The Chicago Marathon – My Path Back To Competition
It is weird how a specialization within a sport can carve the nature of one’s athleticism. I was a gymnast and swimmer in college focusing on strength and speed and it shows in my physique. I am by no means a skinny runner who chugs along on a 135 lb frame. I am a 5’11”, 185 lb sprinter with muscle, especially the sprinter legs. Yet, I find myself intrigued by the concept of taking my body to the limit by attempting to change my sprinter mentality to an endurance and triathlon champion.
I am a former collegiate swimmer who loves to stay in shape. I work out on a daily basis, if not two times a day and try to eat as healthy as I can (granted, I am still human). However, I missed competition. I missed the camaraderie of training with a group, going to competitions with fellow athletes, and finding ways to push physical pain to its limits. I started running 5K races to see how fast I could push myself. The 5ks started to turn into 10Ks. The 10Ks turned to 10 mile races. The 10 mile races turned to half marathons. Then everything turned to sprint triathlons. I think you can see the progression this is going. I decided one of my goals is to complete the Hawaii Ironman, but I realized I had yet to complete a marathon.
My realization led me to pursue coaching, and like with any other purchase it is best to shop around. I found Experience Triathlon and set up a time for both Coach Joe to interview me and me to interview Coach Joe. Yes, I say interview. Sometimes coaches and athletes do not fit together and goals are not met because both are wasting their time. Joe and I met at Panera Bread in Danada Square and I found an instant coach athlete relationship: someone who cared about me as a person, my athletic goals, limiting injury, and most of all, having fun. I knew this was the right coach and training group for me, but I did not make it easy on Coach Joe. I had already registered for five or six races in the span of four months: a couple half marathons, a 10 miler, two 5ks, Chicago Marathon and the Honolulu Marathon.
Coach Joe and I started right away and I saw great progress in my endurance and my speed. Yet, my path was not meant to be easy and with very little agitation. I ruptured a tendon in my foot and pulled my lower abdominal muscles, limiting my intensity level and hindering my training for Chicago. What scared me most was tapering too early. There is no worse feeling than showing up to a competition and realizing your best performance was the day before the event. It’s devastating.
Sunday morning came extremely early, well, no earlier than it always does as time does not change, but you get my point. I walked confidently to gear check then to the start corral with every intention of having a great race. I could not worry about tapering. The time had come to put my best foot forward, well hopefully both of them, and run a strong first marathon. I put in my headphones and zoned into my competitive athletic stare, ignoring everyone and everything around me.
The first half of the marathon was an adrenaline rush of spectators cheering in the cool early morning temperatures. It was one of the most exhilarating feelings outside of my collegiate career. Seriously, where else does one go to see a group cheering you on dressed as Lady Gaga? I cannot tell you how my first half run really was because I did not even realize I was running. The crowd, the air, the scenery, the adrenaline blocked every minute of my first thirteen miles out of my mind.
The thirteen mile marker was in front of me. I passed it and I felt great! I was on my way to my goal time, hopefully better, and a couple of miles from picking up my pace in hopes of negative splitting the second half of the race. But, the scene had changed; the charismatic crowd dwindled to pockets and the cool brisk air changed to a typical Chicago mid-80s with little shade in sight. However, my run felt strong until I was in the old video game Frogger, jumping around to avoid cups, sponges, gel packets, and banana peels. And the latter is what would be the demise of my second half negative splits. I looked like a member of a Three Stooges skit. I am chasing a fellow marathoner who wants to remove me from the race. In his comedic genius he realizes he shall just drop a banana peel right before I step to cause disruption to my quest. I slipped on a banana peel, caught myself, and reinjured the ankle and tendon that had bothered me. The last nine miles were going to be a testament to my determination to finish strong.
I made it to the 23rd mile, not as fast as I would have liked but I was there. My family and friends were right there cheering me on. Phew, I had 3.2 miles left and I was going to finish strong. I encountered a second wind when I saw the Experience Triathlon cheering section and Coach Joe pushing me along. Next thing I knew, I had 250 meters left which brought the sprinter back out in me. I made the turn after making it up the hill, saw the finish line and put my head down, stretched out my stride and picked up my leg speed. I sprinted past people while also making sure no one was going to sprint past me. I crossed the finish line in 4:56, definitely over my goal, but I cannot be upset for a strong finish in my first marathon.
Chicago’s successful race is the beginning of my path back to competitive form. I cannot wait to train for my next goals with Coach Joe and the Experience Triathlon athletes and staff. More success is on the way.
I would also like to thank my family and friends who stood around waiting to cheer us on, but I want to congratulate my wife, Meghann, and my friends Chris and Josh for accomplishing their first marathons. We definitely made the journey together!
Next stop, the Honolulu Marathon! I’m guessing I slip on a pineapple during this race.
Click here to enjoy all the photos from our day at the 2011 Chicago Marathon.