BOA CHICAGO MARATHON
After learning the hard way from the 2014 NYC Marathon that putting all your eggs in one basket can be risky and somewhat disappointing – especially when external factors like weather, etc. impact the event – for 2015 I planned on having a major marathon combo at my disposal to make sure I could attempt my best effort at least at one of two.
Last spring, in fact, I signed up for the Chicago Marathon an the NYC Marathon again.
The build up to Chicago was described already here, and the final 10 days leading up to the race were particularly sweet.
First I hit a great couple of workouts, a solid 8 mile tempo run in Norwalk followed by a strong endurance run the next day, and then – as usual – I tried to sabotage myself volunteering at the Cat’s Tail Trail Marathon a week before the race. I would have loved to run the Cat’s tail, first because RD Charlie got me involved when he was planning the race and he surely arranges for ultra tough courses and well rewarding finish line parties, second because it is in the Catskills, third because Mountain Peak Fitness and Red Newt were heavily supporting the event (one of the races of the RNT calendar) and I could catch up with some teammates, and lastly because I had the chance to camp with Michelle for one night after the race thanks to Elizabeth’s support providing us with the equipment to do so.
The volunteering part was not too demanding, even if done in not so perfect conditions: hiking to Slide Mt and Cornell Mt from the aid station under a persistent constant rain required me and Michelle approx. 5 1/2 hrs for a total of 13-14 miles. Next day after a good breakfast at Phoenicia Diner Michelle and I spent a little bit of time in Woodstock to get the final workout in pre Chicago: an intense 3x2miles repetition with a good amount of uphill running put me in a good place mentally for the marathon.
Fast forward a few days, and here we are: Michelle and I landed in Chicago, resting in the hotel room, hitting the local Native Food join downtown basically for every meal and trying to inspect small sections of the course near the start line.
The day before the race I had the opportunity to meet Antony Scott, another runner from the City who made the trip to attempt a PR on the fast course of the wind city. We did an easy run together with just a few strides at the end to move the legs and stimulate the appetite. Antony told me his troubled months prior to the race, the limited amount of miles he could get in due to injuries, and the surprising performances that sometimes happened with his limited training regiment. We also took a picture together, and I still remember now how I was feeling so sleepy that morning. When they say a picture is worth 1,000 words…well…no comment…
After lunch and a relaxing afternoon spent in the hotel bedroom sleeping and resting, in the evening Michelle and I walked across the street and hit Vapiano for some pasta. The place was crowded, but we still managed to order and eat in a reasonable amount of time.
Back in the hotel I began feeling a little nervous, as it should be the night before an event you prepare for a long time.
I managed to waste some time massaging the Achilles, then I looked at past results, how other runners in the previous years managed to cover the course and the splits they had at the 5k intermediate checkpoints.
I tried to workout a chart with my predicted splits considering I would have run conservatively the first 15-20 miles, and I would have used some extra energy especially in the last bump of the course at mile 26. (Sebastien, who set his PR in Chicago, warned me about a little uphill with just 1/4 mile to go, so I checked it out the days before the race and realized that despite the innocent easy incline, the tricky bridge on Roosevelt Rd can make you loose quite a few seconds if unprepared for it).
Then, while Michelle was shopping for some bread, water and breakfast items, I prepared my Bolts for the race, as usual neatly packed in small bags that I could easily insert inside the arm-warmers or a little fuel belt.
On TV Gran Torino was broadcasted and that movie kept us in front of the screen for a while, just in time to feel tired and ready to snooze.
The morning of the race we got up really early and walked towards Millennium Park way early, anticipating the usual big chaos you can expect for a huge event like this. Clearly I was biased by the NYCM experiences since Chicago offered me the most pleasant pre race experience I could have possibly imagined.
I was there early, checked my drop bag for the finish line in no time, walked towards the corral and did some strides before entering it, assuming I would have spent the next 90 minutes standing in a crowded pool of people pushing, elbowing, peeing around, well…you get it…again…NYCM style.
None of that: I found a porta potty that was ready to be used without issues, I took care of business, found Antony warming up, entered the corral and found it surprisingly empty, with a small grass area runners used to lay down and stretch before the start. I wish NYRR could learn some of this from BoA Chicago M.
The pros and elites were announced and ran to the area in front of us from the right side; this time I got the chance to even see these semi-gods just a few feet away. When the race was about to take off, we were no more that 3-4 feet apart. Incredible.
The race started fast and due to some GPS issues under the tunnel and around city blocks for the first few miles, I could not check well the pace on my watch. Also the pack was still full of “jumpers” (those usual suspects/hero wannabes that take off at 5 min/mile and end up the race with a 9 min/mile or more last mile) and navigating through the twisty turns of the course was not an easy feat, especially when you try to cut the tangents and negotiate a few inches of space with raised elbows around you.
At this point I realized the work I did the night before checking the 5k splits was going to pay off. Ideally I planned on hitting 18:30 at each checkpoint to keep the math simple to remember, but ideally I would have preferred to go faster.
The first 10k went by quickly, trading spots with other runners, and keeping myself as covered as I could trailing behind others. I stayed focused on my mission and despite feeling the pace was not taking a toll on me, I did not increase the effort but rather paid attention to eating and drinking regularly. Just after the 6 mile mark I felt some pain in the belly and began to feel nervous that once again a big event was going to be compromise by stomach or intestine problems.
I relaxed a little bit and ran an 18:36 3rd 5k (from 10k to 15k) with some headwind hitting the little group we formed. A couple of runners lead our group and were laboring heavily to break through sudden gusts. It was helpful to find someone else working for you.
Just after mile mark 8, I realized my gps watch was off from the official markers and began trusting the 18:30 avg splits even more, instead of relying on the avg pace displayed on the watch. The second surprise came when fellow runner Mac Schneider showed up unexpectedly.
Mac ran with me the first 18 miles of the 2014 NYC marathon and finished that race in an incredible 2:36 despite the constant headwinds we faced. He dropped me on 1st ave when I stopped for my bathroom break, but I realized from the half point I could not keep up with him, cause he was moving too well.
Seeing Mac again brought up some bad memories and I started feeling that bad luck was going to hit me again. So instead of taking the initiative for the group, I exchanged a few words with him and then remained covered among the others, helping out with pacing duties only for short periods.
Mac was not particularly worried about the pace either at this point so he joined forces with the little group of 6-7 that formed along the way back down into downtown Chicago.
The good thing is that for a mile or two I got distracted from my little stomach problem and suddenly it disappeared.
While crossing the bridge to downtown at around mile 12 the group started disintegrating: maybe the support of the crowd made us increase the pace (not according to the 5k split at this point), maybe some runners just fell apart, but as we crossed the bridge Mac and I basically found ourselves a little more alone than 5 minutes earlier.
We both looked at each other when we crossed the half way point and a runner went by at incredible speed leaving us speechless. I remember he was wearing a pink singlet, and after wishing him good luck, Mac and I kept plugging along at our pace.
The half marathon time was 1:18:04. A little too slow that what I felt comfortable with, since I usually tend to gain some seconds in the first half and eventually lose them in the second part. With a sub 2:36 goal, now I was all set to race, and I had a partner in crime with me: Mac.
At this point Mac took the lead and pushed hard for the next 10k. We hit some 5:59 and 5:57 splits and despite the pace was basically the same than before, I was producing more effort. I tried to help Mac a few times leading him, but he was more brilliant than me at this point.
I kept focusing on the final 10k, the fact that I needed to make sure I had enough energy to run them well, maybe alone. In the meanwhile we were picking up runners slowing down left and right.
Just after mile 20 on Halsted Street I started to feel a bit crappy. The discomfort was coming out, and generally this is the moment the distance takes you down. I was planning on increasing the effort only after mile 21, even if in pain, but now I was a little skeptical.
Two runners – I remember one of them being particularly tall – came by just before mile 21 and gapped us by 15-20 meters in just a minute. I could not understand if it was me falling off the pace or them just having a great day. A quick glimpse to the watch and I saw we were at 6 min/mile even. that was not great, since I wanted to pick up that little deficit from the first half, and instead I was falling behind a little more.
Mac pushed and began closing the gap; I lost a few meters and thoughts of another bad outcome clouded instantly my head; my reaction was a small surge, that desire and willingness to suffer a bit more to hang onto someone figure floating in front of you.
It wasn’t painful to switch gears, it was actually rewarding and satisfying. I felt stronger and then, just as we turned right before the 35k mark, I found myself running alone. I picked a different trajectory than the rest of the group, stayed closer to the inside, ran alone for a quarter of a mile and found myself in my familiar conditions.
I’ve spent months and months running 20, 30, 45 and even 60 minutes repetitions solo. I have embraced the solitude and quietness of those long moments spent listening to my lungs breathing and my mind thinking, isolating myself from the world; this was my ideal scenario. With just about 7-8k to finish I found my ideal running set up.
I knew I was a bit behind, not sure how much, but all I could do was running as fast as I could towards that last hill that Sebastien warned me about.
“Was I ready to do it all alone?” I remember thinking while checking the time and distance at the 35k mark.
After mile 23 I headed north on Michigan Ave shooting straight to mile 26. No turns, no obstacles just a flat road. The headwind now became tail wind. The split from 35 to 40k became faster with a 5:56 average and now my head was too clouded to do the math and figure out if I was ahead or behind the 2:36 projection.
I kept doing what I was doing, suffering internally, but picking up runners around me.
Funny thing with about 1.5k to go I saw the runner with the pink shirt that blasted through the half marathon mark. He was now barely jogging; this gave me some selfish satisfaction and pushed me even further to go faster. As I approached the right turn for the final hill I saw Michelle encouraging me with all her voice just behind the fence.
I laid out everything I could in that uphill, I sprinted towards the finish line, ready to dive, because I did not know how many more times I have the chance to break 2:36.
With a week of recovery post Chicago, and not really felling too springy with my legs I took on the challenge or running my third Red Newt Race with MPF-RNR Team: the Watergap 50k.
I was not super happy of getting into a race so quickly, but for once the course was not that challenging with just a hill at the beginning and a couple of little inclines at the end. It was also a good chance to catch up with Elizabeth and Ian Golden who have relentlessly worked hard for the team all year long.
The goal was to finish on the podium possibly running under 4hrs. The first few miles – like the rest of the day – were very enjoyable. I got to spend some time with Silas and Justin chatting and enjoying finally being able to run fairly smoothly after a week of tired legs.
As the miles went by the effort increased and Silas and I hit several miles on the 6:30 opening a gap on Justin who happened to have started just a little too fast than his ideal pace.
While I had no intention to race Silas, we pushed each other to keep the race honest till the finish line, when we just went on to complete the race as teammates.
Jason Friedman completed a masterpiece race, starting with a easy effort and coming back strong for the second part of the race. I had the chance to talk to him at the end, and his energy level was still high. A clear sign that he had margin to even do better.
Overall this was a very enjoyable day spent in the company of many people like Elizabeth, Jason, Silas, Ian, etc. that I would love to share more adventures, races, and parties with.
Next one is November…another busy month of running non stop