Posts Tagged ‘marathon’

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.

FINAL STATS:
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

Good artists copy, great artists steal.
Steve Jobs (attributed to and stolen from Pablo Picasso)

Without reservation I’ve always thought of myself as a great artist, and now I offer proof… I stole today’s blog post. Shamelessly, in fact.  Hopefully every current/one-time/future runner out there is familiar with The Onion (“America’s Finest News Source”) and has already read what follows, but if not I’m happy to provide a public service.  As happens with the best humor – a disproportionate amount of which is found in The Onion – there’s plenty of absurd truth in the next 800+ words.  I’m just glad they’re not talking about me… after all, my race reports MATTER.

And hopefully the folks at The Onion aren’t done yet, since I’m looking forward to the sequels, “I’m Truly Sorry For This, But You’re About To Hear All About The Last Round Of Golf I Played” and “I’m Truly Sorry For This, But You’re About To Hear All About My Children’s Tiresome Exploits.”

The original article can be found here.

I’m Truly Sorry For This, But You’re About To Hear All About The Last Marathon I Ran

BY MICHAEL COWIE
JULY 31, 2012 | ISSUE 48•31

Listen, it’s great catching up with you, and believe me, I’m really enjoying this conversation we’re having, but I’m afraid I now have to do something that will make this exchange very awkward and unpleasant for you. I feel absolutely terrible about it, and so I want to give you fair warning: You’re about to hear all about the marathon I just ran.

I’m truly sorry, but I’m going to have to go pretty in depth about my months of preparation, talk all about the encouragement and support I received from friends and family, and give you a mile-by-mile assessment of my state of mind and physical condition during the race. I hate to say it, but it’s going to take quite a bit of your time.

Mile split times, cramping, hydration levels, chafing—you’re about to hear all of that. Plus, I’ll be dwelling on one point around mile 17 when I considered stopping but then decided to keep going because I’d already come so far. There’s a lot to cover, so I want to be upfront and apologize right off the bat.

This is going to be pretty unbearable.

I’ll inevitably start with how I carbo-loaded the night before the race, which by itself will not be a particularly long or objectionable story, but let me assure you it will segue right into an excruciatingly detailed explanation of the diet I maintain to stay in peak physical shape. And that, in turn, will lead into my training regimen, my special lightweight marathon gear, and, unfortunately for you, a lengthy period during which I expound upon the health benefits of distance running.

I know this isn’t the kind of thing you want to listen to—hey, no one does—but I’m going to include several anecdotes about my running partner Erik, a person you don’t know and couldn’t possibly be interested in hearing about. You’ll learn that he’s an attorney and a rock climber and that we’re part of a team that does the Run for Leukemia 10k every year, which will be another whole five-minute aside right there. Sorry.

Believe me, if I could stop myself from talking about this, I would. But I can’t, and so I’m going to tell you all about my personal best time, and you’re going to think to yourself, “This guy’s the fucking worst.” But here’s the truly awful part: Out of politeness, you will have to pretend to be impressed by that number, even though to you it will seem completely arbitrary and hold no meaning at all.

You’ll also be hearing quite a bit about the sense of accomplishment I felt upon finishing the race. You’re going to hate that, trust me. There will be detestable phrases like “I never thought I could do it, but I did” and “It truly was a life-changing experience” and “It’s a huge commitment, but definitely worth it.” I’ll be repeating the number 26.2 an infuriating number of times.

My God, I can barely express how insufferable I’m going to be.

I’m so sorry, I know you’ve done nothing to deserve this, but right when you think I’m finished talking—just when you get your hopes up—I’ll mention how this wasn’t my first marathon, and then you’re going to hear details of my three other full marathons, as well as a half marathon and a couple marathon relays I did. I can’t even imagine how horrible it will be for you to hear how I believe I’ve progressed as a runner, but by that point in, there just won’t be any getting around it.

And while it is at best tangentially related, I may at any moment during the conversation launch into an agonizing digression on the merits of five-day juice cleanses. I beg your forgiveness.

Worst of all, though, I’m definitely going to run other marathons in the future, so I’ll have to tell you all about the various races I’m thinking about entering and the pros and cons of each course. Please, accept my deepest apologies in advance, because as excruciating as today’s discussion is, it won’t end here. Every single day during my weeks of preparation leading up to the next race, I’m going to make you stop whatever you’re doing to tell you the number of miles I ran the previous evening. Isn’t that awful? No one should have to listen to that.

I’ll also have to tell you that you should run one of these things, too. I honestly can’t convey how intensely sorry I feel that these words will soon be coming out of my mouth, but I will actually say to you that if I can run a marathon, so can you.

Wow, I’m really, really sorry. I don’t know how you’ll be able to tolerate this.

But anyway, here goes.