfect. I covered my shoes with crime scene booties that I stole from work. I hope my boss doesn’t read this far.
The bus ride sucked. Having all that gear on made me warm, but I wasn’t going to complain. School busses are designed for little kids, and leg room was at a minimum and was uncomfortable to say the least. I tried to make small talk with my seat mate, but he advised he knew little English and told me he was German. I told him that I had been to Munich, and he said he had qualified for Boston at Berlin. He was eating “brot und wasser”, which are literally the only German words I know. I should have said that, he might have been impressed.
We finally arrived at the high school and we were immediately met by the most friendliest of volunteers, cheerfully directing us where to go. I’m still scratching my head as to why any of the volunteers or spectators showed up on such a miserable day. I guess New Englanders are a hardy bunch, and they are definitely proud of their marathon.
It was raining pretty hard. I made my way to one of the lines for the scores of portable toilets lining the field. The wait was easily 20 minutes, but once inside I made sure I took my time and got the job done. I hated to leave the shelter of the port-a-potty, but I figured one of the three large tents would offer some good shelter. Wrong.
It was pretty crowded, and the drier grassy spots were filled with runners from Wave 1. Once they were called to the start, it cleared out pretty well, and I found a mat/blanket thing to sit on until it was my turn to head over. I ate another bagel and most of a Clif Bar and drank a little Gatorade while I waited.
At 9:45am or so, the announcer made the dreaded announcement: “Wave 2 Runners! It’s your turn to start heading to the start line!” I waited about 10 minutes and then made my way to a set of port-a-potties that were behind the tents that no one seemed to be using. There was no wait. I’m glad I made that last stop, and then I trekked through the mud to the street for the 3/4 mile walk to the starting line.
As we walked there were ample opportunities to shed the pre-race clothing that people had donned to keep warm. I figured I would hold on to mine as long as I could. I finally got near the corral entry point and decided to shed the shoe covers (NO!!!) and the vinyl rain pants I was wearing (NO!!!). I kept the rain coat hoping to stay warm and a little dryer. There was no turning back now.
Small talk was made, announcements were announced, and I felt the group moving forward. We were starting. And the wind, rain and now a wave of emotions hit me. I was crossing the start line of the Boston Marathon.
Miles 1 through 5: Hopkinton – Ashland – Framingham
“I’m finally here. I’m running Boston”
We runners tend to have a lot of deep thoughts when running. I’m certainly no exception. Most of my ideas for my blog posts come from runs. And I can tell you, I had plenty of deep thoughts on this run. Mostly negative. I’ll share what I can remember.
The first mile was exactly like I had been warned. Yes, warned. It’s a tight, two lane road that is all down hill. Most of the advice from others was to not to start fast on those first down hills. As I started, I gave some quick reflection as to my race plan for the day. I had options. I could try to run hard to justify my being there. Nah. The hard work was getting into the race, there was no requirement to justify anything. I could run hard and try to re-qualify for next year. Yeah, right. Even though I would gain an extra ten minutes of cushion for qualifying just by turning 55 in the fall, I think I will take a pass on this kind of torture next year. I could take my time and take a bunch of selfies, or even go live on Facebook. In this downpour? Not going to happen. What I wanted to do was run faster than the Kenyans, and get this misery over with quick. That is very definitely not happening, even if I wanted it to. I decided to take it easy and run comfortable, keep track of the little nagging pain in the sole of my foot that has been an issue for a few weeks now, and just try to stay dry and warm.
“Puddles are everywhere.”
I spent the first mile also trying not to keep pace with those evenly matched runners around me and not get swept along at the groups’ pace. Every once in a while someone would yell “PUDDLE”, but there were so many that after the first 5 minutes, my feet were soaked and I stopped worrying about stepping in any puddles. I did try to stay in the middle of the road where the crown of the road meant less water, but it didn’t matter.
“My legs are getting soaked”
It was nice having the blue rain coat on at the beginning because it was doing its job of keeping me dry, but since the rain was running down it that meant my running tights were getting soaked. By Mile 3, I stopped for probably a minute and struggled to get the rain soaked tights off of me while still wearing my running shoes.
“There’s running junk everywhere.”
People were tossing off all kinds of good running gear. I had already lost my tights and I was contemplating tossing the rain coat. By the fourth mile I needed an energy gel, and couldn’t get to it under the rain coat. Bye-bye rain coat.
It wasn’t long after losing the rain gear that I decided to take off a pair of cheap liner type gloves I had on under my main gloves. My hands were getting warm and I didn’t think I needed them any more. I got my good gloves off, tossed the other gloves and went to put the main gloves back on and realized I only had one. I had dropped one by accident. I turned around and saw it laying about 10 feet back. I would have to act like a salmon and swim up stream and get it. How apropos.
I retrieved my glove and immediately the wind blew my visor off. Time to back track up the river again.
Miles 6 through 10: Framingham – Natick
“This quite possibly might be the worst thing I have ever experienced.”
It was getting real. Six miles in and 20 miles to go. In the worst weather I have ever run in. I had really hoped to enjoy the crowds, the landmarks, and whatever other experiences the course would offer, but I spent most of it with my head down, shading my face from the 20 mph head winds and rain.
“Looking good!? Thanks for shouting that to me from your sheltered front porch, lady.”
Somewhere in this section my watch alerted me to a text that Kari sent informing me that they would be near the 14 mile mark, on the left hand side.
“Yay! Something to look forward to.”
Miles 6 through 10: Natick – Wellesley
“Welcome to NAY-TICK” said the guy on the side of the road as we strolled into the town of Natick.
“Now I know how to pronounce Natick.”
Miles 11 through 15: Wellesley
After getting through some of the town of Natick, we ran through a pretty heavily tree lined area. Lots of rolling hills but pretty boring. Then I heard it – a distant roar, still probably at least another mile away, but I could hear it. I was getting closer to the ladies of Wellesley College and the famous “Scream Tunnel.”
Right around the half way point you pass through the campus of Wellesley College, an all women’s school with notable grads such as Hillary Clinton, Diane Sawyer, and Madeline Albright, that comes out to the course and screams their lungs out. Can you image Madeline Albright as a college girl screaming at marathoners?! I didn’t know this as I ran through, but it’s kind of a right of passage for graduation for the girls to get kissed by a runner. Had I known that, I might have spent a little more time there. I’m just kidding. I did high-5 many of them with a big smile on my face. It was a huge pick me up.
“I’m half way there!”
Immediately after leaving the Scream Tunnel I remembered that Kari and the Cheer Crew would be somewhere around the 14 mile mark, so I started scanning the sides of the road. Usually I avoid this because it drains me mentally, but I only had to look for them on the left hand side, so I slid over to the left more and kept looking.
“Damn, the town of Wellesley goes on forever.”
It wasn’t long until I saw the gang. Another emotional moment for me. Having Kari, Ashley, Rebecca, Gary, Darla, and my two best buddies Dave and John there standing in the rain waiting for me was such a great feeling. I stopped and gave them all a big group hug. I may have mentioned to John that this was the worst thing I have ever experienced. I didn’t spend a long time there because I knew if I did I might get chilled or possibly cramp up. So, I said goodbye and headed down the road.
The rain where the Cheer Crew was.
Refuge from the storm.
Miles 16 through 20: Newton
“Mile 16 – only 10 to go. Only 10.”
The next town was Newton, known for a couple of things on the course. First there is a right turn right by the big Newton Fire Station. Lots of activity going on there. The crowds had picked up again and you could feel the excitement. The second thing about Newton are the hills. They aren’t hard, but they just keep rolling at you. And you keep thinking that the biggie is coming.
Miles 21 through 25: Newton – Brookline – Boston
“This must be Heartbreak Hill. Whatever.”
Between mile 20 and 21 I finally came to the most famous part of the the Boston Marathon course, Heartbreak Hill. They say many a runner has lost the race here, but for a middle of the pack guy like me, I just shortened my stride and made it up in no time. It’s only about a half mile long, but I wasn’t attacking it like an elite runner set on winning would do. There was this one old guy who passed me going up it chanting “YES, YES, YES!” He was determined to kick Heartbreak Hill’s ass. He did.
“I don’t think I can feel my quads any more.”
Somewhere around the 22 mile area I realized that I really couldn’t feel my legs any longer. They were cold, sore and numb. I had been seeing a lot of runners stopped along the course at this point walking or stopped and stretching their quads. I tried to take a status check of my legs, but all I could determine was that they were still moving and I didn’t think they were going to cramp up.
“I think I’ll skip this last gel. It’s only 5K to go.”
I thought about the fact that there was only 3 miles to go and that I was feeling pretty good, so I decided to skip fishing a gel out of my back pocket, which had been a hassle all race long. Kind of a mistake.
“I wish I had eaten that gel.”
After getting by Heartbreak Hill, we had been going downhill pretty steadily with some pretty good drops. My quads were killing me.
Around the 25 mile mark I was starting to wonder where I was, I knew I was now in Boston but wasn’t sure. I had been watching my step quite a bit, as there were plenty of trolley rail type tracks in the pavement and lots of small lakes of water on the road. I took a second to look up and there it was – the giant CITGO sign. I almost missed it! I had made it to Boston. I looked over and saw Fenway standing there empty, not because the game on Patriot’s Day would have been over by now, but because the game had been rained out. I knew it was just a mile or so more to go.
Mile 25 to the Finish: Commonwealth Boulevard to Boylston Street
Running down Commonwealth Boulevard reality was starting to hit. We were almost there. Along this stretch there were a few little jogs to the right and then back straight. Not sure why, as they were slightly annoying, but the scenery was getting better. It won’t be long.
“Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston.”
As I said that to myself in my head, I repeated it out loud. “Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston. The last and most notable of directions that this fairly straight shot course had, and I said them over again. Once on Boylston, the crowds came alive. The uninitiated may not have known, but it’s about a third of a mile down Boylston. On one hand I wanted this race to be over, but on the other I wanted it to last a long, long time.
“I am a Boston Marathon Finisher!”
The Finish Area and the Marathon Back to the Hotel
Emotionally, I was ecstatic. I was smiling and very happy to have finished my first Boston Marathon. But I was also ready to be done with being outside. I felt really good for some reason. Normally I would kind of pass the Medical Tent slowly until I was sure I was good, but I just blew past it. I found the medals and had a lady put one around my neck. My next stop was to get a mylar wrap to keep warm. I was surprised however to be given a really nice and thick rain poncho with the marathon logo all over it. A firefighter standing by the fence helped me get it on, and I then I saw the mylar wraps and wrapped one around my waist under the poncho.
My plan was to retrieve the sweatpants and sweatshirt that I had dropped off in the morning at the Gear Tent, but I said forget it. I felt pretty good and I wasn’t shivering, so I decided to head to the family meet-up area.
“WHERE THE HELL IS MY FAMILY?!?!”
I made it to the family meet-up area, but apparently my family didn’t. They weren’t there. I figured that maybe they were having trouble getting through the crowds, and my path to the area was pretty short. Fortunately, there was some shelter there and one of the volunteers helped me get my phone out. Kari called and informed me that they weren’t back into Boston yet. Uh-oh. There was no one there to help me get back. I was on my own.
I asked the volunteer to show me how to get back to the Marriott Copley Hotel, and she told me which way to go. So I went. I got about 2-3 blocks and then the phone rang again. It was Kari.
“You’re going the wrong way.”
“What the FUCK!!!”
Kari was following me via the Find My iPhone feature. I was lost, no one was there to help me, and I was starting to shiver. Fortunately, I pulled my shit together and let Kari turn me around and get me going the correct way. It wasn’t long until I saw a landmark I was familiar with, and I headed indoors to begin the walk through the mall that lead back to the hotel. I got back to the hotel lobby at the same time everyone else did. Hooray! All was good again.
Back at the hotel room, it was a frantic scramble. I was trying to get undressed to take a hot shower, but was too sore to be very efficient at it. And Kari and the girls were gathering their bags to hop in a cab to get to the airport to catch their plane home. We all figured our issues out, said goodbye and parted ways.
“The last thing I want to do is to warm myself up with more water.”
After being wet for the last four plus hours, I didn’t want anything to do with water. But my best bet for a quick warm up was to take a hot shower. It did the trick. I toweled off, got dressed, including putting on my new Boston Marathon Celebration jacket, and cranked the room heat to 85 degrees.
Kari got back from the airport and we headed back over to the California Pizza Kitchen. I had some really good tortilla soup and split a pepperoni pizza with Kari. Plenty of finishers in the restaurant reliving the race. It was a good finish to the day.
Many, many thanks to pass out to everyone who cheered me on. My co-workers Carl (always my Number 1 fan!), Julie, Mary, Tracy, Micah, Lou, and all of the gang that took even a polite interest in my path to this day.
I can’t forget all of those friends on Facebook that offered such great words of encouragement and congratulations. I have read each post and they are greatly appreciated.
Thanks to my daughters Ashley and Rebecca, for being brave enough to get on a plane by themselves for the first time, and miss some school just to stand in the rain to watch me run by for 10 seconds. I’m glad we got to see some real American history in Boston.
A huge, huge, HUGE thank you to Ben for getting Ashley from school and making sure the girls got to and from the airport. I felt bad that my number one favorite runner couldn’t be there, but I certainly carried his running spirit with me. Let’s qualify at Chicago in October and run Boston together in 2020!
Gary and Darla – thank you for coming up from sunny and warm and dry Florida to watch me in that crazy weather. I think you probably would have preferred a tropical storm to that mess. Thanks for flying instead of driving as well. Smart move.
Oh my God! My life long friends – Dave and John – and Dave’s wife Carla, thank you so much for sharing this with me. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me. Your presence made for a fun weekend, as well as got my mind off of the impending doom that was coming. I got through the race bolstered by your presence.
And finally, thanks to my awesome partner in life Kari. She is by far the most important part of my journey in the marathon that is my life. Thanks for carrying me through not only for 26.2 miles, but also for almost 26.2 years. I love you.
As I look back on my training for my first Boston Marathon, I was pretty surprised to see that half of it is over. I haven’t done any writing about my journey to Boston, because it’s been very typical for the most part, taking it day by day and running the workout that the plan calls for. I’m eight weeks into my sixteen week plan already, and I’m not sure how it went by so fast. It had been going pretty well for the first six weeks, but a bothersome knee issue has made me very aware of how much time I have left, because not only now do I have to get in the remaining weeks of big miles, but I also have to do it without aggravating the injury and having it prevent me from running those important training miles. Or worse yet, not being able to run the race itself.
I have been able to run okay, even with the knee pain. It hurts more afterwards, especially noticeable going up and down stairs. Also, if I sit in a chair with my leg bent at a 90 degree angle, it will start to hurt. The pain is right at the top of the tibia, and I don’t believe the knee cap is affecting it. My son has suggested stretching my leg muscles more, which has given some relief, but I have also dialed back the miles the past two weeks as well, so at this point I’m not sure if the fewer miles or the stretching has been most advantageous. I’ll keep doing the stretching, but I’m afraid to lose too many long, slow weekend runs. I also retired my running shoes that were probably not really that worn out yet, and upgraded to a more cushioned shoe. Today’s 8 mile run in them went okay, but I found them to be very stiff. Not sure if I made a good choice there.
The first eight weeks saw a build to 12 miles in Week 6, but that’s when I started experiencing the knee issue. I dialed it back to a mile or two throughout the last couple of weeks, mostly run on the treadmill. Today was supposed to be a test of speed, with a half-marathon race built into the plan. There was no way I’m ready to race anything right now, and trying to find a 13.1 mile race in the latter part of February in the midwest is nearly impossible. I will now have to adjust my plan and reduce some of the big mile weekend runs that the plan has built into it. I will drop each long run by two miles and skip the speed work in the plan until I feel confident that I can do it without pain or further injuring myself.
The one thing I haven’t resorted to yet is stopping the 3+ year running streak that I have going. I may need to say goodbye to it if it means that I am doing myself more harm than good. I’m not going to jeopardize getting to the start line of my first Boston Marathon. I worked too hard to get there.
After getting a personal best and a Boston Marathon qualifying time at the 2015 Chicago Marathon, and then missing the cutoff by a half minute, I felt like I had a score to settle after that disappointment. I knew however, that trying to improve on a marathon best that was ten minutes faster than my previous personal best was not going to be easy. But this year was shaping up to make me well prepared.
I usually follow a sixteen week plan for the marathon. The plan I follow was created by Nike and was promoted by the Chicago Marathon. I was already into Week 2 of the training when I finished up the Ironman. So I wasn’t really starting at the beginning, seeing that I just finished a marathon as the plan had just began. But I needed to dial it back a little for a post-IMLP recovery and it was easy to slide in to the plan where I needed to be. (Here is the plan I followed: https://assets-chicagomarathon-com.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/2014_Advanced_Final.pdf )
So I eased into the plan, adding a few bikes into the mix, and kept checking off the weeks until race day. My longest run was a 22 mile run that I didn’t really want to do, but I got it done. Most of the training was pretty warm, and I struggled to train at a tempo that was near my goal of being under 8 min/miles. But I knew that training and racing were two different things for me, and the summer heat would hopefully be gone by race day.
MARATHON RACE WEEKEND
I went to the expo on Friday midday and found it to be very crowded. I usually buy some race day clothing at the Nike store, but after seeing how long the line was to check out (it actually went outside of their exhibit and wrapped around it!) and being disappointed at the junk they were selling, I almost passed on it. But I ended up buying a white event t-shirt and a new set of red shorts, along with a new visor.
Saturday was busy as usual for my family. I was glad that everyone was around for the weekend though. My son Ben didn’t have a XC meet and ended up coming home from college to watch the race. My daughter Ashley was excited to come home and watch the marching band home show that my youngest daughter Rebecca was involved with. I ate a pasta meal with the family at Gatto’s, and then made the trek into Chicago to the hotel.
My usual plan is to walk to the gate where I enter for the corrals just to make sure nothing has changed. Then I walked around a little, grabbed a muffin for breakfast, and a sub sandwich for dinner and headed to my room.
I walked through the lobby and got a glimpse of Joan Benoit Samuelson, which was pretty cool. I made it to my room and tried to find the Cubs playoff game on TV. Very disappointed to find the channel it was on wasn’t carried by the hotel. I tried to find it online, only to find that I could only get simple live updates on some dumb MLB website. So I monitored that while I pulled up the Ironman Championship live stream from Kona.
My alarm went off at 4:30 am and I got up and got ready. I made a cup of coffee, ate my muffin and started getting myself race ready.
I took my own advice and headed to the corrals at 6 am. In the past I have waited too long and had to stand in line waiting to get in. The wait was minimal this time. I walked to the corral area got in line for the toilets. Took care of that and then found a place to sit on the sidewalk outside of Corral B and just relax. People watching was interesting as usual. I saw actor/comedian Rob Riggle getting escorted to the front of the race even though he was wearing an E Corral bib. Must be nice being a celebrity. At about 7:10 am I ate a gel and drank the last of my Gatorade and then used it to inconspicuously pee into before entering the corral. Once in the corral we listened to the National Anthem, watched a group of geese fly over almost on cue, and started moving forward.
My plan had been formed by virtue of not making it into Boston. I would shoot for a sub 3:25 marathon, which meant holding about 7:50 min/mile pace. My strategy was to run even splits until either 5 miles, 5K, or less to go seeing how I felt at those times and then push as hard as I could to the end. Race day was perfect – temperature in the 50’s at the start and rising slowly into the low 60’s. There was a moderate breeze that concerned me a little, but I knew we were going to have a great day to run.
Mile 1: 7:36 split – I was running comfortably and wasn’t surprised at this split.
Mile 2: 7:41 split – Another good split, nothing out of the ordinary at this point except I felt like I had to pee again.
Mile 3: 7:44 split – This is the tempo that felt good and I hoped that I could maintain.
Mile 4: 7:43 split – Locked into that tempo. I was starting to sweat somewhat, which surprised me.
Mile 5: 7:39 split – Into Lincoln Park and moving along well. Could really feel the wind here and it definitely cooled me down with my sweaty shirt.
Mile 6: 7:46 split – Soon after leaving the aid station where volunteers were yelling “Gatorade” and “water,” we were met with a guy yelling “cigars, cigarettes.” Funny.
Mile 7: 7:40 split – Getting as far north as we would be, I was glad to be turning around. But as soon as you do, you get hit with the smell of breakfast. Gets me every year. Smells so good.
Mile 8: 8:20 split – Just before the Mile 8 marker I saw the toilets and saw my chance. I had the need to go since the start and I knew I would have to make one pit stop. As far as pee breaks go, this one was typical, but I think that it cost me the sub-3:25. I didn’t try to make up the time here, I just got back on the pace I had been running. I also took my first salt capsule at the aid station. I wasn’t thinking that I would need them today, but the amount of sweating I was doing made me commit to taking one.
Mile 9: 7:42 split – Somewhere in here I tossed the homemade tube sock arm warmers I had. I had rolled them down, but kept them in case it got cold. I kept my gloves, but just held on to them, mainly for personal memento reasons.
Mile 10: 7:49 split – Okay, for some reason the race would be a let down for me if I didn’t see Elvis in this mile. Upon turning onto North Avenue, I could hear the music. Normally he is right next to the roadway, but this time he was up a little higher and I wasn’t sure I would be able to get my fist bump. But I saw an opening and went over and yelled “Hey Elvis!” and he met my fist with his. Made my day.
Mile 11: 7:45 split – Mile 11 is pretty much a straight shot back into the Loop. Kept up my pace.
Mile 12: 7:45 split – Somewhere in here I found myself running with a guy carrying an American flag. He was a very popular guy. The crowd was making noise for him and I got energy from that as well. But after the flag hit me in the face a few times, I knew that Flag Man and me would have to part ways.
Mile 13: 7:44 split – Another very close split time and I got through the 13.1 mile marker in 1:41.49. A quick calculation in my head told me I was doing just fine and looking at possibly being closer to 3:20 than 3:25. I saw Kari, Ben and Ashley for the first time through this mile and it gave me a boost. I could tell Ben was following my splits closely and was cheering me on like I usually do for his races. Made me proud.
Mile 14: 7:42 split – A little faster, probably due to seeing the family and starting to head through the Cheer Zone of the route.
Mile 15: 7:38 split – Another faster split time as I headed into the Dead Zone of the race.
Mile 16: 7:58 split – Not sure why there is a 20 second difference. Maybe I hit the split/lap button too early in the previous mile.
Mile 17: 7:55 split – Okay, now I realize that I’m edging closer to 8 min/mile pace. As long as I kept it under 8’s I felt I’d be okay. I saw my family again and got another lift.
Mile 18: 7:53 split – I wasn’t feeling bad, I just couldn’t get back to the 7:45’s. I was walking a little more in the aid stations, making sure I was getting a good drink of Gatorade.
Mile 19: 7:46 split – Heading into Pilsen and feeling pretty good still. I could really feel the head wind now.
Mile 20: 7:55 split – At 20, I knew I was doing good but chose not to push any harder yet.
Mile 21: 8:05 split – Okay, lots of distractions in Chinatown – the music, crowds and of course the photographers distracted me enough that may have made this a slower mile split.
Mile 22: 7:50 split – It was at this point I made a choice to hold off until the last two miles before pushing hard. I made the same decision in 2015.
Mile 23: 8:07 split – (See note below) Just a 5K to go, and I got my last gel in me. Here’s where in your mind you are ready to turn to the finish line, but the course takes you south and then east for a block until you hit Michigan Avenue for the final stretch. I tried picking off runners that were ahead of me, one at a time.
Mile 24: 8:07 split – (Miles 23 and 24 were averaged as I missed the marker for Mile 23 and hit the lap button around 9:20 or so. I added them together and averaged them for the splits.) I felt like I was really pushing, but the effort was all in my head as it was taking that effort physically to maintain what I perceived as a fast pace. With two miles to go, I put my head down and started running.
Mile 25: 7:47 split – That’s more like it, although I thought I was running sub-7 at this point. Toward the end of this mile I saw a sign that read “800M”, meaning 800 meters to go. But my mind read it as “BOOM”, a saying my fellow triathletes had in the 2013 Ironman Wisconsin race. Either way, it was a positive for me.
Mile 26: 7:41 split – The fastest mile I had run since about Mile 14. I turned and climbed “Mount Roosevelt” and it seemed like an eternity. A quick left and I was checking my watch to see how close I was to 3:25. I sprinted with all I had left.
Mile 26.2/FINISH: 3:25.08 – Missed being under 3:25 by 9 seconds. But that really didn’t disappoint me at all. I had just gotten my second Boston qualifier, a BQ-4:52 as they say, which should be more than enough to get me into the 2018 Boston Marathon. If that’s not fast enough, I’m not sure what else I can do.
The finishing chute was a blur. I was really having a hard time moving forward, almost staggering and felt really drained. It wasn’t long and they handed us a bottle of water. I started sipping on it and then grabbed another salt capsule out of my fuel belt and downed it. I made my way to some misting fans and just kind of hung out there a little bit until moving on.
I chose an older lady out of all the volunteers to put the medal around my neck and wrestled with my emotions a little bit. Seems strange that after 16 marathon finishes, I still get a little choked up at finishing a race, especially when I set a personal best or have a great race.
I shuffled along picking up a banana, an apple and a bag of goodies and then saw the group of guys handing out the mylar blankets. They were pushing them like they were car salesmen or something. They were trying to get people to laugh and it worked. I got my blanket and headed for the gate. One last picture as I walked out and then I made my way back to the Hilton to meet my family.
After a quick shower it was a two block walk to Devil Dawg’s on State Street for the usual post event lunch. Another successful Chicago Marathon in the books!
Here’s some of the details of my race that helped me get another personal best and Boston Qualifier.
Running Gear: Nike 2016 Chicago Marathon Event shirt (not the participant shirt – that is a no-no in my book!) and visor, along with Nike Flex running shorts with the built in mid-thigh liner, all purchased at the expo.
Arm warmers made from new tube socks.
Skin Glide lotion for my feet to prevent blisters.
Two Band-Aid flexible fabric bandages to cover my useless nipples.
Louis Garneau Mid Ride cycling socks.
FuelBelt brand bib number belt with pouch.
ASICS Gel-Exalt 3 running shoes. I have been running in some of the cheapest ASICS shoes I can buy. They were great. I had broken them in two weeks prior to the race.
Three Salted Caramel (extra electrolytes, caffeinated), and four Root Beer flavored GU brand gels. I took one Salted Caramel about 15 minutes prior to the start, then one gel every 30 minutes. Two Root Beer, then one Salted Caramel until they were gone.
Four Salt Stik brand salt capsules. I took one at the hotel at about 6 am, and then took one every hour after the first hour.
One cup of Gatorade at every aid station, with an occasional water as well.
Timex Ironman 50 lap watch. I have a Garmin 910XT but don’t trust it. The Timex Ironman has never let me down.
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!