Chicago Marathon 10-10-10 Race Report

Eric (Teamcam’s) Chicago 10-10-10 Race Report

I don’t do anything moderately.  This personality trait is both a blessing and a curse.  I hear that there are people out there who have an occasional alcoholic beverage, or run as a hobby, or give one hour a week to Boy Scouts of America, or write a short race report. I am not that guy.  I commit and tend to think that if a little is good, then a lot is better, and too much isn’t a possibility. 
I committed to racing my 7th marathon in Chicago.  I decided that I was going to use the Pete Pfitzinger 18/70 training plan, which means I would have a focused 18 weeks of running, with my mileage peaking at about 70 miles a week.  I missed a few workouts and had some scares when some aches and pains cropped up as I dedicated 8 to 10 hours a week to running, but I followed the plan pretty closely.  It was, by far, the most aggressive training that I have done.  This kind of training requires a time goal for the marathon.  From the beginning, I had a single goal:  run 26.2 miles in fewer than 3 hours.  My previous PR (personal record) for the marathon was 3:08:25 in Boston (4/18/09).  I am very proud of that time; I worked hard for it and earned it at Boston, which is not an easy course.  A more moderate personality would be happy trying to improve on that time.  I wanted to shatter it.
As such, flying into Chicago to race my 7th marathon, in the face of weather forecasts that called for a hot day, the theme of the weekend became clear to me: I am “all in.” 
I was going to stick to my plan.  While others were coming up with contingency plans and adjusting their goals, I was forging ahead where wiser men (and women) fear to tread.  When Sunday morning arrived, I intended to follow the plan I had envisioned for over four months.  As I logged over 1000 miles in those months, I often imagined and rehearsed the plan for 10-10-10.  I ran tune up races, as per Pete’s training plan and had great results, despite getting no rest before those races due to the heavy training load.  Everything looked like I was trained and ready to reach my goal.  There was no way I was backing down. 
However, there were friends to meet and celebrating to do prior to race day.  I arrived in Chicago early on Friday morning.  Mojo (Joe Mahoney) was already checked into our room.  Joe (a NJ native) and I had met via the Runner’s World Online (RWOL) discussion boards when we were training for Boston ’09.  We had met in Boston that year and had kept in touch via those discussion boards and Facebook.  He was the first of many “imaginary” friends that I would get to share this weekend with.  We settled in briefly (read: make sure the free internet connection was good to go) and headed to the expo.
The “health and fitness” expo of a large marathon is a convention hall full of vendors.  There are people wanting you to join their charity, run in their races, and buy their wares.  There are huge areas from the major sporting goods companies (Nike, Adidas, Brooks, etc.) and lots of smaller booths promoting everything to do with the running lifestyle.  I wanted to see what there was to see, eat a lot of free samples, and find a pair of running shoes for an incredibly low price.  I am going through shoes every two months and am due for a new pair, so I was seeking out the booth that had tons of closeout shoes.
I found a pair of Saucony Triumph 5’s (the current model is an 8, I believe) for $50!  I had a pair of these shoes a few years ago and was happy to pay $90 then because the list was $130.  Sweet.  I bought a pair of running glasses for $20, ate a lot of energy bars, and walked the entire expo.  I saw some imaginary friends as well.  Some of the friends I had not met in person before, and others I had.  In order of appearance, I believe I saw Amy and Todd (iRun and heRun), Morton (Sailrun), and Chad Gruett.  Of course, I was preoccupied with the upcoming challenge and might have omitted some people.  If so, I am sorry.
So, the expo was a success and we went out to dinner.  I had anticipated this dinner (for the company and not the food) almost as much as the race.  Chad had dined at  Cara Mio with Jay (Bird) the year before, and highly recommended it.  He asked the Boston Marathon freaks if they wanted to go out to dinner on Friday night, and the response was huge.  The restaurant is a small, authentic Italian joint and wouldn’t take groups of more than 10 without us committing to a limited menu.  So, we worked around the situation and had multiple reservations for six people, starting with my shift, the earlybird special at 5:30.  The Cameron party of six consisted of myself (obviously), Mojo, Harry and Janice Landers, and Geri and Willie Virtue.  We met in the lobby of THE hotel (how all the cool kids wound up at the Fairmont Millenium for an awesome price is a story for another day) and took the long train ride to the restaurant.  The food, company, and conversation were excellent.  As we dined, more imaginary friends poured in the door.  I saw some I had met before and some new faces.  It was a fine start to a great weekend.
The RWOL peeps then met up at Elephant and Castle, which is a bar that is staggering distance from THE hotel and proceeded to revel.  Of course, with my personality, I took being abstemious to the extreme.  No booze for this runner—not until the status was “mission accomplished.”  I hydrated with water extensively (who knew?) and met some old friends for the first time, and some old friends for the second or third time.  The conversation was good, the mood was high, and thoughts focused on Sunday’s race and the weather.  Many folks talked of adjusting their goals.  I talked (who knew, again) of sticking to the plans.  I joked that I was going to run under three hours or over four hours.  There would be no moderate time.  All in.
I took a “shake out” run on Sunday along the lakefront.  I ran alone, mostly because I missed the Facebook updates of others heading out.  I took my heavy legs out for 4.5 miles  along the lake and sighted Deana Kastor.  She didn’t run this year, but I assume that she was in town for appearances.  Or, I watched Spirit of the Marathon a few too many times in the weeks leading up to my Chicago experience and imagined her image.  I ran and then returned to the room for an afternoon of lounging in bed with my feet up.  Joe and I ate some pasta around 4:30 pm, because I have found that 14-15 hours before the start is a good time for dinner.  We dined in an almost empty Noodles Co.  because of my dining needs and Mojo was willing to oblige.  For the record, Joe ordered a pizza later to fuel his Mojo.  I drank my weight in water and got to bed early.
We met the RWOL posse in the lobby at 6:15 and headed to the start.  The Chicago Marathon has a seeded corral system, meaning that runners with fast qualifying times from other races can get placed closer to the starting line.  There are the elites, then the developmental runners (minor league), then A, B, C, D, and Open corrals, based on time.  I was in the A corral and our group split a bit as some runners went to check their bags of gear (minimal on such a warm day) in the open check and others went to the seeded (lettered corrals) check.  It was at this point that I set out solo to get to my corral and get prepared to race.  There were thousand of runners headed in every direction, most of whom looked nervous and twitchy.  It was just about this time that I saw Minnie Mouse peeing on a tree (more on him/her later).
So I got into the A corral, where there was quite a bit of room, jogged around nervously for just a few minutes, did some cursory stretches and lined up to start.  John King and Ashley appeared and we chatted a bit prior to the national anthem.  There were a couple of walks forward as the gaps between the corrals were eliminated prior to the start ,and then we were off.
And off I was!  My plan was to keep my Garmin (GPS watch) on the average per current mile setting and aim for 6:45 per mile.  A 3:00:00 marathon is 6:52 per mile, but the Garmin tends to measure miles a bit shorter than the actual mile, causing the average pace to read faster than the actual pace.  I figured that 6:45 would counter this Garmin error, allow time for a potty break, and still bring me in under three hours.  All of the paces that I have here are from the Garmin, which reads a bit faster than the tracking did.  I never really heard a start, we just started running.  I started my watch as I crossed the mat.
Mile 1 (5:37): Ummmm…what?!  I think there is some Garmin error here due to running underground for a few blocks.  Despite any error, however, I think  it is safe to say that the excitement of the crowd and four months of training had gotten the best of me.  There were people everywhere on the sides of the road and on the overpasses.  I blasted out of the gate and never saw King or Ashley (both of whom I could run with on the right day) again.  I thought that I might have a slow start the first mile due to the lack of adequate warm-up, but that was not the case.  Adrenaline won.
Miles 2-5 (6:35, 6:30, 6:28, 6:37):  We wound our way through downtown Chicago.  There were thick crowds, tall buildings, and virtually no sun coming through.  It was echoey (OK, I am making up words) and cool.  I tried talking to a few runners and checked out the crowd.  I smiled a lot.  I started the race with a plastic bottle of water, so I could skip the first few water stops.  The first water station caught me off guard; I was running on the right edge of the road and suddenly there were volunteers in my path.  I dodged them and ran down the middle of the street.  I felt strong as I sipped on my bottle and cruised.  I ditched the bottle at about 5 miles and ate a gel according to my plan of one every 5 miles.  I was scouring the crowd for HTFU signs.  While it is the battle cry of my online [imaginary] friends, I knew that a friend of mine was driving down from Madison and planned on having a sign.  At one point, I thought I heard Dan’s voice and ran backwards for a few strides looking for him.  It wasn’t him.  Oh well.
Miles 6-10 (6:40, 6:45, 6:31, 6:42, 6:37): I must confess that I don’t know how some people have so many recollections of the race.  I was cruising along, trying to stick in the 6:45 range and enjoying the run.  I knew that I had gotten a little ahead of my goal pace and tried to settle in.  I didn’t check the splits much, but glanced at the average pace of the Garmin a lot to be sure I was in the range that I wanted. The crowd was still strong.  I think that it was on this stretch that we went through a neighborhood of brownstones, with large trees that arched over the road.  I commented to a runner next to me that I could run on that street all day.  It was excellent.  I was still smiling a lot.  It was in this stretch of brownstones (I am still not sure that it wasn’t a little later in the race) that we passed a bunch of photographers.  I hammed it up for the cameras and snuck up behind another runner who was mugging for the camera and put my hands up like giant antlers coming from his head.  He should be surprised when he sees that race photo!  I do recall thinking that I might have gone out too fast and was a bit nervous, but when I felt bad, I just tried to increase my turn over, taking faster strides and not working too hard.  “Sit and Spin” was the recurring mantra.  If I could relax and cruise at 6:45/mile, I figured I would be OK.  I think that it was in this stretch that I heard Steve (PBR) and saw Eamon for the first time.  I saw them three times on the day, and it seemed like every time I heard Steve, but saw Eamon. 
Miles 11-15 (6:29, 6:39, 6:49, 6:07, 6:40):  I think the 6:07 is Garmin error. There was definitely one mile that was reading very fast, and I knew it must have been the satellite and not my legs.  I think this was it.  I really have no recollection here.  I had started dousing myself with water at about 5 miles, pouring it over my head, on the back of my neck, and on my thighs.  I wanted to stay cool, and it worked.  I never felt hot.  I took gels at 10 and 15 according to my plan.  I glided when I felt good and sat and spun when things felt sketchy.  I had no idea how the day would turn out and was a little surprised that I was on pace.  I figured that I would take it one mile at a time.  I thought of Tom Farsides and his approach of running each mile to the best of his ability.  I was still working the crowd if they got quiet.  I figured if I could run a marathon, they could cheer for a few hours.  It did seem as if the crowds got more engaged a bit later on, specifically yelling my name.  The numbers of fans diminished a bit, but their enthusiasm did not. There were several people who I had seen earlier when they called my name, and they reappeared in this stretch.  I tried to make eye contact and a point or thumbs-up, but my response diminished as the race wore on.  I must say, however, that the repeat cheerers were motivating.  I felt like they felt a connection to me, having watched me throughout the day.
Miles 16-20 (6:42, 6:46, 6:45,6:43, 6:40):  Did someone move the wall?  I was waiting for it at 18, then 19, then 20.  I just cruised along at pace.  There were some people suffering, but I just kept on working the plan and the pace was still there.  The crowds were a little thin here, and it seemed as if the only shade was from buildings.  I distinctly remember the field sticking to the shady side of the street rather than tangents.  However, I never felt hot.  I kept dousing myself with multiple cups of water at every aid station.  It is worth saying that the volunteers were plentiful and enthusiastic.  They cheered for me by name and there was plenty of water and Gatorade to go around.  I took a gel that they were distributing at 17 and pocketed it for another day, not willing to try a different brand than what I am used to.  I sipped a little Gatorade, but stuck with my gel plan of every five miles and drank some water at every opportunity.  I had a pace tattoo on my arm that said what times I needed at every mile marker, but I didn’t look at it much.  I did know, however, that I wanted to go through 20 miles in 2:15, which would mean that I needed a 45-minute 10K to get my goal.  I saw the clock on the course, which didn’t match my time exactly, due to the time it took me to get to the starting line, but I was on pace! 
Miles 21-24 (6:47, 6:46, 6:51, 6:54): I think Chinatown was in this stretch.  It might have been at twenty.  It was a surge in crowd enthusiasm.  As I peruse the marathonfoto pics, I am amazed at my enthusiasm so late in the race.  I thought that I might make it without a major fade near the end.  I didn’t know if a negative split was in the cards, having run very fast early, but it started looking like I might make the sub-3 hour goal.  It was somewhere in this area that I passed Tom Farsides.  We both had followed the same training plan, and he had been one of my most ardent supporters during the training.  It was sad to see that he was struggling, but he cheered me enthusiastically as I blew past him. I was charged by his cheering, but I couldn’t help but think of my friend, Cope, who is a much faster runner than I am and who recently had the wheels come off badly at the end of a marathon.  He was flying and then just seized up, both physically and psychologically.  I tried to just keep everything under control.
Miles 25-26.2 (7:10, 7:23, something…something):  I am glad to see that the wall wasn’t discontinued.  It was just relocated.  I went through 24 miles and did some quick math; I needed to run under 9:30 per mile for the last two to go under three hours.  While I didn’t consciously slow my pace, I didn’t push.  I was a hurting runner at that point, but knew it was only a few minutes of suffering until I got to cross that line as a sub-three hour marathoner.  I passed Eamon and Steve.  I saw Eamon, and Steve yelled, “you are going to go under three…you’ve got it!”  The enthusiasm with which my friends cheered for me was motivating.  I was also motivated by the fact that the man in the Minnie Mouse costume was ahead of me.  I ran those last two miles in self-loathing.  Could I really lose to a dude in a skirt and mouse ears (not that there is anything wrong with that)? He was about 30 yards ahead, but I was powerless to close the gap.  I focused on him (despite his image burning my eyes).  I even said to a couple of spectators, “must…catch…Minnie.”  They laughed, but the gap wasn’t closing.  I thought of Harry Landers chasing a chicken.  I saw the “one mile to go” marker and the 26 Mile marker, but missed the ones that counted down the meters to the finish.  I thought I might vomit and swallowed hard a couple of times.  I frolicked through 22 miles, but now it was time to HTFU.  I worked the only significant hill on the course, knowing that the end was near.  As I crested the hill and made the final left to the finish, I heard my name called, both first and last name.  My friend Dan, who I had anticipated seeing on the course but had missed to that point, made it to the final turn.  I raised my hands in recognition, turned the corner and sprinted to the line.  I could see the clock turn from 2:57:59 to 2:58:00, and figured that I had a little time in the bank due to the delay crossing the starting line.   Oh…and I passed Minnie with five yards to go.  I saw I was closing and went with all that was left in the tank.  I must confess, however, that when I look at the finishing photos, I think he stopped to take pictures…whatever…I won.
Crossing that finish line, knowing that I accomplished all that I had set out to do is an awesome feeling.  All of the months of training and fretting over the race are over and all that was left to do was celebrate the day with my running friends.  I chatted up the volunteers, hammed it up for the photographers, and made my way through the finishing chute, until I ran into Chad Silker who was stationed near the beer table.  He waved me down and the celebration was on.  As we lingered, more of our clan assembled.  Tom Menner, Tom Farsides, John King, and Chad Gruett appeared.  There were personal records, Boston qualifiers, and happy finishers in the group.  We shared war stories and wondered about our friends who were still out there, somewhere.  Of course, like dedicated runners, we continued to hydrate well.  We finally hobbled away from the beer table and out of the finishing chute to continue the great day.
I walked with Tom Menner back to the hotel.  It was great to spend some time with him, as we have been “imaginary” friends for a couple of years.  We saw some additional friends as we worked our way through the throngs of runners toward the hotel.  I called some family, met more friends, and then headed out to Fado—an Irish pub, to encounter more of the forumites.  We ate, we drank, and we celebrated and commiserated.  Then we relocated to a place to get hot wings and more food and drink. Of course, I did none of these things in moderation.  Moderation did not get me to a sub-three hour marathon, so I figure I would stick with what got me there.  My friends were great, not only tolerating my high-volume antics, but egging me on and celebrating not only their successes, but mine as well.  I am a lucky man.  I got to race in a beautiful city, with boisterous crowds, and a well-organized and supported event.  I spent time with good friends and made some more friends along the way.
Thanks to everyone—not only for making it through this tome, but for all of your support and friendship as I pursued this goal and your congratulations after its completion.  Every marathoner has his/her story and the Chicago Marathon on 10-10-10 was very good to this marathoner.  A lot of people struggled in the heat and did not have the race that they wanted.  There was fear and doubt before the race and some frustration after the race.  We work hard for months and are at the mercy of the elements when the moment of truth arrives.  I was fortunate in that everything went according to my plan.  I wish that everyone had the successful day that I had, but it wasn’t to be.  I went all in and the cards fell my way.
The final stats:  I finished in 2:57:50.  38,132 people started and 36,159 finished.  I finished 598th overall.  I was 507/19,769 male and 56/3,195 in my age group.