Writing and running in Austin, TX.
If you’re running short on time, here’s the abbreviated version of my Chicago Marathon 2011 experience:
If you want the longer story, it starts with some overdue thanks to the commenters on my previous post. Your advice to get over my back-of-the-pack inferiority complex was well-timed, and I went into this year’s Chicago marathon with virtually no pre-race nerves (which is itself mildly unnerving).
As we all know, my training just wasn’t where it had been pre-Dusseldorf, and short of a miracle or a Rosie Ruiz-style subway ride, a PR was out of the question. While I certainly enjoyed my German-climate-fueled run of faster and faster race times, it took an amazing amount of pressure off to know that, for this race, another big (or small) clock time just wasn’t going to happen.
So, instead of the 4:30 I once hoped to chase down on the shores of Lake Michigan, I set a new goal: Enjoy the city and the chance to run with family. (Okay, okay…and try to finish under 5 hours for the sake of my ego.)
My plan was this:
I even weathered my most hated life-experience (getting yelled at) to introduce myself to the 4:45 pace group leaders at the Expo on Friday. (No, the pace group leaders didn’t yell at me. It was the guy managing the entrance to the line. The woman in front of me had about 10 minutes worth of questions about the pace groups, and 7 minutes into those 10, I committed the grievous offense of trying to step around her. I’m sure she was just nervous, but honestly, who has 10 minutes of questions about a pace group?)
|Hard-Won Proof of THE PLAN|
Race morning dawned dark, because really, if you’re getting up at 5am, it’s always dark. I had another brief inferiority-complex moment when I woke up an hour before my alarm to use the facilities and discovered that the other runners in our party were already awake, but I got over this by telling myself that going back to bed would only further showcase my nerves of steel. (Or laziness, you decide.)
|Race day morning. Handsome J snapped this photo after we crazy runner types had already grabbed a cab to the start.|
I suppose it’s just a product of running the same race two years in a row, but I couldn’t entirely squash some minor feelings of superiority over those runners who were getting to the start as we were waking up, or those who were desperately asking every volunteer they saw if they were headed in the right direction. (Here’s a tip if you’ve never run Chicago – As long as you’re in the start corral 30 minutes before the gun goes off, you’ll be fine. No need for this camping out on Columbus Drive nonsense.*)
*Caveat: If you think you’ll need a Port-A-Potty, add another 30 minutes. Those lines are longer than the start pack.
Dad and I found the 4:45ers without incident and spent our wait-for-the-start time checking out people’s outfits and trying not to worry too much about how warm it already was. The second activity made us quietly tsk in sympathy for a guy in a full-body, long-sleeved, black compression suit. Granted, he did look very high-tech.
As long as we’re discussing apparel, there were far fewer cotton T-shirts this year. I think the high-tech fabrics have now accomplished a 99% takeover of the running market. That said, I did still marvel at the number of people who showed up in the race shirt itself, as well as the number of people who get all the way to a full marathon without learning to put their number on the front. Forget looking like you didn’t read your Participant’s Guide – don’t you want the photogs to be able to tag you in pictures?? (Let us now debate whether these are new runners, or merely the super privacy-obsessed.)
After the anthem (too quiet to hear), and Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run (to loud to think) we began our slow shuffle toward the start and my least favorite aspect of the Chicago experience — trying not to step on things without really looking at what you’re trying not to step on. (Remember what I said about those Port-a-Potty lines? Yes, runners are disgusting…)
We did manage to pick up a light jog by mile 3 or so, but the crowds are so dense in those early, downtown Loop stages of the race that it always makes me wonder why people try to PR in Chicago. Yes, it’s flat, but there’s not exactly much in the way of elbow room. I knew we were well off a 4:45 pace, but then again, so was the pace group.
With no hope of speeding along, I took the opportunity to enjoy some of the more entertaining spectator signs. Some favorites:
“Worst parade ever.”
“You’re all really good at exercise.”
“Do epic shit.”
“Occupy Bank of America’s marathon.”
We actually did go right by the Occupy Chicago protesters, but the protest at that point was pretty small and bored looking. Not that I was hoping for a major incident, per se, but 5 hours is a long time to be running, so I’m always on the lookout for potentially interesting distractions.
We did see the best sign on course at miles 6 and 9 (“MacLeod” in a plaid, Crayola motif) held by Mom, Handsome J, and Handsome J’s sister.
Handsome J is becoming somewhat renowned in our family as an expert marathon navigator, and at a race this size, it’s important to do some pre-planning with your spectators. Here’s me at mile 9, demanding to know when our next sighting would occur:
|Hey, that sign has my name on it!|
(The best part of this picture is that Handsome J says I look like I’m running faster than everyone around me. Perhaps I should have my form evaluated for efficiency…)
We hit the half at around 2:24, and given that I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be negative-splitting this bad boy, I said a silent farewell to my 4:45 fantasy–although I swear I could still see the pace group just ahead. I wasn’t too upset – my “real” goal of finishing under 5 still seemed well in hand.
At mile 14, Dad announced he was going to run ahead to hit the Port-A-Pottys at mile 15. (He’s made this stop two years in a row, so I now think of them as “Dad’s Johns.”)
In a crowd of 45,000, I knew the idea that he would catch up to me again might be a bit of a pipe dream, but our adoring fans would later tell us that we were within 60 seconds of each other for the rest of the race. Once again, the fact that men can make a pit stop in 60 seconds makes me curse their gender.
|Seriously, you’re going to PR in a crowd like this?|
It’s always an interesting mental adjustment to go from running with a partner to running on your own, but at least there’s no such thing as “alone” in a giant marathon. Also, in the second half of a marathon you can always take inspiration from passing people who blasted by you earlier in the race. (Lest you think I’m a complete jerk, I do give them a brief sympathetic thought before congratulating myself for my brilliant pacing.)
I also took motivation from a couple of guys who were running behind me screaming “Whazzzzzup?!!” every 30 seconds. This was funny the first 3 or 4 times, but after a mile of it, the stranger next to me turned and said, “Oh God, let’s run faster so we can get away from those guys.” Good call.
Despite a minor breakdown of our spectator coordinating, I did manage to catch sight of Handsome J and company on a bridge around mile 18, and then again around mile 21 in Chinatown.
|Posing for a pic in front of the Yee Heung Seafood House. This could practically be Shanghai.|
Around mile 24 my knees started to really protest, which was a bummer for about 30 seconds. That’s how long it took me to process that I hadn’t started to really feel the pain until mile 24! Standard marathon wisdom is that it’s a 20 mile run followed by the 10k from hell, and in all my previous starts, I had indeed blown up around mile 20. But 2 miles? 2 measly little miles with some sore knees? I’ll take it!
I actually hate the last 2 miles of the Chicago Marathon course anyway. They try to sell it as “finishing on beautiful Michigan Avenue”, but believe me, this is not the “Magnificent Mile” portion of Michigan. This is the shuttered furniture stores and empty parking garages section. It’s a wide, empty street with no shade that is only going to end when you have to turn and run up the famous “only hill on course” – 600 meters from the finish.
Luckily, this stretch of personal misery was broken up by two remarkable events at mile 25. 1) Dad not only caught up with, but passed me. (I decided to let this go.) 2) A 5th sighting of our intrepid fans!
Encouraged by these events – and the fact that I could see Grant Park – I motored on up the road. Which can also be read as “I maintained a sub-12:00 pace to ensure I would finish in under 5 hours.”
It was actually at the turn onto the Roosevelt bridge that one of the most memorable events occurred…I passed the 4:45 pace group leaders. Seriously, 3 of the 4 of them were trudging up that hill, and if I’m not mistaken, they were holding that pace sign as far out of sight as possible. My finish time was 4:57:57, so needless to say, they hadn’t quite stayed on pace. I felt bad for them of course, but also a tad pleased with myself. Technically, not only was I going to hit my under 5-hour goal, I was also going to hit my “stick with the 4:45 pace group goal”. Mission accomplished!
And it WAS a great mission accomplished feeling at the finish. Thanks to my previous year’s experience, I knew it would be a good 30-minute trek to the reunion area, so I took my time to enjoy the finisher’s chute. I accepted my medal, rejected a space blanket (given recent climate trends, I think the race could save some serious money on these), and even took one of the free beers from 312 brewing. (Bless you for not demanding an ID.)
I also listened for gossip on the elites, and learned that the men’s winner had set a course record (although unfortunately not a World record), and “the same girl won again”, meaning Lilya Shobukhova became the first woman ever to 3-peat in Chicago.
|Shobukhova, in red, on her way to victory. Sure, she’s fast, but at least I don’t have to run in a bikini.|
I actually beat my fans to the reunion area, which left me time to stretch and contemplate how good I was feeling. I could totally do more of these… And so, post-Chicago, that’s my new plan. 3-4 fulls a year, and possibly a 50 states run.
Sure, I didn’t PR. This was in fact the 4th slowest of my 5 marathons so far. But any time you finish a marathon and actually think, “Sure, I could do 48 more of these” (my only states so far being Texas and Illinois), I have to think that’s a victory.
Congrats to all the members of the MacLeod/Rodd/Simitz clan who finished 26.2 that day, and many thanks to our spectators, who probably spend more time sprinting for the L then we spend sprinting for the finish. Another fantastic jog in the Windy City!