Monday, October 12, 2015

Chicago Marathon 2015 Race Recap

Race Highlights
* 2nd fastest marathon ever
* Course PR (fastest of my five Chicago Marathons)
* BQ-minus 16:54 minute time of 3:08:06 for 26.5 miles
* Post-race with fellow BRC team members
* Not as hot as I had expected 

In my previous post I stated my "A" marathon goal was to run a sub-3:05:02 PR, and my "B" goal was to run a course PR of sub-3:09:00. Due to the warm temperatures predicted for the race, I knew that it was probably not going to be an "A" type of day. So, I set out to attain my "B" goal. I accomplished that by almost a minute. One of my "running smarter" goals was to run a negative split, and although this didn't happen I got pretty close (a one minute 54 second positive split).

I called a cab (no Uber, I'm old school) shortly before 6 am, and made it down to Grant Park in about 20 minutes, a few yards from one of the Jackson gate. The lines through security were longer than last year, but only took about five minutes until I was through. Unlike last year, I was not able to secure a spot in the Balbo Hospitality Tent. I found out at the expo that the tent sold out two weeks before the race.

Out in the elements before the race - no luxury tent this year!
Once in Grant Park, I checked my bag and then headed over to my corral. I bumped into Eric who was volunteering, we talked a bit and then I continued on my way.

I waited in the "A" corral as they introduced the wheelchair racers and I actually got to high-five a few of them as they made there way to the front. I then bumped into fellow BRC member Todd and we chatted for a few minutes, just before the start of the race, and then before we knew it, we were off!

The Race

First Half
The first three miles were probably the roughest mentally for me. I was unsure how my legs would hold up since they had been pretty sore during my taper and early on, I started losing confidence that I could hold pace. For some reason, my energy levels were down, my nerves were getting the better of me and I was second-guessing myself as we ran up LaSalle Street. I was wondering if I could even make it another 24 miles of continuous running. I knew I needed a boost, so for the first time in my marathon career I ate some carbs (a Shot Block) in the first three miles. Soon thereafter, my energy levels increased, along with my confidence and I grooved a good steady pace. Crisis averted. My goal was to run the first three miles at 7:25, 7:20, 7:15. I actually ran them in 7:19, 7:11, 7:15. So far so good.

While running, I tried to follow the blue dashed tangent line as well as possible. However, other oblivious runners were weaving around the line as I tried to jostle for position so I could run on top of it. I assume they had no idea that that it was even there. By weaving around they were actually not running the tangents and adding distance. Anyway, at one point in Lincoln Park the blue line swerved way out into a turn, which surely could not have been the shortest distance around that turn. So, I lost a little faith in the blue line at that point. I passed the porta-potties that slowed me down last year and kept streaming ahead. I wanted to lock into a 7:05/mile pace at mile six, but I actually did that a mile too soon at mile five.

So now, I just needed to hit a 7:05/mile pace until the finish and I would have a course PR. The temps were miraculously still tolerable and I had been progressing at a conservative pace with the wind to my back. At mile eight in front of the Treasure Island on Broadway, my aunt and uncle were waiting to cheer me on. I ditched my bottle of water and picked up another one from a spectator. I also grabbed a wet sponge from an aid station and slipped it under my hat. Of course there was a photographer right at the sponge stop to catch all of the action:
Putting a wet spunge under my hat as other runners look on!
I popped the last three of my shot blocks in my mouth and took my first Gu. Luckily in the Loop there was a station handing out entire packages of Shot Blocks which saved me from having to eat more Gu. Woo hoo! Then I spotted Todd just ahead of me and slowly made my way up to him. However, he slowed to get water at an aid station and I kept going, so I passed him. A minute later he had caught back up to me and so we ran together for through the halfway point where I saw Marcia, Emily and Erica who were cheering me on.

First half split: 1:33:06 (7:06/mile)

Second Half
Todd and I ran side-by-side through the "Charity Block Party" around mile 14, I tried to mentally block out the crowd noise to prevent running my standard "surge" at this point in the race. I kept looking at my GPS watch to make sure I remained on pace. Although my Garmin said it was the fastest mile of the day, it sure felt (and looked) like I was maintaining my pace.

Anyway, we made our way back into the Loop and I could see the sun beating down on the skyline ahead. I was bracing myself for warmer temps. However, it did not seem to be getting too much warmer. The wind was strong, but it was seemingly blowing from a different direction depending on the block. So, it was easy to put it out of my mind, even if it was a headwind because I knew that around the corner, it would be tailwind! I kept going, easily hitting my pace mile after mile and felt well. The temptation to speed up was great, but from running this race four times before, I knew that I would need every bit of energy once I got in the homestretch on Michigan Ave. 

Eventually I lost track of Todd. At mile 17, unbeknownst to me at the time, I ran in front of 2012 Olympian and current Women's Running cover runner Sarah Attar. Kelly snapped a photo of her Oiselle teammate and me:
One of us is an Olympian (source: Running Kellometers)
Unfortunately, Kelly and I did not see each other, but luckily she realized I just happened to be in some of her pictures! Anyway, I was probably not drinking enough water because I wasn't sweating as much as I should have been with the temps rising like they were. Not wanting to slow down, I even skipped a water stop or two, something I have never done in the past. Every mile or so, I would get a twinge in my left thigh which was a strong indicator that a cramp was coming on. So, I backed off my pace ever so slightly, not wanting to over-do things and completely cramp up. At mile 20.5 I spotted Annabelle and she cheered me on.

In Chinatown, there were a few spectators smoking. Cigar and cigarette smoke wafted in the air all around me and it filled my already hurting lungs. Once I caught my breath I yelled "NO SMOKING!" in the direction of one of the smokers, which ticked them off so they began yelling back at me. My admonishment probably didn't help things, as they were probably happy that they were messing with the runners' breathing, but I'm glad I said something.
After yelling at a smoker in Chinatown
On a happier note, at mile 23.5 I passed Xaarlin and Eric (again!) and Xaarlin snapped my picture:
At mile 23.5 (src)
Even though I felt strong at the time, a glance at my Garmin showed that my pace was slowing. I ran mile 23 and 24 each in 7:26/mile. I feared accelerating in order to try and get back to pace, as pre-cramp warning signals were coming from my legs. I'm sure dehydration was taking its toll, but in my mental state at the time, I did not correlate the twinges in my legs to needing water. As I turned onto Michigan Avenue, I made some mental calculations and realized a course PR was within my reach as long as I held a sub 8:00/mile pace until the finish. So, I skipped past the last couple of aid stations and just focused on getting to the finish line by putting one foot in front of the other.

I passed Ken from the BRC in front of the Weathermark on South Michigan Ave. and he was cheering and filming a video of me. I rounded the corner at Roosevelt and Michigan and bounded up the hill passing other runners on pure adrenaline. Once at the top, I looked down Columbus Drive to the finish line. I saw that the finish line clock was ticking up to (what for me was) a 3:08:00 and I could possibly score a 3:07:59 if I hauled some major booty. So I used up everything I had left and then did a sprint down the hill, but the finish line did not come up soon enough and the clock passed 3:08:00.

Mustering a sprint to the finish
  Second half split: 1:35:00 (7:15/mile)


Analysis: My official time was a 3:08:06 for an official pace of 7:11/mile. My Garmin shows that I ran 26.7 miles for a 7:02/mile pace average. I got my course PR by almost a minute. I also BQ'd by 16+ minutes, which means I'm pretty much assured of getting into the 2017 race if I so choose. I re-qualified for the 2016 Chicago Marathon next year, but also I'm now a legacy finisher and I can run Chicago without qualifying for the next four years! Now I can go all out during my (hopefully cooler) spring marathon and really focus on running my PR pace for the entire race.
Enjoying my post-race 312
 Post Race
After drinking water, a Gatorade shake and grabbing my beer, I headed over to the changing tent, got dressed and walked the mile and a half trek back through the race crowds to the Weathermark on south Michigan Ave. I stopped at Jimmy John's on the way and ate a sub sandwich as I negotiated the crowds.

I met up with the BRC - everyone cheered and the bell behind the bar was rung in my honor. Declan was there with his kids - he had just BQ'd the day before in his 2nd marathon ever!
Todd, Declan, Annabelle and Declan's daughter
After chatting and laughing for a couple of hours, we went out on the street to watch and cheer the 5-hour marathoners. I said my goodbyes, and then joined Declan and kids for a ride on the Red Line before I transferred at Belmont.

Perhaps next spring's marathon will include some PR weather so I can be more aggressive from the start and then get my legs to cooperate so I can hang on at the end. But all-in-all it was a fantastic day. So many friends and family cheering me all day long made me feel like a rock star!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Chicago Marathon 2015: Goals

My foray into carbo-loading starts today. Luckily, I just realized that a few days ago I bought a 150 piece assortment of Halloween candy which WAS to be given out for trick-or-treaters on October 31st. We'll see if there are any Payday and Snickers bars left by Sunday. Hey, it's all in the name of carbo-loading, right? Also with the arrival of carbo-loading, it's time to say goodbye to the days I spent fat loading. For almost two weeks I ate loads of eggs, full fat yogurt and washed it down with glasses of whole milk. It felt fantastic and satisfying and it has not caused me to gain any weight at all. Maybe there is something to this new "Fat is Back" dietary trend?!

Anyway, the forecast is not looking too good for Sunday - with highs hurtling towards 70+ degrees during the race and winds of 15 mph coming out of the southwest. So, I figured I need some backup plans, especially since I don't run well in the heat. Here they are:

Plan A:  3:05:02 or less: Start at 7:20/mile for the first mile, gradually speed up, then lock in a 6:55/mile at around mile six. Goal attained: Personal record.

Plan B: 3:08:59 or less: Start at 7:30/mile then lock in a 7:00/mile: Goal attained: Chicago Marathon personal course record.

Plan C:  3:15:00 or less: Start at 7:30/mile then lock in at a 7:15/mile pace. Goal attained: Auto-qualify for Chicago Marathon 2016.

Plan D:  3:22:30 or less: Start at 7:40/mile then lock in at a 7:35/mile pace. Goal attained: BQ for 2017.

Plan E: Simply finish the race: Start at 9:00/mile then gradually slow down as I get trampled by fellow "A" and "B" corral runners until I am in a comfortable waddle or walk. High-five as many spectators as possible and drink beer when offered. Goal attained: Zen-like happiness and auto-qualify for Chicago Marathons 2016 through 2019 as I will be a "legacy finisher".

Which one will it be? I will have to make a game-time decision at the start line. If I'm feeling warm before the horn sounds, I will have to bid adieu to Plan A and decide if it will be a B through E kind of day. I learned the hard way during my first (Chicago 2010) - that overheating turns the final miles in the sun up Michigan Avenue into a death march. No matter what happens - post-race I will be enjoying a beer at the Weathermark on Michigan Avenue and later in the day I will be eating a hearty German meal in my neighborhood while wearing one of these:
My 2012 Medal
Let me know if you're running, or where you'll be along the course and I will try to look out for you! Good luck to everyone!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Few Chicago Marathon Tips

Well, it's about that time. The weeks of tempo/strength/speed and long runs are over and we sit a few days out from the big day. The only thing left to do from here until Sunday is to do two or three short shakeout runs and do hourly refreshes of to get updates on Sunday's forecast.

Speaking of which, as of today, it looks like it will be 10 to 15 degrees warmer this year than last year. If the wind forecast is correct, the middle miles will be hard fought into the wind. Here's hoping the forecasted wind and heat taper off by Sunday.  That said, here a few tips that will hopefully help you to have a slightly better Chicago Marathon no matter what the weather.

Dashed Blue Line - Unfortunately last year I didn't find out about the "dashed blue line" that is painted on the Chicago Marathon course until after the race (even though it was under my feet for some of the time). If one theoretically could run the entire race right on that blue line, they would run exactly 26.2 miles. This is also known as "running the tangents". According to my GPS watch, I have run 26.5 miles in each of the last two Chicago Marathons (2013, 2014). If I had been able to shave off 0.3 miles I would have saved over two minutes of running.
See the "Blue Line" at the tip of the arrow
from 2014's race.
Motivation on Michigan Avenue - Michigan Ave. is the long, hot homestretch of the marathon. It covers approximately 2.5 of the last 2.7 miles usually in the full sun. Traversing this section seems to take forever. A way to keep distracted on this stretch is to break down the distance by looking out for each kilometer marker (41 then 40 all the way to 37) since klicks are shorter than miles. Even better, remember that at each intersection from 35th street to 12th (Roosevelt) the numbers go down one every block (I got this one from Mo). So you just have to focus on running to the next intersection to see a new (and lower) number.

Expo Parking - If you don't want to pay for parking in the McCormick place garage, you can sometimes find a free or at least cheaper street spot just west of the convention center. However, it is a bit of a hike, so if you go to the expo on Saturday, you might consider shelling over the bucks to park in the garage which might save your legs from walking too much the day before the race.

Balbo Hospitality Tent* or the CARA VIP Experience - I was gifted a pass for the Balboa tent last year, and although it is expensive ($125), it is heated, provides unlimited food and drink, has plentiful and virtually unused porta-potties, private gear check and post-race massages. All of this takes place right next to the finish line.  It's close to an upper-crust marathon experience, but if you're only running one marathon a year, it might be worth a splurge since it provides a comfortable environment prior to the race. Also, CARA sponsors a "VIP Experience" at a local hotel with many of the same amenities for a lot less ($35 pre-expo price). However, it's about a nine block walk north of the finish line and around the same distance to the start line due to the security checkpoints before the race. However, they do have a bank of VIP porta-potties closer to the start line. If you are arriving to the race from the south or are headed southbound after the race, it might not be very convenient for you.
In the Balbo hospitality tent before last year's Chicago Marathon
Well, those are my tips, hope they help even if they won't make us any cooler during the race. Anyone have any specific to Chicago Marathon tips?

* Just checked the Chicago Marathon site and it looks like tickets are no longer available for the tent for 2015. Womp.