October 10, 2011

Chicago Marathon Race Report

Ah Chicago...where to begin...?

Saturday morning as the kids finish soccer and vanish into the care of my father, we pick up Pete and Amy Olson. Team Day and Team Olson arrive in Chicago and head straight to packet pickup. There we met up with Team Johnson and Team Stinson, who have been there for hours and are on their way out. We spent a good 2 hours in the expo, and could have easily spent more.

An incredible display of sponsors and shopping everywhere, but the highlights were seeing famous people like Hal Higdon, shopping at the nike booth and becoming a nike+ member which gets me free engraving of my medal, and finding my own name among the 45,000 registered runners...

Once we left there, and got checked into the hotel, we had but a couple minutes to relax before it was off to dinner. Besides being at the same hotel, we had also planned to meet up with Team Johnson and Team Stinson for dinner at a great Italian restaurant for our final carb load. No one was disappointed with Quartino's! We spent a good couple hours laughing, reminiscing, and motivating each other for tomorrows race, and I think the wives enjoyed themselves too!

Back to the hotel and early to bed, alarms are set for 5:15 a.m., and we'd need all the energy we could get!

Up and at em, shower, power bar, top off fluids, and downstairs to meet Ted and Matt at 6. A 20 minute walk to the starting corrals at this hour was really cool to literally be among thousands of athletes walking down Michigan avenue in the dark toward Grant Park. First sign of a port-a-pot with about 45 minutes til the start, and we run into Team Thomas! Gary Thomas and his brother, Michael, hooked up with us, and we found our way to an open area to stretch and relax. Ted and Matt left us to start with the Kenyans at the front (or at least halfway between us and them); and Gary, Michael, Pete and I slipped into the 4:45 pace group. This is with 20 minutes to the start and the corrals are packed like sardines, and we are one of the last ones to get in before everyone else is left on the sidewalks waiting to scramble in after the gun.

The speaker nearest us was not working, so we couldn't make out much of what was being said, but the National Anthem got everyone quiet enough that we could hear it well, and I could feel a little chill go through my body, and knew that reality was about to set in. No idea when the race really started. Couldn't hear a gun or a command to start; instead we all just started moving VERY slowly toward the front. As we came into range of a working speaker, the music cranked up, and crowd noise began to increase. (Thanks for taking these pics Pete!)

As we neared the start line (more than 15 minutes later), it became obvious that no one was going anywhere fast, and for the most part everyone was struggling together to get into their pace. The road splits, and we joked about whether to go left or right, but it all comes back together on the other side, and that's where you first get a sense of what the crowd is going to be like. People are lined up 3 to 4 deep, shoulder to shoulder, for as far as the eye can see. Both sides of the road, and hanging on every bridge, overpass and building in every direction. But they're not just standing, they are yelling, cheering, clapping, ringing cowbells and noise makers, and holding signs for their loved ones, yet you are made to feel like everyone of them are there for YOU. (This goes on for the ENTIRE race!) One of the most memorable parts of the first mile is a bridge tunnel area. The tunnel was a blessing and a curse. Once inside the tunnel, all of the athletes start yelling as LOUD as they can, and the echo inside was amazing. It was SO loud you couldn't hear the person next to you. This was not a short tunnel, this was a good quarter mile...thus the curse. My Garmin lost its satellite connection, and it screwed up the distance/time. I didn't realize it at the time, but by the time it beeped at me that we were at mile 1 and I was only 9:10 into the race, I knew there was a problem. We were still right there with the first pace group and in fact went through a second shorter tunnel in Streeterville before we ultimately got to the mile 1 marker, and the watch read about 10:40. This means the GPS on my watch was immediately .15 long, so now I have to rely on the mile markers, pace group, and the 4:45 pace chart temporary tattoo on my forearm.

Shortly after mile 1, we hear a couple familiar voices...I'll let the video tell the story...
video I must admit, I had no idea, how much I needed to hear that until it happened! We both smiled and laughed and were immediately energized! Heading back South and across the river again toward the Loop, I realize that they've laid temporary carpet on the bridge, and I can feel the different texture under it in my feet, but not sure if they've done this for the point of how it feels, or how it looks, since you can see through it all the way to the water below. I suppose it could also be to accommodate those crazy barefoot runners! The rest of mile 2 was no problem, holding tight with the pace group, and enjoying the thick crowds, reading the signs, etc., still feeling very good.

Miles 3, 4 and 5 has us heading on a long stretch North toward Gold Coast. Molly and Amy found us here for the second time. The people along this stretch are pretty solid, and energetic, but it was nothing special to me. The sun was bright and without a hat or sunglasses, it was difficult to keep my head up to see well. We hung with the pace group, and was sure to drink one or more cups at each aid station as the heat was starting to pour on, and I was sweating as much as I do in a typical summer 10k.

Lincoln Park is a large area, that was most memorable to me from the smell of what I believe was possibly elephants? In any case, mile 6 and the 10k mark clicked off exactly where they should. My official 10k split was 1:08:14 which was perfectly timed to the 4:45 pace group plan.

Miles 7 and 8 take us as far North as we go, and turning back toward downtown, we are now in Wrigleyville, and at some point through here, Molly and Amy found us for the third time. Amy is a veteran of the CTA, so she gave Molly quite the lesson in train hopping today.

It was somewhere into mile 9 that the body started to break down. The heat was certainly taking its toll on me, and was causing me to hunch over and have bad form. This brought out the worst in a lingering back pain I had experienced earlier this week. I fought through it silently for a while, but ultimately confided in Pete that today was likely not going to be my day, and he needed to decide what he needed to do for himself. The 4:45 pace group faded into the distance ahead of us, and my 15k split was the last respectable number I would have for a while at 1:43:24. Pete said, it's you and me today, and agreed to walk with me. I told him, "I need a plan", and he said okay, we run to mile 10. And so we did.

My memory is a little fuzzy here between miles 10 and 13 as I was in and out of walking and jogging, and the pain was becoming quite intense, but I remember going through areas in what I believe were Boystown and Old Town, where the entertainment was as good as anywhere. Great music, great dancers, costumes, etc., Good thing I was able to enjoy it because at this point, I was not enjoying the run! At some point in here, I told Pete, "I love ya, but I gotta let you go". He said back to me, "not until we see the girls to tell them". I then said, "Bad news, we're not even half way yet, Good news, you're going to go faster on the back than the front!" We were scheduled to see them at 13 if they had made the train, and so I tried to run a little more to allow him to keep moving well, and now motivated by the fact that the 5 hour pace group caught us!

As we are coming up on mile 13, there they are! As soon as I saw Molly, I became emotional knowing that I was about to admit to her that I was not strong enough to continue at this pace. She was all smiles as we ran toward them to tell them we were splitting up, and though I can barely speak and am fighting back the tears, she just smiles right through me, and says, "it's okay, just keep moving, keep going, and do your best" *Tears*

As Pete pulls away from me, I grab him by the shoulder and tell him how strong he is. That he can stay with that 5 hour group, and he can go under 5 hours. I yell out one last "I'm proud of you", and there he goes. I continue jogging, and I swear he had them passed before we hit the 13.1 marker. My half marathon split was 2:32:51. Which means even if I could repeat what I just did, I would be over 5:05. I knew 5 hours was a long shot at this point, and I try to refocus on the possibility of beating my previous marathon time of 5:21:53. I knew this would be tough since on that day, my half marathon split was 2:22:00, and I'm running 10 minutes behind that currently. How can I make that up on the back??? ...1 mile at a time!

And thus begins my lonely quest to find motivation. Miles 13 and 14 take us as far West as we go, through Greektown and the West Loop, and miles 15 and 16 bring us back toward downtown, but there is not much here to help with the motivation with the exception of a Charity village which gives you the opportunity to reflect on and appreciate the opportunity to even be here today.

I remember going through Greektown and Little Italy with mixed success of continuing to run and walk. I started making silly deals with myself. Run to the next stop light and then walk to the following, then run to the aid station, and walk through it, then run til you see a naked baby dancing in a sprinkler (yep saw it), then run faster to get away. This was all very silly, but it kept my mind occupied and kept me running more than walking. By this time, my Garmin is a good half mile off. Now into University Village and crossing the 30k marker with a split of 3:47:13 which means I'm still fading with the last 15k being over 2 hours (approx 13:15 per mile).

At this point, I know I'm going to see Molly and Amy again soon, that is assuming that they are still there. For all I know, they saw Pete, and decided to go on to see him finish rather than waiting for me; or worse yet, they split up and Amy went on, leaving Molly to fend for herself on the subway system (scary thought). At this point, I decide there are really only two things that can save this experience for me. 1) If Molly is still there, I will ask her if she'd like to walk with me to the finish. I am willing to the sacrifice my time, in order to share a casual 6 mile walk to the finish line with my wife, so that she can experience it with me, or 2) if she's not there, or if she says "no thanks", then I will run with everything I have left to try and PR.

I'm now at the 20 mile marker and doing the math in my head and realize, in order to PR, I'd have to run 12 minute pace the rest of the way (not likely), so I sure hope Molly is there and is ready for a walk! Not really sure where she might be, I'm still jogging looking for her, and with a smile and thumbs up, I find them! I hear Amy say Pete is 15 minutes ahead of you (good maybe he can still break 5 hours), and as I run to Molly and start walking, she walks with me and I propose to her to walk with me the rest of the way. She says no quickly, and I request again, are you sure, this could be fun. She appears to think about it for a moment, but says she can barely walk with me at my walking pace. I tell her I will slow down and we'll take our time, but she says no, you go on and do your best. I smile and give her a kiss, and know what I have to do.

I immediately start running faster than I have in many miles. For the last 6 miles, I've been well over 13 minute pace, and now need to get it down to 12 or less. I know I have to run more than I walk, so I continue with the same set of silly deals, but look further into the distance before I think of walking. One of the best things that happened for me was that the 5:15 pace group caught me. Assuming that they were 6 minutes behind me at the start, then I had to go with them to the end to come in under 5:21.

Mile 21 take me into Chinatown, which is by far one of the most memorable areas on the course. Besides the obvious language, and cultural differences, the spirit is second to none when it comes to their level of support for the event. This really kept me moving, smiling, and focusing on longer running spells. Mile 22 is a dry area, many less spectators, and nothing motivational about it. It is gut check time, and now I'm doing the math backward. 4.2 to go. 4X12 is 48, plus .2 more means I have about 50 minutes to finish, and my current time is 4:30, so I have to keep moving.

Taking the bridge across the interstate, and we are now by Vandercook School of Music which stood out to me for obvious reasons. And there is an aerial boom lift with photographers!? Really? Photographers at mile 23? Whose bright idea was this? Is this just to capture the sheer pain of this point in the race. (picture) Thanks for nothing marathonfoto.com! In any case, time to do the math again, 3.2 to go 3X12 is 36 plus.2 more means I have 38 mins to go, and my current time is 4:42. Still right there.

Now at the Southernmost point of the course, it's time to turn back North for the final stretch. These last 3 miles are anything but easy, there is less shade and the crowds are still thin, as they're all at the last mile waiting for us. Now crossing mile 24, and one more time with the math, 2.2 to go 2X12 is 24 plus.2 more means I have 26 minutes to go and I'm at 4:56. I have to pick it up and have a kick!

At 24.2 there was some great music and a loud DJ that was very motivational. He made me feel like 2 miles would be nothing, and helped push me through another tough stretch. My 40k split was 5:05:37 which meant I had just run the last 5k at 12:17 pace, but needed more and so I made a deal with myself that I would not walk again after mile 25. I told myself I would start running at 5:09 on the watch or mile marker 25 which ever came first. And cue 5:09 on the watch. RUN!

And. I. Did. The crowd was thick, the noise got loud, and with 800 meters (half mile) to go, the road turns toward the lake, and up a hill before you make the final turn to the finish. The noise (even 5 hours after the start) is amazing! Raucous cheers all around as I sprinted to the finish like my life depended on it, and pressing the stop button on the watch it reads 5:21:01. A new PR!!! According to my Garmin, the last .85 of the race was run at a 10:31 pace, and my Heart Rate peaked at 190 bpm! Final results show me in 27545th place out of over 35556 finishers from over 45000 registered!


All smiles...for the moment. My heart was happy, but my body was not. I moved slowly to the medal area, where I happily bowed to a volunteer as they placed the medal around my neck. I clinched it, I kissed it, and then...well then I didn't feel so good.

I didn't even make it to the water table before I knew I needed to sit. I was stumbling side to side and knew I could no longer stand. I found some shade next to a skid of gatorade boxes along the curb and took a seat. I was exhausted. I sipped on what was left of the gatorade and water on my fuel belt, but ultimately did not feel any better, I decided I better get up and move around so I didn't tighten up much. Only problem, I couldn't stand without assistance. A volunteer was close enough to hear me so I asked him for assistance getting up, and before he could get to me, there were 2 RNs beside me helping me to my feet. I asked them to steady me for a second, and one of them insisted that I put my arm around her. The two of them helped me to the water table, and then just the one stayed with me. She began asking me lots of questions, name, age, hometown, bib number, finish time, etc., all in an understandable attempt to assess my state of mind. I was fine, mentally, I just couldn't walk. So I returned the favor of asking the questions. I learned that Emily was a 23 year old PT student who has lived in Chicago for 5 years, but this was her first time volunteering at the marathon. She thanked me for making her day interesting (pretty sure she wanted my phone number, but I showed her the wedding ring). We got to the bananas and worked together to get it peeled and as I finished eating it, she looked at me and said. I'm sorry Chris, but I can't let you leave yet. (excuse me?) I must take you to the medical tent for further evaluation. (She's definitely not getting my number now).

Upon entering the medical area, there are two options. You either go to critical care or urgent care. The MD at the entrance sent me to urgent care. Good. I'm not critical! Critical care was inside a tent, urgent was just an open seating area outside with cool fans, etc. I asked to be seated in the shade. Another RN came to me and assessed me. I confirmed that I was just exhausted and overheated. I showed her that per my heart rate monitor that I was still at 130 bpm, and had probably been done for 10 minutes or longer. She asked what I needed, and I said ice to sip on and eat to try to cool my core would help the most. She obliged and included a cool wet towel for my head. I sat there quietly eating my ice and looking around at others who were in far worse shape than myself, and wondered why I was even here, so when she returned to check on me, I asked if I should try to move around, and she said sure, walking is good. She helped me to my feet, and steadied me momentarily before asking me to take baby steps. And there I stood. Could. Not. Move. I quickly felt nauseous and sick to my stomach. That pain my back that I had dealt with for the last 4 hours suddenly felt like a knife in my back, and back down I went.

I sat there for 20 minutes, often borderline tears as nurse after nurse came by to check on me. Finally they told me I needed to try and walk again, so up I went. Baby steps, slowly, and that's when I heard it. We need to move him to Critical care. NO! I knew this couldn't be good. Before I could blink there was a wheelchair behind me, and I was being wheeled in. A doctor in front of me says, what is your bib number. I replied confidently as if I didn't need to be here 32932. He doesn't even talk to me, instead he turns and yells. THREE, TWO, NINE, THREE, TWO. STATION NINE. And here we go for a ride to triage area 9. O.M.G.

Here is what I observe. MULTIPLE cots with IVs being administered, a row of Ice Baths all full with people in line. Rows of Massage therapists, and another area with drapes and blankets that included people SCREAMING F***, F***, F*** in pain. I don't even want to know what was going on back there.

As they set me on a cot, a team of 4 are assigned to me. 1 MD, 1 RN, 1 doing paperwork, and 1 assistant of some kind. They again ask me all the same questions that I've answered for the last half hour, and now I'm nearly in tears because of pain and being frustrated. Part of me just wanted to answer the "what's wrong" question with, "I just ran 26.2 miles in 75 degree weather, that's what's wrong!" But I remained calm, and finally said to the doctor...*TMI ALERT* My back pain is severe, but my stomach pain feels like a cramp that can only be solved by puking or pooping! I don't want to puke, because I will lose those fluids, and you will say I'm dehydrated and give me an IV, which I don't believe I need, so can I try to go poop? *I told you TMI* And so they escorted me to a port a pot, so I could find some relief, and it did help, but ultimately, the back pain was what was keeping me from walking. The answer...MASSAGE!

Yes, that's right, my critical care experience, turned into the best 15 minute massage of my life. She found that knot quickly, and went to work on it. At times it hurt enough for me to let out the loudest scream in the tent, while other times I moaned approvingly. She was old enough to be my mother, and not attractive in the slightest, but had the most magical hands. She literally moved the knot down my back into my buttocks, and I found incredible relief. They sat me up gave me Gatorade, and signed me out with one last vitals check.

Gee, I wonder where my wife is? I had thought of this earlier, but when I asked if she had been notified, I was told that she was not notified, because family was not allowed in this area. Because I was being released though, a nurse offered me her cell phone to call Molly. "Hi honey, I'm fine"; "Where are you"; "I am in a medical tent". *sigh*. We coordinated where to meet, and I hobbled toward the exit. As she sees me and waves at me, her first words are, "You're in big trouble mister". I understand.

We walk (slowly) back to the hotel and share our stories. I wrap my arm around Pete and say, please tell me you broke 5 hours. Sorry bud, 5:15. Nothing to be sorry about. You beat me by 6 minutes at your first marathon (awesome), but it is pretty impressive that I was catching him given his 15 minute lead on me at mile 20. By the time we reached the hotel, Team Johnson and Team Stinson had already showered and left. We called them later to learn Ted ran 3:50 and Matt ran 4:45, they too, had split up after the halfway point with Matt having similar cramps. It was HOT. In fact, we learned soon after, that some collapsed 500 yards from the finish, and ultimately died. 35 year old firefighter. Dead. Reality check.


We were all hurting and decided we'd let dinner be delivered to us. So a quick call to Giordano's, and an hour later we are refueling. We passed on a possible plan to hit a comedy club, and instead decided to take a stroll down Michigan Avenue to the Nike store where Nike+ members receive free engraving for their medals, and a complimentary photo! Proudly displaying our medals and with a badge of honor limp, we hobble a few more blocks to discover a Ghirardelli Chocolate and Ice Cream place to replenish those 4380 calories that I burned.

Slept well last night, and the car ride home did not help my back any, but it did give me plenty of time to think about the future of my marathon racing....we'll save those thoughts for another blog...

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