An Amazing Year

An Amazing Year

by Jeff P.

The Chicago Marathon was the end of a great season of racing both in running and triathlon.  It was an ambitious season to get in a lot of different types and distances of racing.  I’m sure I presented as a good challenge for Coach Joe to schedule all the training that I needed to accomplish all that I wanted to do.  As usual, I think he did a good job of getting me as well prepared as I could be.  The first half of the season saw me training for my “A” race of the Spirit of Racine Half Ironman and the second half was dedicated to my second “A” race, the Chicago Marathon.  All the while I kept sprinkling in smaller run races and triathlons – 4 other run races and 4 other triathlons.  I can tell you it can be done if you have the support of family, friends and coaches – I had that.  I will also admit, it can also prove challenging to excel at any one race and thus one must accept that finishing in any event is a huge victory in itself!  This was something I learned about the Chicago Marathon.

A year ago, I sat with Coach Joe at our yearly review and future planning session and laid out the plan for 2009.  Looking at the dates of the races it was easy to see the ambition (a polite term for craziness) of my 2009 plan.  I was going to have completed my half Ironman in the middle of July, still have an Olympic distance triathlon in August, and then begin my preparation for the Chicago Marathon with about eight weeks of training.  I even threw in a half marathon in September for good measure.  I had noticed that many of the other novice runners doing the marathon for the first time were spending the entire summer focused on running only – maybe that should have been a clue for me?  I had it in my mind that I had an established base for endurance running through my prior three years of training and that eight weeks of training could be focused on getting the distance down.  I had myself convinced that if I could endure a half Ironman event, I could surely handle a full marathon of running only…right?  I mean, I could do a half marathon in 1:30.  It would be just doubling that for a full one…right?  What’s all this about “the race starting after 18 miles?”  It couldn’t be nothing that a few sips of Gatorade and a few gu gels couldn’t handle…right?  After eight weeks of preparations, I found all the answers I was looking for.

The morning of the Chicago Marathon began with the coldest temperatures recorded for the event since its inception.  This made for a little challenge for I have been training in relatively seasonable weather that required light shirts and shorts and that morning found me wearing running tights, two shirts and gloves in the 35 degree temperatures.  However, given the previous 2 years of unseasonably warm weather, I would take the cool temperatures any time.  After a quick stretch and jog, I gathered with the rest of the runners in my assigned corral standing among those wearing garbage bags and every conceivable attire to stay warm at the starting line.  After the national anthem and introductions of the pro racers, as if on cue a mass strip down of those warm clothes took place.  They were tossed over the fence (later I learned all the clothes were collected and donated to city shelters – cool!)  With one last look at the endless group of runners in front of and behind me, I listened for the starter’s gun.  With a pop and roar of the crowd, the mass exodus of runners out of the starting gate began.  It was almost a minute before I crossed the starting line and began my 26.2 mile journey.  Listening to Joe’s mantra in my head, I began slower than I felt capable of doing at the start – this is not a 5k or a 10k or even a half marathon – it’s a whole different animal altogether.  Pacing is the key to getting through this length of a race.  So I spent the first two miles going about 15-20 seconds slower than usual and because of that, I got to look around and take in the scenery.  What a view!  Thousands of spectators lined the street personally cheering me on.  If there was a contrast to those running with a view of the mountains as a backdrop, weaving amongst the skyscrapers has to be a close second.  Running with 35,000 other people may seem intimidating, but soon the crowd thins out and you find groups of runners of comparable ability and quickly get into a groove.  My plan was to not focus on the entire 26.2 miles, but to break up the race into four sections: the Wrigleyville loop, the Greektown loop, the Chinatown loop and the finish home.  Even within the loops, I had mini-races from mile marker to mile marker.  Even though it was very cool, a few miles into the race, my body was warm enough to disregard the temperature.  However, I didn’t let the coolness exempt me from getting in my hydration and nutrition.  The race was very well set up with aid stations that offered plenty of Gatorade and water and I didn’t skip any opportunity to get in at least one drink or two.

The race offered a journey into every kind of neighborhood culture you could imagine, from men in cheerleader outfits in “Boystown” to parade dragons in Chinatown.  It was an assault on all your senses including the wonderful smells of the various cultural foods Chicago neighborhoods offer.  It really made the journey very passable.  The river crossings offered a great view of what makes Chicago unique.  All the while, the streets were packed with people waving signs, ringing cowbells and even dancing to an Elvis impersonator crooning “Burning Love.”  Amongst the crowd, I found the important sights that I wanted to see and that was my cheering team – Maxine, my wife, and the ET gang including Coach Joe, Suzy, Drew and Laurie.  Seeing them was equivalent to a shot of gel or Gatorade giving me such a high that urged me on with their cheers.  Thank you!  Thank you!  Thank You for being there to see me as I marched on.

The first half of the race (13.1 miles) found me holding a comfortable pace of 7:15 minute/miles.  I crossed the halfway point in 1:35.  It was exactly where I wanted to be.  I just needed to knock out the other half in a similar fashion and I was done!  Little did I realize I was going to understand the prophetic comments of Coach Joe concerning the race starting at the 18-mile marker.  I noticed over the next 5 miles until mile 18 that my pace was slowing a little as I averaged around 7:30 minute/miles.  That was okay, I thought, as I wanted to get to the last 5-6 miles ready to kick it in.  Around mile 20, I noticed a few people who were beside or behind me starting to get ahead.  This is where I make my move… this is where I make my move… nothing happened.  I felt the exertion of my legs and yet, my GPS watch was telling me that I was slowing down even more and my familiar pacing partners throughout the race were slowly disappearing.  No, no… wait.  I can do… let me catch up.  Then it happened.  A familiar twinge all of us runners have encountered in our races.  That reminder that sometimes our body turns on us, grabs us by the collar shaking us and says, “What are you doing!  Let me tell you who’s in charge here!  And here are some cramps to remind you of this!”  That was the moment for me at mile 20.  From then on, the race became a different one for me.  It became a race to just finish.  Try as I might, mentally I could not overcome the letdown of my body.  It was not a feeling of tiredness.  My heart rate had actually slowed down over the course of the entire race and more so in the last 6 miles.  I didn’t stop.  I didn’t walk.  I just wasn’t going to see the paces I had in the first 18 miles.  The pace through the Chinatown loop slowed to the mid 8 minute/mile.  It would go slower as I headed to the finish… but I never stopped.  I was reminded of the tortoise and the hare story as runners that I passed early in the race slowly passed me.  I remembered some of them as I laughed at their crazy costumes (one was dressed like prison cellmate) or lack of costume (one zz top gentleman ran in jean shorts and Chuck Taylors).  That’s when I smiled and said it’s okay.  Let’s just finish.  I made a deal with my body… get me across the finish and I’ll give you a nice ice bath and we’ll get a massage together.  That’s what it took and within moments, I found myself going down the last 0.2 mile homestretch to the finish line.  I peeled off my top shirt to display my race number to the camera for prosperity.  I was then across the finish line.  I was done.  I didn’t want to move any more, but I had to. I had to find Maxine to celebrate the moments.  So, my next endurance race was to walk the 2 blocks to the exit area and Maxine.  Mylar blanket, a powerbar, some water, a banana, a medal around my neck, people asking if I was okay, get my timing chip removed… all of this between the finish and the exit and Maxine who will get me home.  And then my reward for two blocks of hobbling… a hug and a kiss from Maxine.  She had her own little marathon getting in 9 miles of running as she raced from location to location to cheer me on.  And finally, we were together again at the end as it always should be.  Hand in hand, we walked to car, yet another endurance event, but that’s for another race report.

Again, big thanks to Coach Joe for all his help in training and supporting me throughout this year of highs and lows and keeping me oscillating in the middle.  It was a huge challenge for the both of us and I know being able to successfully participate in events like the Chicago Marathon with his help was a huge and fulfilling reward for me.  Okay, Coach Joe, let’s talk about the three Ironmans I want to do next year… really, it won’t be a problem if we space them out about 2 months apart…. 🙂


Enjoy all the 2009 Chicago Marathon pictures at our photo gallery.

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