Monday, October 10, 2011

Chicago Marathon 2011 Race Report, smiling my ass off!

So...first marathon, first 26.3 mile distance, in my hometown, basically running through the history of the first 30 years of my life, with a couple of really great friends jumping in to keep me company, my family meeting me during the race to cheer me on...what more could a slob like me ask for. I didn't end up carrying my camera so unfortunately you'll mostly get pictures of me taken by my lovely wife,

starting with this one at 6am as she dropped me off downtown. I really only managed to sleep about 4 hours that night as my OCD had me checking the alarm clock every hour to make sure I had set it right, but I was excited, felt good and rested.

Downtown Chicago is a great place to be at 6am, if you don't have to work. That is to say, if you are running a marathon, or still up at 6am for any number of um, reasons that might have you staying up all night.

Well this time I was up to do a marathon so off I went to wander around Grant Park, getting ready for the race and chatting with other runners. The pre-race was really well organized, keeping the 40 odd thousand people corralled into the appropriate lanes and isles before the starting line.

 I got myself into the open corral and worked my way through the crowd toward the 9min/milers. It was exactly like being at a concert and trying to get closer to the stage, with everyone letting you through but a little bit peeved that you're moving toward the front. You're too far away to see the stage, so any time people start pushing forward and yelling you do the same, and then nothing happens and you stand around a bit longer. Then someone yells and everyone starts to push forward, and it turns out that you're going to be standing for a while chatting with your neighbor.

The Chicago marathon is such an awesome trip through the neighborhoods that I know so well. Eventually we were running through Lower Wacker, opening out on Columbus and over the river. My original plan for the run was to get warmed up in shoes and then take them off after a couple of bridges and run barefoot. The bridge on LaSalle was tough on the feet even in my minimalist shoes, but the crowds were absolutely mad and it really pumped us up. I was hustling, maybe a bit faster than I should have but it was such a rush.

I was really in the zone for the next few miles, trying to dial in my stride and get a good rhythm going and while I remember running by Lincoln Park, I didn't really get out of my own head until the North end of the race. I think it was the madness in Boy's Town that pulled me out. That's where the music got really loud and the crowd was insane. I had a great short chat with a fellow from Georgia, running in Luna Sandals, who was super positive and enjoying his run. I kind of woke up at this point and started paying attention to the people around me.

For a solo runner it was amazing to be surrounded by so many people. Even as the crowd thinned a bit and there was more space the streets were absolutely filled with runners and crowds. The music and the parties were going everywhere. I had an old friend jump in with me at mile 13 (yellow shirt). He ran with me for a few miles and was there at the point that the crowd had thinned out a bit so it was perfect.

I had another friend jump in at mile 15 ("Young" shirt) or so just at the point where I started to lose track of things like time and space. He's in this picture with our highschool gym shirt on. The three of us actually ran past our highschool singing our school song. This is me going in for the kiss as my wife takes the pic and my babies just peaking below. It was super nice to see them out there. Three pics down (mine in the middle) is the pic of them with their best buddies and the kids of the lovely friends we stayed with.

I was still good but starting to feel the distance at this point. David was with me until mile 23 or so. I was having trouble keeping track of my salt pills and gu and getting a little incoherent and he helped me tremendously. We ran through the West Loop and later through Pilsen. This is a Mexican neighborhood and everybody was out playing loud music, dancing and hollering.

Later in the run I started hyping the crowd up to get people screaming. Dave and I had a long talk about my post about smiling during runs and encouraging other people. I spent a lot of time talking to people during the run, doing the old pat on the back you're doing a great job. I also really tried to fire up the crowd when they weren't already. They really responded when I made noise, smiled a lot and hollered so I made a habit of it for the rest of the run.

My wife told me later that in the crowd it was easy to get distracted and the runners firing up the crowd brought them back. I was a bringing back machine for the last 7 miles or so because it was amazing how the crowd went from quiet to roaring with a little encouragement. China Town was huge, they had dancing dragons and massive crowd turnout. It was after Chinatown that things got a little desolate. There weren't many people for a while there and my IT band started really tightening up at mile 24. I had to walk for a half mile for the first time in the race and stretch a bit. I took that half mile to recoup and then got back to running at mile 25 and held on until the end.

My original plan had been to take my shoes off around miles 8-10 but by that time I had such a great rhythm going, the last thing I wanted to do was change something or stop. I knew I'd probably have to put them back on at some point and the prospect of stopping for anything just wasn't what I needed at that time. My trail gloves served me perfectly as they always do so I was happy to keep them on.

The audience at the end was a little quiet so I did some hyping and jumping and smiled my ass off. The finish line was crowded with bleachers and I'm sure they were horse 4 hours in but they got going with some help. It really was an amazing time. I loved the neighborhoods and the enthusiasm of Chicago crowds.

 My family picked me up downtown, gave me my chocolate milk, and took me home for my guinness. As I write this I am enjoying my sports recovery drink of choice (an outstanding Argentinian Malbec:). I'm a bit sore but not too bad and I'm trying to figure out how many more races I can fit in this year. The longest run I've done until this point was 22 miles and I think I still had something left at the end, so I'm looking for a 50k to finish my first racing season. Got any suggestions?
Care to join my team for the Tough Mudder in IN?

This really is huge for me. I started this season with the goal of running this race and now that it's behind me I'm finding that it just makes me want to set more goals. Thanks for everyones' encouragement, huge ups to Sandy and David for being out there with me, my wife D for all of the support including dragging our family all over the damn place so I can run these races. Lots of love to you Callahans for being the best friends ever and all the rest who have supported me in this. There's more to come!

Thanks for reading!


  1. Great Job!! So wonderful to see you had fun with it and smiled.

  2. Awesome finish and congratulations! You never forget your first!

  3. Great job!!! My first I hurt my ITB too!!

  4. How do I become a member? Please!!!

  5. Thanks everybody! It was a total blast and I'm going to try and see my favorite PT next week so I can schedule another race soon.

  6. Congrats -- awesome job, awesome race! After my second marathon I felt the same way you did: there was a bit more in the tank. I just signed up for my first 50K, so I'll be interested to see how that goes for you as well.

  7. Hey UTR, good luck in the 50k let me know how it goes! I'm trying to psyche myself up enough that I just sign up already! Right now my tank is begging for more.

  8. Oh, and thanks Fungrim!

  9. Great post!! I have been running 30 consecutive yrs and hope to do my first marathon next yr!! You are an inspiration!

  10. Sally, you running for 30 years is an inspiration. Let me know which one you're running and I'll do it with you. I'm slow as hell but I have a good time! :)