Saturday, October 30, 2010

Chicago Marathon 2010 Race Report

Be forewarned- unless you are a "runnerd" (see below for definition), you are likely not going to be interested in this post. I tried to avoid writing it while I am still feeling down on running but now it's been 3 weeks and I'm still feeling dejected and am hoping this post will be a catharsis of sorts so I can go on my merry way and start a new training cycle.

("Runnerd" is a new term I learned from Candice at her blog I Have Run. Her definition is:

"RUNNERD: a person who does not conform, often highly intelligent but socially rejected because of their obsession with running. A runnerd will run in any condition and is constantly thinking about running, running, or talking about running."

I find this highly amusing. If you fit in this category you may be interested in this post. Likely though, it's more for me than for you, dear reader!)

So, Chicago. What the hell happened? How on earth did I miss my goal of 4:15 despite multiple training runs that indicated I could do it (according to the trusty McMillan calculator as well as general training common sense). My proof that I was properly trained:

***15 miles in 2:18, 2 weeks before the race. Felt good, felt strong and McMillan says that should be a 4:12:21 marathon.
***20(.15) miler in very poor conditions w/ clothing malfunctions, too fast start, torrential downpour and general lack of self esteem in 3:22 (10:01 pace) 3 weeks before the race--> in general, long runs should be run at 30s to 1 min slower than goal marathon pace, so
this was right on target
***As mentioned in my psych myself up pre-race post, I ran a total of 11 runs 15 miles or longer with 5 of those being longer than 20 miles.
***3 weeks after the race I VERY COMFORTABLY ran 8 Yasso 800's in 4:10 each. Easily. Without much shortness of breath or fatigue. Yes, I was rested, but that also is supposed to be a marathon finish time predicting work-out.

I was prepared. So what THE HECK happened????? (And, more importantly, how do I fix this for next time????)

Pre-race preparation went according to plan. Had a wonderful carbo loading dinner at my favorite Italian restaurant, Dave's Italian Kitchen, with my friend Sara (Chicago was her first marathon and she rocked it!) and her friend who is a super fast marathoner (her PR is 3:02!!, so nice of her to come cheer for us slowees!). Good food, good company, good night. Got a decent amount of sleep, can't blame that.

I was so excited about this marathon because 3 of my favorite people in the entire world were also running it:

my husband, Adam

Rockford Half Marathon 2010

my dear friend from med school, Bonnie

Gargoyle 5K 2006ish
(Halloween race, I was a bison, she was hunting me)

my dear friend from residency, Sara

2010 Madison Mini-Marathon

While I loved, Loved, LOVED having my fave folks running, I think I felt torn b/t running for fun with them vs running the race I needed to run for myself. I didn't start w/ the 4:15 pace group as planned (we just got a bit distant from them at the start) and despite running 15-30 s faster than goal pace for 7 or so miles I never caught up to them (I still don't know how I didn't).

FAIL #1: Started out too slow with friends, then had to go too fast to make up for it.
LESSON LEARNED: I have to decide on the purpose of each race before I run it: fun vs PR vs specific goal time.

I ran with my friend Sara until about mile 8 and was feeling pretty decent. I drank water or gatorade at every single stop. As usual Chicago is super well organized and there was plenty of water and gatorade on both sides of the road roughly every 1.5 miles. No shortage of fluids. When Sara pulled back (as planned/expected) is when I started to fall apart. I don't know what happened. Let me just say here that Sara has been such an amazing running partner. I've loved our long runs (okay, not all of them, but they were always better when she was with me!) and she has been so motivational. She is one tough cookie and I know is going to be a great marathoner for years to come (once that foot heals--> sending healing vibes your way!!).

Mile 8-13 I was completely doubting my ability to get my 4:15 and even started to question if I could finish. I didn't have any specific problems. No bad cramps, had a bit of nausea but nothing too bad, felt warm but was still sweating, wasn't short of breath at all. But it just felt really hard to keep running at goal pace. Who am I kidding, it felt hard to run at all! But I couldn't stop, obviously. I didn't even have a reason to stop. The race just felt a lot harder than I would expect so early on given my preparation/training.

At 10, I had some goo chomps. No help whatsoever. Usually, I get a little energy from them. No luck.

FAIL 2: Despite having no specific catastrophic problems, I still didn't want to run and felt really tired. And, I let these two subjective thing affect my pace.
Lesson learned: I need to HTFU. (I learned this phrase recently, aparently it means 'harden the f*** up'. Yeah, I need more of that;)

Here would be a good time to state how absolutely AMAZING Chicago spectators are. They come out in full force whether it's warm, cold, deathly hot, raining in 30 degree weather, they are OUT and they are LOUD. The spectators are inspirational with their "I love you, Mom" signs and their "Do it for Dad" signs. They donate their time on a random Sunday morning just to help us do this ridiculous thing we do. And they stay out for the slow runners, which is the most important thing in my mind. I always enjoy the "poop if you gotta" guy (saw him 2 years in a row!), did not really enjoy the guy who actually did poop. Seriously! Oh my god, it was gross! I also appreciated the guy with the sign saying he was missing the Bears game to come support us. Thanks, guy!

At the half, despite feeling like I was running hard, my time was 2:09:30. Besides fun runs with friends (no focus on time), I haven't had a 1/2 that slow since my first even 1/2 in 2006! Clearly something was not working. From mile 14-18, I pretty much thought about quitting THE ENTIRE TIME. I was so miserable. I started to get really nauseous. For a while, I caught myself hoping I'd start vomiting because then I would feel okay about quitting (sad, I know). I stopped sweating at that point and never did sweat again despite drinking like a madwoman and going through every sprinkler in sight. (Another plug for Chicago: they had lots of hoses, sprayers and wet sponges on the course, which was nice.)

There were a few reasons I didn't quit. I did NOT want to be the only one of my friends who didn't finish. This may be a bit vain but I have run more marathons that all of them combined so I would have felt like an a**hole if I didn't finish and they all did! Secondly, SO MANY people knew I was running this- friends, family, people at work, bloggie friends- that I hated the idea of answering the question "How'd your race go?" with "I didn't finish". No can do. Thirdly, I bought this FABULOUS track jacket at the Expo and it said Chicago 10/10/10 on it. If I DNF'd ('did not finish' for the non-athlete readers) I wouldn't be able to wear it! New clothes is apparently a powerful motivation. A large part of the reason I ran the marathon the hot year (not this year- the REALLY hot year a few years back where they closed the race early) was for the bright lime-green jacket. Also, I clearly couldn't not finish if Eiffel Tower guy could finish (see right)!! And finally, I didn't want to be a quitter. I didn't want to forever reflect back on 10/10/10 as the day I quit. I knew very well I could cross the finish line. There was no question of that. I just didn't see the point of putting forth so much effort if I wasn't going to get my 4:15 or even a PR.

I fought with myself for a while. Finally I told myself that I was being a big baby if I quit. Finishing a marathon is never easy. What kind of example would I be to others if I quit just because I wasn't going to accomplish my goal? Running races where you don't achieve your goals can be a lot harder than those where you do. I finished Chicago 10/10/10 because I'm not a quitter. I may be slow, I may not have improved after 1 year of hard training (so freakin' depressing) but I'm not a quitter.

Just because I finally committed to finish the race did not get any easier. I tried so many mental games with myself. I played the old "1 more mile" game which deteriorated into the "to the next water station" game. I tried the "run until the end of this song" game. I lost at all of those games. At one point, I realized I was in danger of finishing slower than I did my very first marathon. That would have crushed me. So I pulled it together and decided to pretend I was running a nice, slow, 8 mile recovery run all by myself.

8 Mile Recovery Run

Then I had a very long, somewhat embarrassing internal monologue, trying to fool myself into believing that I really was just on a recovery run. As I got cut off by another runner I thought "Boy the lakefront path sure is busy today", when I ran by one of the photographers I thought "Well look at that! So nice of him to take a picture of me on my routine recovery run", then at the water/gatorade/banana station I thought "It's so nice of these folks to come cater my little 'ol recovery run". Seriousely. This is my thought process for a good 3 miles at least. And as goofy as it sounds, it worked!

I don't really remember much about the last few miles. The crowd support on the South Side was better than it had been in past years, so that was nice. I had enough in me to shout "Help us out" to the crowd on the final hill on Roosevelt and got a lively response which was awesome. Then I sprinted in (relatively speaking) the last 0.2 miles. Marathon runners often say "I can do anything for a mile", well I guess I can REALLY do anything for 0.2 miles because I sprinted in at a 8:13 min/mile pace which is quite a bit faster than the plodding 10:42 min/mile pace (it still pains me to write that) I averaged for the race as a whole.

I've now ran Chicago 4 times. Will I do it again? Immediately after the race I said I would never run Chicago again. Usually after races, no matter how painful, I don't say things like that. Usually, I'm uncomfortable but my pride in finishing > my discomfort. Not this time. Three weeks later, I will revise that statement. I will never run Chicago competitively again. It will not be an 'A' race. Despite the wonderful aspects of Chicago- and I still maintain it is the best beginner's marathon in the country- the spectators, the organization, the course etc etc, for me it is too crowded and has become a bit boring. The crowded course really bothered me. I was bobbing and weaving around people the entire time and was cut off more than once. My Garmin says I actually ran closer to 27 miles, which is likely true. The picture below shows how crowded we were. See if you can spot me, Adam, Bonnie, Sara and Sabrina:

I think I will continue to run Chicago each year while I live here (the starting line is literally 10 minutes from my door) but I will do it for fun, with friends, not as a competitive race.

FAIL 3: Using a less-than-ideal race to attempt a PR.
Lesson learned: Next time I'm shooting for a specific time, I will pick a less crowded course so I don't waste time and energy dodging people.

Finally, the last big lesson I will take from this is that no matter how prepared I thought I was, I clearly was not prepared enough. I have no doubt that I could have run a 4:15 if all the stars aligned: IF it had not been so hot, IF I stuck with the pace group, IF I had a good day where I didn't feel tired. But for my 'A' races, being prepared to get my desired time only IF the circumstances are right IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH. I need to prepare myself for an ever faster race so that if I slow down for unforeseen reasons I will still get my time.

FAIL 4: Preparing to reach my goal time on race day "if all goes well".
Lesson Learned: I will train for a time more ambitious time than my true race goal so even if thing don't go according to plan on race day, I will still have a shot at my PR/goal time.

And I'll add a 5th:

FAIL 5: Having only 1 'A' marathon in a year. Having Chicago as my only PR/goal time attempt this year was probably not the best idea. I had no back up plan.
Lesson learned: Plan further ahead and design a race schedule that involves multiple, properly spaced, 'A' marathons. My race schedule for next year is in the works- I'll publish it soon!!

To end this long winded, introspective race report, I'll leave you with a quote I saw on Marlene's blog Mission to (a)nother Marathon:

"Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward."
-Vernon Law

Lesson learned. I'm ready for a new test.


  1. I'm sorry you didn't do as well as you would have liked. But it still sounds like it was a great experience.

  2. Hey there,

    Thank for the link and your comment.

    As you know, I can totally relate! It's so hard to work for months toward this... setting plans, goals, expectations... but then it all comes down to ONE DAY and anything can happen.

    I thought it was important for me to work through the possible explanations, even if none of them truly had a detrimental impact on my day. I hope this has helped you too.

    Let's brush ourselves off, step back for a bit and get ready for Redemption when we're ready!

    I look forward to following along on your journey. Just became a follower!

    Take care. :)

  3. "I finished because I'm not a quitter." just made my entire week. I am there with ya, sister. *fistbump*

  4. I agree on this; I have to decide on the purpose of each race before I run it: fun vs PR vs specific goal time.

    --kizzy marmot

  5. Hi Valerie,
    First of all I absolutely love the picture in your header and blog layout! I sort of have a thing with Bison:)

    Congrats on a great marathon finish! I heard that it was so freaking hot that day! I know that you will make you goal at the next one:) Chicago is one that I am hoping to do some day! Chicago is one of our favorite cities to travel to for long weekends. You are lucky to live there!

    Nice work Valerie! Good luck with your very own Monster Dash in Chicago!

  6. Blech. My race sucked too so don't feel alone. I've done chicago twice and twice I said I'll never run it again. I'm still saying far anyway. i totally agree the crowds make that race. Otherwise it was boring and waaaay overcrowded. Congrats on the HTFU!