Monday, October 13, 2014

Thoughts from a Marathon

As I sit here on Monday morning, looking back on yesterday, I can't help but smile. I have many feelings - happiness, relief, a little bit of melancholy - I had such a wonderful time yesterday and really, the marathon itself and achieving a goal was only a part of what made it so great. Here's my marathon recap, in nauseating detail, both for the benefit of remembering this day later on and for those of you out there, like me, who like reading about this sort of stuff.

I barely slept on Saturday night. Leslie and I have been binge-watching "Walking Dead" and we were at the end of season 4 so we didn't actually go to bed until 11pm.. I tossed and turned for a couple of hours and finally managed to fall asleep around 1am. The alarm went off at 4:15 and oddly enough I popped right up, no grogginess. I went downstairs, started the coffee, changed into my race gear and then ate a breakfast of a bagel, a banana and a cliff bar. I double-checked to make sure I had everything I needed and then headed out the door at about 5:00am.

I decided to take the train into the city - Metra was running an extra train early in the morning just for marathoners and it seemed like the easiest way to get down there. It arrived just a few minutes late, but we were downtown by about 6:15am. In 2012, when I last ran the Chicago Marathon, I remembered how long the porta-potty lines were and so as I was walking from the train station to Grant Park I was keeping an eye out for a bathroom. About 2 blocks from the Park, I passed a Panera that was open - there was ZERO line for the bathroom so I took care of business and continued on my way. It took about 10 minutes to get through the security lines, then I proceeded to the gear check area, shed my extra layers, dropped off my bag and headed to the corral. I realized at that point that I had about 20 minutes so I decided to brave the porta-potty lines. I got through the line with about 5 minutes to spare and made it into the jam-packed Corral B.

Somewhere along the line of signing up for this marathon, I must have missed the part where you can send a qualifying time in for a particular Corral assignment. I'm not tooting my own horn here, but I should have been in Corral A based on my half-marathon time. As it was, I was assigned to Corral B and because I had taken my time in getting there, I was at the back of Corral B. If you've never been to a marathon, there are pace group for various goal times (3:00, 3:15, 3:30 and so on). Where I was in Corral B, I was near the 3:30 pace group. This wasn't a huge deal, but to put it into perspective, the people gunning for a 3:30 were looking to average about 8:00/mile and to achieve my goal, I needed to run 6:50/mile...which is to say that I knew I was going to have to dodge and weave for awhile.

The race started promptly at 7:30 and it took me about 3 minutes or so to get to the start line. I had turned the auto-lap off on my GPS watch because I knew the watch was going to get off-track through the first part of the race (lots of underpasses, buildings and the like). Just as I had foreseen, I had to do a lot of dodging and weaving. I went through the first mile in 7:20 and was honestly quite frustrated at that point. Through the first 5-6 miles, there was a solid pack of runners and there are sections of the course where the road narrows (or turns at a 90 degree angle) and things get even more packed. I knew the pace I needed to be at and was getting frustrated that I wasn't even able to get an opening to try and settle into a groove. I was constantly speeding up and slowing down which uses a lot of energy. I was concerned that the yo-yo pacing was going to cost me later in the race.

Enough bitching though. #marathonerproblems I went through the 5K mark at 21:52 which was 7:03/mile pace. It was behind where I wanted to be at that point, but not ridiculously so. I knew that I was going to see my cheering squad at Mile 4 so I was looking forward to that and keeping my mindset positive. I saw Leslie and Justin and gave them high-fives which was a great early-race boost. I knew I wasn't going to see them again till Mile 11 so my mindset turned to settling into a groove, enjoying the scenery and people-watching.

By the time I reached the 10K mark I had made up of most of the lost time, getting my average per mile down to 6:56. I was feeling good and enjoying the energy from the crowds. In particular I loved running through the Lakeview, Park West and Lincoln Park neighborhoods. There were oodles of spectators, bands playing and people cheering. I had put my name on my singlet just above my bib so I was constantly hearing people say "Go Adam!" or something to that effect. It was great encouragement. I saw my cheering section again at Mile 11. Before the race Leslie had told me where she was going to be..."left side at 4, right side at 11" but for some reason I thought they were going to be on the left side at 11. So I see them but they are all the way across the street, so I quick dodged through a crowd of runners to give them high-fives. It was another great emotional boost and I was still feeling strong.

Coming back into the downtown area from the north end of the course is, in my opinion, one of the best parts of the marathon. It's right before the 1/2-marathon mark and the crowds there are loud and all of the runners really get into it, pumping our fists and feeding off that energy. It's a great boost right before the last half of the race. I went through the halfway mark at 1:29:52 and I was happy with that. I knew it meant that I couldn't take my foot off the gas (didn't have much of a cushion to achieve my goal) but it also meant that I hadn't run too aggressively. I was essentially right on track with where I wanted to be, provided I could hold the pace steady the rest of the way.

Miles 14-20 were pretty much a blur. Pain started to creep in and slowly ramp up after 15 miles. It wasn't anything serious, my legs were feeling tired and my hip flexors and feet were sore. The mental games hadn't started yet and I was still feeling positive. It was more just a concentration game to keep the pace steady and not think too much about how many miles there were left. I remember playing the "countdown" game to the next point I knew I was going to see Leslie and the gang (~Mile 21). I was also looking forward to going through the Pilsen and Chinatown neighborhoods which are another highlight of the course. Those neighborhoods combine enthusiastic crowds with ethnic flavors (and smells) which make it a truly unique area. By the time I got to Mile 20, I was in a good deal of pain. My legs, feet, and hip flexors were all yelling at me and the mental games were starting. When I saw Leslie and the gang just after Mile 21, I was so happy to see them. Leslie ran next to me for about 30-40 feet and was yelling "Go Adam, you've got this!" but I couldn't speak. In my mind I was thinking, "thank you!" and I wanted to tell her how good it was to see her, but I literally couldn't talk. I got really emotional after seeing them and I had to work to gather myself. Seeing them at that point of the race was by far the most important time that I saw them during the whole race. I needed that encouragement and I needed to see familiar faces. It solidified, at least temporarily, my resolve to keep pushing through.

You might be wondering about the "mental games". I'm sure everyone experiences it differently, but it's that point in the race (any race really) where your body is yelling at you to stop or slow down and your mind starts to listen. Mile 20 started a 6-mile countdown in my mind. I was thinking of every possible external reason to keep pushing. "Do it for Addison", "do it for Leslie", "do it for all of the people tracking you via text message", "do it for all of those people who encouraged you during training", "do it because this might be your only shot to break 3-hours"...whatever I had to tell myself as an excuse to keep pushing, I was using it. At mile 23 I got a sharp, stabbing pain at the front of my 2nd toe on my left foot. I thought to myself, "how did a rock get in there?" The pain went away after a few minutes though and I quickly forgot about it until the end of the race. Miles 22, 23 and 24 are only of the only areas of the course where the spectators are sparse and so I continued to play the mental games and take things one mile at a time.

When I got to mile 24 I think I might have said out loud, "OK, only 2 more miles". I was still on-track for my goal. I knew if I made it to 25, I would have it. Nothing was going to stop me in that last mile. It was as if my mind had attached itself to the idea of the finish line and from that point on, I was hell-bent on going as fast I could until I reached that glorious line. Unbeknownst to me, Leslie and the gang had proceeded to mile 25.5 to try and catch me one last time. I'm in the zone, I can almost see the finish and I hear people chanting "Adam, Adam Adam" and I look over and there they are. Leslie had gotten a group of about 20 people to chant my name. I gave a few fist pumps and then I wound up and threw an air punch (?) and almost fell over. My legs were toast at that point and the sudden motion threw me off balance. Fortunately I caught myself. I had to laugh - I narrowly avoided tragedy...

When I crossed the finish line I remember stopping, but it's like my body was on autopilot. I almost ran into the person in front of me and well, it took a few paces to actually stop. As soon as I stopped running, my legs nearly locked up. It was like a scene out of a zombie movie...everyone who had finished around me was doing this very slow shuffle-walk...the Marathon Shuffle. My brother and I were talking last night about how finishing a marathon is so odd - you're running along one minute and 30 seconds after you stop, even the idea of jogging is unimaginable. Anyway, I got really emotional while I was walking through the finisher chute. It was a lot of things...relief, pain, thankfulness, that "i did it" feeling. I very slowly made my way through, got a bunch of water and other stuff, posed for the Marathon Foto people and got to gear check. Having been assigned to Corral B suddenly became a huge blessing. Because I had made my way past a majority of the people in my Corral, there was no gear check line for me. All of the people that had been in Corral A finished about the same time and were waiting in lines that were 30-50 people deep to pick up their stuff (probably about 1/2 an hour wait). I walked right up and had my bag within a minute. I was so thankful for that. In 2012, my bag had gotten lost and I ended up being stuck in the finishing area for 2+ hours till they found it. Needless to say, this time around the experience was 1000% better. I ambled my way and met up with Leslie and John and Justin and that was that - it was over.

In terms of my own experience of things, this marathon was so much different than my first one. The biggest difference was the expectations. In 2012 I was content to let the race come to me. I was completely unsure of how it would go and what it would be like. This time I knew all of that, more or less, and had a very specific goal time in mind. The frustration I had at the beginning of the race was not something that I would have felt in 2012. I would say that this marathon was a lot more painful than the last one too. In 2012 I felt pretty strong the whole way, I got bored towards the end of the race and remembering just "wanting to be done". There was pain, but this time around was much more difficult at the end. In many ways, however, this marathon was very similar to 2012. The crowds were just as awesome, the on-course support (aid stations) were superior and I had a great cheering squad.

As with any endeavor - I have so many people to thank. First and foremost, my wife Leslie. She is my biggest fan and that is such a great feeling. She was there on the course where she said she was going to be, she ran with me for a brief stretch and cheered me on when I needed it the most, and she recruited a group of random spectators to chant my name so that they would be able to get my attention in that last 1/2-mile. Not only that, she picked up the slack over the last few months in taking care of Addison during any number of weekend long runs (while training for her own 1/2 marathon no less), she supported me throughout the training and she is just an overall awesome wife and partner in life that makes me want to be the best person I can be. If it's possible, I think she's more excited about me breaking 3-hours in the marathon than I am.

I also have to thank the others who came out to cheer me on, Justin, John, Julie and Steve. I'm thankful to my parents who not only took care of Addison while I was running the marathon, but our house is on the market and we had a showing yesterday at 12:30 and we weren't able to make it back in time to tidy up, so they cleaned everything up to make it ready for the showing. Our friend Kristen came over to help as well (at a moment's notice) and the three of them took a huge burden off our backs. I would also like to thank Woody, one of my running partners-in-crime who has encouraged me and run with me consistently since we met earlier this year. He himself is a sub-3 marathoner and his training insights and encouragement he offered over the last several months have been invaluable. Also, I'd like to thank my brother Tony for his counseling and support through this training cycle. He's a college track and cross-country coach and without his wisdom, support and depth of knowledge, there is no way I would have gotten to this point in my running. And lastly, I would like to thank everyone who supported me via DailyMile - the daily encouragement I find there makes it easier to getting through the rough patches in training.

As for 'what's next' - I'm not really sure. I'm going to take at least a few days off of running, until the soreness is completely gone and I can walk normally again. I would like to shift my focus back to racing shorter distances - 5K and 10K and improve my times there. I did, in fact, Boston Qualify (BQ) for this first time with this marathon result...but honestly, I don't think I'm going to actually go and run the Boston Marathon. As cool as that would be, marathon training is extremely time-consuming and with a small and growing family, training for marathons isn't the best use of my time. For now, I'm satisfied to have BQ'ed in the toughest age/gender division and I think that will be enough for me. That thinking could change - but I doubt it will.

If you've made it this far into my novel about my 2014 Chicago Marathon, thanks for reading, hopefully it wasn't too boring! Oh, that rock that I thought was in my shoe at Mile 23, turned out it wasn't a rock, it was a blood blister than popped. Had a nice bloody sock afterwards. Cheers!

Official Finish Time: 2:59:02
Gender Place: 838
Age Group Place: 189
Overall Place: 959 out of 40,801

Friday, October 3, 2014

Going All In

It's 9 days away now. When I think about it, my heart starts to beat a little faster...I can feel the heavy thumps in my chest. Months of preparation, 14+ weeks of focused training. Countless times asking myself if I think it's possible to achieve the goal I have set before me. Race day is almost here - the 2014 Chicago Marathon is almost here. My goal is to run the marathon in less than 3 hours and I believe it's possible.

The title of my post is "Going All In" because I feel like this has been my motto for this marathon training cycle. I usually give everything I do my best effort, but in this case, it has been on another level. I have been determined to leave no stone un-turned. In the middle of my training cycle for this marathon, I hit a rough patch where I just wasn't feeling enthusiastic or energized and I was talking to my brother on the phone one night, relaying this lethargy to him, and he suggested that I take a few days off. I told him that I couldn't - that I had to push through because I wanted to make sure that I didn't get to the end thinking that maybe there was something else I could have done. Part of the reason for the urgency with this marathon is that I think it will be my last one for at least a few years. With one kid here and the desire to continue to expand our family, it is becoming increasingly difficult to justify the time it takes to commit to serious marathon training. I will keep running, of course, but the focus will be on shorter races.

This training cycle was much different than my first marathon. The biggest difference is obvious - it's not my first marathon. When I trained for the 2012 Chicago Marathon, the training was new, my mileage peak was a new personal best for me, everything was novel including the shape I managed to get myself into for that Marathon. This time around, I knew going into it what the training would be like and what to expect. Not having that new-ness took a little bit of the shine off of it. Another thing that was different, in a very positive way, was the weather this summer. In 2012, we had a brutal summer here in Chicago - many, many days where the high temperatures reached 90 or more. This summer was cooler and very temperate which made for much more enjoyable training. Another positive difference is that my body was more ready for marathon training this time around and thus I had much fewer aches and pains this time around. I remember in 2012, I came down with little things here and there that would cost me 1-3 days of training...this time around, I missed only 2 days of training in 14 weeks. Even now, my body feels great and I'm running nearly 100% pain-free. Another major difference this time around was that Leslie and I have a child now, a year-and-a-half old, who understandably demands a lot of time. I couldn't just run whenever I wanted which presented a little bit of a challenge at times.

Like I mentioned, I went 'all-in' for this one which meant trying to fit as much mileage in as possible. Running after work was out of the question - Leslie needed my help with our daughter and I'm gone all day at work. So my running had to be relegated to either the mornings before work or on my lunch breaks. In order to fit in the longer mid-week runs, I resorted to two-a-days on Wednesdays - running both before work and on my lunch break. Needless to say, I didn't really look forward to Wednesdays, two runs in a matter of hours got to be a bit much, especially towards the end. At the beginning of my training cycle I was right around 40 miles/week and worked it up gradually up to 60 miles/week at towards the end. I was pleasantly surprised by how my body responded to the increased in mileage. In the course of training I set new personal records for miles in a month (233) and miles in a week (65). I ran two races during training as well, including a 5K in late July and a Half-Marathon in early-September. Overall, I'm very pleased with how things went, in fact, all things considered I'm not sure they could have gone much better than they did.

So now it comes down to it. 9 more days until I can find out if my body can do it. I've envisioned it a hundred times now - crossing that finish line with something on the clock that still as a 2 as the first digit. How would I react? How will I feel if I don't break 3...will I really be disappointed something just over 3 hours? I'm really curious to see what happens. All signs so far point in a good direction. The half marathon last month, which was a tune-up to see where I was at, went swimmingly and really gave me some confidence. The weather is looking like it's going to cooperate too which is probably the biggest wildcard. I'm hopeful, I'm starting to get nervous, and I'm excited, all at the same time. On top of that, I'm ready for this short journey to come to an end - it's been fun to train and train hard, but I'm ready for a break and for the pressure to be off. I know that I've given it all I've got and I'm ready to see if that will be enough.