Let me begin by saying my weekend in Chicago with my best running friends (minus Frankie and Gary) was one of the most fun weekends I have ever had. That is what running should and will always be about for me. Spending time away from home with people I genuinely love and care about, supporting them with new PR’s and commiserating with them when missing them (a few celebratory drinks on Sunday was pretty fun too).
For the first Chicago in years, the weather forecast was looking perfect. I didn’t know there was such a thing as a 15-day weather forecast but there most certainly is. “It’s worth a Google!” As the days, hours and minutes counted down (I downloaded the marathon app and watched it intensely!), the 10-day forecast, weekly and weekend never changed the prediction. The Windy City would be a low of 37 and a high of 53 with 11mph winds. Near perfect marathon weather.
I went into this marathon just seven weeks after the exploits of Leadville 100, hence the title ‘The Chicago Project.’ How was I going to know how to train for a marathon after that? Who could tell me if I was right or wrong with my training?
People may ask why attempt a marathon so soon after 100 miles? Well, my reason for being in Chicago was purely for social reasons initially but then I decided to take the race more seriously. I thought why not try to use my new-found endurance level from Colorado and bring it across to a short, sweet and very unique 7-week marathon training program! Some call me crazy and I say thank you!
Week 1: I took the first week completely off. Well, almost. After five days of relaxing, I decided to get back at it on Saturday with an easy 10 miler. Relaxing felt completely alien to me. Do people really sit on the sofa all night? This is why the Type 2 Diabetes epidemic is so big (no pun intended), people are not exercising enough!
Week 2-4: I got back into five to six-day training cycles totaling 50-70 miles a week. Every week incorporated two-speed workouts from my go to ‘Jack Daniel’s Running Formula’. The one custom change I made, was to reduce the demanded fast pace to one gear less. For example, if the workout called for 20-minutes at 15K pace, I would do that at half-marathon pace. And if it called for half-marathon pace, I would do it a marathon pace and so on. This plan seemed to work pretty good. it helped me to avoid injury, improve confidence of my speed and to eventually having to stop staring at Rui and Francis’s bums as they were way faster than me at this point.
Week 5: or 3 weeks out, our main workout called for 22 miles at easy pace. For me this was 7:20 pace. As most of you know, the 22 became 26.2 at the Yonkers Marathon and the pace became 7:10’s to help my friend Gary BQ for 2013. Due to this extra endeavor, I again backed off the mileage before and after this run to compensate.
Week 6: The key workout was now upon us; a 15-mile speed workout. I managed to run this at 6:18 average pace but it literally killed me. If anyone saw a runner flat-out on the road in Central Park mid-September, that was probably me. When I analyzed my Garmin data, I knew I was right around 2:47 marathon shape. How could I be so sure? By comparing my present fitness to my marathon PR fitness. I compared the workout data to my first 15 miles of my Marine Corps Marathon PR of 2:45 from 2011. I ran the same pace but my heart rate data told me I wasn’t ‘as fit’. A body blow to my Chicago dream. I told myself though that Chicago is a flat course and the race day adrenaline will push me through. Plus, Central Park is all hills and the workout was done on a lack of sleep. I decided to ignore the science and go with plan A anyway, PR the race. I was optimistic, it’s the only way for a diabetic to be!
At 3:30am I woke up as did my roomie Rui. The alarm wasn’t set that early, we were staying at the Congress Hotel, right across the street from the start! Pure adrenaline woke us up and as much as we both tried to sleep, by 5am we were both up doing our pre-race routines. At 5:30, (2 hours before the race) it was time to eat breakfast. Blood glucose test; 333. Terrible! I had miscalculated my lasagna meal from dinner very badly. I wanted to be around 200. I ate a bagel, croissant and banana and pumped in an extra unit of insulin to try to drop the number down. I had to be careful though and not over adjust. Better to be high than low on race day but 333 was a joke.
We walked from the hotel into Grant Park shortly before 7am amongst the masses of 38,000 runners plus family, friends, police and marathon staff. It was crisp but not too cold. Our $2 CVS Pharmacy wooly hat and gloves and baggy hoodies were a bargain and worn with pride! We picked up these on Saturday as we all failed to bring throw away clothes. Marathon amateurs, the lot of us! One final blood test before dropping off my bag; 286. Still high. I dared not pump any more insulin in at this point. I trusted my original correction when I was 333 would eventually do the trick. I carried 4 Honey Stinger gels, two in my shorts, one in each arm sleeve – that’s what they are made for right? Game time.
I wished my friends well as we separated to different parts of the corral A and B. Rui and myself headed front left as the first turn is….yes left. We are smart runners! The gun fired exactly at 7:30am and we were off. Part of this different feel real. I looked at my race chip and my bib and quickly made myself get in the zone. Now was the time to perform. Put the speed workouts from the last few weeks and my endurance into this final exam.
Mile 1 from two years ago was way too fast. I got caught up in the excitement. Not so, this year, 6:23. Mile 2; 6:26. OK, this was OK I told myself, loads of miles to swing that around. Don’t panic. I hit the 5K at 19:48. Now panic! 54 seconds behind schedule. I was paying too much attention to my Garmin rather than the natural feel of 6:18 pace. The huge Chicago buildings were throwing the GPS way off and now, so was I. A mistake. I’ve run this course before, I should have known better than to trust my watch over my body. It was time to knuckle down.
Now heading north for 4.5 miles I got into some sort of groove. It was all effort though, not smooth like Marine Corps felt. I asked myself ‘this shouldn’t be hurting so much, especially so early on.’ My heart rate was already at 166. Oh boy. Going to be a tough day out here, I just knew. Could it have gotten worse before it got better? Yes. A guy in a cow costume was ahead of me! I thought these nightmares of people in costumes were long gone since I got taken down by a tutu in the London Marathon 2004! After an embarrassingly long time, I finally passed the cow at 10K. I prayed to never see him again. But respect to the cow, he was moving!
We turned south back through Old Town just prior to mile 8. I was still behind my goal pace but I had cut the deficit, even with the wind in my face the whole time going north. But here we were, now running back to the city and the wind was still against us. A runner next to me said “This is not right. How can this be?” (in much stronger language). I agreed and then realized there was nothing we could do about it. We were already stretched out, in the top 500 or so, and the wind coverage was slim to none. You could hide behind the person in front but then you were running their pace, not yours. The only thing to do that could make this work seem like fun a this point? High five Elvis at mile 10. I remember him from 2010 and made it my duty to take a detour and give him a high-five. “Thank you very much” he said. Everyone loved it, no more than me.
Back in the heart of the city, the crowds were big and loud. I spotted the black RUN NYC singlet of Matt Woods. I was surprised to see him. He hadn’t trained particularly well for this race and told me he was just hoping to break 3-hours at best. When I got to him at mile 13, we exchanged pleasantries. I didn’t dare tell him we were on pace for 2:44! This may have been the only time in the race I felt OK. I was on pace for 2:44, maybe a 2:43 high if I could just execute 13 more miles at my current pace. I was now in a 6:10 zone which felt pretty good. The key now was focus through the middle miles.
At the charity cheer zone around mile 15, the focus went out of the window. I saw the Leukemia team and JDRF, two charities very close to my heart and decided to flap my arms in the air to get them cheering. They responded with huge noise. It was great fun and loosened me up a little.
With 9 miles to go, I was slowly falling apart. I took my second gel with caffeine, hoping it would get my energized. My Garmin’s data was so out of whack I wasn’t even following it. I was using 5K check points and doing the math in my head to see if I was ahead or behind PR time. My two-minute cushion at halfway was now almost down to one minute and my legs were screaming for mercy. My brain drifted into the past and reminded me I had only just run 100 miles and Yonkers Marathon. I had to work hard mentally to switch it off, leave the excuses for somebody else.
I decided I had to break those last 9 miles of intense pain into 3 mile chunks. My brain couldn’t cope with thinking about 9 more miles. As we headed south and I was looking forward to a loud and fun section of the course, China Town. Then we turned hard right and started heading west again. I had forgotten there were two sections that took us on these long west loops, not one. It made sense. We still had 9 miles to go, China Town was near the end. I kept plugging away, taking a Gatorade at every other aid station to keep my blood glucose levels topped up. I definitely questioned why I choose to be in such pain during these miles.
Heading east once more in front of the magnificent Chicago skyline, China town was this time, definitely close. I heard Gangnam Style by PSY for one! I was now 5 miles from home. At this point, all pacing and heart rate numbers were out of the window. I knew the PR was still there but it would be really close now. I had tired on the second half like a true rookie. I turned the ninety degree left to head north on Michigan Avenue; the hardest finish to any marathon I know. Over two miles straight which feels like forever and ever.
The wind hit me once again and it was now at its strongest as I was at my weakest. I was gutting it out but my body was a mess. All I had to do was slow down or stop and it would go away. The Ethiopian’s and Kenyan’s had won 40 minutes ago, why carry on? Why bother? Only runners can understand why we never quit, never take the easy road. My legs were absolutely trashed. My mile pace went up to 6:45’s here and my heart rate had sky rocketed to the mid-170’s. I was at my maximum output but running my slowest miles, it wasn’t pretty.
I turned right up the only significant hill of the course, absolutely exhausted. One final turn left at mile 26 and the finish shoot was in sight. I glanced at my watch knowing the PR was now touch and go. 2:45:58…..2:45:59…2:46:00…and it had gone just like that. I was crushed, almost heart-broken but not quite. I crossed the line 25 seconds slower than my 2011 PR, less than one second per mile slower.
Too most people, a 2:46 marathon is a fantastic time. I understand that, I truly and respectfully do. Saying that, I couldn’t hide my personal disappointment. My good friend Kevin Starkes witnessed my finish (he ran 2:43 only a week after his Hampton’s win in 2:39!). I tried to explain to him, I could have done it. He slammed me down for being hard on myself and simply said “You looked pretty dead crossing that line.” I needed to hear that, it was true. I put 100% in and came up just short. That’s all you can ask for. No regrets, no excuses.
Boston 2013, watch out, I’m coming for you with 16 weeks of training, not 7!
I quickly got over my near miss PR. My post-race glucose was 123 for starters! And then their was the free beer shared with all my friends in the Grant Park festival afterwards. Our day and night of celebration made Marathon Sunday another truly special day in my life. Thank you all for being part of it.
So many of my wonderful friends ran exceptional races out there on October 7th. Crushing PR’s and making exciting debuts. With over twenty of my NYC friends who ran it, I’ll keep this short and say the highlights of the day were Luke McCambley’s 2:37 debut marathon (I take full credit for making him sign up!) and Steven Beck’s 3:16 (18 minute PR)/staying out till 2am to PAR-TAY! Until Boston, peace.