I like to run. I've learned that it really isn't about where you're going, it's about the getting there - the how, the why, the who with. This blog is just a little repository for my thoughts along the way; the setbacks, the lessons learned, and the occasional triumph.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Race Report: Chicago Marathon 2008

What is Heaven? A red bandana rolled up and filled with ice cubes!

That was the slice of heaven waiting for me in the hands of my girlfriend more than three hours into the race when the temperatures had already climbed over 80 degrees, with a bright sun beaming down on the largely unshaded second-half of the course. She handed it over with a mischievous grin because she knew she’d done good. We’d put the bandana and some safety pins into her little backpack along with a couple of other just-in-case things I might need during the race. We’d talked about the possibility of loading it with ice, but I told her not to worry about it too much because fresh ice might not be available anywhere. But there she was on the side of the course at mile 21 with a grin and bandana full of icy heaven.

At least this year we got to start the race in modest weather conditions. In 2007 the temperature at start time was already 75 degrees and the humidity was 90%. I was sweating just standing still in the start corral. This year I woke at 5 a.m. to 60 degrees, a slight southern breeze, and virtually zero humidity.

Laura and I walked through the crisp air to the nearest CTA red line stop with her bike to ride downtown to Grant Park. We’d worked out a plan that seemed to make sense so that she could use the bike to jaunt around to as many as 5 different points on the course to see me come by. It’s one of the nice things about the Chicago Marathon – if your friends are industrious, they can take advantage of the loop course to see you frequently. This is especially true because the loop is really shaped more like a hand with a number of sections that are sort mini-out-and-backs, running a few miles up one street and then back down again on the next one over. Yet the route still manages to run thru 29 different neighborhoods in the city. (I know because that was a big slogan of the race this year. It was ground deeply into my brain.)

The train wasn’t too crowded when we got on, but by the time we got to the north loop area, our car was packed with runners. We had to hold the bike close against our knees in the aisle to try and make as much room for the standers as we could. At the Chicago subway stop (that’s Chicago Avenue for all you out of towners) a half dozen well-tanned, dark-haired folks got on together, all wearing blue shirts with their home country’s abbreviation on the fronts in small white letters. I couldn’t place it, but they were very jovial and boisterous, breaking up what had been an almost somber tone in the car for the last 10 minutes. They were talking loudly and laughing, and finally yelled out in clear, but accented English, “Good Luck, Everybody!” They were fun. Laura said she thought she recognized “Brazil” on one of their shirts.

It reminded me of the subway ride through Manhattan last November down to the Staten Island Ferry on my way to the start of the New York City Marathon. There were so many international runners on the train that morning, I sometimes wondered if I was the lone American in the middle of them. The New York field was nearly half and half, U.S. and international runners, last year. Chicago doesn’t usually approach those demographics. In fact, I think something like 65% of the Chicago field this year were runners just from the state of Illinois.

I couldn’t remember for sure which subway stop was the best one to get off at downtown, so we settled for Monroe. About half the train got off with us. The other half waited for the next stop. When we got up to the street level, the first two people I saw were my every-now-and-then running partner, Megan and her sister, Tara. (Actually, I knew Tara long before I met her sister.) It’s funny how in a sea of 40 (50? 60?) thousand people, you can still run into people you know, and know well. But that’s Chicago for you. Biggest small town in America, we like to say.

The four of us made our way over toward Grant Park, following the throngs of other runners, chatting as we went. Megan and I were starting in different corrals – not because I was any faster, but only because I had submitted a time that graduated me out of the Open Corral. So, once we were on the west side the park, we all split up again so we could get to our respective gear check stations. Laura locked up the bike to a nearby tree and I sat down in the grass to pin on my bib, load my shorts pockets with fuel, and get otherwise situated.

The mile-long Start/Finish area of the race is staged on Columbus Drive, the six lane north/south road that cuts thru the middle of Grant Park. For reasons unknown to me, the entrance to the seeded corrals is ONLY accessible from the east side of Columbus. In fact, because Buckingham Fountain is completely fenced off this year for some rehab, you basically had to walk up to it on Jackson from Lake Shore Drive. Gear Check was also on the east side of the staging area and a quarter mile farther south.

This is all fine, but it is extremely difficult to cross from the west side of Columbus to the east at any point of the day when runners are actually present. Laura and I had to work our way south, through thousands of people, to Congress Parkway (the single designated entrance area to the Open Corral and the Open Runners Gear Check). Then we cut across to the other side of the street, jumped a barricade and dodged our way down the sidewalk to Balbo and the entrance to the Seeded Gear Check area. I got my bag checked in, found a slightly secluded tree to pee on, and then we walked further east, down the block, to Lake Shore Drive where we could finally make our way around the closed-off Fountain and up the sidewalk a full block to Jackson. Just doing all that took almost half an hour.

I was a litt
le concerned because the race advertises that the seeded corrals will be officially closed a full 15 minutes before the race begins, and late-coming runners will be redirected to the Open Corral instead. I was so worried about it, in fact, that Laura and I were all the way to Jackson before I realized that she was going to have to find a way back across Columbus so she could return to the little tree on the west side where the bike was locked up. I should have sent her back as soon we got to my bag check. Instead I’d led her far down what was, for her, a dead-end route. I gave her a big hug, we snapped a couple of quick self-portraits, and then she headed off to try and renegotiate the crowds.

As I was walking up Jackson to the Corral entrance, I had a little stroke of luck. The “Top 100” runners were coming out of their hospitality tent as a group and were being led up the street by a sign bearer announcing their presence. These weren’t the “Elite” runners. But this was the group of runners who would start right behind the elites. And they were getting a special, crowd-parting escort to the very front of the race. So, I tucked in right behind the group and rode in the little wake they created through the sea of runners. (Sly, I know.)

The Corral C entrance turned out to be pretty close by anyway, and I soon dropped off their coattails to wait in line to have my bib check at the gateway. The corral wasn’t overly crowded. I had space to move around and do my stretching, which was nice. The slowest pace group set up in my corral was for a 3:45 finish time. Too fast for me today, for sure. What I really wanted was the 3:55 group, but they were only in Corral D behind me. Well, I’d just go out at what felt like an easy pace, and if the 3:50s or the 3:55s caught up to me, then I’d latch on.

The race tried something a little different for the start this year. The Elite runners started five minutes before everyone else in the field. I’m not really sure what advantage this gave anyone. The elites are obviously the fastest, and separate themselves from everyone else after the 1st mile anyway. Maybe it was to give the Elite women a little more breathing room from the faster second-tier men? Maybe it helped the TV people with race coverage by spacing out the leaders more at the start?

Whatever the reason, I heard after the race that it cost one man a lot of prize money. Wesley Korir, a Kenyan who came to the U.S. for college, recorded the fourth fastest chip time in the race. But he did not start with the Elites, he was in the “Top 100” field (my ocean parters), and started five minutes behind the Elites with the rest of the field. As a result, he was not eligible for any prize money. It is a USATF rule (and a logical one) that all runners competing for money must start the race at exactly the same time. The idea is that they are racing each other. Korir, on the other hand, was simply racing the clock (just like I was), and he was not the fourth man to actually cross the finish line. That difference cost him $15,000. In any other year, with everyone leaving at the sound of the same gun, he would have gotten it.

We sang the National Anthem. The Elites took off at 7:55. Some announcements were made that I did not listen too. At just a shade before 8:00 am, the last air horn trigger was squeezed and the field was off. As my corral started to walk forward, I was finally able to clearly see the Start Line banner and Columbus drive ahead of us, already filled side to side with heads bobbing up and down.

I tried to relax, take easy, short, quick steps. Breathe. Breathe. No big deal here. Keep the hands and the shoulders loose. Don’t think too far ahead. Keep doing all these things for the next 26 miles.

All that mental work to slow down, take it easy, and STILL my first mile in 8:33. How does that happen? I just wanted to do 8:55s for the whole race. I felt like the good news was that an 8:33 felt really easy. Now the job: don’t get seduced by how easy the first mile was. There were still 25 more to go. Duh!

It turned out, there was an unexpected detour on the route. Normally the course runs north on Columbus to Illinois Avenue, turns left there, stays on Illinois for a few minutes to State Street, then turns south for a mile and a half across the river and all the way to Jackson. However, they’ve been doing a lot of street work on State Street up around Grand Avenue since the early summer. (I don’t know why.) Race officials must have been worried, either about the condition of the road or the width of the available lanes, because we were routed south on Rush street instead, one street before State. We stayed on it down to Hubbard and then we cut west back over to State and south again.

The variation was actually kind of fun. It made me think: this was my third year running the marathon. There’s only one other racecourse that I’ve run that many times or more, that being four years on the same course at the Ravenswood Run 5K. There are a few races that I’ve run three or four times, but the others have all had significant alterations to the course from year to year. Even the Ravenswood Run kept the course, but reversed the direction this year (my fifth time running it). I think the repetition and the familiarity is both good and bad. You learn a course, know what to expect, know it’s ins and outs, know the high points and low points (literally) – BUT it also gets, well, repetitive, sometimes boring. I finally had to find a new place to do my long runs this year, because I was bored with running up and down the same long miles on the lakefront. The very familiarity of it was starting to feel arduous. So, this little detour after mile one, brief though it was, made the marathon new again for a few minutes. “Hmm. I wonder where they’re taking us now?” my brain pondered pleasantly.

Past the 2nd Mile marker we make the turn from State Street west onto Jackson. I’ve run through this intersection in 9 different road races now. It’s always packed with people, the runners turn tight to the inside corner, and it’s easy to take in the spectators crowding the outside. It also happens that, by the time I’m running through, the folks have already been looking at runners for, maybe, twenty minutes and they’ve started to quiet down a little. I’ve been making a habit to run through on the outside of the turn, take in all the onlookers and, in my full Mr. Authority voice, holler, “LET’S HEAR IT!” They always respond with a healthy, unanimous, “HOORAH!” It’s always very satisfying. You’d think they’d know I was coming by now.

Laura was supposed to be waiting for me up at mile 3 as we headed north on LaSalle, just beyond the Chicago River. By the time I got there, it would have been maybe 40, 45 minutes since I kissed her goodbye in Grant Park. It should have been plenty of time, but now I’d find out if she’d been able to make it back through the crush on Columbus Drive. Sure enough, I saw her grinning face atop her long-sleeved white shirt beaming at me from the sidewalk, almost exactly where I expected her. I slowed down long enough for a quick kiss and then kept moving. The plan was for her to hang out right on this block for the next 90 minutes and then come out to see me run by at mile 12 just one street to the west on Wells.

I grooved into a steady, even pace for the five mile trek north to Addison, the northern most point on the course. I tried to focus enough on what I was doing to keep my leg turnover quick and steady, but also zone out enough to let the miles slip by without too much effort. You know how when sometimes you’re driving somewhere and your mind’s on something else and suddenly you realize that you can’t remember the last few miles? (Come on, you’ve done it.) That’s EXACTLY what I was hoping for. I did okay with it, and I clocked steady mile splits of 8:48, 8:44, 8:52 & 8:41. (I’m sure Lincoln Park was lovely.)

I slowed down a hair on the hook turn around Addison to head south again through Wrigleyville and Boystown – I had someone to look for. Saturday night while I was packing for the race, I got a surprise phone call from my friend Abby. She and I had trained together over the summer of 2006 to run our first marathon at Chicago that October. We’d both been wanting to do it, figured we had a similar pace, and so met up for all our long runs that summer, and then ran the whole marathon together. She then headed off to grad school in the 'burbs and hadn’t been able to run another marathon since. Her mom, however, caught the bug after watching us do it in ’06 and this year, ran Chicago for the second year in a row. Abby said while she was signing up for text alerts on her mom, she thought she’d check for my name too, found it, and gave me a call to wish me luck. She and a friend were planning to stand near Addison and Broadway to watch and we were hoping to catch sight of each other as I ran by. I slowed down a little to scan the crowd in the sunlight as I made the turn first onto Addison, then onto Broadway, but to no avail. I couldn’t pick her out. It’s always really crowded up there. I set my nose back to the grind stone.

I found I was losing just a smidge of pace. Miles 9, 10, 11 and 12 clocked at 8:51, 9:00, 9:00 & 8:53 respectively. This, despite the strange optical illusion that we had been running slightly downhill since Addison. It was odd. I bike on these streets all the time and never feel like that. Only here, in the marathon, with the runners and the crowds did I have that sensation. The illusion was further befuddling because I had the same kind of sensation earlier when we were headed north just a few streets to the east. Weird.

I was trying out a new fueling plan. For the last 18 months, I would eat a gel every 5 or 6 miles in conjunction with sipping from my bottle of energy drink every half mile or so. This time out, I wanted to eat a gel every 30 minutes instead, no matter how much ground I’d covered at that point. This meant carrying more gels with me, a small problem. I recently bought a pair of Race Ready brand running shorts. They have a series of mesh pockets along the back waistline, 7 pockets in all including 2 with Velcro closures on the sides. These offer a lot more payload space, and as long as the drawstring is snuggly tied, they wear very comfortably. But I was still wary of stuffing in too many gel packs. So, I left some with Laura along with instructions to have a few out, ready to hand over when I saw her at Mile 12. She was there, looking fresh after her long reprieve, with one hand full of gels and the other holding her hand-penned sign. I took all three, yelled my thanks over my shoulder and charged onward.

I wanted to clock a good split for mile 13 just before the half-way point. I did: an 8:59, even though I was fumbling to reload my pockets with gels. I hit the mid point a minute later. My official split was 1:56:03. I’ve run faster first halves and slower ones, but this one was just about the same as my first half in Madison back in May when I finally logged my first sub-4. 1:56 is also exactly what I said I’d be aiming for six days before the race. I was going to evaluate from there to see how I was feeling and adjust as necessary. The bad news was, I already was feeling the heat. I learned after the race that by the two-hour mark the official reading downtown was 78 degrees. There was barely a cloud in the sky. I knew there’d be no negative splits today, and I didn’t even think a 3:55 was really reasonable, but I was still optimistic about coming in under 4 hours. With 4 minutes “in the bank” toward that mark, I just needed to run the second half with low 9s per mile to do it. I felt if I could stay under 9:10s until 20 or 21 miles, I’d be in good shape.

I did it for the next few miles. 14 through 16 went by with a 9:11, 9:02 and a 9:12. But this is also the beginning of the badly sun-exposed second half of the course. There are fewer trees on the south side of the course, shorter buildings and less crowd support. It runs through some cool ethnic neighborhoods, but they are separated by barren, industrial stretches that lack any character. By the time I made the south turn onto Halsted, nearing the 17th Mile Marker, the temperature was up to 80 and it was beginning to take it’s toll. I clocked a 9:29 for the 17th mile. I wouldn’t see the south side of 9:30 again for the rest of the race.

Around 16.5 there was a small group of people handing out orange slices. I made a quick decision and swerved over to take one. It can be a little risky taking food or drink from an unknown source during a race, even if the givers mean well. But I still like the idea of mixing the sources of my fuel during a run, and the oranges just looked tasty. I planned to take one slice, but the woman put all three she was holding in my hand at once. I didn’t really want to go back to return the extras, so I sucked down all three. I “juiced” the first two between my teeth and sucked them dry. Then I chewed the pulp out of its rind on the third and ate it. They were sweet and good. I was careful to toss the leftovers safely to the side, into the gutter.

Laura was waiting for me again just beyond 17. This time she was trying to hold up her sign and snap a picture at the same time. And wave. And grin. It might have been one too many things at once: the picture really didn’t come out too well. She’d pulled off the white sleeved shirt in favor of the spaghetti strapped olive tank underneath now that the heat was on, but I still had no trouble spotting her. The toothy grin is hard to miss!

It would be four miles before I would see her again, while I made my way around the southwest limbs of the course. I was starting to have a little trouble keeping my spirits up. The miles seemed to be getting longer and longer. The fresh feeling I had through most of the first half was long gone. Even though it still wasn’t as bad, I couldn’t help but think back to a year before and how overwhelming the weather had been. It wasn’t that bad today, but it was close enough that the sense memory was very strong. I started looking for the misting stations and the spectators with their hoses, spraying the runners who wanted it. I was careful not to get soaked, and the relief was brief each time, but I was quickly addicted to it.

In Pilsen, near 19.5 miles, there was a Mexican man with a Styrofoam cooler, giving away ice cubes. Just like with the oranges, I spied him, made a quick decision, and detoured over for a couple of handfuls. I unscrewed the cap on my bottle and added them to the Gatorade inside. Again, a little risky, but at that point, I felt the cool relief was worth the risk. I uttered a genuine “thank you” and was on my way again.

It really is a very cool thing that so many of the people in the city come out to the course not only to cheer on the runners, but to offer the tangible support that they do; oranges, ice cubes, water hoses, etc. It was the big, big silver lining in the chaos of last year’s race: Once the word spread that things were as bad as they were, people started bringing out their own supplies, going into convenience stores, buying bottles of water and giving them out to anyone who could take them.

As I neared mile 21, my pace was slipping toward 10 minutes a mile. I was having to add more fluids to my bottle at every aid station. We were just completing a two mile stretch with almost no relief from the direct sunlight.

And then there was Laura with her big, toothy grin and a bandana full of heaven.

Apparently she’d ducked into a Connie’s Pizza sometime after she’d seen me at mile 17 and asked for ice. She wanted to pay for it, but they said, “It’s for a runner? Nah. Just take it. Just promise you’ll eat at a Connie’s sometime soon. (So there’s the friendly plug: Connie’s Pizza!) I never really thought that Laura wouldn’t have that ice for me, but you know, things happen. It’s all beyond our control at some point. But she’s always amazing me with her general resourcefulness. So, I knew unless something really got in her way, she’d have it. I just didn’t want to start fixating on it ahead of time and then have her hit a roadblock and be disappointed. That’s the kind of thing that can break me down in a hurry.

I traded the ice-filled treasure for another kiss and trudged forward, trying to tie the thing around the back of my neck as I went.

The southern turn onto Wentworth Avenue brings the runners into Chinatown and under the huge pagoda that greets you there. This is where Megan finally caught up to me.

I thought I’d already seen her back around mile 19. A petite, lightly tanned woman with a white cap and well cut shoulders scooted past me and, at first, I thought it was Megan. But the woman was only wearing a black sports bra instead of a shirt and that didn’t seem like Megan. Then I remembered something and looked to see how this woman was holding her right hand in her running motion. Megan has, what she herself has referred to as, a “scooping” motion with her right hand when she starts to tire. Her palm faces down, the fingers together and slightly cupped, and she, kind of, paddles herself forward, “scooping” the air past her side as she goes. I think she’s just a little embarrassed by this, but it’s an easy “tell”, and I could easily see that the woman who passed me at mile 19 wasn’t doing it at all. Now, though, in Chinatown, I looked up and ten feet in front of me was another back like Megan’s and the right-hand scoop was in full effect.

At the time, I had no idea had far behind she’d been at the start of the race. Now, I know that she crossed the Start about two minutes after I did. We ran the first 18 miles in nearly identical times and all of our 5K splits to that point were more or less the same as well. By the 19th mile, though, I’d begun to wilt in the heat and she’d been making up time on me.

When I caught sight of her in Chinatown, she looked to me like she was still moving really well. She seemed strong and for a moment I considered not calling out to her because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with her and I didn’t want her to feel like she should wait for me at all. In reality, afterwards, she told me that going through Chinatown was the part of the race when she felt the absolute worst. She was physically hurting, her stomach felt weird and her spirits were flagging. So when I yelled out her name, she barely even had the extra energy to look over her shoulder at me. She gave me a weak wave and kept going. But as bad as she may have felt, she was clearly holding it together better than I was. I was impressed and proud of her.

The really weird thing was, just after I yelled up to Megan to tell her how great she was doing, I happened to glance to my left and saw Tara on the edge of the sidewalk in the crowd. “Tara! Hi!” I yelled and gave her a big wave. I could still see Megan 15 yards in front of me, but somehow, the two of them didn’t see each other, and Tara was a little thrown off because before that, Megan had always been a couple of minutes behind me.

Wentworth Avenue seemed to drag on forever, but it’s not even a mile and half. I only had 4 miles left to go, but the heat had begun to swallow me up. Even just a little cloud cover would have been a relief.

As we approached the eastward turn at 33rd to cross the bridge over the Dan Ryan Expressway, I began to scan the crowd again. It was here, last year, that I’d seen a woman holding a little gold and black handmade sign that said “Life is not a Destination, Life is a Journey”. Somehow that was never truer than it was last year in the record, sweltering heat. I cried freely when I read it. It inspired me very deeply to complete that journey, and I did.

I was just a little disappointed to see that this year, Nike had used the corner as one of their designated cheering zones and the woman with the sign was not back again. They did have a huge video screen set up and I got to watch myself run by on the big TV.

After the 23rd Mile Marker, I finally caved in to my exhaustion and allowed myself a 15 second walk break. It was the first time I’d broken my stride outside of an aid station. But I did it again after we made the turn for the long march north up Michigan Avenue.

Most of the last three miles on the course are on Michigan, and I have yet to make this trek when it didn’t feel like an absolute eternity. The sun is directly overhead, beating down on your neck. The street is wide and uncovered. The aid stations come more often and are closer together, which is a good thing, but when they’re coming more frequently it makes the mile markers seem farther apart.

I knew before I’d gotten to mile 24 that a sub-4 was already out of reach. To get it would require a strong burst that I just wasn’t going to have. So I reset my goals again. Maybe I could still come in under 4:05, which would, at least, be a course record for me. I felt like if I could just keep my feet moving, stay in a steady trot, that I could make that. But twice and three times a mile I still had to ease off and slip into a 20 second walk. It wasn’t that my legs were tired. My legs were okay. But I kept getting hit by a deep, consuming weariness in my stomach and chest. It was well over 80, I’d been running for three and a half hours, and despite my hydration efforts, I was overheating.

Laura was going to be at the 25-mile marker to give me one last cheer before the finish. I saw an event clock stationed up the street and began to work toward it until I realized it was the 40K clock and I still couldn’t see the 25 Mile marker ahead.

At last I reached 25, and began to look for Laura on the sidewalk. When I found her, I headed over for a quick kiss and told her I knew I had no shot at 4. I had 1.2 miles to go and my watch already said 3:54. “That doesn’t matter, honey, you’re doing great!” she called out to my back as I trudged onward.

Now, all I wanted was to catch sight of Roosevelt Avenue in front of me, the next to last turn on the course. Is it this street? No. Is it the next street? No. Is it the next street? NO. Finally, up ahead I saw a street sign that had a long word instead of a number on it and knew that it must be Roosevelt. At last.

Roosevelt is a bridge that cuts over a rail yard below and brings us, full circle back to Columbus Drive in Grant Park. It is the only real hill on the entire course, but is so near the finish that it has never given me any trouble. From its crest you can get the first glimpse of the finish line over the heads of the spectators and that pulls you strongly forward. The 26-mile marker is on the downside of the bridge, but you hardly notice because just a few steps later you come around the final turn and the Finish is laid out wide and welcoming in front of you. This year everything was bright and red, the new sponsor colors. Like a big, red stop sign.
Since I wasn’t really trying to squeak in under any time goal, I saw no need to try and kick my way in. In fact, I may have eased up a little in those final 350 yards, knowing that the job was finally done. I crossed the line and hit the stop on my watch: 4:06:44. Not my 3:55 and not my sub-4, but I quickly found a nice silver-lining: My time was nearly identical to the one I clocked here 2 years ago when the weather was 40 degrees cooler. I feel like being able to run the same time in more extreme conditions showed a marked improvement, even if the time isn’t as sexy as I’d have liked.

Later that afternoon I found another mark to be proud of. I finished in the top 25 percent of the field. In my two previous runs at Chicago, I’d been in only the top 36 and then 31st percentile. So, I was improving compared to everyone else on that particular day as well.

I made my way through the finish area, grabbing food and water. Cold, wet hand towels were being handed out and I took two. I received my finisher medal from a happy, older woman who I kissed on the cheek for her efforts. I stopped to have my picture taken three different times. Finally, I made my way back into the bag check area where I retrieved my bag and found Laura waiting for me.

I couldn’t help getting emotional as I walked over to where she stood. It was a hard run – the last 6 miles being harder than usual – and I could finally let go and relax.

Laura was going to be picked up by her carpool buddy on Lake Shore Drive to head to work in 20 minutes, so we strolled over to a grassy knoll in that direction to sit down and collect ourselves. This is when my runner’s high finally set in, once I’d been able to catch my breath. I was moving stiffly, but I was hyper. I must have been talking a mile a minute. I needed to get changed into my dry clothes, so I pulled them out and started peeling off my wet ones. I wrapped my foil blanket around my waist like a big towel and carefully traded my shorts. Laura was amused that I was naked under the foil and snapped a photo. I got everything reapportioned, repacked and started nibbling on my food while we walked over to Laura’s rendezvous point. Her ride came by a few minutes later and she was off.

I dug out my phone and called first, my parents, and then Tara and Megan. Megan had held on to break four hours and had a 3:59:17. I was really happy for her.

Then I rode Laura’s bike home up the lakefront. I was eager to get home and slip into a cold, cold ice bath. The next few hours and days were all about recovery, because I’m doing it all over again at the Farmdale Trail Ultra this Saturday!


Anonymous said...

Greg - what a fantastic race report, your writing is superb and inspiring!

I lived in Chicago (across from Treasure Island in the Triangle Camera building on Broadway in Lakeview) from 92-97. Reading your descriptions of the neighborhoods brought back a lot of good memories. I never ran the marathon, but ran 3 to 4 times a week along the lake shore from Belmont to North Ave and back. I still miss that routh because in the summer I would jump in the lake after a hard workout - a great feeling.

The last few miles seemed really hard for you because of the heat. You describe well that awful feeling when the body slows down and the miles seem so much longer.

Good luck at Farmdale. Actually, I will be there, too. It will be my first ultra. I am very excited, yet terrified. My training has been good all year, so I do have some confidence that I can put in a strong effort. I know I am going to feel what you felt during your final miles at the marathon - extreme fatigue, discomfort, the long feeling of each passing mile during the final loop. But I guess that is why I am doing this race - to test my will, my resolve to not only confront the pain, but to embrace it, learn from it, and to hopefully become a better and stronger person because of the experience.

GTI said...

Thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings! I always work on the assumption that only my mother and girlfriend will interested enough to read it all.

Good luck at Farmdale tomorrow! Your first Ultra - that's great!

Don't know how much experience you have running trail races, but don't be terrified. My advice is not to think of it as a "race" of any kind. Start easy-easy and see how you feel after the first then the second loop. Everyone's pace is slower at a trail ultra. The terrain requires it. But as a result, I rarely get as beat down as I do in a road race. And start conversations with people out there on the run. It's part of the fun.

There's a big resevoir down there at Farmdale somewhere. You'll have to go jump in when you finish, for old time's sake!

(P.S. Triangle finally closed it's doors forever last year. The digital revolution. I was sad.)