My second attempt at a sub 3 hour marathon, and this was the flattest marathon course there is – the biggest hill is a massive 24 feet! The weather was promising to be good and training had gone well, so this was definitely a “no excuses” race. If I screw this one up it was time to find a new sport!
Woke up early, about 5:30 Chicago time, after a reasonable nights sleep and got some food & Gatorade down and got ready to go. Forecast was for cold temps (30’s), but I hate being too warm when I run so it was still going to be shorts, singlet and gloves. I did pick up some arm warmers at the marathon expo just to make sure my arms didn’t fall off. I left the hotel at 6:15 to walk the mile to the start and the temperature was just 32 degrees. I was glad I had some throw-away sweats on as it was pretty damn cold hanging around chatting nervously with the other runners.
After a couple of trips to the boys’ room (OK, one was a portaloo, one was a tree), the start corral had filled up and we were approaching start time (7:30). We did the national anthem and the crowd was getting pretty pumped up - everyone threw their sweats to the side as we counted down to the start. The gun went off and we were moving, I crossed the line just 8 seconds later and it was game time! The crowd was already huge and noisy and I was feeling ready to go! Then I remembered that 5 minute miles were not the plan and got myself back under control.
The first 10K
My plan was to run a steady, constant pace and not go off like a bat out of hell like last time. Each 5K was planned around 21:10, which should bring me home at 2:59:00 – so that’s a 6:49 pace for 26.2 miles. Mile 1 was a little quick at 6:42, so I consciously slowed and did 2 & 3 at 6:47. 5K came in 21:03 (6:47 pace) and I was in a groove. It wasn’t crowded around me, the support was awesome and I was on my way. Next 5K was uneventful and it clicked by in 21:05 (6:47 pace), still feeling like an easy Sunday long run.
The second 10K
At this point I started talking with another runner. He was an 800 meter college runner, doing his first marathon. Turned out he was 22 and had used up all his eligibility as a college runner and decided to run a marathon before he got old and slow. He didn’t really have a time goal so we just started running together chatting away. Next two 5Ks were 21:05 (6:47 pace) and 21:18 (6:51 pace) and we went through 20K (12.4 miles) in 1:24:35 (6:48 pace), about 20 seconds ahead of pace. It was still feeling really easy.
The third 10K
As we approached the half I started looking for my support crew (Liz, my wife and my running friend’s wife). We headed back over the river into downtown and the crowd got really noisy. I was really pumped up and we were flying! I spotted Liz just at mile 13 as she yelled. We turned the corner and then entered the noisiest part of the course. Unbelievable support! My pace picked up with all the excitement (to about 6:35) and I was feeling like a million bucks. 5K times were 21:09 (6:48) and 21:02 (6:46). That was 30K down in 2:06:33, so I was now about 40 seconds ahead of plan. I was really surprised to see Liz again about mile 17, she’d run a couple miles to get to the next corner. Gave me another big boost!
The fourth 10K
This is where things can get ugly in a marathon, as I found out in Ottawa so I was very conscious of what my legs were feeling like. Quads were tightening up, but everything else felt good. I was done with the Gatorade I’d been carrying and I took my first and only Gu about mile 18. I was still feeling fine and decided this was gonna be my day. Mike, my new college running companion, was still with me and he was feeling good too. We were still chatting away, although a little less than before, and he said “No matter what happens, we are going under 3:10”. Having been on pace at mile 20 before and seen things go belly up real fast I wasn’t so sure. But we were still flying along like clockwork and did another 21:08 5K. Then about mile 22 he said “Fuck!” and was gone, he had cramped up badly, stopped on a dime and went to the side. I mumbled “good luck” and kept going. Felt bad for a second for not stopping but then got over it and got back on track. The course then turned back North for the final 3 miles. It was into the wind and people were starting to fade. I still felt great so kept pushing. I was passing people pretty steadily and did another 5K in 21:14.
The final stretch
At this point I knew sub 3 was mine unless something horrible happened. The crowd was massive and was really noisy. I was feeling better than ever and just kept going. There were the usual last few mile casualties and I felt a little guilty as I flew by. With ½ mile to go I reach the big 24’ hill. It seemed bigger than that as I ran up it, but I was on fire and nothing was gonna slow me down. I was sprinting now, passing a ton of people. As I rounded the final turn I had just 400 meters to go. The crowd was incredibly noisy and I ran right by the stands high fiving people as I went by – I didn’t care about the few seconds I lost, I felt incredible. I have never felt that good running and I crossed the line in 2:58:13. It was an amazing experience, and I was pretty emotional and pretty exhausted as it all sank in. It’s weird to finally do something you’ve been working at for so long.
Pretty much the second I stopped I realized it was really cold, it was still 37 degrees. I drank 3 gatorades fast and then heard Liz yelling at me from behind the fence. She’d made it to the end to see me finish but I’d missed her in my excitement. She had brought me some dry clothes so I put them on – what a great support team!
Overall it was a perfect race. My pacing was on the money with my 5K times being all between 20:56 and 21:18. I ran the second half 5 seconds faster than the first. Weather was perfect, course was perfect, organization was perfect and the crowd was unreal, especially Liz hauling ass around Chicago in freezing temps to cheer me on. And later I found out that Mike got over his cramp and ended up finishing just about 45 seconds behind me.
It was a new PR for me by more than 5 minutes, and I was 681st out of 45,000 registered runners, 81st in the male 40-44 division.
So now I get to kick back for a while and enjoy the feeling of being a 2-something marathon runner, which was beyond my wildest expectations when I started running just over 3 years ago!