When sayin' you're gonna go for it just isn't enough.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


On the eve of my 10th Chicago Marathon, I wanted to share a few thoughts that have been in my head the last few days and weeks.

I love running. I love marathoning. It has taught me so much.  I can honestly say I am a better person because of it. Running has made me appreciate so many things from family to friends to health. I can’t say how many friends I have made through running, friends that live nearby and friends that live across the country and even around the world.  I’ll remain friends with some of these people forever.

Runners are a special breed. We’re weird, we can be selfish, we like to talk about ourselves and definitely like to drink beer and talk about running. And talk about running some more. We wake up early to run, we put our bodies through hell to see if we can run faster or farther than the last time.  Or sometimes both.

I have had the honor of raising money for Families of Spinal Muscular Atrophy in honor of little Cru. With the help of many, many people, we were able to raise over $40,000 in 2008 and 2009 to help that organization try to find a cure for that terrible disease.

I have made running goals that I have not met and others that I have crushed. It takes a great support system to be able to do this, and I could not do it without the love and support of my wife Tiffany. She’s everything to me. She’s there unwavering through the ups, the downs and the in-betweens. She’s amazing.

And our two beautiful children are awesome. Most of the time. But they are so much fun. Don’t let anyone ever tell you kids aren’t a lot of work. I run to be healthy. Several health conditions are present in my family and that’s a huge motivating factor for me. I know what I don’t want to happen to me. I want to be around forever for them and for Tiffany.

I love the rush and the feeling of working hard and accomplishing a goal. I remember the things that people say when they doubt your abilities. I still have a list in my head.  I don’t hold ill will toward any of those people, it’s really great motivation.

Anyway, I don’t know if there’s a real point to all of these ramblings. I am grateful and thankful I have been able to run 9 of these in a row. Tomorrow is number 10. After you’ve had success, it’s hard to get caught up in not being in the best shape, not getting the optimal weather, or anything else that may impede you from hitting your goals. This training cycle has been all over the place and I have certainly been in better shape entering a marathon. But I do know a few things. I am excited and thrilled to be running tomorrow. The weather will be fantastic.  I am happy I am healthy and will be toeing the line at Chicago again. It won’t be a PR, but I will give it everything I have. I can’t wait to hear the National Anthem and feel the goose bumps up and down my arms and neck.  And then the horn sounds to start the race. It’s really amazing. I can’t wait to see the millions of people lining the streets. They’re cheering on friends, relatives and strangers all the same. The marathon is a celebration of life - those that are living it to their fullest and those that are no longer here.  I can’t wait to see Tiffany, Isla and Gannon and my in-laws. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, there is nothing better than seeing them on the course.  I will hit the finish line without any regrets.

Here’s to tomorrow and making it as great as possible. I can’t wait.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Highlights from Yesterday's Run

I headed in to the longest run planned run of the cycle, my hamstrings and hip flexors were shot from the company softball game on Friday. No lie. The important part is that we won both games, kept the undefeated streak alive and held onto the Peapod softball trophy for another year. 

Mile 0.01 - Get the Garmin signal get about 10 steps in and trip. And go down hard. I had my water bottle in my right hand and landed on my right arm and shoulder. Holy shit. Peel myself off the pavement in the alley, collect myself and decide to stop my watch. Was now sweating despite it only being about 50 degrees.  My knee is a little bloody, my right arm is bleeding and I can’t lift my arm above my shoulder. If I walk back in 5 minutes after leaving, Tiffany would probably hit me over the head with a baseball bat. And Bosley would probably wake up the kids. Off I go, with a throbbing shoulder, a bloody arm and knee. Only the second time I have fallen in 9 years of running (not including a couple mishaps on some ice).

Mile 1 – 9:12 pace. This is going to be a long morning. 

Mile 4 – After slowly working down the pace, I see the first group of runners from the CARA Ready to Run 20 miler.  Here we fucking go. This training run features bibs and supported water and Gatorade stations. And assholes. Lots of them. Just because you sign up for a training run doesn’t mean you can run 10 wide across the lake path.  After a couple near misses, I finally yell at some of them when a biker passing these guys nearly takes me out. 

Mile 5 – Witness a near collision between a biker and runner. 

Mile 6 – Finally work my way running upstream the crowd and end up mixing back in with the fast runners after they loop around.  Who runs a 20 miler at 6:30 pace? I am guessing this group is probably running too fast. What do I know though?

Mile 7- Try to lift my arm above my shoulder above my head. Can’t. 

Mile 8.5 – Chat with the volunteer at the Fleet Feet Gatorade stand at North Ave. Thank him and tell him to get ready for the onslaught. 

 Mile 10 – Clicking away some potential MP miles.  Pretty much not seeing any bibs, so I found a sweet spot.  Hamstrings, hip flexors, shoulder, all seem to be working well. 

Mile 10.5 – I see a helicopter overhead, about a mile up. Never a good sign.

Mile 11 – Grab a Gatorade, exchange pleasantries with another runner and he tells me he almost smashed into a dude who was on the end of 8 guys wide, not paying attention, and shockingly, wearing a bib. See some police lights ahead.

Mile 11.40 – Is that a plane? Right next to the lake path? WTF? It is a plane. And there are TV trucks everywhere. 

Mile 11.5 – turnaround point. And someone is taking some professional photos in their running gear. You look great, lady. But there’s a plane next to you that apparently landed on Lake Shore Drive a couple hours earlier.

Mile 11.6 – God damn it. Running back upstream. I am at Jackson. I need to get up to Fullerton or Diversey to make them disappear.

Mile 12.5 – Of all the parts on the lake path, this is probably the worst when it comes to footing and space. 75% is very cambered, so a majority of runners run close to the edge of the path. The only thing about this edge is that right over it is the lake. Really. Fall off, you’re in the lake.  Needless to say, there's a pack of fools coming at me, in addition to a growing number of regular people out for walks, jogs, pushing strollers, walking dogs, etc. Have to yell at another guy not paying attention as he’s barely giving enough space for one person to pass. My pace starts slowing down as I am now more concerned about not falling in the lake than how fast I am running.

Mile 12.7 – A warm “Good morning runners!”  from one of the group leaders of the training run. Who’s the asshole now?

Mile 13 – Have a strawberry Clif shot. Makes me want to vomit. Not sure why, normally I like these things. 

Mile 14 – Right shoulder now hurting. Hamstrings barking a bit after the 10 second stop to grab a sip of water and throw away the Clif wrapper. Marathon pace pretty much goes out the window at the end of this mile. 

Mile 14.5 – Grab a Gatorade from the same guy from several  miles ago. Wishes me luck. Tell him I can get away from the crowd in just one more mile. He laughs.

Mile 15.5 – Decide to escape and take the inner path at Fullerton. Sweet relief.

Mile 17.1 – See a dachshund being walked on the path. He has a golf ball in his mouth.

Mile 17.3 – See a raccoon running along the tennis courts. What the hell is going on?

Mile 17.35 – The raccoon is running towards a guy who’s talking to a guy on the other side of the fence.  Should I say something? Not sure, it may be interesting to see what would happen. The guy finally sees him. And starts sprinting.

Mile 18 – A guy passes me. I say hello, he says hi and asks how I am doing. The negative energy has officially taken over and I say. “Hanging in there!” I have now become a negative asshole.  Some people may even say I have been a dickhead for a while.  Get over myself, tell myself I should be happy that I am healthy and out here doing something that I love.

Mile 19 – Choke down a Gu. Or was it a Clif shot? Either way, it sucked.

Mile 20- Taking in water. Not drinking it. Taking it in. Regretting that I decided to run 23 miles. Clearly the good vibes have once again departed.

Mile 21 - Why do people use multiple questions marks? I get it. You're asking a question. The only thing you are emphasizing is your ability to hit the question mark multiple times.

Mile 21.5 – Receive a warm hello from an older lady. Faith in humanity once again restored.

Mile 22.85- Damn it. My tweaked route on the way back in has left me short. Run another block past the house.

Mile 23 – Done. Hobble up the stairs. Realize my shirt on my side is also bloody for some unknown reason.  Just shoot me. A fitting way to unceremoniously end a mediocre training cycle.  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The 2012 Chicago Marathon - The Great White Hope

Is this thing on?

I haven't fired this thing up since October 2010. Holy shit. There's also an unpublished race report from the 2010 Vegas marathon hiding behind the curtains here too. I just kind of refer to that like a diary entry now.

As a quick point of reference here's how we got where we are today:

2004-2008 - Ran 7 marathons mostly for fun, usually improving about 6 minutes every 6 months to year. PR of 3:29 in 2008.
2009 - Huge breakthrough after following Pfitz' Advanced Marathoning training plan with a 3:05.
2010 - Three Sub3 attempts and three misses. Boston (3:03), Chicago (3:03), Vegas (3:04).

Here are the last couple paragraphs from that unpublished Vegas race report:

I don't really know what's next. I feel like the next time - if there is a next time - I attempt to go under 3 hours, I'll need to be 100% all in - stronger, faster lead-up race times, better training (harder tempos, MP runs), better endurance - you name it - I'll need to work harder than I have in the past if I really want to do this. Basically, I don't want to swing and miss again.

That means I'd probably want to be fit enough to run a couple minutes faster than 2:5959, so there is more room for error. And if shit goes wrong, I can have a stronger base that hopefully carries me home. And I realize I'll need and want to hit the half in under 1:30 - something that only happened in Boston of the 3 marathons in 2010.

A little emotional there, obviously. Frustrated, too. I eventually got back on the horse, but it wasn't until 2012, because...
2011 - Injured for the first half of the year, thought I may be done racing, got healthy, ran Chicago and Vegas for fun.
2012-  Ran a smoking 1:24:09 PR in a half before Boston. Put up a 3:20 in Boston as attempt #4 was aborted at mile 7 because it was way too hot.

This Training Cycle
So that leads us up to this cycle. I knew I did the work for Boston, but was derailed by the heat. I swallowed my pride and disappointment and set my sights on Chicago. I used a plan very heavy with tempo runs for Boston. I decided to emphasize more miles for this Chicago cycle and hit 80 miles in a week for the first time. I ended up going over 80 miles in a week four times and had my first ever 300 mile month. I also carried over some clustering and power doubles from the Boston cycle. By clustering, I mean stringing together a few double digit runs, including twenty milers. Power doubles are 15AM/7PM-type doubles, which I did about four or five in the plan. In one four day stretch, I ran 64 miles. I have become a big believer of running long runs on tired legs. I still did a tempo or speed workout once a week, as well as 8x100 strides twice a week. I also mixed in a fair amount of marathon paced miles, including one 23 miler with 10 @ 6:52 pace four weeks out. I also ran my last 20 miler two weeks out, doing half mile in/outs where the middle 10 miles were split at 6:35-6:40 (the ins) and 7:00-7:05 (the outs). I also got down to race weight - 160 - on September 2nd and didn't step on the scale again. I always get there, it's just a matter of when. I'd rather not have weight mess with my head after that.

My half marathon tune-up was scheduled too early at 6 weeks out. I knew I wasn't ready and didn't really taper for it. In fact, the week before I set a PR with 85 miles and my legs weren't fresh. The course was very tough for the Chicago area and it was a little warm, humid and windy. Anyway, I put up a 1:26:53, a really shitty performance. This result, while justified for the aforementioned reasons, still planted a little nugget of doubt in the back of my head. I thought I could go sub3, but failing at something a few times not only leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth, but also can leave you with some cracks in the confidence when you are looking for indicators that you're on the right track.

The only other thing of note was I developed some exterior ankle/foot soreness about 5 weeks out. I babied it, but definitely felt it a little on most runs and really felt it on the long runs, especially the ones that included quality. I was counting on the taper making it go away. I averaged 69.9 MPW pre-taper. That was a 13 week plan starting at 51 miles. Everything else was 60 or higher until the week before the race.

The taper was solid but unspectacular. The pain in the ankle/foot was still there. I mentally prepared myself to deal with it on race day. Also, I didn't want to make a big deal about it. I only told Tiffany and my pal Jay about it. Jay suggested adrenaline would take over. The other thing to mention was the forecast was solidifying and looked pretty close to ideal with temps in the upper 30's at the start.

I also re-read the 2009 Chicago Race Report the night before. It was my best race of all-time - it also gets me pretty pumped up. I was hoping it would inspire me and set the tone for Sunday's race. It also would reinforce that I can hit my goal and execute a race plan.

Race Day
I woke up at 4:15, ate some peanut butter wheat toast, sipped some Gatorade and got ready. I taped two pace bands on - a 3:00 and a 2:58. I thought a 2:58 could possibly happen on a great day. I was going to do anything I could (short of dying) to make that 2:59:59 on any other kind of day. I took Bosley out and it felt pretty chilly. Perfect. The weather gods came through.

Tiffany and I talked a little more about the day and before you knew it, my pre-arranged cab arrived at 5:00 to take me a mile and half to the Brown Line. Got there just in time and grabbed a seat on a near-empty train. I turned on the iPod warm-up playlist and relaxed. The Brown Line stops at Belmont in the wee hours, so I hopped on the Red Line there. I was lucky enough to grab a seat. Shortly thereafter, I start eating a banana and notice the guy next to me was bundled up, chugging a gallon of water - on this balmy, 41 degree morning. Then I noticed his bib number was lower than mine. Maybe I am doing it all wrong.

We eventually get down to Jackson and hop off the train. Most of us anyway. I am not sure why some runners stay on past that stop. I make my first port-o-john stop right at 6AM and she was a beaut. Unused, but it was so dark, I could barely see in there. I make my way to the Corrals and got comfy sitting next to a tree.

It was cold. Really cold. And breezy. I was wishing I brought a thicker layer on top. Oh well. It'd be go-time before long. I ate a couple pop-tarts and drink some more Gatorade at that point. I was really making sure I had enough food in my system. I then decided to walk around a little bit to try to get warmer. I was standing in one spot for a few minutes blowing into my hands, trying to warm them up. A photographer from the Sun Times snapped this:

I use a couple more unused port-o-johns and finally head into the Corral. Some nice dude from Richmond, Illinois strikes up some conversation. Really nice guy, told me I should be able to go under 3 hours easily. Eventually, I find Brian, Kevin and Jonas, the three guys wanting to start at the same pace. I ate a few Clif Blocks and took care of the last round of peeing in my empty 32 ounce Gatorade bottle and tossed off the extra clothes. Brian reminded me to take off auto-lap and before you know it, we're off!
Brian and me
Kevin and Jonas

The Race
I wanted to hit the half in 1:29:00-1:29:30. That basically meant a 6:47-6:50 pace. Jonas was only committed to staying at that pace through the half as he had a faster goal than the rest of us. Brian was attempting to go sub3 on a balky hamstring. Kevin and I had spent a few mid- to latter miles of the 2009 marathon together. He seemed ready and was pumped.

I broke the race into four phases mentally:  The start-13.1, 13.1-20, 20-23.4, and 23.4-finish line. I always tell people the Chicago Marathon really starts at the Half. The first 13 miles are crowded and packed with spectators. The energy is amazing. The crowd propels you. It should feel free and easy and like you aren't working too hard. The half to mile 20 is a tough stretch. There are some decent patches in there, but there are several spectator-free areas and some tougher neighborhoods. Mental toughness is key. I broke the last 10K into two stretches. 20 to 23.4 and then 23.4 to the finish. 23.4 is the point where runners make the last left turn onto Michigan Ave. I thought it would make it more manageable and give me some solid mental checkpoints. I had never been a huge believer in this breaking up the race into parts, but I thought it was time to give it a go. I thought it would help me focus when the going potentially got tough.

Mile 1- 7:02
Crowded as hell. Seemed more crowded than every previous year. And we hit the starting line in just 21 seconds. Just navigating the crowds.

Miles 2 & 3- 6:41 & 6:49
I am not sure which one of us felt the need to make up the lost time in mile 2, but we did. Felt it a little bit, but felt pretty free and easy. And still congested. Mile 3 was pretty much perfect as we were able to find the happy middle ground. Brian pulled in front and we could see him for the next several miles. Sidenote: I hit 2000 miles YTD at the 3 mile marker.

Miles 4 & 5- 6:40 & 6:44
See the unstoppable and award winning support crew at mile 3.5. I can't say enough how awesome they are. This crew was lean and mean. No dead weight.

Mike, Tiffany, Lynn, Isla and Gannon

A little fast though. I stopped near the end of mile 4 to pull up my compression sock as I felt it was sagging. Took a Clif shot at the 5 mile marker.

Mile 6- 7:01
Whoops. There may have been a slight effort to back in the 6:47-6:50 range here, but this was too much.

Miles 7 & 8 - 6:47 & 6:46
Feeling good. We lost Brian for good here as his hammy isn't cutting it. Also lose Jonas here as he picks up the pace. Just me and Kevin left. Have a brief feeling of uncertainty on how this pace really feels. May be little fast.

Miles 9,10, 11 - 6:56, 6:54, 6:53
Well. Gave back a little time here. Effort level didn't change and the Garmin seemed to be fine, but looks like I was a little off on tangents these miles. Take a Gu Roctane at the 10 spot and proceed to lose Kevin at that water station. For good. Time to crank up the Ipod. Made a note that we were 15 seconds ahead of the 3 hour pace band at the 10 mile mark. 

Miles 12 & 13 - 6:42 & 6:46
See the support crew again here. They are looking great and Tiffany is holding Gannon as he's taking a snooze. Seeing them is always a shot in the arm and this is no different. Pick up a little momentum into the half.

Half- 1:29:28 - Right at the high end of the plan, but right on. 32 seconds ahead of 3 hour pace, feeling good and wrap up the first phase. Giving out some high fives and getting the crowd going. I'm ready to attack the second half, but not recklessly. I feel like I am very much in control, the pace doesn't seem too hard and my body feels great. No issues at all from the ankle/foot area. Just in case there was, I did have a couple of packets of Biofreeze in my arm warmer pocket. Remind myself to relax the shoulders, drop the arms and stay focused on Phase 2.

Miles 14, 15, 16, 17 - 6:42, 6:46, 6:50, 6:47
Workman-like as I navigate the western edge of the course. Feeling strong. Take another Clif shot at 15. Sits a little funny, but I just avoid the next Gatorade station to try to get it to calm down. A couple times in this stretch, my mind wanders about finishing, going sub3 and realizing that the hard work is paying off. Start getting a little emotional, so I reign myself in and bring the focus back to the second phase. Feel a little something here and there in my upper right hamstring, but nothing to worry about. I also remember passing a bagpiper playing near mile 16 in 2010 and knowing I was dead in the water. Not this year! 48 seconds ahead of the 3 hour pace band, 30 seconds off of the 2:58 paceband.

Mile 18- 6:55
And the first sign of trouble appears before I hit the 17 mile marker. But not with the pace, not with the legs, and not with the ankle/foot. I develop a wicked side/back cramp on my left side. What the hell is this? It's the kind of cramp that you can get in a 5K when you are pushing too hard and running beyond your ability. It starts getting in my head a little. It didn't make sense because my breathing wasn't laboring at all. I changed my breathing to in through the nose, out through the mouth. It's not helping. It's still there. I am trying to work through it without sacrificing much pace. I don't feel comfortable letting it go slower than mid 6:50s. I have a little moment and realize that this is the race. This is the hurdle. I decide that I am not going to let this stop me and start mentally preparing myself to fight this off for the last 9 miles, if I have to. This is my day, I tell myself. But first, just get through Phase 2 and mile 20. The mental exercises I went through on many runs are now being put to the test.

Mile 19- 6:47
Decided that backing off just a touch to try to help it go away didn't help, so I proceed to pick it back up and keep the nose-in mouth-out breathing going. I am loudly grunting on some of the outs now, but I don't care. The runners around me surely thought I was about to start to fade, or possibly die. I just kept powering through it, focusing on getting to 20 and to complete Phase 2.  It's still pretty bad, but again, I tell myself, I am not going to be denied. The other crazy part is that my legs feel great and my ankle/foot are showing no signs of failing me.

Miles 20 & 21 - 6:50, 6:50
Phase 2 complete and just before 20, wouldn't you know it, the pain goes away. Holy Jesus. Alright! Back in business.  Phase 3 is only 3.4 miles long and I get to see the crew at 21.5 on the Chinatown turn. Start feeling a little fatigue in the legs here, but nothing too bad. Kind of like you've run 20 miles-type fatigue. I still felt fresh though and reminded myself to relax the shoulders and drop the arms again, keep the feet pushing out and not up. After I hit the 21 mile marker, I started to get pretty pumped knowing that I'll see the support team again and take my last Clif shot. At this point, I knew sub3 was happening. I made it through the shit with my side and back. I felt like I was picking up steam and had more left in the tank. Phase 3 was nearly over and it had just began. And the passing of people starts becoming more frequent. Without sounding like an arrogant jerk, I really was not going to be denied. This is my day. And I told myself that again. 

Before the race, Tiffany and I talked about the plan that I would just wave and say hi to them as I went by at every place they'd be. The only circumstance I'd stop and talk to them was if I fell off the pace. In the half mile after the 21 mile marker, I decide I was going to try to stop for a couple seconds. I had this thing. So I see my father-in-law Mike holding the sign, so I point and wave. I get over to them and I see Isla behind the fence. I crouch down and try to give her a kiss. She was pretty surprised and didn't really respond. At that point my mother-in-law Lynn and Tiffany basically yell at me to get out of there and go! 51 seconds ahead of the 3:00 paceband.

Tiffany and Gannon, Gannon saying "Cheese!"
Right before I make the stop to talk to Isla

Mile 22 - 6:48
The brief stop doesn't hurt my pace and I close in on wrapping up phase 3. Feeling strong. This spot along the Dan Ryan is very common to see people starting to crumble, and this year is no different. I am plowing through them. 

Feeling it

Mile 23 - 6:47
Working it. Feeling it. Loving it. I see the beer stop just as you cross the Dan Ryan and figure, what the hell? This is my day after all, I may as well grab a beer. They have the cups out just like a water stop, expect it's beer. I don't see anyone else heading over to the left side of the street grabbing one. I know we're all motoring along at a sub 3 pace and all, but we're not professional. Don't forget to enjoy yourself out there. So I grab one, thank them and chug it on the run. Tasted much better than last year. 59 seconds ahead of the 3:00 paceband.

Mile 24 - 6:46
Close out Phase 3 make the turn onto Michigan and Phase 4 starts. Time to relax the shoulders, drop the arms and get ready to make this push. Start picking up the pace and get prepared to go for it at the 24 mile marker. I think there was a pretty good head-wind here, but I really zoned in and got ready to go for the proverbial throat. I grab some Gatorade chews from the volunteers and eat a few of those over the next mile. I didn't want a full Gu, but figured a little something wouldn't be a bad idea.

Mile 25 - 6:33
This is exactly what I visualized in training. Dropping the hammer in the last couple miles to hit that 2:59 so I could bring home the sub3. The 2:59 was in the bag at this point. I was surprisingly still able to do some functional math and thought if I really go after it, I may be able to come in right at 2:58. I slide to the very inside of the road and let it fly. I am passing people in droves. I will not be denied, this is my day, I repeat. I do have three songs left on my iPod and only have time for about one and a half. Sorry, Muse. You can be on the next one. I appreciate all you did for me in the weeks following the Olympics though. Now just 32 seconds off of the 2:58 paceband. Carry me home, Mumford.

Mile 26 - 6:24
Boom! I just dropped a 6:24 26th mile. That was a second below my average pace in the half marathon in April. The ridiculous part is that it came in at a 1.03 on the Garmin, so I was showing a 6:13 pace before I hit lap. Still passing people like crazy as we make the turn onto Roosevelt. I have always wanted to be that guy. Today, I finally was. Seem to slow just a bit going up the "hill." I am going to go sub 2:58. The balls are out, on the table for all to see and appreciate. Trailing 2:58 pace by a mere 9 seconds.

The Last .2 - 1:17
I nearly get blocked by a couple people not running as fast as I make the final turn on Roosevelt. I pass them on the left and let it all hang out. There's guy laboring trying to get to the finish line. The crowd is getting louder and louder. I am not sure if they are cheering for me, the jerk in the argyle arm warmers blowing by everyone, or for the guy who really needs help to finish. I pretend it's me they are cheering for. I am pretty pumped as I close in on the finish line, pump the right arm and hit the stop button a few strides after I hit the mat. Garmin shows 2:57:59. I am pretty sure I was late on it.

 Yes! It's a Sub3!

Official Time: 2:57:56
Hell f-ing yeah! 1:29:28 first half, 1:28:28 second half. Exactly a one minute negative split, buoyed by miles 25 and 26. I make my way through the finishing corrals, take a few photos, grab a beer and some food and find my way over to the meeting spot. Tiffany runs and hugs me when she finally sees me. We were both so excited. I loved seeing her face and her excitement. I then see the rest of the team- Mike, Lynn and the dynamic duo of Isla and Gannon. We trade some hugs, takes some pictures and make the walk back to the L to go home.

Great day!
Not sure who's more excited about this medal

Other thoughts
Honestly, I couldn't haven't dreamed it up any better. I have been in pursuit of the perfect race since finishing Chicago 2009 and often wondered if I only got to run it once. Aside from the side/back cramp, this thing went off without a hitch. The failed sub3 attempts hardened me up as a runner and did help me dig deep during this race when I needed to.

I can't thank Tiffany enough for all of her support. She's a superstar and can navigate the hell out of spectating this event, which is saying something with a 3 and a half-year-old lady and a 14-month-old man. She's also incredibly supportive of me throughout training and believes in me more than anyone. Isla was super-pumped about the "Big Marathon" for the last three months. Her patience was paid off with the medal. And Gannon, while catching a few z's at one point during the race, was well-behaved and enjoyed himself. My love for my family inspires and motivates me. I think about them all the time during all of my runs. On race day, seeing them is easily the highlight of the race. Tiffany, I love you and can't thank you enough for all that you do.

Tiffany's parents, Mike and Lynn have been there for every single Chicago marathon. They are awesome.

To all my other family and friends, both of the running variety and non-running ilk, you guys are great. I truly appreciate the support, the well-wishes and the congratulations. Thanks for joining me on this ride that started in Boston in April of 2010.

Numbers - HR, 5K Splits etc.
Placed 689 out of  37,315. 140th of 3502 in my age group.

AHR 170, Maxed at 195 in the .2
Mile by Mile AHR - First Half  - 131(?)/161/166/170/167/167/167/168/167/167/168/173/173
Second Half - 173/169/169/171/170/172/172/175/175/178/180/183/188/192(last .2)

5K Splits:
21:15/21:11/21:16/21:13/21:00/21:15/21:17/20:52/8:37(last bit)

Very solid HR and similar to 2009's numbers. Looking at that and knowing what I have done in the past, I think I may have been able to start the kick one mile earlier. Hard to say and probably not worth the risk though. I didn't look at my HR at all during the race.

Thanks for reading. That's 10 minutes you'll never get back.  Maybe even 15.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

2010 Chicago Marathon: Willing to Beg, Steal or Borrow

I have had about 48 hours to think about putting this race report together and I thought of a few different titles, but opted for the one you see above. The runners up were:
  • Chasing the Ghost
  • I Closed My Eyes and She Slipped Away (yes, from Boston's "More than a Feeling")
Those two are much too negative. I went with the one at the top because of that Ray LaMontagne song that I haven't been able to get out of my head for the last 6-8 weeks. And it sums up how bad I wanted to go sub3. Beg? Sure. Steal? Why not? Borrow? You bet!

I make two promises before every race. The first is to my wife Tiffany that I will stop if something is seriously wrong with me. The other is to myself, that I will do everything possible to hit my goal, short of irreparable bodily harm.

I am not going to spend too much time on the lead up to the race. I had an 11 week cycle that was supposed to be 12 weeks long, but I got busy or sick or something in that first week. I honestly don't remember but I see I only ran 4 days that week. The cycle was fine, it included the usual ups and downs. I based the training plan off of Pfitz 12/70, but switched around some days, tried to run zero doubles and backed down mileage in race weeks. I had a crappy 10K where I ran off course that snapped a 13 race PR streak and then PRed at the Batavia Half a couple weeks later. I peaked at 71 miles (hitting that number twice), ran five 20 (or more) milers and tapered for three weeks.

I was feeling pretty beat up throughout the taper and was having some right hamstring issues. I was pretty concerned so I took some time off race week. I took Monday off, ran a 5 miler on Tuesday, took Wednesday and Thursday off and then ran 4+ miles on Friday with my good pal Ron Abramson. We spent the morning together with Isla and Tiffany and then hit the expo. I ran 3.6 miles on Saturday with a 3 minute burst for my Aussie Carbo-load. I felt the hammy in every run and hoped whatever it was wouldn't become a factor on race day. I have no idea where it came from. Anyway, total miles for race week before Sunday was 12.8.

Race Day
I got up and did the usual morning routine. This year, I had the company of Michael Kapellas, one of my older brothers, who was running his first marathon. We did our thing, Tiffany took a few pictures, we left and hopped on the Brown Line.

Top: Michael and me
Bottom: Me rocking the short shorts

After waiting about 10 minutes, we finally took off and eventually reached the area near the start. We walked a few blocks and finally got to the seeded corral gear check tent. I checked a bag and we headed over to the entrance to the seeded corral. It was a disaster. We packed in with hundreds of other runners trying to just get in the corral. We finally made it in just after 7. The race started at 7:30. We both had to use the port-o-john so we get in that line. Luckily we picked a good line and got out of that area by 7:15. I happened to bump into Melissa Fanaro here too. Crazy! We walked up the stretch to get in the corrals, said good bye and good luck at the entrance to his C corral and I took off for the A Corral. I started picking up the pace as I heard someone say they are closing the corrals soon. Oh shit. Now I am jogging to make it through the B checkpoint and into the A corral. I made it and looked down at my watch. Time: 7:20. Heart rate:148. Not a good sign. However, I am letting everything roll off my back. It's my day, damn it.

I look for any familiar face as I am heading up closer to the front and to the left. Just as I am about to resign myself to not seeing or running with anyone I know, I see Jay T., Chad S. (who are both much faster than me) and then the living legend himself, Chad Gruett - who is already shirtless. We then see Chris H. and Nick P., more pals of mine. Chad says he's not going for sub3, but at least talking to him before the gun goes off helps me feel a little better after the clusterf*ck of getting there. Keep in mind this is my 7th consecutive Chicago Marathon and have been in the corrals for 5 or 6 of them. It was never ever even close to this bad. Oh - I take off my cap before the race starts sensing that the extra heat trapped on my head would be detrimental to the cause.

Miles 1-3
6:55, 6:53, 6:58
I'm pretty much on my own here for 1 and 2. I can see Nick just ahead of me and pull even with him in the 3rd mile. Or was it the 2nd? Everything seems to be okay - not good, not bad. I don't feel like I am trying too hard. The hammy is a dull pain. I am having a hard time finding the sweet spot, but really want to make sure I don't go out too fast. I also meet Josh this mile, a really nice guy from Colorado Springs who is also shooting for a sub3. We'd be running next to each other for a good portion of the rest of the race.

Mile 4
See the awesome "Zab for Mayor" support crew at 3.5. It's such a great feeling seeing them. I really think it gives all the runners around me a boost, because I always hear some laughs and see some smiles. I toss my hat to Tiffany and know I'll be seeing them again in about 8 miles. Also, Chad appears in this mile. He says, "Am I running fast or are you running slow?" I said I was in the mid 6:50's from the get go. He says "Uh-oh." I am taking at least one gatorade or water at every station, trying to stay ahead of the game.

Isla and Tiffany

Approaching mile 3.5 and the Mayoral support crew

At Mile 3.5, L to R: Josh(shirtless in the visor), Nick (yellow and white top), me, and Chad (shirtless with the gatorade bottle)

Acknowledging the big group of supporters

Miles 5- 9
6:51, 6:52, 6:53, 6:52, 6:53
There we go. Pretty much right on here. We are about 15-17 seconds off of 3:00 pace, but we're laughing and joking around quite a bit. I take my first Gu at mile 8. Chad falls off somewhere in there and as far as I can tell it's Nick, Josh and me. I left the house with two pace bands - a 3:00 band and a band with straight 6:47's. I knew the 6:47's were out of the question by mile 4. I just wasn't feeling that good. But was I feeling good enough? I manage to rip off the 6:47 band in mile 8. No sense in having that thing weighing me down. I also start dumping water on my head in mile 6. Also Start getting a ton of "Zab" and "Zab for Mayor" yells. The shirt is a hit. As if there was any doubt, right?

This could be the funniest race photo of me ever. I have no idea why I flexed, nor do I know why it appears that I have muscles.

Miles 10-13
6:47, 6:49, 6:46, 6:50
I make a bit of an effort to pick up the pace here. I see my friend Jim at mile 11 and he offers some words of encouragement. I also see the Mayoral support team at 11.5. What a great looking crew! I have said it before and I'll say it again. Seeing my supporters is the highlight of my races.

Here's a nice shot of the marathon going over the Chicago River just past the Merchandise Mart and mile 12.

I wanted to be really close to 1:30 at the half and needed to pick up a few seconds per mile. I lost Nick and as I make the turn west out of the Loop, I get the crowd to make some noise. Josh is right next to me. It's pretty normal to chat with people throughout the race who have the same goal as you. I start making some more conversation with Josh at this point, as it looks like he's in it for the long haul.

Half: 1:30:01. Alright. We're in business. Still not feeling good, but not feeling terrible. I'm thinking I am looking good. My hammy pain goes away somewhere in the last stretch. I also accidentally look at my HR on the Garmin here. I had made it a point to not look at it but I slipped up. The damaging news: 182 - 91% of max. Too high for the halfway point and 11bpm higher than last year at the half. Surely, it's mostly heat related, as the difference in temperature was about 40 degrees. I rationalize that I can still be okay if it goes up 1 beat per mile over the next 10 miles, putting me at 192 at mile 23. Pretty good and logical thinking, eh? I don't look at my HR again.

I didn't realize it at the time, but Josh started about 15 seconds behind me and in the B Corral, so he hits the half under 1:30. And he's working off a 3:15 PR.

I tell people the Chicago Marathon really begins at the halfway point. The first half is a party and there are people everywhere. The second half has some good stretches - namely Chinatown and Pilsen - but combine fatigue along with the lack crowds and the going gets tough. The killer this past Sunday would prove to be the sun and heat beating down on us in the second half.

Miles 14-16
6:48, 6:55, 6:55
Good enough, I suppose. Starting to feel it in mile 16. Take the second Gu at Mile 14. Original plan was to take it at 15, but I am re-thinking everything at this point because I am still not feeling great. Take down the Roctane and motor on. In mile 16, I can see and hear a guy playing "Scotland the Brave" on bagpipes all by himself on the south side of the street. And right next to him is the first time I notice a yellow flag. I think a little part of me died. He may as well have been playing "Taps." Things really start getting tougher. Now I just tell myself, just hold the pace until 25 and I'll figure out how to bring it home. Yes, I was telling myself to hold the pace for 9 more miles. The best part about me telling myself this is that I really believed this was possible. Honestly, I really did. I am downing gatorade and water as much as I can and have continued pouring it over my head quite liberally. Deep down, I am thinking I really have a chance to do this despite A) not feeling I am at my best and B) the frickin' weather. I am basically putting my balls on the table and trying to steal a sub3.

Miles 17-20
6:51, 6:55, 6:43, 6:54
Still holding it. A spectator hands Josh a bottle of water. I ask him for a pull if he's not going to drink it all. He says sure and and the guy on my right also asks for a pull. We play pass the bottle and I give it back to Josh. I had originally planned to take the 3rd Roctane at 21. I opted to take the free Accelgel I grabbed at 19 and save the last Roctane for the 22 or so. It was a hot vanilla mess. Holy Lord. It stung my throat. Gross.

I also pass my friend John King here. He was in front of me for the whole race, but things started going south for him a couple miles prior. I hated seeing that. I tried to pump him up a little bit, but he said his legs were "not good." I think I also told him I was going for it, even if I had to crap myself. Thinking very soundly here, obviously.

Miles 21 and 22

6:55, 6:52
Inching ever so closer to that 25 mile mark, but I am not sure how much longer I can keep at it. At 21, I keep telling myself, "You can do it, just get to 25." I reach the Zab for Mayor crew at 21.5 in Chinatown. I get a boost from them and tell myself, "It's there if you want it. How bad do you want it? Keep digging deep." I refuse to think that I can't get this sub3 even though I know I am running out of gas. I'll give up when my body gives out on me.

Kameron, Jaime, Mike, Uncle Paul and Lynn

Making the turn at Chinatown (Josh is still on my left, in the top picture and on the right in the bottom picture)

Mile 23
Damn. There we go. Gut check time. Josh pulls ahead of me for good. The gut is there, but the legs aren't. Hip flexors are feeling it, as are the quads. Try to dig down and get into the 6's on last time for mile 24, but...

Mile 24
it's not happening. I feel like crap. Contemplating stopping for a walk. I don't give in though and keep my feet moving. I can feel blisters at the base of each big toe on the bottom of my foot. I have never had a blister there before, let alone on both feet.

In my Boston race report, I referenced the point of the race when your goal no longer becomes attainable. It's damage control, it's hard to accept and it's a struggle. And I knew there were tons of people out there tracking me and pulling for me. I didn't get mad. Or sad. I didn't have to fight back tears. I knew this was always a possibility and I now knew I wasn't going to do it, I just wanted it over. And in a moment of weakness and frustration, I tell myself I am done running marathons.

I also find myself behind a woman who has, um, messed herself. And it smells like it too. And it's all over her legs. But it's not stopping her. I do my best to get in front of her but can't. I am smelling the scent of her shit for the better part of the last three miles. I absolutely have no problem with someone crapping themselves. I now know that I'd rather not run behind them.

Miles 25 and 26
8:04, 8:00
Just shoot me. Not much else to say here. Not feeling good at all. Hot and not running very strong. Still dumping and drinking water and gatorade for the duration of the aid stations. Still considering walking. Even though I am drinking 2-3 cups of water at each station, I am feeling like I want more as soon as I depart the end of the aid station. My math skills are terrible at best and I don't care what my time is, I just want it over. And I tell myself a few more times that I am done running marathons.

The last .22
Somewhere at either the last 800 or 400 meters to go (I don't really remember), I try to get the legs going to still snatch a PR. It works - briefly. I hit the gas over the Roosevelt Bridge and and hit the last left turn hard. With about 0.1 to go, I get my first ever race cramp, right where the hamstring goes into the butt in my left leg. I change my stride a bit to go with more of a glide, keeping my left foot much lower to the ground. It subsides the cramp and I use that technique for most of the rest of the way in.

Final time
3:03:36, a PR by 5 seconds. 830th place overall. 1:30:01/1:33:35 split
182 Average Heart Rate - numbers by mile (1-13):
(Miles 14-26)
The last .2 - 197AHR, peaking at 198.

There's no question I went for it and hung on as long as I could. I think given the conditions and that I wasn't ever really feeling it, I gave it a hell of a shot. Balls on the Table? Abso-frickin-lutely. I don't regret this strategy for a second. I honestly didn't care about my time if it wasn't a 2:59:XX or better. The fact that I PRed is gravy. After looking at the numbers, I can see that needing to run 16 marathon-paced miles at a HR of 90% of max or higher is pretty ridiculous. That's basically what I was attempting to do from mile 10 on. For a reference point, my AHR last year during this race was 173.

I can't thank my wife Tiffany enough for all of the awesome things she did for me throughout training as I'd meet up with random friends to go running, run at odd times and I had her full support through the whole thing. It culminated with the amazing "Zab for Mayor" signs, buttons and perhaps best of all, Isla's shirt. I love you, TK.

Me, Tiffany and Isla

Isla and me

I had an amazing support crew out there for me on race day. A big thank you goes out all of you (Tiffany, Isla, Uncle Paul, Christine, Elliot, Elaine, Phil, Geovana, Mike, Lynn, Jaime, Kameron, Jenna, Cadence, the Fanaros) for coming out and supporting both Michael and me. I really appreciate it.

The crew (minus Lynn, the photographer)

Isla, Kameron and Cadence

And a big thanks goes out to my friends both of the running and non-running variety for your support, advice and insight in helping me try to reach my goal. It was great to get to see many of you again. There's never enough time around these race weekends to see everyone. I have made so many running friends over the last couple of years, it really makes for a great time.

I'd also like to thank all of people who tracked me and were watching me try to bring home the sub3. I could feel you rooting me on as the miles ticked by. I also know the text alert system was again a bust for most people. The people at the Chicago Marathon should really try to fix that.

As far as the future, I haven't decided what will be next. I had really hoped this was going to be the sub 3 so I could back it down for a bit. But since it wasn't, I am bouncing a few things off of Tiffany to see what makes the most sense for us...and if it's worth it to keep chasing the sub3 dream. Right now I am 0-2 in my attempts. We shall see. 1-3 is a .333 average and that pretty much puts you on the all-star team in baseball.

A few side notes on the others involved in the race report: Michael finished his first marathon in 4:11, Josh incredibly brought home the bacon with a 2:59, Nick ran a 3:05, Chad finished in 3:09 and John in 3:10. All of them were very impressive efforts and I am very proud of all of them. I could keep listing my friends times but that would take another 3-4 paragraphs.

Thanks for reading.

Here are a few pics from dinner after the marathon. I should note, I was absent from the group shot so you will not see it here. Thanks to the others: Chris, Chris, Stevi and Carl.


Me and Nick

Amy and me

Ron, Matthew and me