Here's the Chicago Marathon course map if you're wondering all the streets i'm mentioning.
The first 5K
We were off, and we started that little jog as all runners do in big races, when we probably could just speed walk. But then we hit the starting line, a minute after the opening siren. The first three miles were euphoric. I was just soaking it in. I couldn't believe my eyes.
There were spectators everywhere. Cameras everywhere. Funny signs and screaming fans. I have never experienced a feeling like this and I guess now I know what it's like to be a rock star. (This pic of the elites was by R.)
But focus was the order of the day, and I was struggling to find my way to the 3:20 pacers. It was an odd feeling, being so excited, yet so aware that it was time to go to work right away. Unlike other races, this was the first time I had anyone to pace me, and it kept me honest.
As I hit the 5K point and the first chip stop, I distinctly remembering three thoughts. 1) This is amazing, I can't believe i'm here 2) Wow, i'm on pace, but I gots a long way to go and 3) Um, I have to pee. I guess all you runners know what it's like to be in a race and thinking nothing more than, 'damn, what am I going to do.'
5K mark: 23:28
My next 5K (3.1 miles) were pretty uneventful. I was still trying to conserve energy. I felt okay, not too cold. We were running up LaSalle, and I was at this point catching up to one of the pacers. With that taken care of, I shifted my attention to the crowd and found myself running on the right-hand side of the course, something I would stick to for most of the race. The water stations were not that bad for me, and I was taking water so I was skipping the Gatorade guys at the front. Another advantage of the Preferred I start is that you don't have crowded stations. We turned into the park area where we joined Stockton, and then the funniest thing happened: runners starting jumping off course, headed directly for the portapotties. At this point, I was desperate. Damned my pace, I had to go to the washroom or I would have a mid race accident. I joined the guys running out, found a big tree, faced the park, and ... I finished up, sprinted up the grassy hill and rejoined the runners. For some reason, at this point, there were a lot of 3:20s and I found that I was slightly ahead of the pace bunnies. I fell into line, took my gel, took water, and then we were off.
When we hit the six mile mark, I looked at my watch and thought 'okay, about a quarter done, not even an hour is out of the way.' We ran alongside the water but my focus was on the pace runner. I was admiring the fact that they could keep the pace while holding the sign. I had no trouble at all keeping up the pace. A woman in her 40s ran alongside me and asked 'are we at pace', and I answered 'I think so, i'm just following him'. We smiled and continued to pound it out.
Then we turned into Wrigleyville. At this point, I was just enjoying the crowds. I had this flamboyant runner who'd gesture to the crowd to get them going and they would cheer even louder than usual. I hit the 15K mark and it was starting to get a little drizzly. I could see the downtown area so my mind was going forward to the halfway mark.
15K to 21.1K
Around the 10 mile mark, a few runners beside me were commenting that it was 10 down, 16 to go. I wasn't thinking much about how much to go. I was just focusing on not losing the pacer and keeping attention to the people who were around me. They helped me focus... I remember a turn and I think the Elvis impersonator was finishing up My Way, which is a song I love.. I got to hear all 5 seconds of it.As the downtown neared, I had this funny thought. It was something like this. "Hey, my hotel is nearby, wouldn't it be nice to stop right now" I have no idea why this was the case.
At this point, running down Franklin toward the halfway mark, we were in the city and the crowd was again very loud. I was running in the right side hoping to pick out R. Suddenly, I hear "Kenny!" and I look back to my left (the other side) and I see R. waving. I would have loved to gone to her but I couldn't, so I waved, said 'Hi"! and smiled. I was very happy to see her and it turns out that I wouldn't see her again until after the race. (Note: the picture here is one she took right before she saw me. You can see the 3:20 pacer) We hit the half marathon mark at 1:39:37, which is a full 5 minutes slower than my half marathon racing time. This was perfect, I thought, I'm going at a slower pace and I can hold it for a lot longer
21.1K to 25K
This was not a favourite part of the course. We were not sheltered and the wind was hitting me. I felt like I needed more liquids and I couldn't decide on when I needed to take the gel. Worse part, was the crowd thinned. I was still able to go on. I was very happy to hit the turnaround and head back on Jackson. At this point, my hands were overheating, so I took off my gloves and tucked them into my shorts. But within minutes, my hands were getting cold. The weather was really starting to get to me, but I was holding my pace.
25K to 30K
This was my last 'strong' 3 miles. We turned into Little Italy and I was feeling it. I was getting tired and my legs were starting to get sore. I took my first real walk break, just to catch my breath. I was able to power through, and I knew my splits were off. A crucial thing happened here. I lost track of the 3:20 pace leaders. At this point, I had slowed to 8 minute miles or a 3:30 pace.
30K to 35K
Yep, we made it past the 20 mile mark and the wall appraoched. I was starting to feel a bit weaker and was losing focus. At this point, I could feel two muscles getting tight and uncomfortable. My left lower hamstring and my right calf. Every time I tried to pick it up, I could feel them seizing up. This was worrying me. By the end of the 35K, I think the lack of experience of racing at this distance caught up to me. You can read as much you can about the marathon distance, you can run slow-paced long runs of 22 miles, but until you pick a challenging running pace, I don't think you are ready to face the mental toughness to stick it out. I don't want to blame the weather, but the cold was really really getting to me. The next 5K were so tough.
35K to 40K
At this point, when every big gust of wind, I could feel the cold bone chilling wind go right through you. And because I was taking a walk break here and there, I was not generating as much heat. I was putting my hand to my chest for fear that something would go wrong. I actually felt dehydrated at this point, and as it turns out, I also forgot to take a gel. Bad idea. Past the 23 mile mark, I could feel it almost over. It was just a 5K run after that point. 5K, I said to myself, that's a freaking walk in the park. But at that same point, the 3:30 pacer came running by. I was getting passed big time. I tried to pick it up, but my muscles were not cooperating. In the last three miles, I decided that my ambitious time goals were out the door and there were two major things to accomplish 1) just get this marathon done and 2) try to do it running, not limping.
The sweet finish
I knew that even at a fresh state, I could not chase 2.2K in less than 9 minutes, so I resigned myself to running it the best I could. Other people were walking too. The crowds were getting bigger and that helped. When I hit the mile remaining, I got a bit of a burst of energy, and started to run a bit harder. The last hill was tough that I slowed to a jog at some points. But final sign were there. I decided to enjoy this last bit of hte race. The last 10K were so difficult, but I would go into the last stretch happy, content that all my training had brought me to this moment. So I ran, smiled, lifted my arms at the cameras and crossed...
As I grabbed a space blanket and proceeded to get my chip taken off and the greatest moment, that medal, I bumped into the woman who asked me if we were on pace. She finished about a minute ahead of me. "It was too hard to keep up with him," she said of the pacer. I nodded and agreed.
Well, that's my first marathon. I've learned a lot of lessons but I'll leave that for another day. Chicago is an amazing city and its citizens should be blessed for coming out on a cold race day like Sunday to come out and cheer us. They were loud, they were proud and I was happy to run in their company. I still can't believe how amazing the fan support was.
As I was doing last-minute shopping on Michigan Ave. on Monday morning, I was smiling all the time when I spotted the marathoners with their distinctive limp. I joined them, my limp diminished by a smart ice bath, but there nonetheless. I limped up the street, into the book store, up the escalator and purchased a book. A running book, for my next marathon.
Training mileage update
Marathon training: 1,125.5K (700 miles)
Year to date: 2,219.5K (1,379 miles)