7

How did I run a nearly flawless race?

The me in this photo was expecting pretty much the opposite kind of race performance.

The me in this photo was expecting pretty much the opposite kind of race performance.

It’s been a week and a half now since my nearly-flawless marathon in Chicago and I’m still trying to put together what I take away from this race. I’ve always been of the mindset that there’s much more to learn from failure than from success, but this race feels like the exception to the rule, for me. I want to analyze every bit of it and pick out what I did right and make it a part of my marathon training, planning, routine, and strategy going forward.

Two and a half years ago, I ran a personal worst at the New Jersey Marathon—if you exclude the Disney World Marathon and only look at races I’ve raced. To this day, I’ve never toed the starting line of a race more prepared or with more training miles under my belt—I even crushed a 20k five weeks before the race in a nearly exact mirror of my half marathon from three weeks before Chicago. Unfortunately, everything went wrong on race day. Weather was 30-50º warmer than nearly all of my training miles. It was windy as heck that day—the pacers all finished with their little flag sticks broken from it. I felt both dehydrated and uneasy to my stomach from the start. My legs just were not into the idea of running goal pace miles. And I all-around had no energy.

At the time, I chalked this up to overtraining. I assumed I just pushed too hard in training and burned myself out. My second peak week and both taper weeks were a pretty accurate precursor to race day, which felt like further evidence of overtraining. I spent the remainder of 2014 struggling through my running. Every run felt just like the crappiness of New Jersey. It exacerbated my slip into a months long bout with depression that year.

The following spring, I decided I wanted to run Grandma’s Marathon and made adjustments to my training plan to try to avoid the overtraining. Training went well for the first eleven or twelve weeks. Then I started feeling as I had the year before. Things feel apart. I felt like shit while running again. I started struggling through runs and I had zero energy. Two weeks before the race, I decided to DNS. I wasn’t where I wanted to be and I didn’t have the guts to fight it out on race day. A year and a half later, I’m now regretting that decision. I had good reason at the time and even thought I might have been developing an overuse injury. I don’t think I was. I should have raced instead of cheering through tears.

After that failure, I made a visit to my doctor to try to find the root cause of my problems. I had my theories as to why my energy levels kept crashing to zero and getting in the way of my running, but I needed blood work to confirm. It turned out that my hypothesis, which my doctor agreed with, was wrong. I actually had a severe vitamin D deficiency. Not to mention my testosterone was practically zero, but that was of no surprise. I started taking supplements, changed up my hormones, and lowered my testosterone blocker dosage.

A few months later, running started feeling good again, but it was too late to race another marathon before my surgery. So I had to go into surgery having started running well again and knowing I’d be out for at least six weeks.

When I was finally ready to start marathon training again, I wasn’t anywhere near where I wanted to be. I hadn’t been running consistently again after surgery long enough to build my base to where it normally is before I needed to switch gears into actual training mode for Chicago. I made a very non-aggressive training plan and set aside my hopes of a BQ and big PR. I was a little disappointed, but I knew going into surgery that this was the most likely outcome.

Much to my surprise, training quickly fell right into place and I started nailing my runs. I hadn’t planned any speed work into my plan on purpose, but I was destroying my mid-week long runs of 8-10 miles. Each became an unplanned tempo run and each was faster than the week before. I started setting unofficial 5k and 10k PRs during them. I felt unstoppable. These runs were fast. The fastest miles I’d run since I transitioned. I kept waiting for training to fall apart because it just felt too good to be true. I got my testosterone level checked, 100% expecting it to be higher than when I was still on blockers. It had to be.

It wasn’t.

So that theory went out the window.

Throughout training, faster and faster times kept feeling easier and easier. I started struggling to keep my pace at 8:00. I was feeling very comfortable 7:30-7:45 and I run by effort so that’s what I ran at. Additionally, my heart rate was the lowest I’ve seen it seen I started tracking it.

On the flip side, a couple of my long runs were busts and my overall mileage was the lowest it’d been for marathon training in years. In my head, I was focused on the number of miles and seeing that as what would be my undoing. What I kept consciously dismissing was how many of the miles that I did do were significantly under goal marathon pace.

Here’s where I’ll mention that by week eight, I secretly changed my goal from “just have a good race and stay healthy, spring will be a BQ attempt” to “fuck everything, I’m going all in for that mythical 3:30 time I really want.”

Three weeks before Chicago, I kicked ass at the Newport Liberty Half Marathon. It wasn’t the best race day execution I’ve ever had, but my time was solid and perfectly in line with a 3:30 marathon. Unfortunately, that was the last good run I had until the marathon. Based on this race alone, I was ready to go for it in Chicago. Based on the three weeks between this race and Chicago, I doubted my ability to even make it through the race uninjured.

So that was everything leading up to the race. What was it that got me there?

After analyzing as much of the race as I can, I’m giving credit to all those fast miles I kept throwing down.

It’s, what I’m calling, the Disney effect. Over the last five years, I’ve done the Goofy Challenge (half marathon and marathon on back-to-back days) three times and Dopey Challenge (5k, 10k, half marathon, and marathon over four days) once. Each year, I go into these races woefully unprepared. The last two years, I had zero business running a marathon at all, let alone one after doing other races. But each year, feel fucking fantastic. I negative split and I have tons left in the tank by the finish line. The reason it works out is I run these races much slower than I typically run my miles. I run them for fun, I don’t care about time. I try very hard to run as slow as I can. Even though my legs don’t have the miles on them, they are never working very hard during the race. They’re running easy and aren’t fatiguing quickly.

This was also the case in Chicago. Sure, I was running much faster than Disney (31 minutes faster than my fastest Disney Marathon), but I was running much slower than a very large amount of my training miles. The pace didn’t tax my legs the way other marathons I’ve raced do. This allowed me to keep my goal pace while not depleting the tank in the first half to two-thirds of the race.

Sure, I could probably have ran the last few miles even faster with more training miles under my belt, but let’s be honest, I can’t complain about anything here.

Now, of course, this isn’t the only story. Your training doesn’t make for a great race. There were assists along the way. A great race takes planning, hard work, discipline, confidence, and luck.

The leg pain I had during taper, while robbing me of my last long run, meant I got plenty of rest and toed the line with very fresh legs. And more than just the rest, but it made me go to physical therapy three times in two weeks to get my legs massaged and it forced me to actually thoroughly foam roll every day. It was like a blessing in disguise.

Another big factor was being free of my testosterone blocker. I knew the side-effects for it held me back a little, but it wasn’t until it was out of my system that I felt just how much it was. The only positive side-effect from my blocker was the extra potassium in my body, but the loss of that wasn’t as noticeable as I expected it to be.

I also think I nailed my carbo-loading. Maybe not nailed, but I ate a lot of carbs and really focused on making sure that’s where my calories were coming from in the three days before the race. While this is sort of a hard thing to measure, the fact that I had plenty of energy through all 26.2 miles is likely a good indication.

Additionally, I focused on my race plan and stuck to it. I mentally broke up the race into small, manageable chunks. I took it one bit at a time and never let the weight of “oh my god, there are still X miles left” get to me. My first mile was too fast when you look at the time, but was exactly right in terms of the effort and feel. After that, I repeated my plan and strategy over and over in my head during the race. I mean, it was pretty constant. I kept that focus strong. it kept me from getting stupid. Even when I wanted to push a little extra in the middle miles, I listened to the smart voice in my head telling me to hold it back and save it for later. I took my gels throughout the race and I took water at every stop in the first half. I only stopped taking water when I was 100% confident in my hydration level being good for the rest of the race. And that’s something I was only able to do because I know my body and I know my hydration. Training through a hot summer was invaluable here.

And finally, there were all the other things that just went right. I pooped race morning, which I never do. I had good hydration. The weather was fantastic.—cool with only a slight wind and no rain. I timed my morning perfectly to minimize the amount of time I spent standing around on my feet waiting for the race to start. It was a flat course with great crowd support. And there was a big cheer section of people I know literally exactly when I needed it. I really can’t overstate how much that boosted me going into the last 15k. It was like a short of adrenaline that lasted and lasted.

When everything goes right on race day, it’s easy to have a good race and that’s what happened. But a lot of those little things that all add up aren’t things you can control. So the takeaway here is the training and the focus on my race plan. My mindset for the last four years that I need to be putting in more miles to race better was flawed. It’s not about the number of miles. It’s about the quality. Sure, your body needs to build the endurance to go the distance, but quality over quantity. I don’t mean to say I didn’t run quality miles before, but the pace of my runs was always second to the distance in past training cycles.

Going forward, yes, I want to run more miles than I did this time. But I’m going to stop making the quantity the end-all be-all of training.

(I’m on the right in the video below. You can see the moment I realized my time at about 5 seconds in.)

12

2016 Chicago Marathon – 3:28:41

Amelia Gapin with 2016 Chicago Marathon medal in Grant Park

Oh, yes, look at that smile!

Marathon number nine is in the books! And it was fan-fucking-tastic! I would go so far as to describe this as not just my best marathon, but my best race ever.

Pre-race

The plan after getting to Chicago was to hit up the expo and then take it mostly easy though the rest of Friday and Saturday. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on my feet. I just wanted to rest my legs and keep them fresh.

Amelia Gapin at 2016 Chicago Marathon race expo

Got my bib!

The expo was the typical big race expo affair, but we were lucky to get there early enough on Friday that it wasn’t completely insane yet. We did a lap, grabbed some free samples, and I met up with my friend Heather for a few minutes. After that, we chilled at our hotel until it was time for the Oiselle meetup. And that was about it for Friday.

Amelia Gapin at the Bean

Wife and I at The Bean on our shakeout run.

Saturday was even more laid back. I went for a two-mile shakeout run with the wife which we ended at breakfast. I had considered going to one of the many group shakeout runs, but ended up skipping them all. The one with Meb was the one I really wanted to go to, but it filled up before I signed up. And when I woke up on Saturday, I opted for a little extra sleep over going to Bart Yasso’s run, which was also a mile longer than I had wanted to do.

Flat Amy 2016 Chicago Marathon

The obligatory Flat Amy pic of my race clothes laid out the night before.

After breakfast, we stopped by Target to buy some throwaway clothes—I didn’t have any at home, nor the luggage space to carry them if I did—and then relaxed until our delicious, and early af, dinner at Italian Village. Then it was an hour or so of foam rolling my legs before getting in bed! I got to bed by 9:15 which was 👌 for my 5:30 wakeup.

 

Race morning

I woke up easily and felt well-rested and ready to go. I scarfed down a Dunkin Donuts savory donut bagel and then I had to 💩! I never 💩 on race morning, but I considered this a good omen. One less thing to worry about in those late miles. Not that I often have to 💩 during races, but it has happened before. I had just enough time to get dressed and get my stuff together to head out of the hotel right according to plan.

Amelia Gapin pre-2016 Chicago Marathon

Dressed and ready!

The weather was basically perfect. Low 50s, hardly any wind, sunny. I knew it’d get a little warmer later on and I tend to prefer racing in the low to mid 40s, but I knew the weather was going to be a non-issue. Another good sign for the day!

I walked to the start, checked my bag, and got in line for a porta potty. I was feeling okay. No nerves. More calm and relaxed than normal. Before checking my bag with my phone in it, I sent a quick text off to the wife to let her know I’d be radio silence until I saw her at mile 17. She said “you got this” and I, without even thinking, said “I do have this.” And I believed it. I felt confident for the first time in two weeks.

This was when I knew it was going to be my day.

This was when I knew it was going to be my day.

The porta potty lines were long and I got out with just a few minutes before the corrals closed. I pulled off my throwaway sweatpants, dumped my hoodie, and made my way over. The corral was packed and I entered from the back. But I knew my goal and race plan had me running much faster than almost everyone in my corral (based on the way the corrals were broken out by previous finish times). I slowly worked my way up to the front, but it was tough. There was little room to get through, but I knew that’s where I belonged and needed to be. I knew starting in the front would help me have a more controlled start because I wouldn’t be fighting to get around other runners. I’d have some space to run my own race.

Sun just starting to come up.

Sun just starting to come up.

I finally got all the way up to the second row of people just as the corral before us was sent on their way. I ripped off my makeshift tube sock arm warmers, reminded myself of my race plan, and told myself, again, that I had this.

Miles 0 – 7.5

Once our corral got going, I stayed calm. I had a lot of adrenaline, but I repeated over and over in my head “stay slow, take it easy.” I had switched my Garmin to manual lapping so I could have accurate splits and really be able to assess how I was doing throughout the race without having to worry about the typical GPS inaccuracy. I made it my personal mission to not look at anything on my Garmin except each split on the mile. That was it, besides the occasional heart rate checkin on my Apple Watch.

Throughout mile one I felt great. Easy and relaxed. I felt like I was running slow. I know, you’ve heard this before. When I got to mile one, I saw a 7:48 and panicked for a minute. “Shit! I was supposed to run around 8:20! Did I just blow my whole race?EVERY TIME, AMY!” But I quickly pulled it together and eased back a little. It’s a long race, I could recover. Plus, I felt like I was supposed to in that mile and I was running this race by feel.

My heart rate was quite high, in the mid-170s, for the first mile, but I didn’t feel it. I was totally confident in chalking that up to race start adrenaline.

Miles two and three ticked off uneventfully as I eased myself in. Almost got taken out by a few spectators crossing the course a few times, but that was an issue multiple times throughout the race.

The first 3-4 miles of this race are loud with strong crowd support, you need to take it in and store it for later, but you can’t let it go straight to your legs or you’ll blow your whole race. I just kept repeating my race plan in my head and kept telling myself I had this. Step one was getting to the northern most part of the course and hitting that turnaround at Addison (~7.5 miles). Then step two was getting to the Willis Tower and the halfway point. Step three was the Oiselle Cowbell Corner at 17 where my wife was. Then mile 20 and finally the finish. I had everything nice and broken out in my head. One step at a time.

I took water at each stop and tried to slow myself just a little as I drank to focus on getting some down, but I was still a bit splashy with it. Still out of practice, I guess. As I approached mile six, I realized I forgot to take my first gel. My marathon plan is typically to take one every five miles and this works for me. I gulped it down and set a mental reminder that I couldn’t make a habit of forgetting them.

When I got to the first 10k, I realized a new mental tool to add to my arsenal. Make each 5k a mental checkpoint. Each 5k had a timing mat and I knew my wife was tracking me. “Just get to the next checkin with Danielle.” In my head, I made this a big deal, almost as a way to connect with her telepathically throughout the race. It also meant that I was hitting mental checkpoints constantly throughout the race. This helped all 26.2 miles tick off like nothing.

Throughout this first portion of the race, my legs were back and forth between feeling great and feeling “ehhhh.” I knew going into the race my legs weren’t likely to feel good. I knew my IT band could be an issue. I knew there could be a lot of tightness and muscle soreness. It was never too bad, but it was always in the the back of my mind “okay, when is this going to get bad?” At a couple points here and there, I thought I felt my knees get weird and my left calf was tight for a mile, but nothing lasted or stayed consistent.

My pace throughout these miles was pretty consistent in the 7:55 to 8:05 range. I was hoping to for a less variation, but my effort level was very steady and I made very minor adjustments with each mile to keep myself on track. Besides being a little fast in miles one and two, I was right on plan.

Miles 7.5 – 13.1

Once we looped around at the top of the course and started facing South again, I used the Willis Tower as my North Star. I knew from running the course before that it’s the visible center of the course and it’s where the hallway point was. Whenever I could see the tower, I’d look up and say “Okay, you’re X miles away. I’m on my way!”

These miles were super uneventful. There is a lot of crowd support through here so I focused on keeping my effort on track and my pace right where it was supposed to be. I was really locked into where I wanted to be and overall feeling great. Legs kept having their moments of feeling weird, but still nothing consistent. To sound like a broken record, I just kept repeating my race plan in my head. I was not going to blow the day by not following my plan.

Throughout the first half, I slowly caught up on the pace groups in the corrals in front of me. 3:45 and 3:40 from each the C and D corrals (they had overlapping pace groups). I didn’t speed up to get around them, I just ignored them and ran my own race. My only thought was “whatever you do, don’t catch up to the 3:30 group.” The 3:30 pace group started in the C corral and had a nearly five minute headstart on my corral. If I caught them, I was running way too fast.

As I crossed the half, I was feeling confident. 1:44:29. Slightly fast for my 3:30 goal, but within a safe margin, I felt. I wasn’t trying to bank time, but I had an extra 30 seconds to work with in the second half, if I needed it.

Miles 13.1 to 17

“Okay, just get to Cowbell Corner!” That was my mantra here. I just kept on doing what I was doing.

At one point, a guy dressed like Mario passed me. Not long after that, I nearly slipped on a banana peel. Fucking Mario Kart out there, I tell ya!

Through this section, I started to have my doubts. Nothing major or self-destructive to my race, but they were there. I knew I was doing great so far, but my legs were starting to tire. I knew my long runs had been the weak part of my training so when they started feeling a tired here, there was some concern, but I still had energy and lungs for days. I expected this disconnect between my upper and lower body going into the race so I just kept to my plan. I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy day and nothing was at a point where I felt like I should ease back.

Sometime in mile 15, I got my first side-stitch. Ugh! But, hey, you don’t get to nine marathons without learning how to run through them, right? I switched my focus to my breathing for a few minutes. Deep breathes in and let it all out as the foot on that side comes down to the ground. It worked.

Normally, at the halfway point of a marathon, I switch from water to Gatorade. It’s another thing I’ve had success doing. But I was still splashing water on my face while drinking and didn’t want to risk having sticky Gatorade all over me. Plus, my hydration levels felt great. I typically try to take water at almost every stop for marathons (yet, almost never for shorter races), but I stopped taking water almost entirely in the second half. I paid close attention to how I was feeling and I was feeling confident I was hydrated enough given my current sweat rate. And when I had the option, I was sticking to the shadier side of the street.

As I approached the overpass for 290 right before mile 17, I knew it was time to get myself to the left side of the course for my wife and everyone at Cowbell Corner. Once I got over there, I noticed another pace group up ahead. I assumed this was the 3:35 group from corral C. Good timing for catching them, I felt. Anyway, I locked my eyes on the side of the course looking for everyone. Typically, I’m pretty oblivious to the the course around me, but I was getting tired and I need to see some familiar faces. About 50 feet out from them, I saw a big Oiselle sign and immediately sprung back to life. I soaked the excitement in and flew by with a HUGE smile on my face. So much energy!

Miles 17 to 20

I took so much of this energy in from Cowbell Corner that I went from running 7:55 to 8:00 miles to running ~7:47 for three miles. I was a little worried after the first mile, but I was feeling good again. I knew I was late enough in the race where I didn’t have to worry too much anymore about getting too fast. If my legs were feeling good with it, I could let them do what they wanted.

Sometime early in this three mile stretch, I got a bad cramp right in the middle of my chest. I focused on my breathing again while saying to myself “welp, this is where I die. This is probably something serious and I’m going to be that runner that dies at a marathon. Fuck it, legs are feeling good and I’m not pulling them back.” I ran through it for a few minutes and it went away. NBD. This happens to me in marathons a lot.

As I crossed mile 18, I stayed focused on my 5k checkpoints. “18.6 is 30k, just get to there and checkin with Danielle.” I was still using this mental trick and it was working.

Before I knew it—no really, it happened so quick—I was at mile 20. “Okay, here’s where things get hard. Stick with your plan. You got this, you’re fucking killing it, bitch.” Yes, I call myself bitch when I’m running. Anyway, I was confident and knew that almost nothing, short of an injury-related thing, was going to stop me from at least getting my B goal of 3:35. Even if I bonked, I had that on lock.

Miles 20 to 23

fullsizerender-10After crossing 20, my focus was getting to 22 and getting retribution from four years ago when my race fell apart right at the 22nd mile marker. I was not doing that again! I kept it steady. As I crossed mile 22, I forgot to lap my watch. Only mile all race I missed lapping exactly on the mark. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I realized it at about 22.25 and thought about lapping it there and then again at 23, but decided to just wait until 23.

In the 22nd mile, I started to get a really bad side stitch on my right. It was super painful to the point where I had to grab at it. I thought “welp, this is it. This where I fall apart…again.” I wanted to walk it out, but I refused to give in. I pulled back on my pace a little, but not much. I was determined to not give in until my body refused to keep going. “Four miles to go. You can deal with this for four miles. Okay…you probably can’t, but you’re going to fucking do it anyway.” Miraculously, I eventually worked it out within a mile and regained my pace and resolve.

Mile 22 was also where the “you’re almost there!”s started. I sorta wanted to punch every one of these people, but I let it go. I I was not letting this distract me.

These miles are where I really started to fall back on my half marathon from three weeks ago. I haven’t raced much in the last two and a half years so my race experience is a bit rusty. I drew as much as I could from this one race and used it as a reminder of what I could fight through.

I also thought about the elites who had just come through here not much more than an hour before me. I wondered who won and what it felt like for them coming down this stretch.

And when I needed to, I went to old faithful. I imagined myself running at him along my normal route. “Five miles left, just gotta get home from Port Liberte.”

The finish

Once I hit 23, I knew I had this race locked down. No, not just the race, my fucking A goal. I was going under 3:30 and absolutely nothing was going to get in my way. The question now was if I could hold on enough to finish in 3:28:XX. I knew I was on track for a negative split, but I wasn’t doing exact enough math in my head to know how close it was.

I fought these miles. My legs were tired and sore, but they kept on going. They kept doing what I was asking them to do. As much as I was hurting, I was never miserable. I was never begging for the misery to end. And I never bonked. I was focused on that finish and what had more left, the course or my legs. There was a lot of crowd support in the last 5k, but it barely even registered in my brain. I was in my own world focused on staying as strong as I could.

I hit mile 24 and my confidence grew even more. “This. Is. Yours. Finally. You’ve got your BQ. And you’re going to get your sub-3:30. All your marathon goals are happening today.” I briefly went back to imagining myself running at home. “Okay, you’re passing Ellis Island now. 2.2 to go.”

img_0489In those last two miles, the focus was on that stupid quarter mile hill as you hit mile 26. That last slap in the face from the course. It’s not even a huge hill, but I remember it completely crushing my soul four years ago. Not this time. I was going to fight with everything. And that was all I thought about from the 24th mile marker on.

I passed mile 25. Still had it. I the “one mile to go” marker. I was somehow staying strong. I felt slightly better than I did with this much left in my half marathon three weeks ago. But it hurt and I was putting down 100% of what I had left.

“Okay, the turn into the hell hill is almost here.”

800M.

“Let’s do this!”

I fought up the hill. I gave what I had knowing I didn’t need to save anything. I lost a few seconds on my pace, but not much. Less than I thought I would.

400M.

200M

I got to the top of the hill and made that final left turn. There was the finish. Waiting for me. I had it.

To be honest, when I saw the finish line, my first thought was “huh, this race kinda flew by. I can’t believe that’s 26.2 already.” I mean, I was hurting, but the race seemed to just fly by. I gave what I had down this last stretch, but I think most of my remaining energy was trapped in my smile.

I stopped my Garmin as my body crossed the finish.

3:28:41.

I literally screamed out loud. And then I cried. Good thing I was wearing sunglasses. All I wanted was to get to my phone and see what my actual chip time was. I hardly even cared about water.

2016 Chicago Marathon medal

This medal means so much to me after this performance.

I made my way through the long finisher chute grabbing water, Gatorade, and beer and then got to my phone. 3:28:41 here too.

“Holy. Shit. What?” I was honestly in shock for hours.img_0490

Post race

After I got my checked bag and texted my wife. I went through my dozens of texts and Twitter/Facebook notifications from people who were tracking me. I was almost too excited to function. My legs didn’t even feel that bad. I guess since I never hit my breaking point, they weren’t 100% wrecked.

I changed in one of the changing spaces and then made my way over to the post race party to find Danielle and get another beer in my body. I was walking pretty much fine. Sore, yeah, but not stiff.

Takeaways

This race was what happens when just about everything goes right and I focus on my race plan. It was a “best case scenario” situation. I’ve been on the other side where just about everything goes wrong and that’s pretty much the worst. This was the opposite of that and it was great.

Going into the race, I was not confident about my decision to go for 3:30 from the start. I knew it was a risky plan, but it still felt like the right decision. I never would have dreamed I’d not only hit that, but also hit my stretch goal. This was the first time I’ve ever negative split a race that I was racing. I typically suck at that. I also can’t believe I never bonked.

Look at that salt crust! No one told me about it until I got back to the hotel!

Look at that salt crust! No one told me about it until I got back to the hotel!

I was nervous about pacing myself on my own. I usually try to start marathons with a pace group to keep myself controlled and have something steady to focus on late in the race. I didn’t have that option this time around as the pace group I wanted was two corrals ahead of me. In the end, this seemed to work out really well. I was free to make my own adjustments in relation to how my body felt rather than be forced into what the group was running.

I’m a bit stuck on trying to figure out why this race. My training was fast, but it was low mileage and I didn’t do any cross-training or speedwork. In terms of marathon training, this was about the least work I’ve put in. To be fair, this was planned from the start of training. this wasn’t supposed to be a BQ race. I was focusing on just building back up. And then I spent all of taper dealing with making sure my IT band and quads were even going to be able to do the race at all. I was really aggressive with rehabbing everything, but it never felt right. And, again, my long runs. My longest run was only 17 miles. I had a 20-mile day, but it was split between a couple runs. My 19 and 21 milers were complete busts.

I guess, in a weird way, the issues with my leg forced extra rest during taper to allow me to go into the race recovered and ready, even if I didn’t feel like it. It also may be that my body responds better to lower mileage marathon training, which would go against everything I’ve ever believed would get me here. I’ve always felt like my body needed high mileage training to be able to stay strong late in a marathon. I might have been wrong?

I also had a solid race plan with many pre-planned options to handle anything the race threw at me. And I kept repeating that plan over and over and committed to it like I never have before. I made it gospel. I never let the race get away from me. I stayed in control of it.

No matter what, I couldn’t possibly be happier with this race. It was as close to flawless as I’ve ever been. I negative split. I PRed by 16 minutes. I got my BQ by more than 11 minutes. And I had fun and loved it. I finally feel like I have a PR that is mine. 3:44 is quite respectable and I’ve always been proud of it, but it felt dated and I knew I could do better.

I love the Chicago Marathon. Both times I’ve run it have been amazing experiences. It’s such a well put-together event that runs like clockwork. Crowd support is fantastic. The city is fantastic. It’s a big race, but it’s a great race.

Celebratory deep dish pizza!

Celebratory deep dish pizza!

1

Chicago Marathon training recap

img_0395It’s marathon time. I guess. Well, not I guess, actually. It is marathon time. Tomorrow. Oof.

For the most part, training went better than I had expected, but one part of marathoning that I’m really bad at is managing the nerves leading up to the race. I’ve be super stressed about it for the last two weeks. This is typical for me, but this time around it’s even worse.
I got a later start running consistently again after surgery than I hoped so my base wasn’t anywhere near where I wanted it to be by the time I started my training. I adjusted for this as much as I could with my plan and put together one of the least aggressive training plans I’ve ever done.
After a few weeks of training, though, my body started to really fall into sync. I was kicking ass on my runs and feeling pretty good. I run by effort rather than by trying to hit certain paces and it was turning out that my runs were overall much faster than I thought I could run at all effort levels.
As training progressed, my goal for the race started to move from “probably just want to be around 3:40” to BQ to “I don’t think 3:28 is impossible.” My training runs were faster than they have been for any marathon training cycle since Chicago 2012, which was before I transitioned. I was pleasantly surprised with that.

Not a lot of miles here at all :/

Not a lot of miles here at all, especially those weeks without long runs :/

I should make a clarification here, though. My mid-week runs were great. Even my longest, hardest runs during the week were beyond solid. By the end, I was crushing nine and ten milers at paces near my 5k PR. In fact, I had a 7-miler during a step back week that was a faster overall pace than my 5k PR and I felt fantastic doing it. Even my stupidly easy effort runs were quick despite some of the lowest heart rates I’ve since on runs since I started monitoring it.
What wasn’t consistently great were my long runs. Some were good. One was really good. Most were eh. And a couple were “god fucking dammit.” One of my 17-milers got split into two runs, a morning one and an afternoon one. And my 19-miler was cut at 11 because I was feeling terrible in every way and gave up. And my last long run, a 21-miler, didn’t happen at all.
Three weeks out from marathon day, I ran a half marathon. This was built into my training plan from the beginning. The race was on a 20-mile day and I ran 10k before it to cover most of the extra miles and then another mile after. The race went really well. I ran faster than I expected. Unfortunately, I also ran faster than planned and than I should have. I was sore afterwards, but I chalked it up to DOMS and then continued into my peak week of training without making adjustments to properly recover. I did my runs at an slightly easier effort, but I didn’t adjust my mileage or run as easy as I should have. By the end of the week I was still sore and started to have some pain on the outside of my right thigh. I massaged it a lot, but that seemed to only make matters worse. Come the Sunday following my race, I knew running a long run was going to be a bad idea. The pain had moved down along the length of my IT band from my hip down into my knee. I decided to take three days completely off. I wasn’t thrilled about losing a 21-miler, but avoiding injury is priority number one and I’d rather risk my time than risk my ability to run at all.
In addition to skipping a couple of runs, I also made an appointment with a sports physical therapist who is also a runner right away. I didn’t want to mess around. I got three appointments in with her where she mostly focused on massaging my very tight legs. With less than two weeks to go, there wasn’t time for much else. Just massage, foam rolling, and a few exercises to loosen things up. It definitely helped, but physical therapy isn’t magic.
Free beer at the expo. Photo stolen from Ellen's Snapchat.

Free beer at the expo. Photo stolen from Ellen’s Snapchat.

My runs during taper have been very easy effort, but my legs have been tired and garbagy. It’s really hard to feel out where they’re at right now. There is still some soreness in some spots, but the pain has mostly settled in behind the top couple inches of my IT band. This is the same place I had problems four years ago going into Chicago, but this is a bit more intense.
Ultimately, it feels okay enough to run on. I know it’s going to be uncomfortable during the race and recovery is going to be a bit harder and longer, but DNSing doesn’t feel like the necessary move here. I might just be being stubborn about it, but my physical therapist doesn’t seem too worried about it as far as my decision to run.
This does affect my goal a lot though. Missing that last long run after having a couple others not go well worries me for the last 10k of the race. My overall milage through training was lower than I normally do so I don’t have much confidence that my legs are ready for the distance.
I still haven’t fully decided exactly what my exact plan is for tomorrow yet. If I hadn’t developed this issue and had done my last long run, I’d be shooting for 3:30 as my A goal with a stretch of 3:27 or 3:28. Now I’m leaning more towards a 3:33 with 3:30 as my stretch, 3:37 as my B goal, and 3:40 as my C goal. This is still not fully decided though.
Boston 2018 is the day after my 35th birthday so I get an extra five minutes on my qualifying time. 3:40 will qualify me, but it’s looking like 3:37 is the slowest I can go to have a decent chance of actually getting in, based on the last few years.
I had thought about pulling back my goals a lot for this race and not actually racing it, but looking at how my race schedule is coming along for the spring (and with Dopey in January), it looks like this might be my last chance to make a BQ attempt before next fall. To be fair, a BQ attempt wasn’t really on the table when I started training. I didn’t think it’d be a reality at all, but my training makes me feel like a goal for a race any slower than BQ time would be selling myself short.
In the end, I hope to play it smart tomorrow and listen to my body. Not being injured is the most important thing so if my assessment is wrong, I need to be smart and stop. The key will be starting out slow and not taking off at the start like I always do no matter how hard I try not to. If I can have a slow start for the first couple of miles, I can feel things out and then hopefully stay stronger throughout the rest of the race. A lot of this race may be a play-by-ear situation.

6

Halfway to Chicago Marathon – training check-in

Eight weeks down. Eight weeks to go.

Training is flying by! It feels like I just started this training cycle, but here I am eight weeks in. That’s a good thing, it means things are going well and I’m not miserable or counting down the days until it’s over. I’m actually really enjoying it so far! If you recall back to eight weeks ago, I didn’t know what to expect from training. I was still building up and nowhere near where I wanted to be at the start of a new training cycle. I started off training easier than normal and put together a fairly non-aggressive training plan.

Weekly mileage total for the last eight weeks

Weekly mileage total for the last eight weeks. That big jump in miles halfway was something I was nervous about, but I needed it somewhere.

At the halfway point, that decision seems to be paying off, I’m running very well. I’m getting all my miles in and don’t feel like I’m struggling through much of them. Even when my legs feel tired, they don’t feel too tired. I’m able to push them. My mid-week runs are ticking off and I’ve gotten my body very used to 5:30am alarms for pre-work running. I’m getting out the door and destroying miles. My 10k – 8mi runs are going as well as they ever have for me. In fact, I’m putting down as good or better paces and splits than I have since I started transition. Even better, I’m getting faster. Last week, I threw down my fastest training mile in nearly four years at the end of an 8-miler. And I felt great doing it! I feel nowhere close to plateauing yet. And the best part is that I don’t typically really feel like I’m settled into training and hitting my stride until somewhere between week 8 and week 10; I’ve already been hitting my stride for a few weeks now.

I’m not doing any speedwork besides tempo runs, but I didn’t plan to this training cycle. My focus was mostly getting the miles in, staying healthy, and building and that’s what I’m doing. Unfortunately, I haven’t been getting any cross-training in. I’ve been wanting to start working a spin class into the mix, but I’m only just in the last 2-3 weeks feeling as though I might be ready to get my crotch back on a bike again after surgery—this took months longer than expected. Right now, I’m running six days a week and I’m still lacking the confidence to make any day a run + spin day so it may be a few more weeks still.

COME ON!!!!

COME ON!!!!

Where things aren’t going as well has been my long runs. I messed up my schedule and did 13.1 on my first week scheduled with 12 miles so I just went with it and ended up with three weeks at 13.1 miles (as opposed to two at 12 and one at 13.1). These were all tough. It was hot and humid out and hydration was a major issue for two of them. I ended up getting dehydrated and having to battle those symptoms, including bad nausea that kept forcing me to have to stop. The other 13.1-miler was plagued by some bad GI issues…which is pretty abnormal for me. Despite this, my paces were all right on point in the 8:40s and, besides the hydration and GI issues, comfortable.

This past weekend’s long run, a 15-miler, was a different story, though. Similar pace at 8:43, but very different feel. I felt strong, comfortable, and without any hydration issues. At the 85º, 83% humidity, and a heat index into the mid-90s by the time I finished at 9am, I expected hell. But I was smart about hydration early on and it made a difference.. I felt good the entire way, better than I have on any other long run in the last four or five weeks. Very encouraging!

In general, my body is responding well all around. Compared to my last couple of training cycles, my heart rate has been lower at most paces and the same efforts are yielding faster paces. I’m feeling good so far.

I don’t plan on making any adjustments for the second half of training. I’m going to stick with my plan and what I’m doing and see how that works out on race day. Every indication I have so far points to my suspicion and hope that surgery would pay off with my running performance. No longer having the side-effects of spironolactone (testosterone blocker) and now having (what I’m suspecting is) a higher testosterone level (I’m getting labs done soon to verify this) is making a huge difference. Why did that sentence have three parentheticals? Anyway, the only negative I’ve noticed so far is my potassium level may be something I have to actually start thinking about again. For three years, I didn’t have any cramping/charley horses in my legs on account of spironolactone being a potassium-sparing diuretic. Recently, I’ve had some minor post-run cramping, but so far it hasn’t been anything major. It’ll just be something to keep an eye on. Maybe throw a few extra avocados into my diet. You can never have too much avocado, right? Right.

So, that’s that so far. I still don’t have an official goal for Chicago yet, besides just having a good race. I do want to go for a PR, but given my relatively slow PR, the question seems to be less if I’ll PR, but by how much. And I don’t mean to sound like I think a 3:44 marathon is slow by any means. It’s not and it’s a PR I’m proud of. It’s just that I’ve had multiple training cycles now that have been on track for sub-3:30 and have yet to be able to execute a successful marathon. Anyway, I’m not going to lie, I’m eyeballing that 3:40 Boston qualification time for 2018—thanks Boston 2018 for being one day after I turn 35 and jump an age group! But I’m not setting anything officially just yet. Just going to see how the next few weeks go and play it all by ear.

How I watch the Olympics while at work

How I watch the Olympics while at work

And, of course, the women's 10,000

And, of course, the women’s 10,000

9

Marathon training, I guess

IMG_1322It’s been about five months since I had surgery and over a year since I last did a formal marathon training cycle. And it’s fifteen and a half weeks until Chicago Marathon. So, I guess, it’s time to start a new training cycle.

Going into surgery, I had just run the Dopey Challenge and was crushing as many runs as I could fit into my schedule. I had to stop all of my hormones a month before the ol’ knifing so my testosterone level was starting to come back up and I was finding my body recovering from runs quicker and having no problem chewing up fast miles. I didn’t hate it. Well, the running potion, that is; everything else about not having proper hormones in my body was the worst. Anyway, I went into surgery in excellent running shape. My wife joked that I should not have surgery and instead focus on a spring marathon. I think I’d have crushed it.

Surgery kept me from running for six and a half weeks, but even when I started, it was up and down for a bit and quite inconsistent. It wasn’t until closer to sixteen weeks that I started getting more consistency back into my running schedule. That didn’t leave me a lot of time to build my base mileage back up and properly prepare for marathon training.

When I scheduled surgery, I knew I couldn’t make any firm goals for a fall marathon this year. There was too much unknown. I knew I’d likely not be able to race a marathon, but being able to run a marathon, even just for fun, felt realistic. Having deferred my Chicago entry from 2015, I knew Chicago would be my race. I wished it was a late-fall race, rather than an early one, but it is what it is. This was the biggest factor in choosing a date for surgery.

Ideally, I’d like my weekly mileage going into training to be over 30. I did 28 the other week and then did a step back last week, but this was far from a sustained weekly mileage. The last two weekends have seen ten mile long runs, but they weren’t easy. On the flip side, it seems I didn’t lose quite as much strength as I expected and I’m running slightly faster than I was going into the last marathon training cycle I did. Certainly faster than I expected to be, I’m still far from where I’d prefer to be.

My weekly mileage in 2016 so far

My weekly mileage in 2016 so far

I also don’t yet know how my body’s hormone levels have evened out after surgery (I haven’t gotten labs done yet). My hope is that my testosterone level has moved up into the normal female range—it was just barely above zero prior to surgery which makes building strength and overall training very difficult. My body may be able to do more with less than it has been able to for the last few years. Or it might not. That remains to be seen. What I do know is my body did a lot more than I expected with low mileage and making up a plan as I went along while training for my last two Disney Marathons I’ve done so it could also turn out that my body just works better with plans that aren’t as aggressive and intense.

So that’s where I am and the reality I’m dealing with. I waited until the last possible minute to make a training plan and sat down on Sunday to look over my previous plans and put together something that was going to push me while still keeping me from diving head first into a pool with no water. What I came up with was the least aggressive training plan I’ve done since the first time I ran Chicago, in 2012—six months before starting hormone replacement therapy.

I don’t have a goal for this race outside of having a solid training cycle, building strength, and not getting injured. A BQ (Boston qualifying time) is almost certainly out of the question. This race will be just a little too late for a 2017 BQ and I jump an age group for 2018 so my qualifying time goes from 3:35 to 3:40. I actually think I could get close to 3:40, but going under would be a stretch and going under enough to guarantee actually getting into the race would be even more of a stretch. It just doesn’t make sense to put my body through pushing for that right now. That said, my post-testosterone PR is a 3:44 so a PR isn’t impossible, but I’d be jumping the gun right now if I made that a goal. I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

(As a side note, my PR before I transitioned was from that 2012 Chicago race.)

The end result of all of this is marathon training started this week. I’ve got a plan. It’s not super aggressive, but we’ll see how it goes. I’m going to hold off on setting a goal time until much closer to the race and focus on running by effort rather than hitting specific times throughout training.

Wish me luck!IMG_1404

5

2012 Bank of America Chicago Marathon – 3:08:53 (pre-HRT)

Note: This race recap, like all of my other pre-transition race recaps, was copied over from my previous blog. I discuss attempting to quality for the Boston Marathon in this recap. At the time of writing the below, I had not yet started hormones and, under the current rules, was required to qualify under the male qualification time. I had planned to start hormones the day after the race, which made the race very special and an extra big deal to me. However, in the weeks after the race, other issues in my life caused me to choose to delay my transition by six months.

The Chicago Marathon. The biggest race of my life to date. I don’t just mean that it was the largest field of runners I’ve run in, which it was, but it also meant more to me than any race I’ve ever run. Sure, I could say that my first marathon was a bigger deal, but this was my first Boston Qualifying attempt (spoiler: I got close, but didn’t make it) and I really put the pressure on myself.

Training

I trained harder for this race than I have for anything else in my life. It’s not even close. I followed a plan from runyourbq.com as closely as I could given my schedule over the last few months. With four weddings and a two-week European vacation during training, I had some issues with scheduling that set me back a little. Luckily, I knew these things ahead of time so I worked my plan around them right from the beginning. I worked harder before my vacation and did a few short runs while away to help.

Overall, my training was pretty solid, but it wasn’t perfect. I didn’t get in every run I wanted and I didn’t do enough injury prevention work, but luckily, I stayed mostly healthy. I consistently hit weekly mileage that I’d never seen before and, in August, I utterly smashed my personal monthly mileage record by 50 miles…only to break it again in September. My long runs were mostly good with the exception of my one 19-miler being cut short due to everything possible going wrong and my second scheduled 20-miler being split into 17-mile and 4-mile runs on the same day. I kept decent paces and even negative split most of my miles. My mid-week longer runs were on point as well. I was hitting 10-milers at ten seconds/mile under my half marathon PR pace and still picking it up by the time I finished.

I have never trained with this kind of focus and intensity. Preparing for this marathon was my number one priority. Even after going out for drinks with coworkers after work, I’d still come home and bang out a run.

The Goal

The Chicago Marathon was my first chance to try to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I needed to be under 3:05:00 and that’s what I trained for. That works out to be a 7:03 minute/mile pace, nothing to sneeze at. Not only is this pace 45 seconds/mile faster than my best marathon pace to date (a 3:24 in Philly last year), but it’s the same pace I ran my best half marathon in (2012 RU Unite Half Marathon). That’s asking a lot from my body. There was no question about it, I knew my work was cut out for me. I wanted this badly and I was prepared to do anything I could to make it a reality.

Going into the race, I knew my chances were about 50/50. It wasn’t going to be easy, but I worked my ass off in training and I had a good plan for race day. Still, I was more nervous than I’ve ever been for any race in my life. The anxiety was almost debilitating. I still can’t believe how nervous and worked up I got myself for this.

The Expo

The Chicago Marathon expo was pretty solid. Thanks to a tip from a nice couple on our flight out, we made sure to get there nice

and early to beat the crowd. Not only was there a free shuttle offered from a few hotels in the city, but the expo itself was very well laid out, easy to navigate, and well organized. We got all of our stuff and signed up for our pace groups in just a few minutes. I was impressed.

After the expo, we hit Target for a throwaway shirt and gloves, got lunch and then went right back to the hotel to rest our legs.

My pace bracelet temporary tattoo

My pace bracelet temporary tattoo

My Race Strategy

Since this was marathon number three, I was able to put together a strategy that tried to counter previous mistakes. Knowing that in Philly I hit a serious wall in the 19th mile, I wanted to try to avoid that. My plan was to park myself with the pace group for a 3:05 finish (which took asking the race organizers to bump me up a corral so I could start with them [more on this later]) and not let myself get ahead of them under any circumstances. This meant that at no point early on could I let myself get swept up in the energy from the crowds and think I was better than my pre-race plan. I made this mistake in Philly and it really came back to get me later in the race.

On top of staying with the pace group, I wanted to plan my nutrition better. In the days leading up to the race, I did some hardcore carbo-loading, I really didn’t mess around. During the race, I wanted to make sure I took water often, at almost every stop, and made sure that I kept up with energy gels before I felt like I needed them. I even practiced the energy gels in training to make sure my plan would work. I planned for an energy gel every five miles (starting at mile zero right before the race started) and then an extra one at mile 17.5 when they were handed out to runners. I made sure I carried the same brand and flavor from training. I didn’t want to risk anything.

Race Morning

Race morning started off like most race mornings for me. I woke up early and started hydrating and fueling right away. I did try something new this time and took a quick shower to wake myself up a bit. I think it helped to get some of the tiredness out of me, but I had a very good night’s sleep (went to bed by 8:30p the night before!) as well.

We were a little late getting out of the hotel room, but since the start was only a few blocks from out hotel, it wasn’t too much of a problem.

When I checked my bag, I decided that I didn’t need my throwaway shirt or the mylar blanket I had brought with me (compliments of the Philly Marathon) so I stuffed them in the bag and handed it off. With just my gloves and makeshift arm-warmers fashioned out of tube socks, I was off to the porta-potty for one last chance to empty my bladder. The lines were long so I did my warm-up while waiting, but things started feeling like they were getting down to the wire in terms of time. I was afraid I wasn’t going to make it to the corral to find my pace group before the race started.

The first two corrals in Chicago are reserved for runners who have already run a certain pace or better and can prove it. The remainder of them are self-seeded based on your own projected finish. My best time got me into Corral B, but the pacer I needed, 3:05 finish, was only in Corral A. Luckily, I was smart enough to contact the race organizers well in advance and ask if there was any way I could get into Corral A given my desire to run with that pace group. They told me it wouldn’t be a problem as long as there was room…there was.

Once I got over to the corral, it actually wasn’t too hard to find my pace group so I was able to squeeze my way up to them and get situated.

Finally, the nerves let up. A strange calm and focus came over me. I was ready for this and there were going to be no distractions. I ditched my arm-warmers and I was ready to go!

The First Half

The race started right on time with no delays, always a plus! We were off!

This race has a massive start with an intense amount of energy. There are tons of spectators everywhere. It’s utterly amazing, but the energy is dangerous. Couple that with the tight bunching of runners in the first few miles and it’s easy to get swept up in it all and kill your whole strategy right away. I wasn’t going to let that happen to me. Again, I was focused on my goal.

While it normally takes me two to four miles for me to really settle into any run, I didn’t have that problem this time. I felt good right away. I knew it was going to be a good race.

I let the pacers manage my pace while I just worried about sticking with them. Unlike other pacers I’ve run with, this group was right on time with miles averaging between 6:55 and 7:05. One of the pacers was also very vocal with coaching us. While there isn’t much a pacer can say during a marathon that a non-first-timer hasn’t heard already, it’s easy to forget this stuff come race day when you’re in the midst of it all. Having someone reminding you to take water at every stop and to make sure you’re breathing deep and running tall, among other things, helps a lot. It also helps a ton when the pacer knows the course and can provide a heads up for every upcoming turn and water station, as well as warn you about high energy cheer zones that can stealthily boost your pace or the dead zones that can kill your morale later on. This kind of thing can really help you stay focused on your goals.

The first half of the race absolutely flew by. There was a ton of energy and the miles were ticking off like nothing. As we passed each mile marker, I couldn’t believe another mile was in the bag. I was feeling good. No, I was feeling great! I was on pace, my legs were good, my lungs were good. I was taking water at every stop and switched to Gatorade somewhere shortly before the end of the first half. Things were looking good and I was feeling good. I had a little bit of pain in my hip flexors, but it was short-lived and never really hit a point of concern.

As we started to approach the halfway mark, I knew it was time to start mentally preparing for the second half of the race. The first half is the easy part of any marathon and I had heard the second half of this course can be kind of quiet. I wanted to make sure I was ready for this.

We came around the Willis Tower and hit the half marathon mark, I was in the zone. I watched the clock as I went by and took a second to congratulate myself on a new half marathon PR of 1:32:01. Not bad, but I didn’t think about that for long, I didn’t want to lose focus.

Miles 13.1 to 16

This section of the race was supposed to be pretty barren of spectator support from what I had heard, but it never really felt that way. There seemed to be plenty of support there.

For the most part, this section of the race as a continuation of the 13.1 miles. I kept myself locked in and stayed right in the middle of the pace group. I was still feeling great and the pace group was still right on target with 7:02-7:04 min/miles.

Miles 17 to 21

Around mile 17, I started to feel the fatigue a bit. My lungs were good, my energy levels were good, and my mentality was still good, but my legs were starting to let me know they were getting tired. I knew I was starting to approach the hard part of the race. With my legs beginning to tire, I started to fear hitting miles 18 and 19 where I had seen Philly fall apart on me. I just tried to keep strong and focus on the pace group.

Just like early on in the race, one of the pacers was very vocal with reminding us to stay strong and breathe deep. His coaching went a long way during these miles.

Unfortunately, after passing the marker for the 20th mile, I had to face reality, I wasn’t qualifying for Boston in this race. I could fight to stay with the group for a little longer, but I couldn’t keep it up for another 10k. I tried a few tricks like doing short little surges to try to snap my legs of out their funk, but they did nothing.

By the time I completed the 21st mile, my calf muscles were spasming badly. I started to fear that my legs would just altogether lock up on me and I wouldn’t be able to finish. I even took a banana at the next aid station! Anyone who knows me well knows how serious the situation must have been, I hate bananas more than any other food out there! Ugh! But I was willing to try it to get myself to that finish line.

I wasn’t happy about having to drop off at this point, but I knew I had run a good race up until this. I did everything right and according to plan. My training was good. Everything was good, I just wasn’t strong enough yet.

Miles 22-26.2

These miles were tough. Really, really tough. I was in bad shape and my calves were twitching almost the entire time. I kept with my plan to stay steady and take Gatorade at every aid station, but I was deteriorating rapidly. My legs were done and wanted nothing more for this race to be over. By this point, I was being passed left and right by other runners. Even though this section had some amazing spectator support, it didn’t help much. It sucked, but at least I knew I could still get myself across the finish line with a great time.

The darkest point of the race happened right as I crossed the 24th mile marker. I looked up down the road and could see the Willis Tower off in the distance. This is pretty close to the finish line and it was soooooo far away from where I was. Those last 2.2 miles might as well have been another 24 miles as far as I was concerned.

I soldiered on in autopilot knowing that with each step the end was getting closer and closer, but my pace crept into the low-to-mid eights. I lost a minute per mile during this section.

As I got to the one-mile-to-go marker I wanted so badly to push and finish strong, but there was nothing left in my legs to give. I tried to pull in the energy from the massive amounts of people along the road, but my legs just wouldn’t go. The only markers left were the ones displaying the distance left in meters. I just focused on getting to the next one.

I came around the second to last turn with 26 miles behind me and just the point two to go. All I had to do was climb what was probably only the third hill of the course and then coast to the finish line. I got myself up the hill with only a few other runners passing me and rounded that last corner to see the finish line staring at me just about a 100m or so away.

I didn’t have anything left for a push to the finish line so I just kept on with what I was doing and got myself over the timing mat with the tank on empty. I could barely make my way down the finishers’ area on my legs. I stopped to bend over a few times which prompted people to run over and ask if I was okay (I was, I just hurt a damn lot). I was hurting, but I ran a hell of a race.

Then there was beer being handed to me…and I ate another banana. I hated every bite of the banana, but that beer was awesome.

The medal!

The medal!

Results

I got myself across the finish line in 3:08:53 which, to be honest, is an utterly amazing time to me! I wanted so badly to qualify for Boston, but I’m just not quite there yet. Very close though! This is a time I can be happy with and proud of. It proved to me that shooting for a BQ time wasn’t a crazy or completely beyond reach. I proved to myself that I belonged in Corral A and that BQing is possible for me.

In the end, my average pace was a 7:12 minute/mile, about 35 seconds/mile faster than my previous best and I beat my previous personal best marathon time by over 15 minutes. That’s incredible! Heck, I even have a new half marathon PR!

I placed 1,449 out of 37,455 finishers (according to the unofficial race results page).

Looking back, I feel like I had every right to make a BQ attempt in this race and I left absolutely nothing on the course. I gave everything I had and stuck to my plan 100% until my body broke down. My pace was right on target and my training was the best it could have been with the time I had available. The only reason I fell short is because I’m simply not there yet. I need to keep at it.

I worked my ass off for this time and I’m proud of it.

Overall Race Impression

Without a doubt, the Chicago Marathon is one of the best races I’ve ever run. I might even venture to call it my favorite. The course is amazing. It’s flat, fast, and winds through some of my favorite parts of Chicago. This race is amazingly well organized and put together. There were so many water stations that it almost seemed like too much! Add in the fact that the weather was completely perfect for a marathon and I can’t complain about anything. I would definitely run this race again!