One of my greatest fears is sleeping through the alarm on the morning of a race. The night before Chicago, I requested a wake-up call at the Hilton, set my alarm on my phone to go off at two different times, and set my watch alarm as the last call. On Saturday night, my head hit the pillow by 10:30 and I slept until I heard the first ring at 4:30.
As I stared out the window into the darkness, I was glad that I had woken up earlier and earlier each Saturday morning for my long runs. I was now use to pushing myself through the wee hours of the morning; I was ready for this marathon. My headache from the day before was gone, but I felt flat, empty. Something seemed to be missing. I ate anyway, had a quick shower, got dressed and left Dave and the boys sleeping away as I headed towards the start line.
By 6:15, I had found myself a spot to relax before I had to get into the corral. Aside from my running gear, I only wore a sweater that the oldest dude had outgrown. Since I was going to toss it into a charity bin, I didn’t need to worry about the bag check. All I had to do was keep warm, stay loose, and visit the porta-potty every now and then to make sure I was as empty as possible.
The first corral went out at 7:30 and mine (Corral B) started to move just minutes later. From the moment I crossed the start line, I was amazed by the screaming crowds. I expected that they would die down at some points but that never happened. Block after block, mile after mile, the support was incredible. Between the feeling of being pushed from behind and the sidelines cheering us on, I knew I would be able to finish the marathon. All I needed to do was run those 8 minute miles, all 26.2 of them.
And I did – faster than that at first. I glanced at my watch at every mile marker and realized that my pace was too fast and I tried to pull it back. But the runners behind me kept pushing me forward. And I felt good. No, I felt great. Mentally, this was going to be a tough race. “Stay focused,” I told myself. “Eight minute miles, eight minute miles…. Oh no! How did I end up ahead of the 3:30 pace bunny?”
By Mile 8, I felt my hamstrings start to tighten up on me. The car ride from Oakville had caught up with me. I tried to ignore it and looked for Dave, who was going to meet me around Mile 9. He was nowhere to be seen.
By the end of the first hour, the skies were blue. In fact, there was hardly any shade so I started to feel the slowly increasing heat. At Mile 10, I was starting to feel nauseous again. “Focus. Pull back a bit. You’re doing fine but watch the pace. Eight minute miles, eight minute miles….”
At Mile 12, I saw Marcia from Marcia’s Healthy Slice and her crew wildly cheer me along. It was just the pick-me-up I needed. Thanks to the superb water and Gatorade tables (2 city blocks long, on both sides of the road), I had more fuel in the tank. My pacing was back to where I needed it to be and I was looking at a 1:45 half.
Dave finally appeared around 16k and again at 19K, where he ran with me for a few (2?) blocks. “How are you feeling?” he asked, to which I replied, “My feet hurt and I need a bathroom.” This was a marathon in which something always seemed to be bothering me. But even though I felt sick, my feet hurt, and my legs were getting tighter and tighter, I looked around at the crowds of volunteers and spectators and thought “I want to come back next year.”
From that point, my marathon was a bit of a disaster. It was hot. Apparently, it was windy too, but I didn’t notice it because I was too busy noticing the aches and pains throughout my body. I basically walked-ran the last 8 miles of the course and watched the 3:35 pace bunny run by, followed by the 3:40 and 3:45 pace bunnies. By then, I was in the last 5 kilometres. I was going to finish this marathon no matter what but, please, let’s get to the finish line with at least a BQ.
And I did. I crossed the finish line in 3:51, which gives me a 9 minute window for Boston 2017. That window can be opened a bit more and it has already has me thinking about winter and spring training and racing.
After finishing, I headed back to the hotel to meet Dave and the boys. We packed our bags, checked out and did what every runner needs to do after a marathon – eat a huge bowl of fruit and spend hours walking around the city. By evening, my legs felt great and were ready for the trip back home.
Even though I didn’t have a time goal, I was disappointed with my finish time and I realize now that I need to train for my next marathon with one in mind. However, my goals in Chicago were met. I made it to the start line and I crossed the finish line. That’s all I set out to do. Qualifying for Boston was a bonus and I am proud of that. Despite the aches and pains, running Chicago was a fabulous experience and I want to go back next year. I have left some unfinished business to take care of.