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?

I invite you to come over and "like" my facebook page "Mauricio's Journey Beyond Ironman". Click here to go there!

Also invited you are, to join the Tri Talk. Click here to do so.