- Chasing the Ghost
- I Closed My Eyes and She Slipped Away (yes, from Boston's "More than a Feeling")
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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)
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...
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
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.
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):
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.
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