Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.
– Henry Ford

“I predict sub 3 30.”

My brother sent his text the week before I’d be running the Chicago Marathon, and at the time I thought little of it. Why should I?  My previous two marathons, the California International Marathon in December 2011 and the L.A. Marathon earlier this year, had yielded successive personal records (PRs) of 3:39:15 and 3:37:53 respectively, a not-so-whopping improvement of one minute, 22 seconds.  And both courses had been relatively flat.  Not only that, but Chicago Marathoners had experienced/endured unseasonably hot temperatures in four of the past five years (by contrast, the 2009 race saw temperatures dip below freezing).  So I’d automatically – and wisely, I thought – adjusted my mindset to expect hot temperatures on race day, and to deal with them as best I could.  When possible I’d even trained under the East Bay sun, with the pace for my most recent long run – 15 miles in 86°F heat – projecting to a sub-3:35 marathon pace.  But regardless of conditions, 15 miles is not 26.2.  And with all that in mind, the thought of somehow shaving another eight minutes off my PR seemed, well, not happenable.

So I was pleasantly surprised when, five days before the race, I received an email from Marathon organizers telling us that “the weather on race day is projected to be partly cloudy, with low temperatures in the upper 30s to low 40s, and high temperatures in the low to mid 50s (degrees F).”  This corresponded to an Event Alert Level of “Green” (Low), which promised favorable conditions for marathon running.  At that point I remembered Chuck’s text, and my mental gears began to turn.  Slowly, to be sure, but the seed had been planted.

Mike Sohaskey after running 2012 Chicago Marathon

To complement the race itself, I’d decided 2½ weeks before race day to run Chicago as a member of Team LIVESTRONG.  Originally established as the Lance Armstrong Foundation, LIVESTRONG is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide one-on-one support for cancer survivors and their families, to empower them and help them face the challenges of cancer head-on.  Unfortunately Armstrong’s ban by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, and U.S.A. Track and Field’s weak-willed agreement to recognize the ban, extended to his running in this year’s Chicago Marathon.  Because Armstrong’s inability to run threatened to weaken LIVESTRONG’s fundraising efforts, I’d decided to help raise funds and awareness to support their cause.  After which many incredibly generous and supportive friends and family, in turn, stepped up to help me achieve this goal in a relatively short amount of time.

So then Chicago would be about more than setting a new PR or hitting a specific time goal… I’d also be motivated and inspired by Team LIVESTRONG and all those who supported my cause.  Particularly gratifying were the individual shout-outs of support that accompanied each donation, shout-outs ranging from sincere (“RunSTRONG, Mike!” and “We support your every step”) to painfully sincere (“Will look for your final time if my browser manages to scroll that far down”).

More on my LIVESTRONG experience, and those who made it possible, later in this post.

Thanks, Chicago… “We’re glad we’re here” too!

On THURSDAY Katie and I flew from Oakland to Chicago Midway, giving us two full days to acclimate our sleep schedules to the two-hour time change.  We’d be staying with close friends Pete and Faby (and their unflappable feline boss Chloe) in the threesome’s comfy and conveniently located 18th-floor high-rise apartment at the corner of Michigan Avenue and East Roosevelt Road, within a mile of both the start and finish lines of the marathon.  As an added bonus, their living space faces directly north overlooking Grant Park, the central hub of Marathon goings-on where the start line, finish line and post-race party would all convene.  With effectively zero planning on our part, this was a strong start to the weekend.

Race-day view facing north from Pete and Faby’s place: Michigan Ave. borders Grant Park on the west, while
E. Roosevelt Rd. (“the hill”) borders Grant Park to the south and is flanked along its length by red banners.  Marathoners can be seen on E. Roosevelt approaching the finish line.  Lake Michigan can be seen at right.

FRIDAY for us was Expo Day, the ritual pre-race boot camp where runners assemble to claim their registration materials, racing bib (i.e. number) and timing chip.  In a kinder, gentler age of running back when my brother was the sole (no pun intended) runner in our family, race officials would actually mail each runner’s materials to him/her before the race.  At some point in the past decade, however, race organizers (and their influential sponsors) must have realized they were missing out on a gem of a retail opportunity: a captive audience of adrenalized runners with racing on the brain and a magnetic attraction to any running-related paraphernalia promising them that elusive “edge”.  And with that, the mandatory pre-race expo was born.

No matter what your expectations for the pre-race expo, this year’s “Health & Fitness Expo” at McCormick Place in downtown Chicago did not disappoint.  It was among the largest expos I’ve attended, with Long Beach, L.A. and San Francisco being the other contenders.  After our shuttle bus dropped us off between Gates 26 and 27 (maybe, say, 26.2?), we followed the signs through the cavernous hallways and up the escalators to where fit-looking folks by the thousands – the vast majority of them reflective white like me – filled one enormous bustling hall.  Nearly all of these marathoners-to-be carried unwieldy Bank Of America-sanctioned swag bags while eliciting glances of (was that envy or scorn?) from the buttoned-up suits filing into and out of the “GRAPH Expo” next door.

When the Nike-bots issue an order, you Just Do It.

Some folks tackled the expo with more deliberate mindsets, whereas most behaved instead like human examples of Brownian motion, diffusing semi-randomly between sponsor booths.  Katie and I fell somewhere between these two extremes: not quite overwhelmed enough to diffuse aimlessly, yet in no real hurry to leave.  And as we strolled the aisles, I noticed a distinct difference between this expo and those I’d attended in California, reflecting perhaps the “Midwestern sensibilities” I’ve heard so much about.  Chicago resembled a more straightforward trade show featuring the most reputable names in running – names like Nike, Asics, Brooks, Saucony, Merrell, Clif Bar, PowerBar and Gatorade.  Representatives manning the booths were for the most part helpful without being pushy.  And although an expo’s an expo, and Chicago’s expo still left me restless for the more carefully choreographed chaos of the Marathon itself, it was decidely more positive than my usual expo-rience.

Because in contrast, California running expos are more likely to feature overcaffeinated meatheads and bronzed booth babes loudly hawking the latest in barely digestible energy bars, alkalinized drinking water, unproven nutritional supplements, and even over-the-top gimmickry such as rubber “Power Balance” bracelets that even the parent company admits are a complete sham.  Not to mention (but I will) that the organizers of possibly the state’s most popular marathon, the Big Sur Marathon, insist on having a booth at nearly all California running expos, despite knowing full well that they’ll be peddling an already sold-out event.  Ah, the hardships we endure who live and run on the West Coast.

Friday night we attended a pre-race dinner for Team LIVESTRONG members at Wrigley Field, featuring a few words by Team LIVESTRONG representatives as well as Chicago Cubs first baseman and Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor Anthony Rizzo.  This was the first time the LIVESTRONG folks had organized a pre-race event, and hopefully it won’t be the last… the evening provided an excellent opportunity to meet fellow fundraisers/runners in a relaxed setting, and to hear more about LIVESTRONG’s mission without the discomforting feeling of being slammed through a propaganda and marketing machine.  We even had a chance to stroll the dugouts and home plate area of Wrigley Field.  This was Katie’s first visit to Wrigley, and I doubt many other first-time (or any-time) visitors can boast a similar on-field experience.  All in all, a well-planned and well-executed event on LIVESTRONG’s part.  If only the bar hadn’t run out of 312 Urban Wheat Ale so early in the evening….

Team LIVESTRONG members at Wrigley Field… together we raised more than $237,000 at the
Chicago Marathon.  Katie and I are in the center, near the back.  (photo © 2012 Stephen Green Photography)

SATURDAY was spent stepping off curbs very carefully, restricting my diet (though not my calories), running a slow 3 miles with Pete along Lake Shore Drive, brunching with former labmate Vivian, visiting the Field Museum, and avoiding the torrent of Coors Light-toting college football fans streaming toward Soldier Field to watch Notre Dame play the University of Miami.  Hey Notre Dame fan: nothing says “Catholic family values” like a t-shirt that reads “Sucks to be U” or “If you don’t bleed blue & gold, take your bitch ass home.”

By the time 5:40am arrived on SUNDAY morning and my alarm began to jangle incessantly, I was good and ready to be good and running.  After all the training, all the tapering, all the expo-sure, and all the anticipation and visualization, it was go time at last.  As Katie and I prepared for our morning, we watched the sky over Grant Park and Lake Michigan likewise wake up and progressively brighten as the nervous, shivering throngs gathered in the park below.  Soon we joined them and headed immediately toward Start Corral “B”, where I’d begin my circuitous running tour of Chicago with the thousands of other Wave 1 runners anxiously awaiting the 7:30am start.  Slower runners would follow in Wave 2 at 8:00am.

The elite runners stretch before the race… they look even leggier in person (Agora sculpture in Grant Park)

7:18am, and the Wave 1 Start Corrals closed promptly at 7:20am.  Katie was radiating her own nervous energy as we said our good-byes at the gate to the corrals.  “Are you sure you don’t want those?” she asked hurriedly as I stripped off my arm warmers.  “Yes, that’s why I’m taking them off,” I assured her.  Despite the chill in the air (temperatures ranged from 40°F at the start to 47°F at 11:00am), the electricity of the day was invigorating, and I had no trouble staying warm as we were herded, like cattle in compression gear, into our designated Start Corral to await the official start.

I excuse-me’d my way between tightly-packed bodies and positioned myself between the 3:30 and 3:35 pace groups. I’d resolved to keep the 3:35 pacers behind me and then decide on the fly whether to pursue the 3:30 group.  I’d rather run the first half too fast and lose steam later, than start too slow to give myself a legitimate shot at a PR and maybe even 3:30.  I didn’t necessarily expect to break 3:30… the thought of running an entire marathon at an 8 minute/mile average pace may sound good in the Start Corral, with the buzz of pre-race adrenaline and 5-Hour Energy coursing through my bloodstream.  But once we hit the streets, the reality of the race could be dramatically different. As always though, I urged myself to trust my training and push it as far as it would take me.

What do you mean you don’t see me??? I’m RIGHT THERE in the gold shirt!
(photo © 2012 Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media)

With a collective cheer from the teeming masses and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run” blasting from what sounded like a McDonald’s drive-thru speaker (no fries with that, gotta run!), the 35th Bank of America Chicago Marathon was under way.  Pete and Faby, at home watching the local NBC affiliate’s marathon broadcast, caught a glimpse of me staring down at my Garmin as I crossed the start line.  Not exactly prime-time stuff, but still more auspicious than my 1996 television debut on “Good Morning Texas”, something those who know… know.

As the first wave of spectators loudly showcased their lung capacity from the BP Pedestrian Bridge, we exited Grant Park, passed through the Columbus tunnel and made our first of six crossings over the Chicago River.  These bridge crossings over the river would be the only “hills” (more like fat speed bumps) on the course until the final 400m along Roosevelt Road.

Aerial view of the BP Pedestrian Bridge overlooking the Marathon start line on Columbus Drive (photo © 2012 Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media)

I was careful not to let the fired-up mob mentality dictate my early pace… many runners surrender to their adrenaline and fly out of the chute like their hair’s on fire, only to pay for that decision later.  For the first time in a race, I’d set my Garmin to display both my current mile pace and my overall pace, so I’d know my status at all times.  Early in a race when you’re feeling good, it can be tough to gauge your precise pace… at one point between miles 1 and 2, a fellow next to me asked, “How fast are you running?”  I glanced down at my watch – my current pace read 7:01, yow – and quickly backed off the accelerator, as the voice of experience in my head reminded me that every second I ran too fast at the beginning would come back to haunt me several-fold at the end.

I first saw (and heard) Katie with her yellow LIVESTRONG pompom in the raucous crowd at mile 2.  Soon after a physical median created a fork in the road on N. LaSalle… I forked left, ahead of the 3:30 pacers who forked right. Ne’er again would we meet.

Chicago is a stylish city to be sure, and the powerful verticality of its skyline is always breathtaking.  The city’s most imposing glass-and-steel monoliths, the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) and John Hancock Center, were both visible at different points along the course.  And we ran through several interesting neighborhoods, most notably Little Italy and Chinatown with its fuzzy, oversized red dragon masks and “Welcome to Chinatown” arch engraved in gold cursive letters.  But for the most part, the neighborhoods we traversed didn’t stand out in my (admittedly tired) mind. And I have to admit… as big-city marathons go, I prefer Los Angeles. Starting at Dodger Stadium and ending next to the ocean on the Santa Monica Pier – with Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Hollywood, Beverly Hills and the legendary nightclubs of the Sunset Strip in between – is a tough act to follow.  And for better or worse, unlike L.A. I saw no barefoot runners at Chicago.

But no matter where we were on the course, the volunteers and assembled spectators were invariably rowdy and incredibly supportive.  Chicagoans, for the most part, genuinely seem to embrace the marathon and its runners, and I’m told that Marathon Sunday in October is practically a city-wide holiday.  Upon seeing my medal, several people on the street afterward were quick to smile and tell me “great job, congratulations!”  That was very cool, and it’s not something I’ve ever felt in California where people tend to be more… well, self-involved.  In the most densely packed areas along the course, spectator enthusiasm – as communicated by the sheer volume of their cheering – provided a brief but welcome distraction from the monotony of step-step-breathe, step-step-breathe….

Race volunteers were fantastic, though a ceramic bowl can be tricky to sip Gatorade out of while running (Inside Ancient Egypt at The Field Museum, Chicago)

On the other hand, whereas the quantity was high, I couldn’t help being disappointed by the quality of spectator signage along the course… the generic (i.e. non-personalized ) messages along the course were for the most part uninspired.  Usually I see at least one sign I haven’t seen before that makes me laugh, and I’m sure that sign (and at least a few other clever messages) were out there on Sunday.  I just missed ’em.  Instead I found myself counting the number of “WORST PARADE EVER” (I stopped at six) and “_____ MILES UNTIL BEER” (I lost count) signs.  The “GO RANDOM RUNNER!” sign was more annoying than anything.  And in my own non-violent way, I always want to punch the idiot holding an “ALMOST THERE!” sign anywhere in the first 20 miles… you’re not clever, you’re not funny, and you’re not the first.

But turning gators into Gatorade, I was able to co-opt the motivation from several “GO MIKE, GO!” signs along the course, as well as briefly running alongside a fellow with “MIKE” written on his shirt who was being cheered by name sometime after mile 20.

And speaking of spectators, none of ’em were more spec(tator)tacular on this day than Katie, who legged out roughly 9 miles of her own so she could see me and take pictures at miles 2, 13, 17, 20 and 26… and who still managed to squeeze in a Starbucks stop between miles 2 and 13.  She’s my performance-enhancing, not-so-secret weapon.  GO KATIE, GO!

Katie and I were both happy to reach the post-race party… we covered more than 35 miles between us!

Consistent with my usual racing strategy I avoided the aid stations, though they seemed to be well laid-out with Gatorade in front and water in back.  Starting at mile 9 and then every other mile or so after that, I forced myself to sip my trusty liquified Cytomax/Gu potion.  I discontinued this ritual at mile 22 for two reasons: 1) I was concerned that my faster-than-usual pace might distress my stomach, and 2) I realized that nutritional considerations wouldn’t be a factor over the final 4.2 miles.

As I waved to Katie at mile 13 and passed the halfway point 0.1 miles later (first half split 1:42:22, 7:49/mile), I understood that the real race was just beginning.  Most marathoners would agree that 26.2 miles feels more than twice as far as 13.1, and although those first 13.1 miles are clearly necessary, that finisher’s medal is unquestionably earned in the second half of the race.  There’s a compelling reason few recreational runners venture beyond 13.1.

Mike Sohaskey at halfway point of 2012 Chicago Marathon

If you notice nothing else in this picture, please do notice that both my feet are off the ground.

Mile 14 was the “Charity Block Party”.  Immediately I spotted the familiar black and gold of the Team LIVESTRONG tent and its members on the right side of the street.  They cheered frenetically as I passed, I clapped for them, and the scene rolled on as I glanced around at all the other worthwhile charities who would benefit today from the masochism of so many runners.

After the Charity Block Party mile 16 arrived fairly quickly, along with the always-sobering realization that the elite runners had already finished their race.  Unfortunately, I’ve yet to watch the elites race in person because I’m always running an hour and a half behind them.  And my hometown San Francisco Marathon, with its significant hillage, is understandably not a race that attracts the top elites.

The elites approach mile 13… realistically, I could run/sprint at their marathon pace for about 200m.

Although there was frequent music along the course, I honestly wasn’t paying attention and don’t remember anything specific other than the obligatory “Eye Of The Tiger” (which was appropriate in this case… Survivor’s a Chicago band). The only other thing I remember about the music was two or three moments when I ran very close to a cranked-up, beyond-distorted LOUDspeaker that, rather than energizing me, hit me with a momentary wave of nausea like I was standing on the deck of the Pequod in high seas.  But on the bright side, at least I didn’t have to hear “Call Me Maybe” for 3½ hours.

When I reached mile 22, The Wall I hit was more subtle and insidious than in previous marathons.  After all, my muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments were still cooperating and (as far as I could tell) working properly, and my effort felt much the same as it had throughout the race.  But I noticed that my mile pace times had begun to creep up into the low 8-minute range, and my lower body just felt more leaden, as though I now had the Pequod’s anchor wrapped around my waist (no idea why the “Moby Dick” references, I haven’t read it since high school).  At that point I felt a fleeting sense of “ugh” pass over me, as I reached back in search of that final wind that would carry me to the finish. Fortunately I knew I could run through this feeling of heaviness – both experience and training runs longer than 26.2 miles told me so.

Mike Sohaskey just past mile 20 of 2012 Chicago Marathon

What is there not to be happy about at mile 20?  It’s another Katie sighting!

But as I focused on maintaining my cadence (leg turnover) and stride, I needed something to motivate and distract. And that’s when I called on all the inspiration I’d reserved for just this moment: inspiration from my LIVESTRONG donors, expecting (and in some cases demanding) my best effort; from cancer survivors I knew personally; from all the cancer survivors I would never know who would benefit from this effort; from all the miles of dedicated training I’d put into this moment; from the thought of my brother running his own 26.2-mile training run in sunny Long Beach at that moment (though not at sub-3:30, the cheeky bastard); and from the now-animated (in my mind) finish line taunting me, questioning my runnerhood while daring me to finish strong.

These were just a few of the more-or-less successful mind games I played with myself over the last 10 miles.  Other mental gymnastics included the standard marathoning strategy of telling myself at the 18-mile mark “It’s just an 8-mile race from here,” or at the 20-mile or 23-mile mark “You’ve got this, just a short 10K/5K to go!”  I was now running with the 3:30-or-bust crowd, and these people clearly knew how to finish a marathon.  I noticed very few people pulling up to walk, though it’s also possible that my brain just refused to acknowledge them.

This poor fellow clearly knows what it feels like to hit The Wall
(Tired Man statue by József Somogyi)

The last 6 miles were made significantly easier – or maybe “possibler” would be a better word – by my decision to shadow a thin blonde woman in a periwinkle tank top sporting an unofficial “3:30” bib on her back.  I fell in step behind her for a short time before cautiously deciding, based on her regular cadence and steady pace slightly faster than my own, that she would be a reliable pacer to lead me through the last 6 miles.  I wasn’t disappointed.  She maintained a solid pace in the low-8 minute/mile range, which was just fast enough that I struggled at times to keep up without being left behind.

And keep up I did until the mile 25 marker, when I stopped tracking her and began to enjoy the process of that final mile up Michigan Avenue.  The sun had finally broken through around mile 24, radiating just the slightest bit of comfortable warmth.  And to ensure that marathoners received the full Windy City experience, a chilly headwind kicked in as we tackled that final stretch up Michigan.  During mile 26 I kept repeating the mantra “Keep doing what you’re doing, just keep doing what you’re doing….” This chant intensified as I passed a fellow runner who was clearly fighting cramps, and whose rigid gait made C-3PO look limber by comparison.  My immediate motivation became the end of Michigan straight ahead, where Katie, Pete and Faby waited outside their towering apartment building to cheer me across the finish.  As I high-fived the three of them and turned on to Roosevelt, I knew this marathon was all but over.

Mile 26  the happiest mile of them all

But first I had to get over the ~200m stretch of Roosevelt that those who have run Chicago jokingly (or not) refer to as “the hill”.  The power of this ever-so-slightly uphill stretch derives from its location at mile 26, tantalizingly close to the finish.  Coming from the Bay Area where “flat” is often a state of mind, I was mortified to feel my legs protesting as I slogged up Roosevelt.  But once I crested that hump and turned left on to Columbus where this all began, the immediate sight of the “200m” sign to my left and the red-and-white finish line straight ahead was indescribably adrenalizing.  WOW.

In that final 60 seconds, as I drifted right to avoid the main crush of finishers to my left, my mindset was a mental purée of wanting to bask in the moment, to embrace it, to squeeze every last iota of accomplishment out of it, blended with the stark reality of seeing that finish line oh… so… close.

The end in sight: the final straightaway on Columbus Drive (hopefully nobody followed the arrows) 

It’s impossible to articulate the stimulative sensation of the ‘runner’s high’, to do justice to the effect that intense physiological stress has on brain chemistry… you have to experience it for yourself.  It’s why some people take recreational drugs, while others run marathons.  Without hesitation, I’d recommend the experience to anyone who’s mulling over the idea of their first marathon, or who’s never run a huge road marathon like Chicago, New York or even L.A.  It’s not that you have to run the course… as I’ve pointed out, the Chicago course per se is not particularly special or memorable.  It’s that you have to feel the course, on a Sunday in October when 37,000 other runners and 1.7 million spectators are all pushing collectively for the same goal.

As I pumped my fist and crossed the finish line, the official race time on the giant digital clock read 3:31:13.  But I already knew I’d done it, and a glance down at my Garmin confirmed it: 3:28:45.  My first sub-3:30 marathon.  And my giddyup pace of 7:54/mile over the final 0.4 miles equaled my average pace for the marathon.

It’s not easy to time your finish so your head fits through the giant orange “O”
(photo © 2012 – believe it or not – MarathonFoto)

The 27th Mile (i.e. the long walk from the finish line to the post-race party) doubled as my victory lap, and I took my own sweet time moving through it.  Not because I was in pain – I wasn’t – but because I felt aglow with success.  And not that my timing would matter; I’d still arrive at our post-race rendezvous site 15 minutes before Katie, Pete and Faby, who had to painstakingly make their way down Michigan, around the barricades, and back up Michigan to Butler Field in Grant Park.  Unfortunately the distracted thrill of finishing, along with the donning en masse of heat-retaining “space blankets” caused me to lose track of my periwinkle-clad pacer, and I never had a chance to properly congratulate or thank her. But at least I know she also hit her 3:30 target.

In the finishing chute I giddily received my medal, posed for pictures, and eavesdropped on other runners’ accounts of the past 26.2 miles.  One finisher faux-boasted to his running mate, “Think what we could’ve run if we’d trained for this… I’d say 3:20.”  Another beamed with pride and quietly celebrated his first sub-3:30 effort in four tries at Chicago. Still another (admittedly I prompted this one) evangelized in an Irish brogue about how “fuckin’ awesome” his Newton running shoes were and how, after some initial getting used to, they’d taken his running to another level.

Mike Sohaskey with Chicago hosts at 2012 Chicago Marathon

Thanks to Faby and Pete (and Chloe, not pictured), the best hosts in the Midwest… we’ll be back soon!

Turns out the day had been a fast one for the elites as well.  Not only were the top three male finishers from Ethiopia, but all three including the winner Tsegaye Kebede broke the course record set last year with finish times of 2:04:38, 2:04:52 and 2:05:28.  The top American (and the top non-Ethiopian/non-Kenyan) finisher, Dathan Ritzhenhein, placed ninth in an impressive 2:07:47.  The women’s race ended in a dramatic near-photo finish, as the winner from Ethiopia broke the tape in 2:22:03 to hold off the Kenyan runner-up by less than one second (2:23:04).  Russian Liliya Shobukhova, trying to become the first runner (man or woman) to win Chicago four years in a row, finished fourth in 2:22:59.  And the top American woman, Renee Metivier Baillie, crossed the line in 2:27:17 to finish eighth.

And not that marathon training or long distance running in general is taxing on the lower body, but both Ritzhenhein and Metivier Baillie had previously suffered Achilles injuries that required surgery to repair.

Once my post-race levels of adrenaline, endorphins, dopamine, serotonin etc. gradually returned to normal later that day and the next, my own aches and pains would be minimal and in all the “right” places… quads, hamstrings, IT bands.  And Sunday evening would feature the usual unsettled stomach and litany of immunosuppressive symptoms caused by intense physical exertion: mild cough, a few chills, nothing a good night’s sleep wouldn’t cure.  And certainly nothing that would keep me away from the LIVESTRONG post-race party at the Rockit Bar later that evening.

I lamented the fact that the post-race party didn’t include an ice bath – it’s the single most effective (and uncomfortable) recovery tool I know. After taking the plunge and reaping the benefits following my first marathon in Long Beach in 2010, I was sold. And since then, I’ve been promising myself I’m gonna get me one of them some day.

I had plenty of motivation in Chicago. Certainly there was the selfish internal motivation of all marathon runners, that of wanting to set a PR or qualify for Boston or even, in my case, break an arbitrary time barrier like 3:30.  But unique to this race was the external motivation provided by all the friends and family who supported me and Team LIVESTRONG. When so many people are willing to rise to a challenge, to step up and sacrifice from their own pockets, to say by their actions “I believe in you and your cause”… that’s motivating.  And there’s no doubt that motivation powered me through the streets of Chicago.  Together we raised over $2000 to help those affected by cancer, and I hope I have the opportunity to do it again soon.

Chuck wasted little time in his post-race texts congratulating both of us – me for my accomplishment, and himself for his sub-3:30 prediction.  In effect his prediction had been self-fulfilling: he’s run better and for longer than I have, and if he thought I could run a sub-3:30, well then I couldn’t very well go out there and fall flat.  Now I’m hoping he doesn’t fire up the “Boston qualifier” prediction, which would require that I shave another 13min45sec off my Chicago time.  Then again, maybe that’s just what I need… who knows what I could do with the right training, mindset and motivation?

As I moseyed my way through the finishing chute, a woman manning the 312 Urban Wheat Ale table smiled broadly, held out an invitingly full plastic cup and declared “You need a beer!”

She was absolutely right.

LIVESTRONG provides free, confidential one-on-one support to anyone affected by cancer – whether you have cancer or are a loved one, friend, health care professional or caregiver of someone diagnosed.  To get help, call them toll-free at 1-855-220-7777, or visit them online at http://www.livestrong.org/Get-Help/Get-One-On-One-Support.

October 7, 2012
26.41 miles through the streets of Chicago, IL (state 3 of 50, World Marathon Major 1 of 6)
38,535 starters, 37,476 finishers
Finish time & pace: 3:28:45, 7:54/mile
Finish place: 3,887/37,476 overall; 3,282/20,682 men; 558/3,451 M(40-44) age group
Race weather: mostly cloudy, 40°F (7:30am start) and 47°F (11:00am finish)
Elevation change (Garmin Training Center software): 121ft ascent, 119ft descent
Footwear: Saucony Mirage 2 shoes, Injinji Midweight toesocks

  1. Dan says:

    It’s pretty cool to read a marathon recap from the viewpoint of a west coaster. I’ve done two half marathons in the LA area (Disneyland and the Holiday Half in Pomona) and found them to be quite fun. Admittedly though, I wasn’t looking for changes in demography, but still, it’s fun to note that the Midwestern sensibility comes through.

    Anyway, great post. I really like your writing style — you use very nuanced descriptions in everything from the race experience to the type of people you see along the way. I look forward to your musings in future posts and races.

    Congratulations on breaking the 3:30 barrier. That is my next goal (though I guess I have to break the 3:39 barrier first). It was the perfect day for it and I was very jealous that I picked this year to not run. Alas, there will be other years, hopefully with equally pristine conditions.

    And lastly, your friends’ apartment is in the nicest part of town, hands down. I live 4 blocks away and love it.

    Way to kill it!

    • Mike says:

      Thanks Dan, really appreciate the kind words. That’s an amazing city you live in, and I’m glad I got to experience a lot of that amazing-ness first-hand (spoken like someone who just raced in ideal conditions). Races like Chicago are a strong argument for starting to run in the first place. And glad my friends live right there by Grant Park, so I can visit as often as possible (when it’s warm, of course… can’t very well leave CA for Chicago during the winter).

      Sounds like you’ve treated yourself to the SoCal experience, so I’d be happy to evangelize for the NorCal running scene… particularly the marathons in Big Sur (before it rapidly sells out every year) and SF. And if you like running on trails, it’s hard to beat any race that’s held in the Marin Headlands. Keep us in mind out here!

      Best of luck with your own running… a half marathon or farther in every state would be a very cool accomplishment. And hopefully we’ll be reading about your own sub-3:30 marathon soon enough!

  2. Nicole says:

    I didn’t notice that both your feet were off the ground until you pointed it out, mostly because I was too distracted by what appears to be a 9-year-old behind you in the photo. Although on second glance, maybe it’s just a short adult (which I say with no judgement, being fairly vertically challenged myself).

    • Mike says:

      Ha! That’s funny, I hadn’t noticed that detail. Although I’d imagine if the camera had been pointed in the other direction, you’d see several more 9-year-olds leaving me in the dust…

  3. Amy says:

    Congratulations on your fantastic goal crushing PR and your fundraising efforts! And congratulations to Katie for being a super spectator!

    You win hands down for best recap. Very entertaining and quite on point! I only found 1 “Go Amy” and I absolutely convinced myself that it was for me! And I somehow missed the entire Charity Block Party. I have no idea how. I also somehow managed to forget about that pesky wind that started up toward the end until you mentioned it.

    Congratulations again!

    • Mike says:

      Thanks for the thumbs-up, Amy! I probably noticed the Charity Block Party because I knew the LIVESTRONG folks would be there… otherwise hard to say. It’s interesting to read different recaps, since different people zone out at different times during the race… for example you and Aaron noticing “Gangnam Style” pumping at several points along the course, while I noticed only the volume of the music. And didn’t that headwind on Michigan ramp up your runner’s high juuuust a bit more?

      Congrats to you as well, fantastic first effort… now go forth and earn that unicorn!

  4. Chuck says:

    I think every runner has at one time or another adapted Dory’s mantra (Finding Nemo) late in a race. “Just keep running, just keep running, just keep running running running”. Congrats on your sub 3:30 race! A lot of training went into that.
    I’m predicting an Olympic qualifying 2:20 for the next race.

  5. Wow that was odd. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not
    writing all that over again. Anyhow, just wanted to say great blog!

    • Mike says:

      Appreciate your taking the time to read and comment… I can empathize, I’ve had the same frustrating experience trying to leave a comment on other blogs. Thanks for the kind words that did make it through!

  6. Jen says:

    An awesome recap, Mike. You look so happy in all of your race photos, to top it all off (yes, that was written with a note of jealousy). Congrats again on the sub-3:30. It turns out that the hills DO pay the bills!

    • Mike says:

      Thanks, Jen… with the energy of so many rowdy spectators (and Katie) to feed off, it would have been tough not to enjoy the process. Although I understand the words “enjoy” and “marathon” aren’t typically used in the same sentence, at least not to describe the part leading up to the finish line. Look forward to hearing about your own experiences at CIM!

  7. […] the Windy City.  Later that week, I would be completely blown away by how many people had run crazy fast times.  Envious though I was, I was having an awesome day.  At one point, I checked my phone […]

  8. […] ago, drawn to his keen eye for detail, elevated diction, and the reverent way in which he described his Chicago Marathon experience.  Since then, we’ve been regular readers of each other’s racing exploits.  We […]

  9. tootallfritz says:

    I’m know I’m a year late on this read. 🙂 Found you thru Dan (Dan’s Marathon). Congrats on an amazing race and scoring one of the best views in town with your buddy Pete’s place! Love that photo of Charity Village & the Roosevelt bridge from their home.

    Hope to see you in the CHI for a repeat!

    • Mike says:

      Thanks Amanda! Actually your timing is perfect, with Chicago Week here again (wow, has it been a year already??). Appreciate your finding me through Dan’s excellent blog. I envy your having a race like this one in your backyard, and hope to be back in Chicago to run again soon. I had a terrific weekend last year and was amazed at how supportive the entire city was, both runners and non-runners alike. Anyone who’s had the chance to experience the Chicago Marathon in person understands the answer to the question of why we run.

      Run strong on Sunday, and I’ll look forward to living vicariously through your experiences in this year’s race!

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