Let’s start this out with a little background. I typically run on a regular basis as part of my triathlon training and staying in shape. Because I train year round I’m usually ready to run a half decent race up to a half marathon. This lets me startup my Marathon training plan a few weeks closer to the race. For the Chicago Marathon, this was my plan. I was running regularly with a plan to increase my mileage with a mix of track and tempo runs.
For this race, I had an added challenge thrown in. I joined Tae Kwon Do with my son and on our second day sparing (which was also my 3rd class ever) I broke my hand. I thought it was just a bruise when it happened, but by the next afternoon it was becoming obvious that it was a more serious injury. Because of this, I ended up with a cast on my left hand for about 6 weeks. I wasn’t able to run because the arm movement hurt and the sweat would make the cast unbearably itchy and smelly. It was bad enough being locked inside one of these torture devises, but itching and stinking would have made it so much worse.
Luckily for me, the healing process was going well and I got the cast off 3 weeks before marathon weekend. I tried to get him to agree to take it off earlier, but was given a very firm, “NO”. In the end, it was a six week process.
Since I wasn’t doing any serious heart-pounding cardio, I continued with the Tae Kwon Do training (no sparing) and placed my concentration on strength building. After a few weeks my core and leg strength was noticeably stronger, but I was worried about my running endurance. My running endurance isn’t that great even when I’m training – I’m one of those runners who poorly balances speed and race length.
With three weeks until the Chicago Marathon I needed to safely build my mileage back up as fast as possible. I decided that the highest mileage I was probably going to get to was 13 miles. I started slow and easy with a three mile run. During this first run, I thought the humidity was going to do me in. It was a beautiful cloudless day with a temperature of 90+ degrees. This is when I started listening to my wife about bringing water with me and put my Orange Mud HydraQuiver II to good use. I continued to build up my mileage about a mile per day. I was sure to take rest days and cross training days, in which I rode on the trainer. At the end of 2 weeks, I did my long run one Saturday morning completing 13.2 miles.
Now it was a week out from marathon weekend so I decided to go ahead and taper. Anything I did would be to maintain and stay loose. If I continued to push it would just hurt me more for the marathon. I did a few early morning short, easy runs to stay lose the first part of the week before packing up to leave for Chicago.
We arrived Friday evening and explored around the hotel for a good place to eat. We ended up at the Weber Grill Restaurant, which was close to our hotel and ended up being a great choice. On Saturday morning my wife and I got up early and headed out for an easy 5k shakeout run along the river/lakefront. After getting cleaned up at the hotel we decided to take a long walk to the expo. We happened across the finish line along the way and saw the hill we would be running up to get there. The expo was great and was run very efficiently. After the expo, we decided to give our feet a break and pick up some of the transit rental bikes and cruised to the navy pier for a late lunch before heading back to our hotel.
On race day we were both up and ready on time, and walked to the marathon start. We arrived at 6am and were still one of the early people to arrive. It was cool out, especially for us coming from Texas. It was about 58 degrees and we were glad we brought some space blankets to block the wind.
The race starts off running through Millenium Park and then through a long tunnel under the buildings. Your GPS will get very confused in this area so this is a good race to have a pace chart and track your overall time to your expected location rather than your average pace.
The Chicago Marathon by far has the most energy from the spectators than any of the 7 other marathons I’ve run. Some races have a lot of spectators for parts of the race, but this is the first one where it felt like the full length of the marathon. At the beginning of the race I tucked my headphones into my shirt to use on quiet parts of the course, but I actually never even needed them.
I paced with my wife for about 18 miles and was on track for a sub-4 hour finish, but then all the sudden my body realized that this was the furthest I’ve run in months and just stopped. I dropped back and desperately dug out a HOTSHOT which I was saving for leg cramps and took it. It didn’t help at all. I was getting stiffer and stiffer, but was determined to keep moving forward. I walked for a bit trying to control my breathing and catch up on hydration at a water stop before setting my watch alarm for a run walk. I started off with 2min on and 15s off. I tried this 5 or 6 times and changed it to 1:45 on and 30s off. Then I tried 1:15 and finally just gave up on the intervals and tried to keep pushing along with short stretches of running whenever I could. I was hurting. I did this for most of the remainder of the race. I remember seeing a sign that said it was 800 meters to the finish. I thought “I can run 800 meters,” so I started up again and quickly found out that I couldn’t. I pushed along power walking the rest of the way up the hill to the finish and then managed a slow run down the chute to the finish.
I was done. 4hrs and 42 mins. Not my best and not my worst but great considering I basically did the Barney Stinson training plan (that’s one of my favorite “How I Met Your Mother” references).
My wife on the other hand completely killed it with an 11 min PR and breaking 4 hrs for the first time. I’m incredibly proud of her and the dedication to her training. I’m really glad she didn’t wait up for me and kept going. I couldn’t even catch her to tell her I was dropping back but we knew that would happen at some point and talked about it before the race. I fully expect her to beat my PR soon.
After collapsing and laying in the sun for a while we changed into clean clothes before checking out the after party and free massage – which was absolutely worth the wait. We then walked back to the hotel – even though walking hurts after running that far, walking helps to jump start recovery and loosen those tense muscles.
After this experience, next time I’m definitely going to get more run training done and try not break any bones beforehand.
This is the second time I’ve jumped into a marathon with minimal training. The first time was actually my first marathon in Singapore in 2012. That time, work interfered with my training schedule and I didn’t manage to log the miles I needed to prepare. There’s something about that magical 26.2 distance though – I’m still hooked and looking forward to the next race.