On Sunday, Oct. 11, I raced the Chicago Marathon. It was my second and last race of the season.
On Thursday morning, I was live on set at DailyBurn‘s DB 365 workout as the chat coach. Usually this is done online, but I had the opportunity to be on set, which meant a little bit of camera time as well as the online chatting. It was a lot of fun – the crew there was great, and it was cool to see all of the behind the scenes action.
I left Astoria and went straight to LaGuardia to fly into Chicago. I arrived around 2 pm. My brother was working so I couldn’t see the niece and nephew. I didn’t really feel like driving downtown to come back to the airport that night to pick up my wife, so I hung in the O’Hare area for a while. I ended up in a mall, sucking the free wifi while I did coaching and GO! Athletes work.
I picked up my wife and put her on the rental car agreement (SIDENOTE: total joke. It was an extra $100+ for her to drive the car as well!), and went downtown. Arrived around 1 am, bed at 2 am.
Did a chat shift at DB365. Took a Divvy to the expo and picked up my race bib and packet. My assignment was in corral F, wave 2. The fastest pace group in that area was 3:40. My goal was 3:10, so I was told by the pace group leaders to hit the customer service area to see if they could switch me. I had serious anxiety about it and, for a brief moment, thought my race was pretty much done. The guy at the counter asked if I was really going to run a 3:10. I told him I was going to do 3:09:38. He gave me a new bib in corral A, and just like that, problem solved.
Friday was also a board interview with my wife, which went very well. That was big thing number 1 of the weekend. After, we went to the south ‘burbs to stay with grandma. Normally this means a late night at several rounds of canasta, but we chatted a bit and were in bed at a reasonable time.
After food, we went back toward the city to meet up with a friend. We ran a few errands, and then went to the restaurant for dinner with my wife’s extended family. I ate pizza and bread. Pre-race dinner of champions!
I left the party early, around 8:30. I set out all of my race gear, pinned my bib to my singlet, set out my nutrition…. WAIT. WHERE IS MY NUTRITION?!
The correct answer here is: ON MY KITCHEN TABLE. IN NEW YORK.
So it’s Saturday night, nearing 9:45 pm, when I figure out I forgot all of my gels. Something deep down told me to get a few at the expo. I never buy anything at the expo, so that was odd. And of course, since I never buy things at the expo, I didn’t do it. Without my Honey Stinger gels, race day was going to be using what’s on the course, even though that wasn’t what I trained with. I was not too rattled but I was a little concerned about how I’d feel around mile 15. I had a few ideas for coping:
1. ask a friend for a gel if I saw them (still likely wouldn’t be my gels, but it would be calories in hand)
2. look at the ground and pick one up if someone drops one (I saw one before the race and did not grab it)
3. ask a spectator if I saw someone who looked like they had one.
I was in bed (er, on the couch) by 10:15 and asleep shortly after. I was excited but didn’t feel the sick nervousness I sometime feel. I was feeling confident and ready. I thought about my training, about making it through my long runs at a great pace, and about how cool it would be to qualify for Boston.
I woke up at 6:05 am and made a cup of coffee. I wasn’t feeling very hungry but choked down half of a cinnamon raisin bagel with peanut butter and a banana, along with some water and Gatorade. I couldn’t do the rest of it. I got dressed, used the restroom a few times, and left around 6:45 am.
My in-laws’ place is under half a mile from the start of the race. I walked down the road and cut through the park, like other runners were doing. My gut said to walk down the road to Michigan Ave, but I didn’t. I ended up having to cut through a blocked area, go through a parking garage, and exit only to be spit into the madness of Michigan Ave again. My gut was right, again (lesson learned this time!). I did a little warm up jog to the entry area and entered the gates around 7:10 am. The corrals closed at 7:20 am, so I started a direct slow shuffle toward the bathrooms on my way to the front to find corral A.
Along the way was a park entry to a huge lot of port o potties. I went to the far ones, thinking there would be no line – which was true. As I was running up to one that opened, another runner cut me off and went in, saying others were open further down. My next step sent my left ankle over, rolling to the outside. It hurt! I hopped into the port o potty and tried to assess my ankle. I don’t think it was sprained, just tender. I was pissed for about one second before I accepted it as part of my day – the race was going to happen just the same!
I ran out of the lot and back into the line to the corrals, and got into the corral at about 7:17 am. Promptly at 7:20 the gates closed. I found the 3:10 pace group and got closer to them, and then did some light stretching for my calves and hip flexors. I was one of the only people in what I could tell would be the group who had pinned the pace bib to their back. A nervous dude next to me chatted for a bit with me: what number marathon is this? How fast are you shooting for? Oh, you did Ironman Lake Placid too?
The National Anthem came over the speakers. We all shuffled, bounced, and fidgeted in the corral. Then, in the most anti-climatic way, people in front of me started moving and I saw the clock running. The race began without much commotion at all. Before the starting line we all broke into a slow run, then started our watches. I was about 3-4 seconds behind the pace group leaders. We hit the first series of turns, under the bridge, around some corner, and then we were off.
My strategy, as recommended to me by several people, was to hang at the back of the pace group and let others “do the work.” Thinking about it in that way was helpful; mentally, I thought of myself hooking on and being pulled. My effort level was low to moderate and the pace, about 7:13/mile, was comfortable.
I reminded myself to disregard the first 10K. I think if you feel good in the first 10K, you should ignore it (going out too quickly in the first half can be detrimental). If you feel awful in the first 10K, also disregard that, as it may also change. I wanted to be conservative on the first half and brave on the second – not necessarily going for the negative split, but sticking to my plan to be consistent and steady.
I saw the Chicago theater sign. I recall the turn in Lincoln Park. Around 6 miles in I was in need of nutrition. I had been taking in Gatorade Endurance at the water stations, but only in small quantities. I typically would have had a gel at 6, 12 and 18 in my long training runs. By mile 7 I was freaking out a bit. I began looking at the ground for discarded or dropped nutrition. I was swerving to see if packs had been opened. By mile 8 I was contemplating sucking the leftovers out of someone else’s used gel. That thought was gross enough to occupy my mind for a while. The only gels on course are at mile 18 and there was no way I was going to make it.
I remembered the November Project cheer station would be near mile 9. I thought it might be a full water stop, so I envisioned approaching and asking people for a gel. Instead, it was a small group of people in Grassroots Gear with signs. I spotted them, made my way to that side, and ran up yelling, “Gel, gel, gel!” A few cheered for me as I came over, and I felt like I went into beastmode: I NEED A GEL!!!!!! My savior was at the end of the row, and pulled out a Hammer gel from her run pack. I gave her a hug and thank you, and then caught up with my pace group. I felt instantly better after taking it – probably just mental, but still. It helped.
The next point of interest was the half way mark, where my first marathon fell apart. I distinctly remember the pain setting in at that point in my first effort, and the wheels really coming off. I made not of that and how this race was different. At this point, I said to myself, “this is happening.” I was going to BQ. I tried to stick to the blue line and not necessarily with the pace group.
Miles ticked away and my pace stayed steady and easy. I did not feel breathless or like I was exerting myself too much. 16 and 17 came and went.
Mile 18 was another gel. 19 came and I felt good. 20 hit and my goal was to maintain contact with the pack, which surged slightly on a long straight stretch. “Just hang on,” I thought. At 21, one of the three pacers came up to encourage the guy next to me. I moved up to the group, which had faded from about 30-40 runners to about a dozen of us, and we had caught two runners with 3:05 pinned to their backs. Somewhere in here I noticed my form deteriorating, and my chin starting to go up. I was actively trying to keep my chin down and not tilt my head back.
Somewhere in here was the two dragons in Chinatown. For running through 26 neighborhoods, I remember very little. My focus was on keeping pace and staying relaxed. At some point I high fived an Elvis impersonator, but beyond that, there was very little recognition of the crowd or the scenery.
At mile 24, I looked at my watch. I saw the pacers looking as well, and it was my guess that although they were on track, they may have felt a little behind. We turned a corner which leads straight north toward the finish, and I got a surge of energy. At the same time, the pacers yelled, “If you are going for a BQ and you feel okay, go now!” and I was gone. I instantly picked up the pace from 7:10 to 7 to 6:50 to 6:45. For the first time in the race, my breathing labored a bit. I was getting tired and my energy was tanking, but I thought there are only two miles left and I can gut it out. I slowed at the aid station to drink and found it tough to get up to speed again. I accelerated: 7, 6:55, 6:50, 6:48….
My head started to feel light. I began closing my eyes for a few extra steps occasionally. Around mile 25 I felt myself sway in a way that told me I was close to passing out. I shook my head to literally shake it off. A grimace hit my face. I was shrugging my shoulders, shaking my arms, and trying to get all of my energy to expend.
Around the 1 mile to go mark, my right foot started to cramp. I have had charlie horses or cramps, say in the pool after pushing off from a wall. It hurts; it’s annoying and disruptive. This was a bit different. Deeper, more painful. I let the thought hit me, I noticed it, and then I let it pass. I was asking myself to be present and without judgment – judgment took too much effort. My pace was still at 6:50, although I didn’t know it by the watch, but only by the perceived exertion. I pumped my arms. Took long strides. Took short fast strides. 800 m to go and my head began to fall back. Similar to before, I could not get my chin to drop, but this was more pronounced. My upper back and neck was cramping and pulling my head back. I opened and closed my hands. Somewhere along this my wife saw me and said I looked terrible (I did).
My ears started to ring a bit. I don’t recall hearing any crowd. I turned right to get up the bridge overpass, and my it was the first time I felt my breath gasp. I let out a little noise and pumped my arms up the hill. Do. NOT. back. off. BQ. BQ. BQ.
I knew I had it at that point, but I really wanted it. I turned left to the final shoot, under 400 m, and I kicked. I kicked in that way that makes you think someone didn’t run to their full potential because you shouldn’t be able to do that at the end of 26.2 miles (and maybe I didn’t run to my full potential, and that’s pretty cool). My head fell back. My field of vision narrowed. I thought, “just don’t pass out before the line.” I zoomed past groups of guys in the final stretch. I tried to smile. I hit the first timing mat, then the second… then my right knee hit the ground, I did a quarter spin and fell back on the ground just after the mat. Moments later I was on a stretcher, carried by four people to this board on the back of an ATV.
“Do you know what day it is? What month is it? Where are you? What are you doing?” I said, “It’s Sunday, Oct. 11. Marathon Sunday. I just qualified for Boston. I need a medal.” I didn’t make it to the medals; instead, I got a direct transport to the med tent.
I walked from the ATV to the stretcher in the tent with assistance (it was about three steps). I laid down and explained I was just dizzy and had not eaten enough. Then, in a flash, my legs seized up. First, my right quad. I yelped. Two massage therapists came to help. Then my left quad joined, and both had pain inside near my adductors. Then, yelp again as my calves both contracted. My left foot torqued to point my toes to the right and my foot was stuck turned in. I breathed deeply. I yelled. I held my breath. I screamed FUUUCCCCKKKKKKK! More staff came over. One person was on each leg, twisting and pressing the muscles. I breathed, gasped, and writhed on the stretcher. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before.
More people gathered. I asked to take my shoes off. My foot wouldn’t move. I sat up. I rolled over. I could not get it to stop.
The nurse went to get an IV. One took my temp. I was 102.3 degrees. They put ice bags on my neck, chest, armpits, stomach, and groin. The massage people continued to press and pull. I continued to breath deeply in between shouts of AHHHHHHHHH!!!! and F-bombs. The nurse took blood without me noticing, and then hooked up the IV. I slammed another Gatorade, although I felt a bit nauseous.
When the IV was half drained, my legs released a bit. The massage people continued to work them. I asked for my medal and someone went to get me one. My neck hurt from whatever weird head thing was happening as I was fighting passing out. At some point the race folks called my wife, who was not allowed in. She waited by our designated meeting point.
When the IV bag was done, I felt much better. I used the bathroom so they let me leave. A volunteer got me my sheet, and I exited in the stream of people. It had been rather quiet when I finished, but the foot traffic had picked up significantly by the time I left the tent. Zhen and I walked to her mom’s place and I took an ice bath and cleaned up for breakfast at The Original Pancake House.
My friends at November Project gave me the traditional “Boston Breakfast” on Wednesday when I returned. I was thrilled. I celebrated the 40 minute PR and Paul Leak’s 40 minute PR – he ran Chicago in 2:51! Huge!!
BY THE NUMBERS:
Temperature: 52 start, about 60 finish
Weather: clear, windy
Pace group: 3:10
People in pace group to begin: about 30-40
People in pace group when I ran off at mile 24: less than 12
Number of pacers in my group: 3
Gels consumed: 2 (mile 9, mile 18)
Gels I left on my kitchen table in NYC: 4
Gels I would have consumed: 3-4
Distance covered where I looked at ground to pick up gel: 2.5
Number of times I swerved because I thought I saw one: 1
Number of times I thought about eating a half eaten gel: 2
Number of half eaten gels actually consumed: 0
Neighborhoods the Chicago Marathon runs through: 26
Neighborhoods I remember: 5 (downtown, Lincoln Park, Old Town, Chinatown, South Loop)
Times I saw my wife: 0
Times wife saw me: 1
Times wife tried to see me: 3
Miles she walked trying to see me: 7
Finish Time: 3:08:48
Time needed to qualify for Boston: 3:10:00
Time cushion for Boston registration: 1:12
Time cushion needed to register for 2016 Boston Marathon: 2:28
AG Place: 262/ 3289
Gender Place: 1364/ 20,174
Overall Place: 1558/ 46,032
Number marathon for me: 3 (not counting Ironman marathons)
Former best marathon: 3:48:xx (2009)
PR by: 40 minutes
Chicago PR by: about 1:15:00
Medical tent time: about 40 minutes
Medical tent PR: about 5-10 minutes
Body temp: 102.3
Way temp was determined: rectally (no joke)
Number of bags of ice on me after: 9
Number of blankets on me: 2
Number of massage therapists working on my legs: 5 total (3 at a time)
Approximate duration of calf cramp: 4.5 minutes
Approximate duration of ice bath after race: 22 minutes
Number of days I limped because of cramp aftermath: 4
Number of times I used the whirlpool tub after race: 5 in 2 days
Food consumed post race to house: 2 Gatorades, 1 water, 1 IV fluid bag (intravenously), 1 sip of Goose Island beer
Food consumed in house: 1 large glass of chocolate soy milk, 1 water, 1 Lara Bar mini
Food consumed at The Original Pancake House: 1 Dutch Baby, 1 chunk of wife’s Garden Baby, 2 cups coffee
Length of nap later in day: 0 minutes (could not get to sleep!)
Blisters: 2 (baby toes)
Toe nails I will lose: 1 (small toe, left foot)
– neck pain, 5 days
– left calf, 4 days
– right quad, still hurts
– plantar fasciitis, held up okay!
– right nipple, chafe for the first time ever