For the fourth year in a row, on Columbus Day weekend, I have completed the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Previous years have culminated in mixed results, both by the clock and in my own experience. 2013’s marathon was a disaster in both time and how I felt during the race, but provided me with invaluable experience and a drive to do better. By the time the 2014 Chicago Marathon came around, I had taken up speed training with Coach Leach, focussed a little more on my running form, and put together a strong showing at the 2014 F3 Half Marathon. However, during last year’s race, I had set unrealistic expectations, especially while trying to run with a sore back. 2015 was not a good year for me, overall - but I was determined to turn things around for 2016.
Looking Back at The First Half of 2016
A lot of dark things happened in my personal life in 2015; but by early 2016, I had started on a recovery course, and I was determined to make 2016 a year of stabilizing my life and pushing forward on my career, my personal life, and my running. The year started with a trip to Disney for the Dopey Challenge. I wrote about the experience in January, but it’s effect on the rest of the year wasn’t fully realized until later in the season. By beginning with a rather relaxed race where I couldn’t try to set a personal record, it was a refreshing way to get back into running. I wasn’t sore for weeks on end, and I didn’t have the mental anguish of another missed opportunity.
After having run 48.6 miles over the course of four days, I then had seventeen short days of rest before I ran the F^3 Lake Half Marathon. I have thoroughly enjoyed this race for the last three years. It provides motivation to continue training through the early winter months. When the weather is beautiful (as it was this year), we all enjoy the fabulous day and run fantastic races. When the weather is awful, we all battle through the elements and then enjoy commiserating about how terribly trying it was. Dropping my personal record by nearly five minutes meant I was in high spirits through the rest of Winter Marathon Training.
Having had a miserable, terrible, never-to-be-repeated experience at the Wisconsin Marathon in 2015, I had elected to go somewhere completely different for 2016. Since my girlfiend was from New Jersey, it seemed like a really good idea at the time1 to go ahead and sign up for the 2016 Novo Nordisk New Jersey Marathon. The course was splendid for the size of the race, and the running company was good. This was the first time that I tried running with a pace group, and it is an experience which I shall endevour to replicate in future races. My initial goal was to run with the 3:45:00 pace group (would would have still been a six minute PR), but at the very beginning of the race, I decided to throw caution to the wind (a very strong, raining, cross wind at that) and quickly catch up to the 3:30:00 pace group. If I was reading this on someone else’s blog, I would expect a tale of misery at going out to fast, and then crashing around mile 16. Inconceivably, at mile 16, I instead pulled away from the pace group and absolutely shattered my personal record, setting a new best time of 3:24:31.
#Whole30 Nutrition Program & A Personal Trainer
As the summer rolled in, my girlfiend and I decided to do the #Whole30 challenge. In support of her, I did not alter any of my meals or nutrition to cheat the program. Some other endurance athletes, I had read, would mostly do the challenge, but still use their sugar-filled gels during the run. I was determined to be fully compliant throughout the 30 days, including on long runs. The first thing that I noticed was the change in energy output during my weekend runs. Previously, I would experience a high energy for many miles, but I could feel this slowly fade away as the miles grew longer. However, on the #Whole30 plan, I felt I had a high level of energy through many more miles than before - but with a significant and sudden drop after some point. After a bit of trial and error, I was able to add more calories throughout the week, which I found boosted the number of miles I could sustain until exhaustion. I have so much to say about this topic that I should probably just write another post dedicated to this.
Another notable change in habit was working out with a personal trainer two days a week. While this meant reducing the number of days a week I was running, I found that my running economy was greatly improved and my recovery periods were markedly decreased. Between the two changes, I had shed approximately 20 pounds of excess body weight. I also spent a small fortune on new clothes to drape the slimmed down frame.
I could probably go on about this for another three paragraphs, but I’ll save that for another post. All of this work over the summer led to a smashing success at the annual Universal Sole Burgers & Beer 5k race, completing in 19:21.6; placing 20th overall and 6th in the very competitive M30-34 division. I was estatic with my performance, and it reinvigorated my dedication to training for the Chicago Marathon.
A New Training Regiment
With the addition of working out in the gym two days a week, I changed up my running schedule. My week thus looked like this:
- Monday: Run to work (minimum 9 miles, peaked at 12 miles) between marathon and threshold pace.
- Tuesday: Work out with Personal Trainer
- Wednesday: Run to work (minimum 9 miles, peaked at 15 miles) between easy and marathon pace.
- Thursday: Work out with Personal Trainer
- Friday: rest
- Saturday: Long run with CARA (between 8 and 22 miles) at easy pace
- Sunday: rest
I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed this set-up. I never felt the tedium of running that I had felt in previous years. I never felt overly stained or worrying about injury. The whole summer passed without serious incident, and the end of September approached rather quickly.
End of September
Then I got married and we went to Paris and London for the honeymoon.
Chicago Marathon 2016
The day was finally here, and I felt woefully underprepared. Normally, I would have had everything all packed up the night before, but I was scrambling around and lost when I wanted to be heading to bed. So I just figured I would work it all out in the morning; and so I crashed. I slept horribly. Even when I finally decided to get out of bed, I just couldn’t piece together a satisfactory list of what I wanted to bring to race day. It turns out that I had absolutely everything I would normally bring, but I had a nagging feeling the entire L ride downtown that I had forgotten something. On top of that, there was a really annoying passenger that kept wanting to engage me in conversation when I really just wanted to pop in my headphones and listen to some calming piano pieces. Eventually, I arrived at the CARA compound and the familiarity started to fall into place. I started going through the pre-race motions of replacing compression socks and walking shoes with running socks and race shoes; attaching my bib to the shirt I was going to wear; bundling up in an old long-sleeves shirt and worn gloves; and triple checking watch, cellphone, nutrition. There is a lot to be said about routine to clear one’s head. I left the compound an hour before race time, and casually walked to my corral. Last year (when the compound was farther), this barely got me into my corral before they closed the gates. This time around, I was easily at the front of Corral C, and found myself in a more relaxed mood because of it. The temperature was cool with only a slight breeze.
Corral C’s fastest pace group was a 03:25:00. Having already run faster than that, I had my eye on catching up to the 03:20:00 pace group in Corral B. Once released onto the course, I set myself at a measured pace, and felt good on my quest to catch up with my rabbits. I found them at around mile four but I couldn’t get myself to easily pull back to their pace, and I soon found myself creeping ahead of them. I carried on at the pace I was holding, and started doing the math in my head for whether I might catch the 03:15:00 pace group and when I would overrun them. Before the half way point in the race, I had found and passed that pace group. Twice I was able to see my wife, mom, son, and some friends - all estatic to see me. I knew I was going too fast, and when I had a midway split of 01:33:11, I had no doubt that I was going to crash and burn before the end of the marathon. My only goal at this point was to hold out for as long as I could, and see how close I could come to the finish line before it all fell apart.
The 30k mark was about as far as I could get at the pace I was running, and then I had to painfully slow down, which turned into a bit of a run-walk. A few miles later, the 03:15:00 pace group passed me, and then close to the end, the 03:20:00 pace group trotted passed me. I knew they were coming for me, so it didn’t completely demoralize me, but there was a sense of loss at knowing what finish time I was losing. Starting with the aid station in mile 20, I was able to get myself to run to the banana tables, eat nearly a full banana, get some water, then proceed with my race. I would walk through the aid station, then start running slowly, then picking up to an acceptable pace. At mile 23.5, I had the first cramp I’ve ever had during a run; thankfully, I was able to walk it off before the block ended. Michigan Avenue was, once again, a torturously long 2.5 miles. I kept with the Fartlek-like intervals, and the pavement eventually moved along — my eye ever on the clock. I knew I could still set a personal record, as long as I kept moving. Walk a little, slow run a little, easy pace as long as possible; rinse and repeat.
At the 800m mark, I was going to walk another interval, but a friend of mine jump the barricade, ran across Michigan Ave, waved her arms like a crazy person. I looked over to where she came from and found my entourage excitedly cheering for me. It was an unexpected and wonderful surprise, and I couldn’t let them see me walk - so on I went! I was able to take that surge of energy, climb over Mount Roosevelt, and run across the finish line.
Official Results - 03:21:43
My time for the first half of the marathon was the fastest that I’ve run 13.1 miles before. It is also the pace that I will need to run to be able to qualify and race in Boston. 03:06:22 would be a very solid time to be able to submit, and would further grant me guaranteed entry into the next years’ Chicago Marathon (03:15:00 being the cut off). I feel good having the experience of what that pace will feel like, and how I can best manage the race. Assuming I can move up a corral for next year’s Chicago Marathon, I will attempt to attach myself to the 03:05:00 pace group and stick with them the whole race.
The other thing that I learned is that two LaraBars are not nearly enough nutrition to get me through the race. I would have liked at least four, and I could have also used either salt tablets or mustard packets. I think the added nutrition would have helped with the energy crash and the cramping may have been from my sodium dropping too low. These are both things that I will try during my next marathon, and if it works out, will definitely be in store for all further races.
And On a Lighter Note
Famous Last Words ↩