Saturday, October 16, 2010

Foiled by Farenheit: 2010 Chicago Marathon Race Report

Race: Chicago Marathon
Date: October 10, 2010 @ 7:30am
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Weather: Bright Sunshine, 69-85 degrees
Bib Number:

The wake-up service, hotel room alarm clock, and my iPhone all went off at 4:45am. I got up and immediately got in to take a hot shower (part of my normal ritual). This was followed by getting my battle-gear on which this year constituted a patriotic red, white and blue theme, with even blue reflector sunglasses. I applied my Glide, Vaseline, affixed my name to my number, wrote inspirational things via a Sharpie on my arms, packed my bag and started drinking my energy drinks, as did Karen (sans the Sharpie). I went downstairs to see what the “marathon buffet table” being comp’d by the hotel was. It wasn’t anything extraordinary, but it was nice that they offered it.

It was still fairly dark when we headed over to the park, as an endless sea of runners that are usually seen heading to a start of a marathon, where massing along Michigian Avenue. It felt just like the New York Marathon. Except warmer.

Typically in Fort Wadsworth, I’m looking for every scrap of clothing to keep warm. It was the opposite here. Ever since the 2007 tragedy, the Chicago Marathon race officials instituted a 4-color weather alert system to inform runners of the status and possible dangers associated with the weather that they were running in. Green means good. Yellow means run with caution. Red means your screwed and Black means the race is stopped (like in 2007). Well, it was Green because it was 69 at 7am. A useless status since the height of the race for most wouldn’t be until maybe 11a-12p. Who cares what the status regarding the time when you’re not even racing yet, right?

Bathroom and baggage was a little confusing to me, since this was my first race here. I actually made my way through to the bathroom line, and when I came out I realized I was the only runner with my bag still unchecked. I asked an official, who mentioned where it was. And it turned out that I had to leave the seeded corral area and walk about ½ mile to baggage. The corral closes at 7:15am, so by the time I checked my bag and noticed it was 7:08, I started running back . By the time I got back to the entrance to the seeded area, it was mobbed with Johnny-Come-Lately’s and now I was just an ordinary guppy in a sea of fish, as they say.

The corral was already closed when I got there, and I had to jump over the fence to get in, but made my way to the right spot, and waited anxiously for what was something that I had been training for nearly 8 months. Looking back, I will never put so much into a race again. The self-imposed stress I made on myself was just too great to bear and too high a risk that it would negatively impact my race performance too.

I made sure to line up on the left hand side.

Oh, Oh Say Can you See….. the National Anthem was just about finished. It was time to put up or shut up. I even had a piece of paper in my pocket to refer to regarding my race which read;

“Great moments... are born from great opportunity. And that's what I have here, today.

That's what you've earned here today. One race. If I had raced to qualify for the Boston Marathon the last nine times, I would never have qualified, whereas many others have. But not this race. Not today. Not this time. Today, I race for everything. Today, I run with those that will qualify. Today, I will keep pace with them. And today, I will qualify because I can! Today, I AM the greatest runner in the world. I was born to be a runner. I was born to be here today. This is my time. The time of “just falling short” is done. It’s over. I'm sick and tired of hearing about what a great accomplishment it is to just finish a marathon, while others are achieving the dream to run the ultimate marathon in Boston. Screw 'it. THIS IS MY TIME!

And now, it’s about damn time, that I go out there and take it”

I didn’t hear the horn blow, but I knew we started, because the 38,132 runners just started to roar in approval.

There was no breeze and the temperature felt like it was 70 already.

The first mile was a challenge because we were all packed together like sardines as we ran. This was not like it is in New York. However, unlike New York, the runners were considerate enough not to throw their unwantables onto the field. I think I only saw one sweatshirt on the ground, and that’s about it. This is the advantage of being in a seeded corral (Corral C) where there’s only about five-thousand runners in front of you (all serious runners) and not in the Open Corral where the remaining thirty-four thousand runners, many casual joggers not racing for time necessarily, were. However, because the race emptied out immediately onto city streets, unlike NYC where you have a two-mile stretch along the Verrazano to help distance runners from one another, the course was packed for a long time (but more on that later).

Another challenge with the first mile, and this was something I had feared, based on my research, was that we would go into a tunnel for nearly a third of a mile. As a result, I had expected the Garmin to screw up, and it did, but not the way I expected it to. I later asked Karen, and she confirmed that it happened on her watch to, but instead of the watch losing signal right away, it actually added .67 of a mile to my accumulated mileage, and mile lapped me well before the first mile marker came about. Shortly afterwards, it lost signal. I was now totally lost as to where I was from a mileage perspective, and I hadn’t even left Grant Park. Note to self? Don’t start the watch until you get to the Mile 1 marker, and just remember to add the first mile manually from the clock time as you cross the start to the time you get to Mile 1.

I immediately manually hit the lap button at Mile 1. It appeared I had done that first mile in 8:05, but who knows if my watch had actually stopped or not while in the tunnel. When you run in a tunnel, you can’t be looking at anything other than where your feet are landing, or you could wind up having far more serious health issues otherwise…. ;-)

The first water station was around Mile 1.5. The next one wouldn’t be until a little after Mile 3. Karen was somewhat critical that there should be water at every mile, but considering that there are no water stops on the Verrazano, and not until around the 2.5 mile mark in New York, I had no issue with this. In fact, while I typically drink water at every stop, I usually don’t much until Mile 3 anyway. Though today would be a different story.

The crowds in the city were amazing. They were loud, and at some points, I actually had to turn off my Nano, just to appreciate the insanity that was going on. It was nothing unlike New York, and I love the New York City Marathon (if you haven’t already guessed it with my soon-to-be 9th NY this November).

Some of the people were holding signs up, but not all were regarding the runners. I saw a few Christian-signs touting “If you have sin, the result is death”, or “To be reborn you must accept Jesus.” The first sign kind of made me feel a little bad. I mean, who here is without sin, and the last thing you need to hear is that you’re gonna die, when it’s already warm and you have like 23 miles to go.

The temperatures after 4 miles was already just that. Warm. Despite working on taking the shortest cuts around the turns, with my handy turn-by-turn chart that I created (see my previous 2 blogs ago), I was already scrapping it, in favor of staying where the shade where the buildings are. But my running was already getting sloppy, as the warm weather was taking hold. Even early on, I was straying to left to get water, then thought I was on the wrong side, so I corrected to go to the right. As it turned out, I should have stayed on my left. Most runners wouldn’t give a shit about this, but I was still holding on to this belief that I had a chance to qualify for Boston, despite the weather.

And despite the weather, I actually was holding pace to qualify for Boston. In fact, I had run sub-8 miles for Miles 2,3,4,5,6. But there was a big difference in the way I was feeling today as opposed to Newport Liberty. Whereas, I was feeling phenomenal then, I was doing all possible to “hold on”. The weather was giving me a beating. It was past 9am and regardless of what the temperature was, the level of fatigue in me was beginning to show. It might have been the weather, or perhaps the fact that I was running faster than I should to run away from the sun. And that’s ironic, because for the first ten kilometers I was annoyed that I hadn’t banked enough time under 8 minutes to buffer for the second half. The crowd of runners were so densely packed that it was nearly impossible to make any clear and aggressive moves. I wasn’t the only one that felt that way either, as one runner got annoyed at me for getting to close to him a couple of times.

By the time we exited the park after the 10k point headed up to Addison for the turnaround, the sun was beating down off the lake very hard. I was grateful finally to head away from the open sun, making the left down Broadway Street, but by then, the damage was done, only I still didn’t know it.

Miles 8, 9, 10, 11 were all southbound miles. Generally, it was coming back the way we came except we took a whole new set of streets (Broadway, Clark, Sedgwick, Wells, Orleans and Franklin) to get towards the halfway mark. As we kept heading south, my thirst was getting more and more unquenchable, the sun and heat more unbearable, and my bladder more undesirable.

And yet, I did these miles in 7:51, 7:49, 7:45 and 7:56. I was entering Mile 12, and I was about 90 seconds ahead of halfpace or 3 full minutes ahead for full Boston qualifying.

Something was not right with me. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but at the risk of passing out, I actually had to pull over to the side. I don’t think I’ve ever done this in a race before, but here I was more concerned now with my health than with any silly qualifying time. This happened after I crossed over the bridge, and got to the 20k mark on Franklin Street. I had just finished looking at my watch which had read 1:38:15. I went on to the sidewalk for a brief moment, and held onto some high fence from some business on the street. I felt very embarrassed because I think I might have been the first person all around my field that had stopped, but I had to. My bladder felt like it was going to bust, and I felt like I was going to black out. The feeling finally passed, and like a trooper, I went right back onto the course to pick up where I had left off. Maybe I was running too fast, because my watch said I did my 13th Mile in 8:03, yet I could’ve sworn I was there for nearly a minute. I do remember stressing out over the fact that I needed to get a good first half under my belt. I also remember drinking wherever I could for fear of fatigue, which really was gripping me (not the fatigue so much as the fear of it, perhaps?). Lessons learned? Never again will I stress out over a time for another race. From now on, I'll just focus on the race that I am doing.

I really thought I had believed this, but it’s funny what a person says they believe in, and what they actually do sometimes.

As we all headed west on Adams Street, away from the main loop section of Chicago, the crowd was insanely boisterous and inspiring. Now as I look on the course map, we had passed through the US Trutst, and Bank of America cheerzones. Oh! And I thought they were cheering for me! Just kidding. Despite that, and despite another impressive Mile split where I finished my 14th mile in 8 minutes flat, I never bothered to think how happy I should’ve been. This was probably because the crowd, the time, and everything else positive was quickly being peeled away from my psyche as to make more room for my inner-defenses ‘shields-up’ policy that was already under heavy attack by the mother of all mothers, Mother Nature.

Finally, I started seeing other runners suffering from the heat. Not that it made me feel any better, but at least I was starting to believe that there wasn’t anything more to my situation than just a rise on the oven dial.

Now, the next ten miles are as painful to write about as they were to run. I have spent the better part of a year doing long distance runs of more than a half-marathon, making my absolute collapse extremely perplexing. It would be too simplistic to suggest that the only reason was the weather, but it was. I had been ahead of the 3:30 pacers for the first half of the marathon, and by the second half, I was actually catching up to 3:20 and even 3:10 pacers. Not because I was getting faster, but because there were just as many runners as me, having one hell of a nightmare on the road.

We were broiling. While I realize that drinking a cup of water cools your organs and makes you feel better than dumping water over your head, I had to do both. My skin was burning up. I actually felt chills from time to time. My sunglasses went off my visor and right onto my face whenever the sun was hitting me. After awhile I just left them on my eyes. The sun basked and baked me for the last solid 10 miles.

Karen’s friend’s husband, Oren, had warned me about the “lifelessness” between Miles 16 and 18. This was the area around Little Italy, University Village, and the Illinois Medical District. There were fewer fans cheering us on, smaller buildings, providing little or no shade, and no entertainment around (unless you are a sadistic bastard, and found overheated runners that were sitting along the sidelines entertaining). Within 3 mile splits (Mile 14-17), I went from an 8:36 to a 9:02 to a 10:35. I hadn’t started cramping, but the heat beat me down so, that I caved, and actually started to fully stop at the rest stations along Jackson Blvd. and again on Taylor Street.

All humble candidates running for office concede before the election is officially over. For me it was the 30K mark. I went from looking to qualify to Boston, to beating my PR, to just finishing regardless of time, in a very quick hurry. Self-preservation was the only thing I could think of now. It wasn’t because it was less stressful than competing for time, it was because I couldn’t muster handling anything else. It was easily 80 degrees by now, and I felt the way people do when they are at a beach, and think they might be sunburned, but are not quite sure. I had just made a left onto Ashland Avenue having recorded another 10+ minute mile. Good for many, but disastrous for me. I guess this is what happens when you start to walk here and there.

I would say that until Mile 25, that most of those miles were just a blur of disaster and leave it at that. The exception was that I amazingly found my friend Marco, at the onset of Mile 19. He was looking in about as bad a shape as I, but seeing him lifted my spirits enough to post a sub-10 minute Mile 19. That would quickly fade however, as Mile 20, which is highly regarded by many marathoners as the Rubicon of fatigue, did me in as well. A 10:36 split, and I wasn’t even done yet.

I had passed on by Marco, but before Mile 20, he passed me again. Everytime we saw one another it was a cheerful moment, but besides that, there was little else to cheer about, except for the one-off saintly souls spraying water from fire hydrants at us all. Earlier on I had stayed away from these hydrant-loving sprayers because I didn’t want to blister from wet sneakers. And now? I didn’t give a rat’s ass anymore, frankly. About the only thing I was interested in were the bananas they were giving out. A+++ to the race directors for this idea. Not even the NYC Marathon course has this, but should, especially on scorcher days like this.

By now, I was no longer seeing so many runners as I saw walkers. Even worse, were those who were just laid out flat on their backs being tended to at medical stations, or even a few that weren’t near one, and were being tended to by other runners. No one ever said a marathon was an easy thing. And despite all this recent glamour about “Ooooh, I’m going to run a marathon too!”, a marathon is a grueling event even under the best of circumstances.

My GU Energy belt was nearly empty already. And my endurolytes seemed to be almost gone. I had taken only 1 salt packet, because to be honest, my mind wasn’t all there.

I met and passed Marco again between 21-22, and I remember getting into a running groove again. At this point having done Mile 22 in 9:29 was an achievement of amazing calculations.

We continued to run south with the Dan Ryan Expressway on our left. It was a most disinteresting place. It kind of reminded me of the Bronx, except actual humans lived here, and it seemed void of crime. We finally went over the highway, zig-zagging our way around Comiskey Park, along 33rd, State and 35th Streets, and I saw perhaps the most amazing sign of the entire race right before we made our left to go onto Michigan Avenue. It was an electronic billboard that read Home of The LaSalle, and it had a date and temperature reading update. The temperature? Ninety-four degrees. Personally, I think it was wrong. Wrong because it was probably closer to 84 than 94, and wrong to have something like this flash up on the board. But later on, as I would find out from a fellow runner who finished in 3 hours and 20 minutes, that he too saw another sign from a bank that had said 92 degrees. Thinking I might not believe it, he actually pulled out his phone, that he had taken with him on his race, and snapped up the photo. He was right!

After I saw my sign, I felt like ‘Trashcan’ in the book, The Stand by Steven King as I howled laughing out loud, like some kind of a deranged lunatic. That was the only highlight after just having posted my worst mile (11:10) ever perhaps as a runner.

And I thought I had it rough.  God Bless everyone that came out today to do this "broiler" run!

Yet that did little to motivate me. Even though I was still within reach of a PR, it was unrealistic to think I would do much better. Hence, even with the Nike+ Cheerzone at the end of the 24th mile, I did nothing more than post another plus 10 mile split (Mile 24: 10:21). And as we finally passed the area where Marco, Kitty, Karen and I had started running, and were familiar with, I did even worse, posting a 10:58. I was out of gas, man. I could hear the echoes of Flava Flav singing “I ain’t got nuttin’ for ya man!” ringing through my ears, and it wasn’t even playing on my nano or at the cheerzone.

Once we passed the “1 mile to go” sign, things started to finally look up, and that was only because I was only to happy to get this race over with already. Feelings of anger and resentment over the weather were pretty much subdued for most of the race, as I didn’t want to over-react and risk not even finishing. But now, I knew I could smell the finish line, and that was all I could think about. Anger.

“Fuck You Mother Nature!”

How I wasn’t yanked off the course for violating one of it bazillion policies I don’t know. But I actually said that with my left fist raised in defiance.

“Fuck You Mother Nature!”
There. I said it again. But I didn’t care. This weather robbed from me, what I thought I was coming here for.

“Fuck You Mother Nature!”

Again, for a third time, I yelled this out as I was actually picking up some really good speed to the point that I no longer felt cramping, which I forgot to mention, I had started getting around mile 22.

“Fuck You Mother Nature!”

For a fourth and last time. I could psycho-analyze bullshit all of you and say that I was really mad at myself, and that I should have done this or that or the other, but the truth is that even if I had played the ignoramus card, and went into the race blissfully ignorant of the weather conditions so as to keep me calm all week long?…It STILL wouldn’t have mattered. Nobody did better today. And for that reason all four of my epithets that I screamed as I sprinted were righteously justified. A little insane for sure, but righteously justified.

As such I completed Mile 26 in 9:05, my first sub-10 mile since Mile 22 when I last saw Marco, and my fastest since Mile 16, when everything went to hell.

The last two-tenths was at hand. Make a right on Roosevelt Road. Or as the Chicagoan’s call, “Mount Roosevelt” for it’s incredibly steep 10 foot rise. I am being absolutely sarcastic, of course, but compared to the rest of the course, it is the steepest rise of the entire route.

I will replace all these "PROOF" photos once my order come in!

Not too long after that, I could see Columbus Drive and the finish line. I will say this about the finish, despite the emotional grade A, that I’ve always attributed the finish to the NYC Marathon, I think I like this finish better. Why? BECAUSE IT’S DOWNHILL!!!!!

I crossed the finish line. I was weak and the sun felt even stronger. I also felt like I was going to throw up, though I doubt if anything would/could come up. They started to give out Gatorade and all the goodies, and then I saw people giving out mylar. Are you kidding me??? Oh, wait, I get it now….I am a baked potato, so why not wrap me in foil to finish cooking me. LOL. Actually, I took one. Not for blowing, but for showing, as they say.

I hobbled my way over and was showering my affection (seriously) to all of those that were on hand at the finish helping us. Another big huge plus, were the ice chests with bags of ice at the finish. Again, NYC, listen up, if you ever get a hot race, you need to do this as well!!!! I took a bag, placed it on my head and walked on over to get my bag and rest awhile, but not before I took some immodest shots of me over by the picture taking area.

I could end this story right now (and perhaps I should already it’s freaking long enough already, isn’t it?) by telling you that despite my goal-time failure that I still loved this course, and would like to do this again next year, but Karen had not yet finished, and I was getting worried.

Soon after, I got to my rest area, I saw them change out the status alert from YELLOW-Moderate, to RED-High Alert. This was of great concern to me, because Karen, being the slower runner and all, was being roasted even more than me. I had set up the Athlete Tracker to keep an eye out for where Karen was on the course. I did the same for Marco, Kitty, Pauline, and Sandy. I received texts from Sandy, Pauline and Karen (in that order) when they crossed the 30k (18.6 mile mark), and then the FINISH for Sandy and then Pauline. But nothing from Karen. I was really concerned because I could already see that she was struggling based on her 30k split. I started making my way to the family reunion area, Chicago does not have anything like NYC does. It’s basically a free-for-all. NYC is much more organized. As they have lettered areas as to where to meet.

She finally made it to the finish, and was wearing her medal like I was when I finally found her past the Chicago Fire Dept’s massive red water sprinkler cannon in the park.. Just like me, she was disappointed with her time, but by now, I was less disappointed and more relieved that we both had survived this ordeal. In the end, I finished with a time of 3:53:46, my second best marathon ever. But even if it had been my worst finish ever, with a day like it was, this had to be the best damned medal we’ve ever earned.

Unofficially there’s a 40 second discrepancy between my Garmin’s time and the unofficial Bank of America time, thus, my watch might have auto-paused while in the tunnel.

Overall: Finished 6818 out of 36159 finishers , top 18.8% (17.8% of all 38,132 who started)
Men: Finished 5165 out of 19973 men, top 25.8%
Age Group: Finished 629 out of 2417, top 26% (interesting, I actually did better against other groups, mostly younger, than in my own. Shows you what heat will do to younger people, I guess)

On our Delta shuttle flight back to LaGuardia we met a lot of people who had also run. A nice man from Yorkshire (near Scotland) sitting in the same row across the aisle, had mentioned about the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach in March being a Boston qualifier and very flat too.
All of the people, including him, that we spoke to, nobody was happy with their time. Everybody had their own horror stories to tell as well.

The New York City Marathon countdown has begun. 27 days and counting.

See what a masochist I am?

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