Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Chicago Marathon: "Every Mile IS Magnificent"

If you are not a speedster, which I'm not, you enter each and every race with very similar goals in mind; to finish in a respectable manner. "Respectable" as defined by the beholder. To enjoy each and every mile. To race harder and stronger than you did the day before. To learn something in the process.

The Chicago Marathon for me was no exception. I have no illusions of a Boston slot, I have no illusions of ground breaking phenomenal personal records. I do however, train for each and every race with the utmost respect for said race and go in with the expectation that I have to give everything I have that day; to take nothing with me after the race because I left everything on the course. Again, the Chicago Marathon for me was no exception. I say what I say regarding a BQ because I'm a realist. I know that cutting an hour off my time at this point in my life is not within the realm of possibilities. Perhaps one day. Perhaps.

Registration for the Chicago Marathon 2014 opened 7 months after I had registered for Ironman Chattanooga 2014. I cannot remember when I put my name in the hat for the lottery, maybe I was secretly hoping that my name wouldn't come up, maybe I was secretly hoping that it would. Couldn't tell you the thought process here, it's all a blur. The fact of the matter is that after it was all said and done, I had registered for an Ironman and a Marathon just two weeks from each other. Great!

For me the Chicago Marathon was an item to be checked off my "bucket list". But having said that, this is also a race that if the opportunity presents itself, I will run again.

The family and I arrived at McCormick Place for the Abbott Health & Fitness Expo a few minutes past 10:00 am on Friday morning. Even though the doors had opened just a short one hour earlier, there was already a crowd. 

I proceeded to my station to pick up my bib, No. J 48693. The "J" stands for the corral I was assigned to, the one next to the last one. I felt more comfortable here than I did in at the New York City Marathon last year where I ended up in the very first corral. I thought this was more my speed. But I will get to how I think this affected my time a little bit later on.

The process moved swiftly and without consequence. I picked up all my "stuff" and as personal protocol dictates, I proceeded to the Nike Official Marathon Merchandise area. In a matter of personal opinion, I thought and still think that the race shirt was designed at the last minute by someone who received a call from the printer saying that they needed the print-ready artwork in 10 minutes.

Again, another personal opinion, I thought that the Nike Official Marathon Merchandise left a lot to be desired. There was nothing, absolutely nothing that jumped out to me and said "buy me". But I did. After a long search, settled for two items. Not that this is a bad thing in any way, for I had left a small fortune at the Ironman and another big expenditure would have been out of the question.

Two hours later we found ourselves at our hotel. The Hilton Chicago. This is the race host hotel; the Kenyans were staying here. All of them, they were all here. Goodness gracious, they look fast, even when they're standing still. Someone told me I would run fast by osmosis, I was hoping that to be the case. It wasn't.

The rest of the day Friday we spent doing a little walking around Michigan Ave and Lakeshore Drive. Both my wife Monica and Marcela, our youngest daughter love big cities. Me, not so much. But somehow, this time I didn't mind it. It was relaxing and fun. Walked to Navy Pier then to dinner at Volare Italian Restaurant for some serious carb loading, and then back to the hotel. I was tucked in by 9:30 pm. 

On Saturday the girls left early. They wanted to take in the sights. I stayed behind, didn't want to put all those extra miles on my legs. I opted for a short walk around Buckingham Fountain and Milennium Park. The day was perfect, the sun was out and the temperatures just right. I brought my camera along for some distraction. Made it back to the hotel early afternoon to relax and watch some college football. The girls came back mid afternoon and we headed to Sweetwater Tavern and Grille for dinner, and more football.


One of the biggest perks, if not the biggest perk, of staying at the Hilton was the fact that we could see my corral from our hotel window. From the hotel front door to the corral gate took no more than 10-15 minutes, and it took that long because of the crowd. This was perfect for I didn't have to deal with the cooler temperatures for any length of time. Another not so obvious perk was the fact that I didn't have to check my gear bag in; one less crowd to fight.

The start of the race was long and slow. I guess with such a crowd, it would have to be. It was well staged and extremely well organized, however. When it came time for our wave to start, it still took about 25-30 minutes to get my corral off and running. But nonetheless, we were off and running. Tee time was approximately 8:30 am.

Today's race plan included the use of no data. Yes, the Garmin screens were turned off. All but the one that would manage my intervals. 4:1. I planned to run like this all day. Four minute run, one minute walk. And this I did. There was no keeping up with pace or time. The distance accumulated came courtesy of the mile markers along the course. My friend Skip suggested I do this when I told him I wanted to just go out and have "fun". After all, I had just raced and Ironman. My legs didn't have a stick of speed fiber left in them.

Or did they?  I will never know.

It is said that you run according to your surroundings. Or better stated, you run according to how those around you are running. This is why it is recommended that in order to get faster you train, and run, with faster folks.

At the NYC Marathon last year, when I ended up with the "fast" crowd, I had the fastest marathon time I have ever had, a sub 5 hour marathon. Here, today not so much. I was running with the slower folks and my finish time reflected this. 5:39:10. Had I placed myself further up, would this have made a difference? Not sure, doesn't matter.

The course was scenic and crowded. I was hoping that the crowd would thin out after the 13-14 mile mark. It did not. The course was also flat. Very flat. there were three very small bridges that I remember elevated minimally. Race support at Aid Stations was fantastic. There were 20 of them throughout the course, very well spaced. Each station was approximately two blocks long. First block always had Gatorade Endurance Lemon Flavored and the second block always had water. Bananas were offered at the stations somewhere between miles 20 and 24.

My personal nutrition plan consisted of Infinit and Huma gels. I carried a hand held water bottle mixed with the Infinit and I would sip some every 1 minute walk. Had to refill the bottle once. This worked out great. I also took a Huma gel at mile 9 and a second gel at mile 18. This too worked well. From the aid stations I alternated a small drink of Gatorade at one station and a drink of water at the next. I took one third of a banana around mile 20.

The crowds of cheering supporters were everywhere as well. People lined the streets for most of the race. This was a great motivator. Even a bigger motivator for me was finding my wife and daughter at miles 13 and 18. Or rather, having them find me. Not sure how they spotted me, but they did. They called out my name, I heard them and there they were; big ol' smiles that lit up the course!

The one big let down was the finish line. It was anticlimactic. Where were the crowds? There was no crowd. The bleachers were set up on both sides, but there were 5 or 6 people there. Was I that far towards the end that everyone had already left? Don't think so. I remember at the last aid station, the station captain was telling his volunteers, over the megaphone, that there were still some 10,000 runners to come, to make sure to keep their spirits up.

Perhaps it has to do with security. Security throughout the course was heavy. Obvious and heavy. Swat teams. FBI teams, Local and State Police, etc. they were out and they were out in force. This was good to see.

From the moment I crossed the finish line until the moment when I found my family, about 45 minutes had passed. I was tired, I was hungry. I just wanted to eat. I had taken a Gatorade Protein Shake at the finish line, which btw, was pretty tasty, but obviously that was not enough. I had taken a moment to stretch my legs, but there's no amount of stretching you can do to prevent your Plantar Fascia from hurting when it gets cold. It was beginning to ache. No, it was beginning to hurt and hurt bad.


One of my goals with each race I run, is to come out with new lessons learned. Again, Chicago Marathon was no exception:

1). The choice of hotel matters. It matters a lot. We have stayed at hotels near and far from race sites, but never one this close. It brought peace of mind to someone (me) who worries about race day logistics. However, this choice of hotel is a once in a lifetime opportunity for us. I cannot justify the expense just to be "close" the the race start/finish. Next time, I will get over race day logistics.

2). Registering for and racing an Ironman and a Marathon two weeks from each other is a BIG DEAL. A huge deal. Label me crazy if you must, but it CAN be done. Are you up to it too?

3). Running for fun, is a lot of fun. But the "fun" must be as defined by you.

4). Judge the Effort Not The Time. Not all your races, because of circumstances, are created equal. We have accustomed ourselves to judge performance by time. Someone in the elevator at the hotel asked me if I was happy with my "time". I replied that I didn't know what my time was for I had run without my Garmin. He had a very bewildered look upon him. I explained that I had just raced an Ironman two weeks before then his look changed from one of bewilderment to one of awe. I didn't tell him that to impress him, I just told him the truth. Yesterday one of my clients asked me about my time. I replied that my effort was 100%. I went on to explain. This made perfect sense.

5). Positive Attitude Cures Everything. I already knew this, but its nice to keep finding reinforcement. The pain, the agony, the tired and heavy legs, all cured or at least sustained with a positive attitude. The "wall"? What wall?

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Friday, October 3, 2014

IRONMAN Chattanooga: A Race Recap

For someone who never has a difficult time finding the words to express his thoughts, someone is having a difficult time, this time, to do just that.

I'm not sure if the enormity of the journey culminating at the finish line of the Inaugural Ironman Chattanooga, on September 28th is something that I still have not been able to wrap my arms around. The enormity of the journey I say, because even though I've traveled down this road before, this time, my second time, was more special than I could have ever imagined; the reasons for this have been heavily documented as most of you already know.

Ironman Chattanooga was by any and all accounts a very successful race. Going in, my goal was a sub 15:00 hours finish. Official time was 15:09:23. A PR by 22:42 minutes

Before I move with weekend and race specifics, I must say three things: 1). I survived the extra 4 miles on the bike. The course was adjusted a few weeks before the race for safety purposes and even though this created a mountain of controversy, we all made it and lived to talk about it. 2). I entered the race with "hot toe" issues, serious issues. I chose to race anyway so this will in no way, form or fashion be used as an excuse for my times or performance. I will make mention of this later only to give you an idea of what was going on. 3). I also survived Little Debbie as the title sponsor.

So, without further to do...


As is always the case, specially in the bigger WTC events, the Village did not disappoint. There were more vendors, as it appeared to me, than in any other event. Most, if not all, were extremely relevant to the matter at hand. The Ironman merchandise tent was stocked to the brim, that is until we arrived; we made a major dent.

On Friday night, we did not attend the Athlete's Banquet. We chose to spend the time with close friends and a quiet dinner at a local restaurant. I learned from previous experience that this is the best route to take two nights before the big day.


On Saturday morning, my grandson participated in the Iron Kids, a one mile run through portion of the Ironman course. Over 500 kids took part in the three distances offered; .25 mile, .50 mile and 1 mile. Colton ran the mile. It is always a treat to watch so many kids involved in events like these at such an early age. Kudos to all the parents getting them there.

While a lot, if not all, of my friends and my daughter chose to do a short swim, bike and run pre-race, I chose to only do a run. I had planned to swim on Saturday, but due to recent shoulder issues I decided against it. I had been feeling no pain, so I opted not to push things the day before the race.

Bike checked in and Gear Bags left at transition without consequence. Perhaps maybe the occasional doubt of whether something was missing. There's always this doubt.

Again on Saturday we went to dinner with more family that had come in, and with more friends. Again, best move made. We opted for a restaurant away from the hustle and bustle. We drove about 15 minutes north of downtown and found ourselves away from the crowds.


The day started early. When I say early, I mean 3:00 am early. Earlier due to the fact that the night was not spent sleeping well. It never does.

My routine, and it hasn't changed in many a race is to eat two frozen whole wheat waffles, with peanut butter and a splash of honey and a cup of coffee. Starbucks in the lobby of the hotel had opened at 2:30 am. Good thing for Juliana and I would have been without that much needed shot of caffeine. I would also eat a banana about :30 minutes before race time.

An announcement would be made at 4:00 am regarding the water temperature. We were hoping, but not dead set, that it would be a wet suit legal race. It would make matters easier for us and for everyone else. Word came in from an acquaintance that the water temperature was 77f, so the race would be "wet suit optional". We proceeded to plan "B". We would swim with our swim skins. Time to head out.


We arrived at transition area somewhere around 5:00 am. Our hotel was about .80 mile, we got lucky and a shuttle bus was just leaving from our hotel. We did not have to walk, although walking would have been okay.

My wife Monica and friends Carry and Rodney were volunteering at the body marking area. We found them right away and proceeded to get our numbers and age marked for the race. This was special moment #1 of the day.

After turning in our Special Needs bags and giving our bikes a final check, we gave our friends a hug and proceeded our way to the shuttle was would bus us to the swim start. Go time is getting close, real close.

The swim start was to be a "time trial" format, self seeded, which meant that you would jump in the water in no particular order, one or two or three athletes at a time, in order in which you found yourself in line. For this reason, most folks tried to get in line early, so as not to be in the back of the pack. We waited in line for about one hour, thirty minutes. Longest wait ever.


And so it happened. 7:20 am the cannon went off and the male pros were on their way. A couple of minutes later, another cannon and it was the female pros turn. And then the final cannon. The age groupers, our turn to race had arrived.

The line started moving, slowly at first but then it picked up. By the time we reached the ramp, pace had picked up nicely. And just like that... we were in the water. The race was on.


I jumped in the water and hurried out of the way. Didn't want someone to jump on top of me. This was the most stressful part of the entire day. Seriously. Once I found myself a safe distance, which really didn't take but a few strokes, I started my swim. From the first stroke I felt good and comfortable. I was swimming smoothly. I noticed a slight current, so I tried to move as close to the middle of the river as I could so I could take full advantage of this. But so was everyone else, it was very crowded out there.

Not once during the entire swim did I break stroke. One after the other, after the other. I don't remember this happening, ever. As I said before, it felt good.

I have my Garmin set up to notify me at the mile splits. When the first notification came, I remember thinking that it couldn't be, it hadn't been that long. I didn't question it any further, I kept going.

With about an estimated 150-200 yds to go, the water got rough. Choppy, wavy and rough. There were no boats in the water that I could see, so I couldn't figure out where this came from. Had the conditions been like this for the entire swim, it would have been a totally different experience. Glad it wasn't.

As I approached the final buoy and turned left to head to the exit, my right calf got slapped by another swimmer and immediately cramped. I had to make a sudden stop, take a deep breath and stretch to make the cramp go away. It worked enough to allow me to make it to the exit.

The ramp was crowded and the swimmers were taking their time moving away. This is something the volunteers will learn with time. As folks step on those steps, they will have to make them move quickly. There were several of us treading water waiting our turn to get out. The swim out was crowed.

Swim Time: 1:20:06 a PR by days.

As much as I'd like to take full credit for this fantastic (relative term) time, I have to give credit where credit is due... Thank You River Current. My doing or the river's doing, this time will be forever etched as my swim time. A PR at that! Everyone posted an amazing swim times, everyone. The fastest pro clocked in at 40:49 minutes. Yes, the current was a big factor.


There's only one word that could properly describe T1: Crowded. Each and every chair was occupied. Most of us found ourselves changing either sitting on the ground or standing up. It was long and it was difficult.

Immediately upon entering the tent, I drank a Boost. As I made my way to the exit, I ate a Huma gel, combined, it amounted to some 340 calories. This jump started my nutrition plan to be followed on the bike. To replenish calories lost in the swim was a matter of utmost importance. To play nutrition catch up on the bike would spell trouble. I did not have to.

As fast as I was moving the time it took to get in and get out of T1 was still pretty slow. Not sure if the distance between swim finish, T1 and bike out had something to do with it, but that makes no difference. It was still slow.


As much as I was trying to pace myself smart, out of the gate, I found that my first bike split was fast. I was flying. However, my heart rate was were it needed to be so I did not worry, as was my cadence. I attribute this to the Boost and Huma I took in the tent. I was fueled and ready to go.

The miles added up in a hurry at first. I made it to the hair pin turn faster than I had thought. I was using mostly, as planned, my small ring.

Not sure of the mileage, but I'm guessing around 20-25 miles in, there was what appeared to be a road block. Police cars with lights on. I remember hoping that that nothing serious had happened. As I approached the area, I saw dirt and sand on the road covering what appeared to be oil. There was an officer cleaning up. I wasn't sure what had happened. Later I learned that someone had dumped oil and tacks on the road. This happened in two different areas. That explained the inordinate number of flats I saw on the course that day. I was lucky, I was spared.

It was at mile 40 that I got the first and best mental boost of the day; my family and a host of friends had traveled to that point to wait for us. Hearing my name and all the cheers was just amazing. Thank you all!

Made it to Special Needs and sorted through my bag. I ate a boiled red skinned potato that my mother-in-law prepared for us, and it hit the spot just like I knew it would. I had been looking forward to this for quiet a few miles. I would have hoped, however, that this had happened a fewer miles further down the road. At mile 50ish, I thought it was too early for Special Needs.

The town of Chickamauga received us greatly. Lots of noise, lots of folks. However, on the second loop everyone was gone! Literally, it was a ghost town.

The second loop proved to be challenging. My toes began to burn around mile 60, and they only got hotter as the miles went on. I stopped once and took my socks off. This helped for a while, just for a little while. When the burning and pain came back, around mile 80sih, I removed my feet from the shoes and pedaled with the feet out of and atop the shoes. Someone asked my if it wasn't a little early to be getting ready for the dismount. Funny I thought. I did not answer, just kept pedaling.

I could feel that my average speed was dropping dramatically; the harder I tried to pedal, or the faster the cadence I attempted, the worst the pain became. I moved on until about mile 105. There I stopped again to put my feet back in my shoes. I did not want to come into town with my feet out. A police officer came by and asked if I was okay. He held my bike while I did this.

Add to the aggravation of this issue the fact that it started to rain hard. It rained on and off for several miles. Still though, I just kept pedaling.

I arrived at T2, once again to the cheers of a welcoming crowd. Immediately I saw my family; wife, daughter, grandson, in-laws and another bunch of friends. I couldn't let them see me hurting. My toes were still killing me.


The good news was that the tent was not any where near as crowded as it was earlier. I had my very own volunteer. He unpacked my bag while I took another Boost and took my wet bike shoes and helmet off. I tried to dry my feet as best as I could so I could put my running socks on. While I was doing this, the volunteer was getting the socks ready to help me put them on. Upon looking at my toes, he immediately gave me the socks and said: "sorry friend, you need to do this yourself. Ouch"

Again, I took much more time in here than I would have liked, but I made it out and that's all that matters.


The rain was coming down again as I left the tent. Again my family and friends were there to give me good send off. My daughter Marcela was waiting for me a little bit down and she ran with me for a few yards. We stopped to take a selfie! Another huge mental boost.

As I started to get on my running pace, I noticed that the pain in the toes had vanished, or they were numb, I couldn't really tell. I didn't wait to figure it out, I just kept on running.

My plan for long distance running is a 4:1, four minute run, one minute walk. It had served me well at IM Louisville, so that was my target today. I set up my Garmin to beep at these intervals. I had trained like this.

The aid stations were spread out every mile or so. This was nice to see. They were well stocked and well staffed. During this race, the Chicken Broth was Hot. Nice touch! once they brought it out, I drank some at each other station, and a the alternate station, I would drink Cola. I carried my hand held bottle filled with Infinit. Perfect! Except until I left it at a station around mile 18. I took it off to refill it and set on top of a table. I must have been distracted for a moment for I left it behind. I didn't notice this until the following one minute walk, when it was time to take another shot of my mix.

For the most part the course was very well supported with cheering friends and family. Lots of noise, music and signs. These kept the spirits up. Except for the Riverwalk. The Riverwalk and Amnicola Hwy. These were desolate. Except for the aid stations they were lonely. This is where your mind had to be strong. Specially on that second loop. It was dark and did I mention that it was lonely? You were literally by yourself, unless of course you were a fast runner, which I'm not, then you had the company of other runners. Did I mention this was a long and lonely stretch?

I'm not sure where I was when I noticed my Garmin was off. The battery had run out. I had been running for an extensive amount of time and realized my walk break was long overdue. I finished the last who knows how many miles in without my Garmin. Upon realization of this I adapted. I started counting light poles. I would run 6 or seven and would walk 2. In the long run, It worked out just fine however, I'm not sure if I had my actual time I would have been able to shave off those pesky 9 minutes. But no regrets.

One of the perks, if there's ever such a perk, of being one of the slower triathletes, is that you get to see people coming as you are going. You cross paths with friends and fellow triathletes. Every so often you would hear your name being called. It was a team mate or someone you knew. Again, of course, they were coming as I was going.

Three things made my run a happy place: 1). A lot of people kept telling me how good Juliana was doing, how strong and determined she looked. I knew she would, but it was nice to hear this. 2). A friend and fellow participant/triathlete recognized me from a distance and yelled "I love you Mauricio, keep going, you're doing great". It wasn't so much the message, but the timing of the message and the person delivering the message. and 3). Crossing the pedestrian bridge for the second time. Suddenly I found an extra pep on my step and I heard the party at the finish line. I invited everyone I passed to come join me.


I began to tactically plan my entrance to the finishers carpet. I wanted a good distance between the runner in front of me and anyone behind me. I slowed down enough to allow a couple to have their glory. As I came down headed towards my destination, I heard my name called. I couldn't recognize who was yelling for me because the spot lights from the finish line were blinding. I found myself from side to side, high-fiving folks on both sides of the chute. And then I heard my name: "Mauricio Sanchez you ARE and IRONMAN". At this very moment I crossed the finish line. Mission Accomplished.

First people I saw after the medal was hung over my neck was my wife Monica and my grandson Colton. This was the sweetest sight of all. This moment will last forever. Next one I saw was Coach Barry and then my friend Randy.

I looked for my daughter Juliana. I didn't see her. She was no where to be found. We had agreed that she would wait for me at the finish line. I made it through to the chocolate milk tent and took two. Then walked to the first available table and sat down. For the first time all day, after the transition tents, I sat down. And then here came Juliana, wobbling along in obvious leg discomfort, with a big ol' smile on her face and a medal hanging around her neck. Sweet! My daughter is now an IRONMAN.


I learned that with proper training and a good mind set, everything and anything is possible, regardless what is tossed at you, you have the power to endure and succeed.

I learned that yes, in fact, you are stronger than you think you are, and that strength is as important as endurance.

I learned that an Ironman Journey will give you the confidence you never knew you had.

I learned, or rather continue to confirm, that being a strong swimmer is not a requirement.

I learned that an extra 4 miles on the bike course made no difference whatsoever.

I learned that Little Debbie is in fact, a great Ironman title sponsor.

I learned that technology may be great but you better learn to survive without it.

I learned that being 33rd in your age group is okay

I learned that if I ever do this again, I must practice transitions.

I learned that I will never do this again.


I accomplished most, if not everything I set out to do. My goal was to finish a second Ironman race... DONE! My goal was to improve upon my IM Louisville time...DONE! My goal was to finish in one piece...DONE! My goal was to race with my daughter, or rather be on the same course as my daughter... DONE! My goal was to be mentally strong the whole day... DONE! My goal was to have fun and finish with a smile on my face...DONE!

Will I ever do another one? As it stands right now, I'd say the answer is NO. But NEVER say NEVER. There's one thing that needs to be taken care of before I ever, remotely consider this again: I have to fix my "Hot Toe" issue. This was the most excruciating pain and discomfort I have ever felt. My back issues pale in comparison to this. If this is not fixed, then I will have to stick to 70.3 distances or shorter.

I was humbled beyond comprehension by the kind words received from total strangers during the weekend. From the gentleman in the hotel lobby who said to me: "you're a hero in Jackson, Mississippi. Your writings have brought tears to many" to the runner on the course that stopped, hugged me and thanked me. "You have inspired me beyond words", she said, and the gentleman that told me that my "attitude on facebook forums was most welcome, you kept finding the silver lining in every dark cloud". I make mention of this only to keep reminding myself that even if you don't realize it, people are watching and listening to what you do and what you say.

As with any other journey, this one brought many lessons, some already mentioned above, others more private and need not be discussed in public forums, for some of these will need some time and reflection to understand their true purpose and meaning.

In everyone's life and in every journey there are a group of people involved that help us along the way. I'm going to take the time to personally and privately thank each and everyone of you.


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