Map of Marathon States Completed

  • Kentucky – 1 – KDF 2012
  • New York – 1 – NYC 2011
  • Tennessee – 3 – Flying Monkey 2008, 2010. Memphis 2009.
  • Illinois – 1 – Chicago 2010
  • Indiana – 1 – Indianapolis Monumental 2009.
  • West Virginia – 1 – Hatfield McCoy 2008
  • Ohio – 1 – Flying Pig 2008
  • North Carolina – 1 – OBX 2007

Keep digging, KDF. Charging for updates? At $1-$2 per TEXT?

I’ve run in Chicago, NYC, and (yes) even the KDF before when updates were free.

Now, you can pay for the opportunity to be notified. No free notification mentioned (which is very helpful in letting a family member know if you need help, etc…)  At the 10-, 15-, 25- and 30-km markers, that means mini marathon participants (the overwhelming majority of participants) only get 2 updates.  Marathoners, of course, would get 4 updates. That’s $1 or $2 per text…  And from the wording of the below ad, that’s $3.99 per notification method/person being notified… probably should post those updates to Facebook for the most bang for your buck.

Going back to the simplicity of the Runners World smart coach plan

This training plan was created using the Runner’s World SmartCoach iPhone app. To get your own plan, download SmartCoach from the App Store or create a plan online at www.runnersworld.com/smartcoach

02/20/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 8 mi
Pace: 8:39

02/21/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 8 mi
Pace: 8:39

02/22/2012 – Tempo Run
Distance: 7 mi
Pace: Warm; 4 mi @ 7:17; Cool

02/23/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 7 mi
Pace: 8:39

02/24/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 7 mi
Pace: 8:39

02/25/2012 – Long Run
Distance: 14 mi
Pace: 8:39

02/26/2012 – Rest / XT
Distance: 0 km
Pace: Easy

02/27/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 8 mi
Pace: 8:39

02/28/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 8 mi
Pace: 8:39

02/29/2012 – Speedwork
Distance: 7 mi
Pace: Warm; 2×1600 in 6:49w/800 jogs; Cool

03/01/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 8 mi
Pace: 8:39

03/02/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 7 mi
Pace: 8:39

03/03/2012 – Long Run
Distance: 16 mi
Pace: 8:39

03/04/2012 – Rest / XT
Distance: 0 km
Pace: Easy

03/05/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 8 mi
Pace: 8:39

03/06/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 8 mi
Pace: 8:39

03/07/2012 – Tempo Run
Distance: 7 mi
Pace: Warm; 5 mi @ 7:21; Cool

03/08/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 8 mi
Pace: 8:39

03/09/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 7 mi
Pace: 8:39

03/10/2012 – Long Run
Distance: 18 mi
Pace: 8:39

03/11/2012 – Rest / XT
Distance: 0 km
Pace: Easy

03/12/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 8 mi
Pace: 8:39

03/13/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 8 mi
Pace: 8:39

03/14/2012 – Tempo Run
Distance: 8 mi
Pace: Warm; 6 mi @ 7:25; Cool

03/15/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 8 mi
Pace: 8:39

03/16/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 7 mi
Pace: 8:39

03/17/2012 – Long Run
Distance: 20 mi
Pace: 8:39

03/18/2012 – Rest / XT
Distance: 0 km
Pace: Easy

03/19/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 8 mi
Pace: 8:29

03/20/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 8 mi
Pace: 8:29

03/21/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 8 mi
Pace: 8:29

03/22/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 8 mi
Pace: 8:29

03/23/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 7 mi
Pace: 8:29

03/24/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 7 mi
Pace: 8:29

03/25/2012 – Rest / XT
Distance: 0 km
Pace: Easy

03/26/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 10 mi
Pace: 8:29

03/27/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 9 mi
Pace: 8:29

03/28/2012 – Speedwork
Distance: 8 mi
Pace: Warm; 3×1600 in 6:41w/800 jogs; Cool

03/29/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 9 mi
Pace: 8:29

03/30/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 9 mi
Pace: 8:29

03/31/2012 – Long Run
Distance: 16 mi
Pace: 8:29

04/01/2012 – Rest / XT
Distance: 0 km
Pace: Easy

04/02/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 9 mi
Pace: 8:29

04/03/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 9 mi
Pace: 8:29

04/04/2012 – Tempo Run
Distance: 9 mi
Pace: Warm; 7 mi @ 7:20; Cool

04/05/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 9 mi
Pace: 8:29

04/06/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 8 mi
Pace: 8:29

04/07/2012 – Long Run
Distance: 20 mi
Pace: 8:29

04/08/2012 – Rest / XT
Distance: 0 km
Pace: Easy

04/09/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 9 mi
Pace: 8:29

04/10/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 9 mi
Pace: 8:29

04/11/2012 – Tempo Run
Distance: 10 mi
Pace: Warm; 8 mi @ 7:24; Cool

04/12/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 9 mi
Pace: 8:29

04/13/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 9 mi
Pace: 8:29

04/14/2012 – Long Run
Distance: 20 mi
Pace: 8:29

04/15/2012 – Rest / XT
Distance: 0 km
Pace: Easy

04/16/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 5 mi
Pace: 8:18

04/17/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 5 mi
Pace: 8:18

04/18/2012 – Tempo Run
Distance: 7 mi
Pace: Warm; 5 mi @ 7:03; Cool

04/19/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 5 mi
Pace: 8:18

04/20/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 5 mi
Pace: 8:18

04/21/2012 – Long Run
Distance: 8 mi
Pace: 8:18

04/22/2012 – Rest / XT
Distance: 0 km
Pace: Easy

04/23/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 4 mi
Pace: 8:39

04/24/2012 – Rest / XT
Distance: 0 km
Pace: Easy

04/25/2012 – Tempo Run
Distance: 7 mi
Pace: Warm; 4 mi @ 7:17; Cool

04/26/2012 – Easy Run
Distance: 4 mi
Pace: 8:39

04/27/2012 – Rest / XT
Distance: 0 km
Pace: Easy

04/28/2012 – Marathon Race Day
Distance: 26.2 mi
Pace: Marathon 7:33 Time: 3:18:04

The First Moment of Truth / Doubt #nycm #running

I don’t know if it’s a prioritization thing or a psychological thing, but I have yet to fill out my training plan completely, either in my RunningAhead.com Training Plan or in my Google Docs spreadsheet.

Last week featured back-to-back 11 and 13 milers, ending with a 15 miler at the end of the week.

Wednesday (tomorrow) and Sunday this week and next feature a 14 miler and an 18 miler.  Those seem pretty daunting at this point.

It’s not the distance or weekly volume that has me apprehensive. I’ve went as far as 23 miles in training runs before. My plans have peaked with a few consecutive weeks around 80 miles per week. With this plan, my first 20 miler is still weeks away, and the plan peaks at 70 miles per week.

One difference is that this plan is structured differently: My former (often improvised) 80+ mile plans consisted of lots of “doubles”: 2 runs in a day. It’s a little easier to squeeze in workouts when you do 7 miles, 5 miles, etc… then one 20 miler. I’m also trying to stay fairly faithful to the up-tempo and marathon pace long run schedule (so far).

Another possible difference is that my work and family schedule have made me favor (almost exclusively) the early morning run. I was doing outdoor runs for some of those, but the excessively humid air on the one cool day in the middle of a long hot streak was so laden with gnats that I really haven’t had the interest in getting back out there in the darkness until it cools off a little.

That leaves me running on the treadmill, and for the interest of time, the treadmill downstairs.

For 2+ hours.

Twice a week.

Maybe I’ll venture outside tomorrow morning.

Two 2+ hour runs on a treadmill in the same week.

On pre-marathon meals

Don’t necessarily do as I’ve done here–I’m just illustrating a point.

For my three fastest marathon times, I’ve eaten as the last meal before:
– 3:32 – cheap mediocre Mexican food.
– 3:39 – Mexican in Florence, KY on the way to Cincinnati and pub grub at Nicholson’s in Cincinnati.
– 3:49 – pub food in Memphis. (I figured it was a better option than BBQ)

There are multiple reasons why I do this:
1) After running the 3:39, I’ve sort of become superstitious about what I eat the day before.

2) I’ve never had any decent luck getting near an Italian place while out of town, the night before a marathon.

3) I run long runs on Saturday, which means that fish frys and team lunches at the Mexican place down the road are pretty common day before meals. They haven’t let me down.

Food before my worst marathon times:
1) 4:42 – don’t recall, but was on the road, so we probably tried to find pasta, especially since my daughter will mostly only eat that.
2) 4:34 – first marathon, spaghetti
3) 4:31 – pasta (it was a hilly marathon and I was coming off of injury)

DNF – ate pasta due to having an iffy stomach all week. For me, apparently, iffy stomachs need a little bit of grease, not carbs.

I’m not saying the night meal before doesn’t matter. However, what you eat the night before is more likely to harm your performance than help it if you haven’t gotten your body used to it before then.

You presumably spent 12-18 weeks preparing for this marathon. The body changes didn’t happen overnight. Why magically change your diet the night before?

Do this:
– Eat what you know works for your long runs, even if it violates conventional running wisdom.
– Don’t eat too much.
– Don’t eat too little.
– Eat your last meal the same amount of time before your race as you do before your long runs.
– Hydrate adequately.

On New Boston Qualifying Standards, Fairness, and Determination

Warning: The title was initially “On Qualifying, Fairness, and Determination”. I’m not sure if I’m sticking with that topic.  It just echoed the general reaction from runners in response to the new qualifying standards and procedures for the Boston Marathon announced 10 days ago. That’s part of my inspiration for this post. I threw in the linkbait-ish “New Boston … Standards” bit just so the post title is clear without the context of the blog as a whole.

Waaaaa…

Obviously, I’m late to the pity party/pile-on about Boston.  I probably whined 3-5 times on Twitter, so I’m not completely indifferent in how the B.A.A. has ruined my life and all (self-deprecating sarcasm, people…).  However, to be honest, for 31 years of my life, Boston qualifying was as unattainable as the Olympic trials is for the average marathon enthusiast.  I didn’t even run for 30 of those years. It was only after breaking 3:40 in my second marathon that I needed a bigger dream. Boston, for my running ability, pretty much fit that mold.

Besides, I’m still too busy being annoyed with our own local half-marathon’s changes to care about what’s changed with Boston.  That, and jobs, kids, life, and actually finding the time to run.

My new standard

I don’t really see that I have a new standard.  I set out with a goal of 3:20:59 [or 3:15:59 for the next couple of years] before I turn 40.  Those new standards are 3:15:00 and 3:10:00 respectively.  There is no sense sweating 5 minutes and 59 seconds when I have at least 12 minutes of gap to close before then.

Qualifying is one thing. Gaining an entry through qualification is more a matter of luck, unless meeting the standard wasn’t a major challenge for you in the first place. The guaranteed entries will go to those who beat their respective standards by more than 5, 10, or 20 minutes.  The leftovers will go to those who just barely beat their time.  Given that the women’s standard is 30 minutes slower than the men’s, those margins are smaller percentages of the overall time for women than men.  This is not to mention the argument that the women’s world record is only 9.2% slower than the men’s, yet the fastest women’s standard is 16.2% slower than the men’s.

However, in terms of fairness and tough standards, Boston has, in the past, required a 2:50 for under 40 men, 3:10 for all other men, and 3:20 for women.

Determination

I can imagine that many people will abandon their pursuit of qualifying for Boston over this. I don’t really see how a single organization managed to redefine the term “self-improvement” in the dictionary. Do you cease professional development because another layer of management was inserted between you and the CEO? Never mind. Don’t answer that.

Challenge

All of this rambling aside, life changes, marathon entry changes, and course changes have made me reevaluate what a challenge is for me–at least this year.  It’s not about lining up with 10000-50000 of my closest friends, although I’ll probably do that in New York this year. It’s not about hitting 10 PRs–I’m hoping for two.

This year is about running consistently, every week, every month.  I’m working on my 3rd 50-mile week in a row.  I’d like to build up a streak of at least 20 of those.  I’m also working on my second 200 mile month this year. It’d be quite an accomplishment for there to be 12 of those this year. With jobs and family, keeping running going this year is my Boston qualifying.  With a year of consistent running, maybe I can build a successful training problem on top of it late this year or early next year.

Iroquois is for Runners, or How to Ruin the Best Half Marathon in the Country

The Course In Question

Go to the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon/miniMarathon page for the course map.

Where I’m Coming From

I’m a runner with modest ability.  I never ran track or cross country in high school.  I barely finished the mile fitness test my freshman year in high school.

Those PE exercises and recess games in middle school?  I didn’t have enough sprint in me to dodge a guy running up to me to tag me with the kickball that I just kicked.

In the last five years, I’ve built up the strength and endurance to run in the top 10% of the pack in a couple of marathons, and I’ve finished 8 marathons and 4 half-marathons.

A Comfortable Challenge

I regularly run the Iroquois Hill Runners’ Hard Ten route for training.  The uphill portion is a slow and steady climb.  The lower loop [marked Rundill Road on maps] has some steeper grades than the uphill road. And yet, Iroquois is no Eden Park hill in the Flying Pig, no Hatfield-McCoy 700 ft/1 mile up and downhill, no undulating 300 ft/mile up- and downhills of the Flying Monkey.

The lower loop in Iroquois is somewhere between “not flat” and “a little more than rolling hills,” depending on the elevation profile of your average training runs.  The base loop’s hills around the base rarely break out of the 50 ft range, and you get just about as much assistance on the downhills as you lose on the uphills–without the sustained punishment on your quads of a sustained downhill.

The Iroquois Park Runner’s Experience

Uphill and Rundill Rd at Iroquois Park in the Snow

Regardless of whether you’re running by yourself, with a couple of friends, or a few thousand of your friends, the canopy of trees makes the run serene. As you race around the bends, the narrow field of view keeps you from focusing on a point too far in the distance, so that landmarks in your field of vision go past quickly. The bends on inclines and declines offer opportunity for the efficient racer to pass without weaving through the crowd. The steady slapping of shoes on the pavement is the primary sound heard throughout the duration of the park run.

In the racing experience, going clockwise through park meant that, once you passed the up hill road, you were catapulted down a downhill for almost a mile as you and your fellow runners spilled onto Southern Parkway.  Then, the race began in earnest.

It should be noted that even the marathoners do not get this release anymore.  The new course travels counterclockwise.

Southern Parkway

Running down Southern Parkway was my second favorite feature about the Mini course. With the start line there, there was plenty of starting area on Southern Parkway with plenty of room to roam on the bridle paths on each side.  Part of the challenge of this arrangement was that the first two miles involved some narrow streets and tight turns.  However, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing to be slowed down leading up to the hills leading up to and inside the park.

When the start line moved to 3rd Street, the crowd congestion just after the first mile dissipated, but the legs were left with more than a mile less of running prior to hitting the hills.  No matter–Iroquois Park was still waiting, and the release onto Southern Parkway would still be there as well.

The crowds along Southern Parkway were always amazing. The bridle path on each side provides plenty of room for spectators. Since the Mini drew at least 3/4th of the runners, crowds supporting the half-marathoners will no longer have a reason to cheer along Southern Parkway.  It could be lonely out there for the marathoners, even as early as mile 8 when they split off from the half-marathoners and run toward Iroquois.  At least prior marathoners didn’t hear crickets chirping until mile 12.

Commingling Futility

I sure hope there’s a SOLID plan to keep 7 minute mile marathoners trying for Boston Qualifying from being obstructed by 15 minute miler half-marathoners when they rejoin at miles 7.75/18.  If I was running the marathon of my lifetime for the first 18 miles, only to be obstructed by people instead of “the wall”, I’d feel like I had been assaulted by cronies of the race committee.  [See Again to Carthage: A Novel by John L. Parker (Amazon link) for a more vivid illustration.]

Updated April 30 [Race Day]

As I watched video of mile 10 of the Mini course, I saw a runner moving at roughly twice the speed weaving through the other runners. Apparently, at this point, there was no clear division of the two courses.

Also, due to last minute course adjustments, the mile markers 9/18 through 11/20 were paired…  That means that a 7:30 marathoner would have run into the wall 15 minute half-marathoners [the KDF mini attracts a large walking contingent] and would have to fight through for 2 miles, much like I experienced in Chicago, but with participants moving at half the pace instead of about 80% of my pace.

I encourage the 15 minute miler to participate. I blame bad course management for not giving a clear path for the half-marathoners and marathoners to co-exist.  Of course, I also blame bad course design, but minimally, better planning should minimize the challenges presented by the course layout.

Tradition

Having grown up near the park, I once knew little about the Mini except for the fact that we couldn’t exit our neighborhood via Southern Parkway until after 10am, the barricades that lined the bridal path, and the stampede of runners running down the street.

Now, with the only the marathon route passing by at mile 15 instead of everyone passing by at mile 8–the neighborhood will now be blocked until noon, but the stampede of runners will be the thinned out trickle of marathoners that is typical of a medium-sized marathon at mile 15.

So, tradition doesn’t mean much.  Unless it’s Churchill Downs. I can’t recall if Churchill Downs–especially the trip through the infield–was always a “feature” on the Mini-Marathon, but judging by the contrived nature of the path through Churchill’s infield, I would have my doubts. Something about running through dank tunnels, snaking around aimlessly on the narrow infield path, and inhaling fresh hay and manure smell doesn’t scream “preferred running route” to me.

By contrast, thousands of people hit the Iroquois hills willingly, sometimes even when the traction is limited.

No Complaining Without Solutions!

Okay, so it’s easy enough for me to be a naysayer.  What would I do for the Mini course if I had some bizarre insistence on finishing on the waterfront?  Here’s my course.  It’s a pretty straight shot down 4th Street, and runs by the back side of Churchill Downs but not in it.  It would run through 4th Street Live! as well.

 

Exit the Monkey, 2 years later – a race report

It’s been two years since I last ran the Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon.

Last Time on Monkey…

In my last experience, the Flying Monkey was my first marathon coming back from injury time-off in August and September.  Earlier that year, I had experienced beating my first marathon time by over minutes [4:34 down to 3:39] at Flying Pig, only to be sorely disappointed with a 4:42 at Hatfield-McCoy 6 weeks later.  Both of these are hilly marathons, Hatfield slightly more so than Flying Pig.  Having been humbled by Hatfield-McCoy, I was pleased with a 4:30-ish time coming off of injury.

Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon DNF

I was coming off of an extremely disappointing disintegration this spring at the Derby Festival Marathon.  Lackluster training was compounded by a stomach bug in the household the week of the marathon.  I had a chip on my shoulder and buckled down to come back stronger than ever.

Progress Derailed by Injury

Seven weeks out from the Chicago Marathon, I broke down after an 80+ mile week and 2 60+ mile weeks.  What started out as a run toward a PR became a race to be able to finish as I tried to stay fit on the bike and walking while I did 3 weeks of physical therapy to heal.

Chicago Meltdown

Chicago was hideous.  It was hot.  I was ill-prepared.  I didn’t sign up for a seeded entry.  I barely broke 4:25–the median time for my 7 completed marathons.

Pfitzinger

I started reading Advanced Marathoning – 2nd Edition (affiliate link) by Pete Pfitzinger during my recovery time.  I was looking for answers and inspiration.  I came to a realization in the early pages that I had been neglecting tempo runs, so I paid attention to keeping them in my workout routine.

Monkey Report

My former co-worker and fellow runner signed up for the Monkey in August, despite having neglected any form of running for the last 8 months.  At his peak–even last Monkey in Chuck Taylors–he is a sub-3:10 marathoner and a 19-minute 5ker.  At my peak, I’ve come near 3:30.  Neither of us were at our peak for this race, but I at least had a long run at Chicago [and another 20-miler in between].

He took off ahead of me on the first hill, and I fully expected that he’d pace about a minute per mile faster than me until he blew up, at which point he’d still gut out a sub-10 pace.

Instead, I caught him by at least midway down the first downhill, and we paced each other at a 9-minute pace until I had to hit a portapotty.  After that pit stop, I caught him and passed him on the next downhill.  He later caught up with me and we paced each other from that point on until mile 14.

At mile 14, I ran with the hard downhill.  I was brutalizing my legs with these downhills, but I had to take the opportunities where I could get them.  I lost track of my racing partner at that point.

By mile 20, I started breaking into walks on the steep uphills.  I’d check behind me every so often to see if I was going to be passed again.  By mile 22, I started walking on the slight uphills.  Those hills absolutely wear out the hamstrings.  Even on the switchbacks, I didn’t see my competition higher up on the hill.

I somehow managed to hold on for both a 4:08:33 and the lead over my racing partner… The months of extreme tapering were too much for his usual tenacity to overcome. While the friendly competition was fun, I was most delighted in the fact that I beat my Chicago Marathon time–by 16 1/2 minutes.

Monkey FTW — especially in the medal and bib department:

Switching focus away from the marathon for a little while

I’ve had a combination of really good marathon experiences and really bad marathon experiences at this point.

The race day experience doesn’t bother me too much. The marathon is a challenging distance to run well, because little problems early on (and even 24 hours before) multiply over the 26 mile 385 yard distance:

  • Blisters start before the halfway point.
  • Lack of proper fueling or hydration shows up between miles 15 and 20.
  • Unseasonably warm weather usually takes it’s toll for the 8-10 minute miler about the time you hit mile 20-23.
  • Eating the wrong thing that morning becomes exponentially nasty with every mile you’re out on the course.

The problem is, I’ve had 3 bouts with injury, including one that occurred within 7 weeks of this year’s Chicago marathon. There’s an aggressive mileage target that I want to hit (80-100 miles per week) for the performance that I want out of my marathon. The mileage itself is not an issue: I’ve successfully run 80+ mile weeks before with only the expected fatigue. The problem is scheduling that mileage into my routine.

I end up injured because I stubbornly stick to my mileage target on weeks that I don’t have the time to follow-through. That means that I:

  1. Stack too many runs in a day [triples with well over 20 miles total]
  2. Run too fast [within 10 seconds per mile of my marathon PR for every run]
  3. Start building up 5 or more miles per week at a time.

I guess the whole “marathons disrupt a runner’s progress” line of thinking finally got to me. (See: The Marathon: A Race too Far?)

I’ve completed 7 marathons so far, and I’ve only had a consistent 16 week training period for 3 of them.

  1. My first one was a 4:34 PR in Outer Banks, NC [My first marathon, ever]
  2. The second one was a 3:39 PR at Flying Pig.
  3. The third one was a 3:32 PR at the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon.

The others? I came off of injury or ran 4-6 weeks after another marathon. Two of them were extremely hilly marathons:

  • 4:42 at Hatfield-McCoy six weeks after a 3:39 PR at Flying Pig (I also vacationed the week before and had sore leg muscles when I start).
  • 4:32 at Flying Monkey coming off of 6 weeks of injury.
  • 3:49 in Memphis after a 3:32 in Indianapolis–the second marathon wasn’t hilly and I was still in good shape.
  • 4:24:50 in Chicago after injury within 7 weeks of the race and 86’F high downtown.

So far, it appears that the recipe for the greatest chance of success is having at least 16 solid, consistent weeks of training. Also, after running the marathon, my running takes a huge step backward for at least a month. To get to where I want to be for marathon training, I think I need to back off the focus on the marathon.

So, instead, I’m going for some INSANELY lofty goals for my current ability–basically, race paces below 7 minutes for all races up to the half.

  • A 19 minute 5k
  • A sub-40 10k
  • A sub-70 10 miler
  • A sub-90 half

I can do 5k training plans in increments of 4 weeks, and even the half in 12 weeks. I can also race a 5k every weekend without really risking injury if I run easy the rest of the week.

Don’t think that I’m giving up on the marathon; I have a ticket that I need punched for the NYC marathon next year.

Chicago Megathon, er… Marathon Race Report

Let’s get the gory details out of the way.  My time was a 4:24:50. I was hoping for a sub-4.

The Chicago Marathon was on my list of marathons that I wanted to do.  While New York has the five boroughs and the Boston Marathon has the prestige, Chicago is the flat, speedy marathon of high performance times.

Never mind the fact that, 3 years ago, the Chicago Marathon was also the site of a marathon cut short by near 90 degree temps.

Pre-race, the porta-potty line an hour prior to the event was as bad as the worst I’ve ever experienced, at the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon this year [although that was 30 minutes before the start].  Considering the crowd for the Chicago Marathon was about 3-4 times as large, I can understand the wait.

The porta-potty line in the Finish area an hour prior to marathon start

An even bigger problem occurred after I had gotten through the porta-potty line and started heading toward the start line area.  There was a wall of people trying to get around the fencing set up for the start corrals.  At some point, within a few feet of the nearest entrance point, a line of people formed going in the opposite direction.  It turned out that they were streaming out of the exit and that the entrance was a few feet further.  However, there was a mild sense of panic and for a few moments, I thought I was going to be in the middle of a soccer-fan-style stampede.

After about 15 minutes of pushing forward, I managed to get behind the 4:30 marathon pacers.  I don’t know if they intended to be there, as I saw an assortment of other pacers for paces from 3:30 to 5:30 within sight range through the dense crowd.  Bad move on my part for not investing time and effort in a seeded entry–I had a 3:32 and a 3:49 marathon time that I could have used.

My place in the open start area, after pushing through. Behind 4:30 pacers.

When the race began, I found myself waiting for 20 minutes to cross the start line.  Again, considering the size of the field, not a big surprise.  What was a big surprise, however, was the race course having so many 90 degree turns in the first few miles of the race.  In many crowds like this, I have to work to avoid walking.  In this one, I had to work just to avoid coming to a dead stop at the turn.

Much of my first half of the race was spent jogging at a 10-12 minute pace and sprinting to get through openings as they came available.  This resulted in a 9:30 average pace for the first 5k splits and about a 9:00 average pace towards the half.

Water stops were awful.  Of course, they were two blocks long.  The ground was tacky for the first half and slippery for the second half.  Not a surprise, but 2 blocks of this every 1.5 miles is far more annoying that a half block every mile.  With the size of the crowds and the number of inexperienced marathoners, there was a lot of taking fluid and walking down the middle of the course while drinking.  I’m not the best at etiquette, but I try to avoid obstructing traffic as much as possible.

The first block was Gatorade, which meant that I always took it at a stop.  The Gatorade was a very thick mix.  Toward the halfway point, I started desperately looking for the water, and then later, started taking whatever cups of fluid I could get.  The heavy mix of Gatorade turned my stomach by mile 20, and I started having stomach cramps.  It seemed like I had a choice between dehydrating and stomach cramps from the Gatorade.

The heat was not much of an issue.  At least, not on its own.  Yes, it was roughly 83’F downtown when I finished, and downtown temps were on their way to tying the record temperatures by the end of the race day.  The larger issue is that there is so much sun exposure on the course, and Chicago did not live up to its “Windy City” reputation that day.  The air was stagnant and the sun was glaring.  The stomach cramps, heat, and sun wore me down by mile 20, and by mile 23, I was timing run/walk intervals just to keep moving as fast as I could bear.

I fared better than most.  The last two miles were littered with stretchers with exhausted runners who needed medical attention.  I finished, trekked the 1/2 mile to the end of the finish area, and started in on the Gatorade Recovery drink.  I tried to sit and recover some, but the sun was too hot to even sit down in.  By the way, heat and a Gatorade drink with whey protein?  That’s like getting saltwater in the middle of the desert.

The finisher’s medal seems to be way more of an ad for the sponsor than a medal for finishing.  I respect that the sponsor deserves ample credit, but I’d also like ample credit for finishing.  The whole medal seems to pay homage to the Bank of America logo:

Bank of America Chicago Marathon Finisher's Medal

Lessons and recommendations:

  1. Don’t ever run a big city marathon [20,000+ marathoners] again.
  2. If I do run a big city marathon again, get a seeded entry.
  3. If I do run a big city marathon again, but don’t get a seeded entry, jog it without regard for time.
  4. For this area, I would recommend the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon instead.  The money you save can go toward a hotel next to Lucas Oil Stadium that’s within 1 mile of the start.  Two nights in downtown Chicago + race registration would buy you 3 nights + race registration and maybe even tickets to a Colts home game.