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Chicago Marathon - RunMarathon

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Chicago, Illinois
United States
Total Time = 2h 58m 48s
Overall Rank = 624/35670
Age Group = 30-34
Age Group Rank = 123/3421
Pre-race routine:

The story goes like this: boy grows up hating sports and loving books and music. Boy becomes man and gets fat. He takes up triathlon to lose weight, and in turn, falls in love with running. With no natural talent, he works hard to get faster and overcomes injuries. After a few years, he has some personal success and feels like a rock star. The End...sort of.

This taper week I was reminiscing about my first run three years ago. I had lived in Michigan for 9 months. I was mountain biking a little, but I said that I would never do the crazy stuff tri Alaina does. I am not an athlete and never would be.

My first run was a "terrible beauty". Alaina invited me to run a mile with her and I reluctantly agreed. We went out at a 10 m/m pace and my heart gurgled from my chest to my throat and ejected some leftover tar from my smoking days. Getting to the first 1/2 mile point took forever.

Remember in Temple of Doom when Mola Ram rips the heart out of that dude's chest and sets it on fire? That was this run. At the end of the road, just before the golf course (which now doesn't even constitute my warm up), my whole body was exhausted. I turned around and let her go on. I was both inwardly happy about the fact that I could run at all, and outwardly disappointed that I couldn't just go out and run 10 miles on day one. haz the dum, right?

I'd like to say that each run got a whole lot easier, but they didn't. I ran at a 10-11 min/mi pace that was a whole-body sufferfest for 1-3 miles at a time. And this was for a long time. When I finally did start going faster, I got ITBS. But by that point, I knew I was in love with running, so I started my battle with that st00pid band. And eventually, I won.
Event warmup:

Forward to 2011. I raced eleven events this year, four of them being half-Ironmans, and it was a breakthrough year. I set a PR in every distance I entered and won overall for the first time at a trail half-marathon. After my last HIM of the season, I dedicated my time solely back to my true passion. Running. I read Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning 12/70 plan and modified it down to 8 weeks, nailing nearly every training run, peaking with 2 x 70 mile weeks and a 22 mile long run with marathon pace worked in. My goal was a sub-3 hour marathon, which was a stretch goal considering that I should’ve been on a marathon-specific, 12-18 week plan for that.

During taper week, I cut my volume 50%, carb loaded for three days before the race, slept 8-10 hours a night, and didn’t have too many drinks. It was horrible. I was moody and irritable from breaking my happy habits, but knew I had to be in perfect form to reach sub-3. and a huge thanks to my wife for putting up with my crap!

Come race day, I was ready to rip it. My plan was to run even splits, no matter what everyone around me was doing. A guy near me in Corral A had a wristband saying, “Relax, Breathe, Focus”. That became my mantra for the day. I needed to fuel perfectly, so I brought a small bottle of my training nutrition, GU brew. The harder part was disciplining my normal mentality of ‘rock and roll -- go out hard as hell and hold on.’
  • 2h 58m 48s
  • 26.2 miles
  • 06m 49s  min/mile

Just before the gun, Ryan Hall came running out and joined the other elites, pumping up the runners in our corral along the way. Pretty cool. As I looked around, Most of the guys near me had pace bands on with the time and miles on it, chatting with each other about their goals. I heard sub-2:50, trying for 2:40, etc. It was a little daunting. As soon as the gun went off, swarms of people started absolutely killing the pace. I looked down at my watch, trying to hold back and saw 6:20s. Too fast, dial it back.

I quickly stopped caring about everyone else’s race -- this was my day. My Garmin was way off, perhaps because of the tunnels and the tall buildings, so I just hit lap at each mile marker and looked at the time. Might as well have been a $10 watch for all the good it did me. :D

The first 4 miles of most of my training runs feel like I'm aqua jogging with Wilford Brimley. This was no exception. Hips were tight, calves were sore, ankles twingy. Staying relaxed, I figured I’d settle into a groove after that. But I continued to struggle with turnover. Running at my goal pace took a concerted effort that I was having doubts about maintaining. Breathing was easy though, which calmed me and allowed my mind to settle. I've never done a big race like this with the insanely loud crowds cheering the entire time, so I soaked that up when I was feeling good, but mostly I focused on form and running at my own goal pace.

A quick word about running clothes and women. In my limited experience, the fastest women at a given race tend to wear the least amount of clothes. The speedo style bottoms and sports bra are a popular combo. And whenever a speedo came by, men became these migrating birds, flying in perfect v-formation behind her, magically finding that extra gusto to up the pace. This, friends, is the power of the pace booty.

The energy from the aid station volunteers was amazing. Each neighborhood, from Chinatown to Little Italy, had dozens of volunteers from that area out on the course handing out Gatorade, water, bananas, and gels. I loved the sense of niche communities coming out together to form a whole Chicago.

Finally by mile 8 I started feeling strong. Maybe it just took that long to shake the taper rust off and warm up. From 8-12 there were some waves of crappy feeling as the 3:00 pace group passed me by, but I stuck to my ticking watch time, which kept showing me at 6:51 every mile, so I knew the pace group was going out too fast. Relax, breathe, focus. Run your own race.

Just after 13 I saw the early faders. You know, the ones who had been doing the big bad wolf impression in your ear back at mile 6. The clock showed 1:29:xx at 13.1, and everything was falling into place. These next 7 miles were my favorite, running through Greektown and Chinatown, where the neighborhoods look like Sesame Street and all the happiness makes you think Mr. Hooper and Big Bird are just around the next corner.

My rhythm was chamois butter smooth now, as I remembered all those mid-week 14-16 mile early morning runs that laid the foundation for this race. In fact, I brought my iPod but didn't listen to it once, and I'm one who LOVES listening to music on my runs. It was all about focus.

At mile 20 I really started thinking about the finish, but not in a 'someone please make it stop!' kind of way that I'm used to. My mind was like a flip book of running memories, flashing images of rainy runs, hot runs, trail runs, runs with Alaina, inspires from BTers, and seeing my family at IMLP last year. One person on BT that deserves a shout out here is Bobby aka Dream Chaser, whose positivity, knowledge of the sport, and support for other athletes has helped me and others to believe in themselves and keep chasing bigger dreams. Thanks Bobby!

Note: 6.2 miles is a long way at the end of the marathon. Dozens of athletes around me saw their goals fade away in a pile of cramps and sore muscles. I know this because I've been there this year. Groin and hamstring cramps have slowed me late in races so I remembered to finish my salt sticks and take Gatorade and water at each aid station til the finish. By 22 it was time to see what was left in the tank. I picked the pace up a few secs per mile, still playing it conservatively because I feared cramps, which would lose me minutes rather than seconds.

And then the race was all before me. I was the one passing people. I was not fading. I was running strong to the end, though still within myself. A couple of people around me made their moves too so I paced off them until the bridge at mile 26. And for the last 1.2 miles I averaged 6:29/mi. All those trail runs lifted me up the bridge passing bunches of people. Then the track workouts kicked in as I gunned it down the final meters and saw the clock in its finals seconds of 2:58.

As I crossed the mat I let out a yelp of joy and a fist pump. This time not collapsing into a heap like at the Indy marathon. I did it! I had a perfect day and executed so well it would've made Texas DOC proud. I grabbed my medal, got my pic taken and grabbed a cold beer. The perfect finish to a perfect day. I chased and captured my stretch goal, qualified for Boston by 5+ minutes, getting my revenge on their rejection slip last month.
What would you do differently?:

I wouldn't change a thing. I ran my race and followed my plan. Next time I can take a bigger pace risk in the last 6.2 miles but I needed to get this goal first.
Post race
Warm down:

Beer. Sun. Rock star dance.

What limited your ability to perform faster:

Next time I'll follow an 18 week plan and try some 80+ mile per week stuff to see what I can do.

Profile Album

Last updated: 2011-02-27 12:00 AM
02:58:48 | 26.2 miles | 06m 49s  min/mile
Age Group: 132/3421
Overall: 624/35670
Performance: Good
Keeping cool Drinking
Post race
Weight change: %
Mental exertion [1-5]
Physical exertion [1-5]
Good race?
Course challenge
Events on-time?
Lots of volunteers?
Plenty of drinks?
Post race activities:
Race evaluation [1-5]

2011-10-13 5:53 PM

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Ann Arbor, MI
Subject: Chicago Marathon

2011-10-13 6:10 PM
in reply to: #3723287

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Brooklyn, NY
Subject: RE: Chicago Marathon
If the Pulitzer people ever decide to give out awards for race reports, it's likely you'll win one. Always entertaining.

Great job--congratulations.
2011-10-13 6:14 PM
in reply to: #3723316

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Albuquerque, New Mexico
Subject: RE: Chicago Marathon
Smokin' fast. Great report. Congrats.
2011-10-13 8:44 PM
in reply to: #3723287

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Subject: RE: Chicago Marathon

Awesome Awesome Awesome! And you thought it would be hard to top 2010! Pffft!  You have young sir, you have!


Congrats on a great race, on pushing your limits, on executing YOUR plan, on having the dream race.  You did all the tough stuff to get there friend. I am always amazed (and inspired) at what you accomplish.  You rock Mr. SpeedyPants!!!


2012 should be equally amazing no? love love your opening comments...

2011-10-13 9:02 PM
in reply to: #3723287

Subject: RE: Chicago Marathon

Congratulations! Well deserved and thank you for sharing.


How long have you been running, 9 years?

2011-10-13 10:30 PM
in reply to: #3723287

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san francisco
Subject: RE: Chicago Marathon
What a beautiful race you had! Thank you for sharing your perfectly executed masterpiece of a race! Congrats to you.

2011-10-14 6:49 AM
in reply to: #3723287

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Ann Arbor, MI
Subject: RE: Chicago Marathon
Wooohoooo you did it!!! Your are my hero I am so proud of everything you've done and am so happy that running brings you joy. Congrats on the perfect race, you earned it!
2011-10-14 8:23 AM
in reply to: #3723287

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Extreme Veteran
Olathe, KS
Subject: RE: Chicago Marathon
Awesome. Its gotta feel great that your hard training gave you a solid race from beginning to end. Congrats on your time and strong finish.
2011-10-14 8:53 AM
in reply to: #3723287

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Norton Shores, MI
Subject: RE: Chicago Marathon

Those splits are a thing of beauty!!  You absolutely nailed it..sticking to your plan and rewarded for running a perfect race.  AWESOME!  Have a Scotch on me...mail the bill .

2011-10-14 9:59 AM
in reply to: #3723287

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Extreme Veteran
Denver CO
Subject: RE: Chicago Marathon

Way to go, man. This marathon for you was like my Boston Marathon in 2009. It's amazing to have a race that you run perfectly. It's almost unbelievable, because every athlete knows just how much is out of your control on race day. But you did everything right, and all the external stuff cooperated. It's a beautiful thing. And being able to perform like that really validates your commitment and hard work as an ahtlete.

I have gotten a tremendous amount of enjoyment out of witnessing your transformation. It's been a long, hard road... and here you are. Congratulations, I can't wait to see what else is in store for you.

2011-10-14 1:18 PM
in reply to: #3723287

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Subject: RE: Chicago Marathon
So proud and happy to see how far you've come!!!  What a great race and a fantastic report too!  Congrats Ryan!!!

2011-10-14 1:53 PM
in reply to: #3723287

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Extreme Veteran
Olive Branch, MS
Subject: RE: Chicago Marathon
Great time, man!
2011-10-14 3:47 PM
in reply to: #3724384

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, Minnesota
Gold member
Subject: RE: Chicago Marathon

Bless you for taking the effort to write an interesting report.   It has really cheered up an exceptionally boring afternoon at work for me.

Also, great race!

2011-10-14 9:11 PM
in reply to: #3723287

Iron Donkey
, Wisconsin
Subject: RE: Chicago Marathon

Some people are blessed with such hidden talent - and you, my friend, are definitely one of those that have showed those S.O.B's from your earlier days what you got.

I'm so proud of your accomplishments, and the great writing gift that tells those stories.

You and Alaina are incredible.

Congratulations, Ryan, and keep up the great work!

BTW - say "BARK BARK" (Hello) to the Cody pup from me and Taz!

2011-10-15 2:29 PM
in reply to: #3723287

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ann arbor, michigan
Subject: RE: Chicago Marathon
For the rest of your life you are now a sub three hour marathoner. What an awesome thing to be able to say. Way to run a perfect race. I am chasing the same goal and I will definitely remember your race report when I am out there putting it on the line.

2011-10-15 7:43 PM
in reply to: #3723287

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Wellington, North Island
Subject: RE: Chicago Marathon

A perfectly executed race is a thing of beauty. Great job Ryan!

2011-10-16 4:41 PM
in reply to: #3723287

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Subject: RE: Chicago Marathon
very fun read. great job.

Edited by BigDH 2011-10-16 4:42 PM
2011-10-17 10:46 AM
in reply to: #3723287

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Subject: RE: Chicago Marathon
Ryan, what an impressive - picture perfect race. Perfect even splits, you nailed your nutrition, stayed focus, soaked in the crowds. Superb Race Report. Only *you* could adeptly include Mr.Hooper and Wilford Brimley into a RR.
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