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

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 There's also an unpublished race report from the 2010 Vegas marathon hiding behind the curtains here too.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Here are the last couple paragraphs from that unpublished Vegas race report: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.