I went into the my fourth running of this race with low expectations. I haven’t really focused on any sort of short speed work due to training for Ironman Louisville, but that doesn’t mean I can’t give a 5K a try. And by try I mean gunning as hard as I can. But the race ended up being somewhat educational for me.
For this race I decided to wear my heart rate strap and monitor my heart rate through the 5K to see if my max HR is anywhere near the 220 bpm minus your age. This method is an easy way to determine your max heart rate, which you can then use to set your heart rate zones to train in. However, many don’t trust the calculation for some reason. I’m 53 years old, so using the 220-age formula I should have a max heart rate of 167.
So if you are going to use a 5K to see where your max heart rate is you should do a little warm up then go all out at max effort for 5K. So I strapped on my Garmin and the heart rate monitor strap and let it rip. Here’s what it told me:
And the 5K field test revealed a peak max heart rate of 169 bpm, with an average of 163 bpm. And the times that I glanced at my watch during the race I usually saw 166 bpm staring back at me. I guess the 220-age is accurate enough for me.
Okay, enough of the scientific stuff. Back to the race. I got there much later than I usually do and parked in the neighborhood next to the park where the race starts and ends near my friend Dian’s house. Lo and behold, Dian was actually outside! We chatted up ourselves a little bit and she thought the race had started already. Silly Dian. I explained that the runners will warm up prior to the race. She thought that was nuts. Gave me a chuckle though.
Over at the park, the usual suspects were there: Frankfort/New Lenox Running Club made a strong showing, Tinley Track & Trail was also present. Mr. Mustache Runner guy was there, with his shirt tucked in as usual. And many more familiar faces. It wasn’t until the race was almost ready to go when Nate Troester showed up at the start line, and I knew our eventual winner was finally here.
The guy that starts the race stands right in the middle of the road, orders us not to run him over, tells us not to start until he says “GO!” then proceeds to say “Okay, let’s go” prior to saying “On your mark, get set, GO!” Park district run races can be really strange. In the old days, races were run by runners who kind of knew what they were doing, and these park district guys don’t look like they run much. Anyway, at GO! we all took off and tried to avoid the dumb cherry picker thing in the path of the race route that has a guy up there with a camera. So dumb. You never see the pictures on their website or Facebook page, but damn, they got to have a cherry picker right on the road with a camera guy taking pictures that no one will ever see.
I had picked my mark, a guy named Chris S. who is in my age group and started just in front of me. I decided to hold his pace for as long as I could. That didn’t last long. I might have held on to him for about a half mile before I could tell I had maxed out my heart rate without even looking at my watch. I watched him pull away. That move of trying to stay with him got me through the first mile with a 6:18 split. NO BUENO! So much for the negative split strategy. He kicked my butt again, as usual.
After the first mile I decided to dial it back a touch and find my race pace comfort zone and found myself running with a guy wearing a Ironman Racine 70.3 t-shirt. We were pacing together pretty well. We turned off the path together and on to the side street to head back and about 1.5 miles into it we got passed by some kid. “Damn kids” I muttered, and Racine man agreed.
We ran together until the 2 mile split (6:47 min/mile) and he started to pull just a little bit ahead. I tried to match pace but I had spent too much energy on that first mile. He pulled ahead about 50 yards with about a 1/2 mile to go and that’s how it ended. The third mile split was 6:53 min/mile for me.
I checked the race results and learned Racine man was in my age group. He got 15th place overall, 2nd in the age group. Since this park district run race only awards the top 2 finishers in each age group with a medal, whereas most races go three deep, I knew I wasn’t going to add a medal to my medal rack this time around. You win some, you lose some.
Overall, it was a good race for me. I found that the 220-minus age max heart rate calculation is nearly exact to my actual field tested heart rate. I got to race some good competition. And there was pizza at the finish line.
When I show up for a 5K I tend to start scanning the people gathered around, looking for the usual suspects, the people I will key on as my competition. Since school was officially over for the high schools, I figured I would see a handful of high school age runners, fresh off of their track seasons, and there were a few. I also saw this kid who looked about 9 (the results indicate he was 11), and he had the “look.” Short running shorts, a set of wrap around sunglasses, and New Balance shoes that looked like racing flats. It was about 40 minutes until start and he went out for his warm up. I knew a runner when I saw one. I also saw a guy wearing a Calvin College Track Team singlet who looked fast as well (he was the eventual winner). It wasn’t until I saw Nate Troester, a local guy who wins every race, that I knew for sure that I certainly wasn’t going to win this race!
My wife Kari joined me in this race as it is walking distance from our house. We walked down to the park about 3/4 of a mile away and signed up. It was starting to get warm, and the race start time of 8:30 am was not helping. Much too late to start a summertime race, in my opinion. I tried talking Kari into gunning from the start, but she’s happy to run the race her way. I was already starting to build adrenaline for the start time.
I did some easy warm up and then headed to the start line. I’m always amazed at the number of slow people and kids at the front of the line. One guy said he’s staying back to let the rabbits go, but this guy was in the front as well. I dislike the tight corral type starts. They are too crowded, and filled with too many slowpokes at the front of the pack.
A couple of minutes later a horn sounded and we were off. I was surprised that many of the kids were holding tempo pretty good at the beginning, but by the time we got a half mile into it the first small climb appeared, and they started to drop off. It was also in that first half mile that I was surprised to see Nate Troester standing there clapping for everyone. I guess he was just hanging around. I was happy to see that I had just picked up a finisher’s spot!
At the first mile, a local kid named Merrigan was running along with me and not far off the first place female. We went through the first mile in 6:25 pace and I thought she would be good. But later I found out she had a sore knee from an earlier mishap and ended up dropping out. I kept pace behind the first girl for the next mile, as I also chased the one grey haired guy up ahead of me. He was moving pretty well and not showing any signs of letting up.
After the turn around, we climbed the few remaining hills and settled in for the last mile. I caught the first place girl and passed her. I could see the grey haired guy up ahead, but he was pulling away, as was the kid with the sunglasses. That kid knew what he was doing, running the tangents and basically picking off more and more runners.
I tried using the last downhill to pick up pace, using it to pass an 8th grade kid, and then accelerate through the last turn for the last 10th of a mile. I couldn’t catch anyone ahead of me, and there was no one directly behind me to worry about, so I glided in across the finish in 20:57.
I grabbed a water and dumped it over my head to cool down. I then walked back to the turn and waited with my daughter Rebecca for Kari to finish. She came by looking very strong, but I tried to tell her that she was getting out-kicked by a 5 year old! She didn’t care. To get beat by a 5 year old would have killed me.
When the results were posted I was surprised to see that I finished 10th, and first in my age group. I would have bet that the grey haired guy ahead of me was in my age group. It turns out he was 58! Smoking fast for 58! I also checked the results for Kari and learned that she medaled as well, taking 3rd in her a/g! Well done!
In all, it’s a fun local race, and I thoroughly enjoyed the run with my wife.
28 years of running are in the book! I say “book” in the literal sense, seeing that I have been logging my runs since 1989 and keeping them in a notebook. It’s becoming a behemoth! 28 total years and a crazy 21,867 total miles is what I currently stand at. I’m very proud of that. I’m glad I started logging them down back in 1989.
As it is the usual custom for me, I like to sum up the year and take stock of my accomplishments and create goals for the following year. I started doing triathlons in 2012, so I now include notes about my triathlon season as well. So here’s my 2016 Running & Triathlon Year in Review!
2016 was Year 2 of the running streak that I started in 2015. I really wanted to see if I could run every day for a year, but once I got past that first year, I just kept it going.
I managed to log 1824 total miles in 2016. This is 288 less miles from last year, which surprises me a little, seeing I did both an Ironman and the Chicago Marathon in 2016, and only the marathon in 2015. Both 2015 and 2016 were years in which I ran every day. I think the main reason for the smaller year end total was that in November 2015, I started to wonder if I could get over the 2000 mile mark, and once I did I kept it going hard until the end of the year, running a lot of 8 and 10 milers until I reached the 2112 mile mark. (Being a die-hard Rush fan, how could I not shoot for that number?) This year I developed a nagging foot issue in December and really cut back in hopes of making it to the end and keeping the streak alive. Now that I have completed the 2 year streak, I think I better take some time off and let the foot heal. Plus, running a mile the day after an Ironman and a marathon was a very hard task. I have a huge year ahead of me planned for 2017. You never know with me, though.
One of the stats in the photo above is the average pace of 8:47 / mile, which surprised me quite a bit. It was 8:12 / mile in 2015, and I have always been more concerned with pace than distance. But since I trained for both Ironman Lake Placid and the Chicago Marathon this year, I logged a lot of long, slow distance runs. I’m not one to remember the weather, but I do seem to remember a lot of long, hot runs which may have also slowed me down. I will review it again in 2017 and see if I’m still slowing down. At 53 years old, I kind of expect it. But after setting another marathon PR this year, I also question it.
As far as racing goes, I took it a little light this year, only doing five races, which is two less than in 2015. I have included a link to my previous race report blogs.
Total Lifetime Runs: 3975 (as of end of 2016) ~ 142 runs/year
Total Lifetime Miles: 21,867 (as of end of 2016) ~ 780 miles/year
Total Lifetime Hours: 2884 (as of end of 2016) ~ 103 hours/year
Notes: 2016 was a leap year, adding an additional day to the year. The averages are based on 28 years of running data.
2016 BIKE AND SWIM
The bike and swim went well for me this year. I more than doubled my bike mileage from last year, which was expected thanks to all the training I did for the Ironman. Swimming was way down from my other Ironman year of 2013, somewhat due to pool issues and also due to me thinking all that damn swimming wasn’t that necessary for me. I did 67K less yards this year and still took off about 12 minutes from my Ironman 2.4 mile swim time.
For 2017, I will swim about the same or maybe cut back just a little more. I think the training plan is a little too swim heavy, and I am completely fine with being able to swim the 2.4 miles in 1:20 or so. I will keep an eye on how I am progressing throughout the year and adjust it if necessary.
I’d like to get my bike average up to near 17 mph or more for Ironman Louisville in 2017. I think that is doable. IMWI and IMLP were very challenging bike courses, and I am hoping for a faster ride at Louisville.
I think 2016 went really well for me in my running endeavors. I was glad I was able to complete my streak, running at least one mile every day for two straight years. I also set two new personal bests in 2016 in both the Ironman and marathon.
I thoroughly enjoyed training with my Gunner teammates Dave, John, Jeff and Alex and completing Ironman Lake Placid with them. It was an awesome day. I also got to race with my son Ben in the one 5K we did together. That was a hot race.
But I think the most notable thing for me this year was once again qualifying for the Boston Marathon with another personal best at the Chicago Marathon. I lowered my time by another 3 minutes, and gave myself a BQ-4:51. Not quite a slam dunk sub-5 minute cushion, but with the cutoff to get into the race sitting near 2 minutes under the qualifying time, I think I have a pretty good chance at getting into the 2018 Boston Marathon.
The “A” race for 2017 is Ironman Louisville on 10/15/17. I look forward to 30 weeks of training with my buddies and sharing this experience. I also have the Batavia Triathlon sprint on the schedule, and will probably add the Chicago Triathlon too. It’s been suggested that we try the Triple Challenge again, and knowing my Gunner teammates, that’s probably what we will do. The Chicago Marathon is a no go this year, as it falls the week before the Ironman. Even I am not crazy enough to attempt that. I’m regretting it a little as it is the 40th anniversary of the marathon, but I will make sure that I maintain my legacy status and make sure I can run the 50th.
Other than that, I hope to stay healthy, and out of harms way out on the roads training for my planned races. See you in 2017!
After getting a personal best and a Boston Marathon qualifying time at the 2015 Chicago Marathon, and then missing the cutoff by a half minute, I felt like I had a score to settle after that disappointment. I knew however, that trying to improve on a marathon best that was ten minutes faster than my previous personal best was not going to be easy. But this year was shaping up to make me well prepared.
I usually follow a sixteen week plan for the marathon. The plan I follow was created by Nike and was promoted by the Chicago Marathon. I was already into Week 2 of the training when I finished up the Ironman. So I wasn’t really starting at the beginning, seeing that I just finished a marathon as the plan had just began. But I needed to dial it back a little for a post-IMLP recovery and it was easy to slide in to the plan where I needed to be. (Here is the plan I followed: https://assets-chicagomarathon-com.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/2014_Advanced_Final.pdf )
So I eased into the plan, adding a few bikes into the mix, and kept checking off the weeks until race day. My longest run was a 22 mile run that I didn’t really want to do, but I got it done. Most of the training was pretty warm, and I struggled to train at a tempo that was near my goal of being under 8 min/miles. But I knew that training and racing were two different things for me, and the summer heat would hopefully be gone by race day.
MARATHON RACE WEEKEND
I went to the expo on Friday midday and found it to be very crowded. I usually buy some race day clothing at the Nike store, but after seeing how long the line was to check out (it actually went outside of their exhibit and wrapped around it!) and being disappointed at the junk they were selling, I almost passed on it. But I ended up buying a white event t-shirt and a new set of red shorts, along with a new visor.
Saturday was busy as usual for my family. I was glad that everyone was around for the weekend though. My son Ben didn’t have a XC meet and ended up coming home from college to watch the race. My daughter Ashley was excited to come home and watch the marching band home show that my youngest daughter Rebecca was involved with. I ate a pasta meal with the family at Gatto’s, and then made the trek into Chicago to the hotel.
My usual plan is to walk to the gate where I enter for the corrals just to make sure nothing has changed. Then I walked around a little, grabbed a muffin for breakfast, and a sub sandwich for dinner and headed to my room.
I walked through the lobby and got a glimpse of Joan Benoit Samuelson, which was pretty cool. I made it to my room and tried to find the Cubs playoff game on TV. Very disappointed to find the channel it was on wasn’t carried by the hotel. I tried to find it online, only to find that I could only get simple live updates on some dumb MLB website. So I monitored that while I pulled up the Ironman Championship live stream from Kona.
My alarm went off at 4:30 am and I got up and got ready. I made a cup of coffee, ate my muffin and started getting myself race ready.
I took my own advice and headed to the corrals at 6 am. In the past I have waited too long and had to stand in line waiting to get in. The wait was minimal this time. I walked to the corral area got in line for the toilets. Took care of that and then found a place to sit on the sidewalk outside of Corral B and just relax. People watching was interesting as usual. I saw actor/comedian Rob Riggle getting escorted to the front of the race even though he was wearing an E Corral bib. Must be nice being a celebrity. At about 7:10 am I ate a gel and drank the last of my Gatorade and then used it to inconspicuously pee into before entering the corral. Once in the corral we listened to the National Anthem, watched a group of geese fly over almost on cue, and started moving forward.
My plan had been formed by virtue of not making it into Boston. I would shoot for a sub 3:25 marathon, which meant holding about 7:50 min/mile pace. My strategy was to run even splits until either 5 miles, 5K, or less to go seeing how I felt at those times and then push as hard as I could to the end. Race day was perfect – temperature in the 50’s at the start and rising slowly into the low 60’s. There was a moderate breeze that concerned me a little, but I knew we were going to have a great day to run.
Mile 1: 7:36 split – I was running comfortably and wasn’t surprised at this split.
Mile 2: 7:41 split – Another good split, nothing out of the ordinary at this point except I felt like I had to pee again.
Mile 3: 7:44 split – This is the tempo that felt good and I hoped that I could maintain.
Mile 4: 7:43 split – Locked into that tempo. I was starting to sweat somewhat, which surprised me.
Mile 5: 7:39 split – Into Lincoln Park and moving along well. Could really feel the wind here and it definitely cooled me down with my sweaty shirt.
Mile 6: 7:46 split – Soon after leaving the aid station where volunteers were yelling “Gatorade” and “water,” we were met with a guy yelling “cigars, cigarettes.” Funny.
Mile 7: 7:40 split – Getting as far north as we would be, I was glad to be turning around. But as soon as you do, you get hit with the smell of breakfast. Gets me every year. Smells so good.
Mile 8: 8:20 split – Just before the Mile 8 marker I saw the toilets and saw my chance. I had the need to go since the start and I knew I would have to make one pit stop. As far as pee breaks go, this one was typical, but I think that it cost me the sub-3:25. I didn’t try to make up the time here, I just got back on the pace I had been running. I also took my first salt capsule at the aid station. I wasn’t thinking that I would need them today, but the amount of sweating I was doing made me commit to taking one.
Mile 9: 7:42 split – Somewhere in here I tossed the homemade tube sock arm warmers I had. I had rolled them down, but kept them in case it got cold. I kept my gloves, but just held on to them, mainly for personal memento reasons.
Mile 10: 7:49 split – Okay, for some reason the race would be a let down for me if I didn’t see Elvis in this mile. Upon turning onto North Avenue, I could hear the music. Normally he is right next to the roadway, but this time he was up a little higher and I wasn’t sure I would be able to get my fist bump. But I saw an opening and went over and yelled “Hey Elvis!” and he met my fist with his. Made my day.
Mile 11: 7:45 split – Mile 11 is pretty much a straight shot back into the Loop. Kept up my pace.
Mile 12: 7:45 split – Somewhere in here I found myself running with a guy carrying an American flag. He was a very popular guy. The crowd was making noise for him and I got energy from that as well. But after the flag hit me in the face a few times, I knew that Flag Man and me would have to part ways.
Mile 13: 7:44 split – Another very close split time and I got through the 13.1 mile marker in 1:41.49. A quick calculation in my head told me I was doing just fine and looking at possibly being closer to 3:20 than 3:25. I saw Kari, Ben and Ashley for the first time through this mile and it gave me a boost. I could tell Ben was following my splits closely and was cheering me on like I usually do for his races. Made me proud.
Mile 14: 7:42 split – A little faster, probably due to seeing the family and starting to head through the Cheer Zone of the route.
Mile 15: 7:38 split – Another faster split time as I headed into the Dead Zone of the race.
Mile 16: 7:58 split – Not sure why there is a 20 second difference. Maybe I hit the split/lap button too early in the previous mile.
Mile 17: 7:55 split – Okay, now I realize that I’m edging closer to 8 min/mile pace. As long as I kept it under 8’s I felt I’d be okay. I saw my family again and got another lift.
Mile 18: 7:53 split – I wasn’t feeling bad, I just couldn’t get back to the 7:45’s. I was walking a little more in the aid stations, making sure I was getting a good drink of Gatorade.
Mile 19: 7:46 split – Heading into Pilsen and feeling pretty good still. I could really feel the head wind now.
Mile 20: 7:55 split – At 20, I knew I was doing good but chose not to push any harder yet.
Mile 21: 8:05 split – Okay, lots of distractions in Chinatown – the music, crowds and of course the photographers distracted me enough that may have made this a slower mile split.
Mile 22: 7:50 split – It was at this point I made a choice to hold off until the last two miles before pushing hard. I made the same decision in 2015.
Mile 23: 8:07 split – (See note below) Just a 5K to go, and I got my last gel in me. Here’s where in your mind you are ready to turn to the finish line, but the course takes you south and then east for a block until you hit Michigan Avenue for the final stretch. I tried picking off runners that were ahead of me, one at a time.
Mile 24: 8:07 split – (Miles 23 and 24 were averaged as I missed the marker for Mile 23 and hit the lap button around 9:20 or so. I added them together and averaged them for the splits.) I felt like I was really pushing, but the effort was all in my head as it was taking that effort physically to maintain what I perceived as a fast pace. With two miles to go, I put my head down and started running.
Mile 25: 7:47 split – That’s more like it, although I thought I was running sub-7 at this point. Toward the end of this mile I saw a sign that read “800M”, meaning 800 meters to go. But my mind read it as “BOOM”, a saying my fellow triathletes had in the 2013 Ironman Wisconsin race. Either way, it was a positive for me.
Mile 26: 7:41 split – The fastest mile I had run since about Mile 14. I turned and climbed “Mount Roosevelt” and it seemed like an eternity. A quick left and I was checking my watch to see how close I was to 3:25. I sprinted with all I had left.
Mile 26.2/FINISH: 3:25.08 – Missed being under 3:25 by 9 seconds. But that really didn’t disappoint me at all. I had just gotten my second Boston qualifier, a BQ-4:52 as they say, which should be more than enough to get me into the 2018 Boston Marathon. If that’s not fast enough, I’m not sure what else I can do.
The finishing chute was a blur. I was really having a hard time moving forward, almost staggering and felt really drained. It wasn’t long and they handed us a bottle of water. I started sipping on it and then grabbed another salt capsule out of my fuel belt and downed it. I made my way to some misting fans and just kind of hung out there a little bit until moving on.
I chose an older lady out of all the volunteers to put the medal around my neck and wrestled with my emotions a little bit. Seems strange that after 16 marathon finishes, I still get a little choked up at finishing a race, especially when I set a personal best or have a great race.
I shuffled along picking up a banana, an apple and a bag of goodies and then saw the group of guys handing out the mylar blankets. They were pushing them like they were car salesmen or something. They were trying to get people to laugh and it worked. I got my blanket and headed for the gate. One last picture as I walked out and then I made my way back to the Hilton to meet my family.
After a quick shower it was a two block walk to Devil Dawg’s on State Street for the usual post event lunch. Another successful Chicago Marathon in the books!
Here’s some of the details of my race that helped me get another personal best and Boston Qualifier.
Running Gear: Nike 2016 Chicago Marathon Event shirt (not the participant shirt – that is a no-no in my book!) and visor, along with Nike Flex running shorts with the built in mid-thigh liner, all purchased at the expo.
Arm warmers made from new tube socks.
Skin Glide lotion for my feet to prevent blisters.
Two Band-Aid flexible fabric bandages to cover my useless nipples.
Louis Garneau Mid Ride cycling socks.
FuelBelt brand bib number belt with pouch.
ASICS Gel-Exalt 3 running shoes. I have been running in some of the cheapest ASICS shoes I can buy. They were great. I had broken them in two weeks prior to the race.
Three Salted Caramel (extra electrolytes, caffeinated), and four Root Beer flavored GU brand gels. I took one Salted Caramel about 15 minutes prior to the start, then one gel every 30 minutes. Two Root Beer, then one Salted Caramel until they were gone.
Four Salt Stik brand salt capsules. I took one at the hotel at about 6 am, and then took one every hour after the first hour.
One cup of Gatorade at every aid station, with an occasional water as well.
Timex Ironman 50 lap watch. I have a Garmin 910XT but don’t trust it. The Timex Ironman has never let me down.
To qualify and gain entry into the Boston Marathon you have to meet a time standard, what is commonly referred to as a Boston Qualifier (BQ). For my age group that means I have to run a sub-3:30 to even be able to apply. But since the Boston Marathon is such a popular and prestigious race, many runners want to vie for the 25,000 or so slots. So to keep it a competitive race, they award the faster runners first. Those that are 20 minutes under the qualifying times are shoe-ins. So are the 10 minute and 5 minute under runners that apply. I got my BQ at the 2015 Chicago Marathon, running a 3:28:19 on a somewhat warm day for the race. I had qualified! But I was a ‘squeaker’ – a runner that has a small margin of being under the cutoff. My cushion was 1:41. One minute and forty-one seconds. Today, the Boston Athletic Association announced the cutoff time – 2:09. I missed the cutoff by 28 seconds.
To say it didn’t affect me would be lying. But the disappointment of missing out on what is generally accepted as the pinnacle achievement by twenty-eight seconds stings somewhat. 28 seconds. Where could I have lost 28 seconds in my BQ run at Chicago? Did the weather set me back? It was warm, and it was definitely windy in the last 5K, but I had a personal best race that day. Did I not train enough? Where could I have gained 28 seconds? I had not stopped for any bathroom breaks. I had limited my time spent getting through the aid stations. I had hit my splits very well. I ran the tangents. My nutrition was all going to plan. Truthfully, I think I gave it my best shot.
As I finished the 2015 Chicago Marathon I glanced at my watch and saw my time. My reaction was very strange. I had a sense of overwhelming joy at being under my qualifying time, but I knew that the current BQ cutoff was a whopping 2:28 for the 2016 Boston Marathon. I realized that my time probably would not be enough. I had my own personal “ABC Wide World of Sports” moment – I was experiencing the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat all in the post 26.2 mile finish chute. I was both happy and upset. Then I went to Devil Dawgs and had a hot dog.
It didn’t take me long to get over it. I was proud that I had qualified, and extremely proud that I had just set a marathon personal best for myself by ten minutes! So I patted myself on my back and moved on to my 2016 racing season, with the expectation that I would apply for the Boston Marathon when it opened in September of 2016.
September arrived and I hit submit. I knew that it was long shot, but I have spent probably close to 15 or more years attempting to get into this race, so why not? And then this eternal pessimist started to become an optimist. I had come across a Runner’s World online forum that was discussing the cutoff time for the 2017 Boston Marathon. Among the contributors that were posting on this forum were statistics loving runners and stat crunchers who almost took joy in trying to guess what the cutoff would be. Amazingly enough, they were mostly predicting that the cutoff would be less than 30 seconds to even as small as ZERO cutoff! I absorbed it all. One guy I questioned as to what he thought my chances were replied that I was “definitely in”. All the stars were lining up for me. The previous year’s qualifying marathons had been hot, which meant many runners had difficulty qualifying. The 2017 Boston was to be run on the day after Easter Sunday, which would more than likely keep many more away. And they had indicated that the field size may be around 30,000. I waited for two crazy and stressful weeks. Then the email came. 28 seconds.
I left work at noon and had already talked myself off the ledge. As I was driving home listening to my typical classic rock radio station, one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite bands – STYX – came on the radio. I pulled into the driveway already rocking out to Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man) and I was struck by the chorus:
“GET UP! GET BACK ON YOUR FEET! YOU’RE THE ONE THEY CAN’T BEAT, AND YOU KNOW IT! AWW, C’MON! LET’S SEE WHAT YOU GOT. JUST TAKE YOUR BEST SHOT AND DON’T BLOW IT!”
I put on my running gear, and went for my planned marathon training plan run. I have the 2016 Chicago Marathon in ten days. I plan on taking my best shot at another BQ.
Running the Chicago Marathon is an awesome experience regardless if this is your first marathon or one of a many. But if you have never ran Chicago before, here are some things to keep in mind as you prepare for a great weekend and race. Full disclosure – I’m not a running expert, I’m just a guy who has experienced the joys of running and like to share my thoughts and experiences.
I will assume that you have adequately prepared and trained for the race. Trust the training you have done to get you to race day. Enjoy the taper that has prepared you to arrive on race day morning fresh and raring to go. Race day is almost here!
READ THE PARTICIPANT GUIDE – It seems like a no-brainer, but I always shake my head when people ask questions about the race that are clearly covered in the guide. The guide will be mailed to you and can also be downloaded from the event website when it becomes available.
ENJOY THE EXPO – The expo at the Chicago Marathon is one of the best around. The expo is free and open to all. First up is packet pick-up. Only YOU can pick up your packet, and it has to be done on Friday or Saturday. There is no race day pick-up. You will need an ID, and either your participant guide, the emailed version of the guide or a smart phone that has the participant info scanned into to it to get your bib and check bag. From there you will head to the far back of the expo to get the shirt. This forces you to walk through the expo. If you feel the shirt size you selected is wrong for you, here’s your chance to exchange it at the booth that handles that. If you have forgotten anything that you think you might need (gels, visor/hat, gloves, etc.), you should be able to easily find it at the expo. Nike is the official gear for the race and will be selling tons of stuff with the official logo, but the other athletic companies will be there as well. On your way out, make sure you pick up a poster. This keeps it from getting smashed and wrinkled up while walking around the expo. I like to frame mine. If it is your very first marathon, consider buying the finisher plaque. It’s a little pricey, but you only have one first-time marathon finish. The expo is less crowded on Friday during the day, but if you have to go on Saturday try to limit the time you spend walking around.
PLAN YOUR TRIP INTO THE CITY – I drove in from the suburbs for my first Chicago Marathon in 1999. The unexpected traffic at 5am left me sitting on the expressway and I almost missed the start. I ended up parking at Soldier Field and ran about a mile to earn a place at the end of the field that was already moving. That forced me to have to zigzag through 25,000 or so slower runners. I think I ran an extra mile just navigating through the field. Then I had to walk what seemed like another marathon back to the car from the finish at the end of the race. Driving in for the expo the day or two before the race gives you a chance to figure out your route for your drive in the morning of the race. Take some time to plan out how early you need to leave to get into the city and find parking that will be accessible to the start and finish of the race. Nothing is worse than having to walk a couple miles back to your car after 26.2 miles of running. And if you are staying at a downtown hotel the night before, you are in good shape. But you still need to know how long it takes to walk from the hotel to your corral. I would normally advise to limit walking around the city the day before, but it pays to walk from the hotel to the entrance to your corral gate to know how to get there.
EAT EARLY THEN RELAX – Carbo-loading is a honored tradition, but I have seen more and more athletes dialing it back quite a bit. The trend seems to be to start fueling up on carbs the days leading up to the race and not just the night before. I will eat a normal sized carbohydrate based meal the day before, but I tend to place greater importance on nutrition during the race. In the past I have found that if I am downtown on the eve of the race, getting a table at a local pasta place near the hotel is going to be a really long wait. Plus you will be standing around on your feet waiting for a table. Look into getting a reservation for yourself a couple of days ahead, or plan on eating before the crowds, sometime around 3pm or so. You will have no worries finding a table and plenty of time to relax in the evening. And salt everything!
LAY OUT YOUR RACE GEAR THE NIGHT BEFORE – Take the time to get your stuff together the night before, lay it all out and check to make sure everything is in good shape. Trying to find your race bib, safety pins, socks, etc. in the dark at 5am is not good for your nerves. I like to put Skin Glide on my feet to prevent blisters, so I will place that near my socks. Wear your bib number on the front per the race rules – this will allow the photographers to be able to sort your photos. There is adequate liquids (water/Gatorade) on the course, so you shouldn’t need a fuel belt. But if you have a special relationship with yours, then by all means wear it. You won’t be the only one. If you feel you need to bring extra band-aids, or salt capsules, or sunglasses, make sure you lay all of that stuff out as well. Don’t forget sunscreen. Although the sun won’t make much of a difference at the start of the race, it’s easy to get burned later in the morning once you are out of the shadows of the downtown buildings.
CHECK YOUR WATCH – If you have a fancy GPS style running watch, make sure that you have charged it fully. Also check to see if you have enough storage room to handle the data from the race. People tend to forget to clear all of those summer training runs from the watch and then find that they do not have enough space to store the race data during the race.
CHECK THE WEATHER – Keep an eye on the weather forecast. Make sure you have comfortable running clothes for a variety of conditions. A good plan is to dress just warm enough with layers that you can shed if you warm up. You can always shed layers, but can’t put them on if you don’t have them. A large garbage bag will work as a rain coat and warming device that you can toss easily. Just be prepared that they may not let you past the gate if you are wearing it before entering.
DECIDE ON A POST RACE MEETING PLACE – Finding your family after the race will be a challenge. If you are staying at a downtown hotel, it has been my routine to just meet everyone back at the hotel room. The finish area will keep pushing the runners through until you hit Balbo. If you pick a common place to meet, say like Buckingham Fountain, expect to find that half the field has chosen that as their meet up place. Pick one away from the crowds and the immediate finish line area.
TRY TO GET SOME SLEEP – I’ve had races where I have tossed and turned all night, and others where I slept like a baby. Don’t be concerned if you don’t get a restful night of sleep. You will still be able to run the race just fine. There will be plenty of time after the race to nap. If you are considering using a sleep aid, make sure you try it out prior to the night before the race.
SET AN ALARM – Set another alarm. Have someone else set an alarm. Double-check your alarms. Set your alarms for at least 5am. This will allow ample time for you to wake up, make sure all of your bathroom needs are taken care of, eat a light breakfast, take care of some more bathroom needs, get dressed, go to the bathroom again, etc.
NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY – This is the golden rule of racing. Now is not the time to try the new shoes you bought at the expo (unless you forgot yours!). It is not the time to eat something completely out of the ordinary for you. Nothing new on race day!
EAT A LIGHT BREAKFAST – I always follow the same routine on race morning that I do during training. I will eat the same thing that I always eat for breakfast, a toasted bagel and coffee. If you run on an empty stomach, now is not the time to eat a banana nut muffin. Nothing new on race day!
GET TO YOUR CORRAL EARLY – This is the mistake I make over and over again. The corrals are accessed by five gates, but if you are in the first wave – Corrals A through E – you need to go through Gate 1. That’s a lot of people to move through the gate. Only runners with bib numbers will be able to get through the gate. The corrals open at 5:30am. Wave 1 corrals close at 7:20am. Don’t be stuck trying to get through the gate to get to your corral. Also, they will only let people in with the correct corral assignment into the corral. If you are in Corral D and your buddy is in Corral E, they won’t let either of you enter the gate that is not assigned to you.
HEAD TO THE TOILETS/GEAR CHECK – Once you get through the gate, you don’t have to head directly to your corral. Getting there early will give you plenty of time to chill out. If you are checking your gear, find the gear check tent and drop it off. Find the line for the toilets and try to make one last attempt before heading into your corral. Avoid walking through wet grass and getting your feet wet. Wet feet = blisters.
ENTER YOUR CORRAL AND RELAX – Once I get in the corral I like to find a dry place to sit down and relax, but once it gets crowded there won’t be any place to sit. Enjoy the circuses, conversations, and the Anthem. It’s GO TIME!
Some runners will treat the Chicago Marathon like an event, and others will race it to the best of their abilities. Whatever your goal, whether to just finish or possibly even qualify for the Boston Marathon, here are some tips.
RUN NEGATIVE SPLITS – Studies have shown that running the second half of the race faster than the first half will produce the best results.
HAVE A PLAN B – You can hope for an ideal day for the marathon, but that may not happen. If it’s a going to be a hot day, you may have to dial back your expectations some. Conversely, if the day turns out to be beautiful and you are feeling great, you may want to push a little harder. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
PACING GROUPS – There will be pacing groups that will be running in the race. You can officially join one of them at the expo, or just latch on to one and try to hang on. The leaders of these groups are proven runners and consistently hit their mile splits. They will NOT be running negative splits, they will hit the average pace expected for every mile for the desired finish time (i.e. for a 3:30 finish they will average 8 mins/mile). You will see them holding a sign with the finish time they are expected to hit. But be aware that once the race starts they will drop the large sign and may carry a smaller version. If they aren’t carrying a sign, they definitely will have the expected finish time bib pinned to their back. Also be aware that there may be more than one pacing group for a specific finish time (i.e. Corral B and Corral C each may have a 3:30 pace group). If you started with the Corral B group pacer for 3:30 and end up with the Corral C group pacer you won’t hit your time because the second group started later than the first.
RUN THE THIN BLUE LINE – Most people running the race, even those that have done it numerous times, are unaware that there is a painted blue line running the length of the course. That blue line is the official race route. If you stay on that line you will run the most direct route. It’s hard to do at times due to the amount of people running with you, but running the tangents is always smart racing.
AID STATIONS CAN BE TRICKY – There are 20 aid stations and they are sporadically spaced apart. Each will have tables on both sides of the road. There will be large blue banners for water and large orange banners for Gatorade. The common advice is to avoid the first few tables as they will be crowded, but if everyone is doing that then the back tables become crowded too. I look for my opening and take it. Make eye contact with the volunteer or point at them so they know that you are coming for their cup. They may then try to extend it a little for you. There will be toilets at each aid station. If you know you need to stop, try to spot them right away and head there or you might pass them by.
WATCH YOUR STEP! – The aid stations can get very slick and you could easily slip with all of the water/Gatorade/gels/cups/banana/garbage on the ground. Also, watch out for course jumpers. These are spectators who have decided that they would rather be on the other side of the course and then just dart straight across. You will cross the river four times in the downtown area on bridges that are made of metal grates. These can be tough on your feet. There will be some thin carpet laid down over a small section of it. Head for the carpet if the footing bothers you.
ENJOY THE SIGHTS – What makes the Chicago Marathon so much fun is the city, crowds, and circuses of running through 29 neighborhoods. There will be awesome entertainment along the way. Take some time to enjoy the race! My personal favorite is high-fiving Elvis around the 10 mile mark.
AVOID MENTAL FATIGUE – It’s easy to get physically tired running 26.2 miles, but this race can drain you mentally as well. The crowds and the noise almost make me wish I had earplugs at times. And unless you know exactly where to look for family, spending time studying faces in the crowd will drain you. Try to know ahead of time where they will be. Or pick a side of the course to be on and tell the family that you will be running on that side. Also, try breaking the race up into small segments, for instance every 5 miles, instead of counting down each mile.
USE THE COURSE TO YOUR ADVANTAGE – If race day is warm, try to stay in the shadows of the big buildings of the early stages of the race. Conversely, head for the sunshine if you are cold. If there is a head wind or you feel cold, tuck yourself in behind a group of runners and use them to block the wind.
AVOID NON-AID STATION OFFERINGS – Somewhere near the last 10K of the race there will be a guy passing out cups of beer. In Pilsen, there will be good intentioned people passing out orange slices and pretzels. In my opinion, unless you really need a lift, I would pass on these offerings just because you just don’t know how they might affect you. Nothing new on race day, remember?
SMILE FOR THE CAMERA – There will be several photographers along the course. Sometimes there will be a sign that says “photographer ahead” and sometimes you will later see your photos and don’t remember them being there. The common places are near Mile 12 when you cross the river, at about 21.5 miles in Chinatown, and a big group of photographers taking photos from above around the 23 mile area. And of course, at the finish. Here’s your chance to look like a champion!
WATCH OUT FOR THE HILL – How hilly is the Chicago Marathon? It’s the opposite of hilly. There will be a few up and down sections over bridges and such, but it’s basically a flat course. But there is one hill of note, and it comes at the 26 Mile mark on Roosevelt Road. You will turn right at the corner and climb this hill for about a couple hundred yards, then it’s a left turn and a downhill to the finish. Just a minor nuisance really.
STOP YOUR WATCH – Don’t forget to stop your watch at the end. And don’t be confused if the official time being displayed on the clocks is different from your time. The official clocks start when the race begins, but you will be chip timed starting when you crossed the Start Line and ending at the Finish Line.
You will be going on quite an adventure running through 29 different neighborhoods. In truth, the road you are running on will be pretty much the same, with the exception of some rough feeling bridges, so there are not too many surprises. Here’s some advice on how to handle the miles.
MILES 1-5: You will be super excited and filled with adrenaline at the start. Try to hold back your pace. Let the rabbits go, resisting the urge to get caught up in the tempos of the other participants. By the time you get to Mile 5 you should be in a comfortable pace, and no longer bumping elbows with everyone. You will be tempted to bypass the water/Gatorade but you shouldn’t, especially if it is a warm day. Don’t get behind on staying hydrated or fueled. It’s too hard to catch back up. There aren’t too many highlights through these miles, just lots of tall buildings.
MILES 6-10: This section of the race will be exciting. Lots of fans and entertainment on the course. You will also be as far north as you will be on the course just after Mile 7. From then on you are heading back into downtown. By Mile 6 you will probably warmed up fairly well and might want to think about shedding a layer. But if you are cool, wait until you get past Mile 8 because you will be heading south and there might be a change in wind direction that could influence your comfort. Keep taking hydration and fuel. The highlights in this section include Lincoln Park, and a glimpse of Lake Michigan near Lake Shore Drive. Also, Wrigleyville and Boystown will certainly be entertaining. Rifle spinners, cheerleaders, and other crazy stuff.
MILES 11-15: As you head back into downtown, the crowds get very big again. Old Town’s tree-lined streets can provide some shade in this section. Coming up is the half-way point just as you turn west. If you are running for a charity, you will see those cheer sections around Mile 14. It’s a huge pick-me-up even if you aren’t part of their group. Take a look around you – you will probably notice by now that you have settled in with a group of similar paced runners, and you will probably be with those same runners for quite some time. After Mile 14, things change.
MILES 16-20: After Mile 14 the crowds become very thin and sometimes non-existent. You have entered the dead-zone. But you will be prepared for it from all of those lonely miles you put in during training. The scenery through here is pretty blah. It will be quiet until you get to Pilsen around Mile 19. If you haven’t taken an assessment of yourself yet, now’s the time. Have you been hydrating? Taking in gels or other food? How are your splits looking? How do your legs feel? Make some adjustments and remember your race plan goals to see if you are still on target. Also, around Mile 20 is the time when the dreaded “Wall” makes an appearance. Actually, I find the wall to be easily overcome by just keeping yourself fueled with gels and other food. Keep your energy up and you will not have to deal with the wall.
MILES 21-25: Ah, Chinatown! This is the section that is always the reminder that we are winding this race down. About five miles to go! But your mind can play tricks on you because you start heading further south at this point, farther away from the downtown finish line. It’s not long until you hit Michigan Avenue and start heading north again. There will be fewer crowds here as most will be wanting to be near the finish. Just keep getting to each aid station and keep moving forward!
MILES 26-26.2: Make the turn onto Roosevelt Road and tackle that hill! You are almost home! The trip down Columbus Drive will be very short, but you will want it to last longer. Soak up that finish! Great job!
Hooray! You did it! You finished the Chicago Marathon. Well done. Your job isn’t over yet, though.
KEEP MOVING – You should definitely stop running (ha!), but don’t stop moving. Keep the blood pumping until your heart rate comes back down. There might be some mister-type fans for cooling if you need it. And those mylar type wraps/blankets that they pass out will make a difference as your warm body cools down and you find yourself now slightly chilled.
AVOID SITTING – That curb may look like a great place to rest, but getting back up from it will be difficult.
GET YOUR MEDAL – This is what you came for, right? It’s hard to miss the many people passing out medals, but I’ve seen more than one person backtrack to get one. And please, only take one.
REHYDRATE AND REFUEL – Take a water or recovery drink and try to rehydrate. If you can eat something, try some pretzels, chips or eat a banana to help get your sodium and potassium levels back up.
IF YOU NEED HELP, SEEK IT OUT – There will be course marshals in the chute sitting up high on stands monitoring everyone walking through. If they notice that someone is not looking right, they will get someone over to them. But if you aren’t doing so well, maybe feeling lightheaded or nauseated, there are areas near the Medical Tent that volunteer medical professionals will be at to help you recover. Their goal is to keep you out of the main medical tent, which is not where you really want to end up. If you make it there you are probably going to get an IV, or an ambulance ride to the hospital.
TAKE YOUR TIME GETTING TO THE EXIT – You probably are ready to go find your family, but make sure you are in good walking shape before leaving and meeting your loved ones at your previously agreed upon meeting spot. You probably won’t be allowed back in once you leave. Get your finisher photo taken again with your medal, use the bathroom, grab another water and make sure you are in good enough condition to make it to where you are heading.
That’s about it. Thanks for reading and enjoy the Chicago Marathon!
Results: 20:52 Official, 20:45 Garmin watch – 17th overall, 16th Male overall, 3rd place M50-54
I enjoy racing at the Frankfort Park District Short Run on a Long Day 5K for a couple of reasons. First, it’s held on a midweek evening which means most of the day has passed and all you need to do is worry about running and not the million other things you have to do that day. I also enjoy the fact that it brings out some good competition and allows me to race against a higher percentage of my faster peers. At another local race that was run in my town in late April I would have finished second overall, so this race tells me more about myself than placing high in a race that had no competition.
The race day this year was hot – 89 degrees – when I checked the car thermometer. I decided to not let that bother me, and I decided that I would push myself anyway. During warm-up I was jogging shirtless past a couple of moms who were pushing their kids in strollers. One of the kids said “Daddy!” which prompted me to chuckle and say “Daddy must be hairy too.” That seemed to get me in a good mood.
The start was typical, too many slowpokes in the front that I would have to navigate around. One guy asked another what time he was shooting for and the guy said around 21 minutes. That guy I thought had a chance at that. But when he asked the other guy, said he wasn’t sure, “maybe 22 or 23” minutes. I immediately thought of the movie Mr. Mom when he responded 220 / 221 – whatever it takes. This guy looked like he would be over 25 minutes to me.
As usual my son Ben also ran the race. He did his typical college runner thing in warm-ups, and then found an old high school buddy to run the race with. He made his way to the front of the line at the last minute. Must be cool to have the speed to back that up! He finished second overall for the 3rd year in a row I think. He keeps losing to the same guy. Not really fair for Ben, as he is coming off a mandatory 2 week recovery period from track season. And he had a head cold. I’m guessing he’ll beat this guy someday.
The guy that starts the race likes to stand right in the middle of the road and warn people not to run him over when the race starts. I find that to be the dumbest thing, but typical of a race that is run by the park district versus a race that is run by a runner or running club. He hit the siren on the bullhorn, snapped a picture and we all took off. I was hitting Z4 heart rate within the first 1/4 mile. The group spread out pretty quickly and I focused on getting my breathing rhythm under control. The first mile hit and I missed the water stop. I was getting quite a dry mouth, but I didn’t worry about it. For some reason the water stop was positioned on the left hand side of the trail we were running on, and in my opinion it should have been on the right. When running on a trail, all users should stay right, and there were definitely other bikes and trail users on the trail that would force us over. Matter of fact, one kid that passed me around the 1/2 mile mark shouted “BIKER UP!” which startled me somewhat, but had he not yelled that I may have not seen the guy.
When we hit the one mile marker another guy got on my shoulder and asked how I was doing. Apparently he was feeling me out. I said I was doing good. He mentioned that he thought the split on the clock was too fast, and I agreed. My watch split said about 6:15 for the first mile. He tried to talk some more but I zipped it and focused on catching the next guy. I dropped him and never saw him again.
When we made the turn off the trail and onto the side streets I started to catch a lot of guys that had gone out too fast. From that point, about 1.5 miles into the race, I kind of fell into no man’s land again. This happens to me a lot, I end up being the slowest of the faster runners or the faster of the mid-packers. I don’t remember passing or being passed from that point on.
Around the two mile marker I saw a lady by a table that had cups of water on it. Apparently she was the sole worker for that water stop, but it was on the far side of the road on a turn, which meant that I would not be able to take the tangent if I wanted to get some water. Since I was really hot, I decided to make a try at it and she met me halfway. I took the cup and splashed it on me. What happened next was a surprise – I almost felt hotter! Not sure if the temp of the water was an issue, or that I was just too hot for it to do anything. I can remember my tri buddy Alex mentioning this once, and I took note.
I could feel myself starting to fade, but between mile 2 and 3 there are a lot of turns, which meant I could look back and see how close runners were behind me. There was no one around that I was worried about. I came upon a guy who said good job and was spraying a hose for us to stay cool. But again, he was on the side of the street that would require me to move over from the straightest line to get relief. It was too late to take him up on the water anyway, as I was determined to kick to the end.
Once I got to the last tenth of a mile I knew I had no challengers, but I pushed myself anyway. My son was there yelling at me to go all in, a payback in a way for all the times I yelled at him in junior high and high school to push harder. Now that he is a D-III runner, I usually just yell “Good Job!” or “GO Ben!”
My watch said 20:45 at the end, which was a little disappointing seeing that it wasn’t as fast as I thought I could run, nor as fast as I thought I was running. But seeing that it was so hot, I guess it is a pretty respectable time, all things considered.