30
Dec
11

Running Goals for 2011: Looking Back

As has become a yearly right for me, it’s time to review my running goals for 2011 and see how I did. Overall I’m pretty pleased with this year, but there are clearly somethings that could have gone a little bit better.

  • Distance Run: 1500 miles
    Nope – I’m pleased to say that I came much closer this year. However, there were four extended periods where I did little to no running. In March I spent about three weeks in China. I went running once while there and really stuck out, but the bigger issue was that the air was toxic. In August I made the stupid mistake of trying to barefoot and getting huge blisters on my feet. Just when I was getting better I managed to get the norovirus. In September I spent two weeks in Europe. Finally, December was shaping up great to make 1500 miles, but my achilles tendon started to hurt, so rest was in order. I’ll finish the year with about 1375 miles, depending on whether or not I go running today or tomorrow.
  • Marathons: 3 (Grandma’s, Chicago, NYC)
    Yes! Grandma’s Marathon in June was a blast. I set a PR and ran most of it with a friend before she threatened to kill me around mile 22 and told me to go on ahead of her. My experience in Chicago, on the other hand, was downright miserable – hiccups made me want to die by the end of the race. It was so bad that I signed up for the Hartford Marathon six days later where I PR’d. I managed to shave a few more seconds off this PR at New York three weeks later. It was a good year for running marathons.
  • Weight: 170lbs
    Nope – according to my spreadsheet I hit my lowest weight at 173.2. Right now I’m a little over 10lbs north of that figure thanks to holiday bingeing while visiting relatives. Still, I’m about 15lbs better than I was at this time last year.
  • Fastest Mile: 5:50
    Nope – I did only a single one mile race, the 2011 Fifth Avenue Mile. I finished in 6:10. I was happy, although I’d love to see that leading six change into a five.
  • Marathon: 3:30
    Nope – marathon time predictors say to take your half marathon time and double it then add 10 minutes for your full marathon time. If I could do a half in 1:40, then a full in 3:30 should be possible, right? Not quite. While I did drop my PR in the marathon about 17 minutes this year, at 3:57:45 it’s not even close to this goal.
  • Half-Marathon: 1:40
    Nope – I was tempted to call this an “Old-School Boston Yes”. However, let’s be honest, that second digit is still a 4, and for me to make this goal the second digit needed to be a 3. I missed this goal by 23 seconds at the 2011 Brooklyn Half Marathon.
  • Cross-Training: 2 days a week
    Nope – I often manage this in Minneapolis. In New York I lack a bike and fail miserably at this. I rarely cross-trained.
  • Barefoot/Vibram a race of 10k or more
    Yes! – I did this at the 2011 Independence Day Races in Minneapolis. Not only that, I turned in a 10k PR that was a faster pace than my 5k PR.
  • Bench Press My Own Weight
    Nope – I think I tried bench pressing three times this year. Fail.
  • Run to and from Work at Least Five Times
    Nope – by the time I thought about this it was already late September and getting too dark to run on the roads around work in the evening. I never even did this once.
  • Post at Least 50 Blog Entries
    Nope – this blog was a bit more predictable in 2011. Assuming this is the last post of the year I’ll finish the year with 36.

So, what’s the overall conclusion. I didn’t run as much as a I hoped, I didn’t cross-train nearly as much as a I hoped, and I didn’t write about running quite as much as a I hoped. Was this year a let down? No. I don’t feel bad when I set an ambitious goal and I fail to meet them. I think I would have felt worse if I set goals and met each goal – it wouldn’t mean that they weren’t stretching me enough.

Next up, 2012 running goals.

08
Dec
11

My Own Running Streak Challenge

I’m in a bit of a lull right now. I have no races scheduled for December. No marathons on the horizon. Nothing to really to train for. It’s also cold and dark. It doesn’t get light until nearly 8am and it’s dark by 4:30pm. This is not ideal running conditions.

However, if I want to get better I should keep on running. So what to do? Starting last week I decided that I would run every day this month — even Christmas and New Year’s Eve. I thought I was going to be all original with this, until I found out that Runner’s World was encouraging a Thanksgiving to New Year’s running streak. Well, I started a bit late, but I guess I’m in too.

Then I started to look at my own running stats for the year. From January 1 to November 30 I had run 1277 miles. A new record for me, but still 223 miles away from my goal of 1500 miles for the year.

It's been a Good Year for Running

So, can I do it? Well, that’s the challenge. In may I ran 227 miles, so I’ve done it before, but I’ll need to treat it as though I’m in top training for a marathon. Maybe I’ll need to find a January marathon…

So, that’s goal. Every day this month. 227 miles total. An average of 7.2 miles a day. Eight days in I’m at 60.5 miles – a little ahead of that pace. It’s go time.

09
Nov
11

Race Report: 2011 ING New York City Marathon

It didn’t feel like I was doing a marathon this weekend. I wasn’t experiencing the usual mental pressure or worries about my legs and insides. Even on Saturday morning as my wife and I headed to expo it didn’t hit me that I was doing a marathon. Getting up at 4:30am on Sunday and walking in the cold and dark to the train to catch the ferry to Staten Island it didn’t feel like I was doing a marathon. Even when I wandered around Fort Wadsworth it still didn’t feel like I was doing a marathon. This wasn’t a new experience. I had a semi-disastrous 4:37 when I ran this race two years ago. I knew what it was like. I was even once again a Green Bib, which means that aside from the slight change to the green course, everything was the same. There was no need to watch course highlight videos, plan out my strategy for hills, or think about where the fans were going to be. I still remembered for 2009. The question I went into the morning with was whether or not my insides were going to rise up and attack me again.

Achievement Unlocked: 2011 ING New York City Marathon Bib Acquired

Achievement Unlocked: 2011 ING New York City Marathon Bib Acquired

The expo, was as expected, a little crazy. The space they had seemed to be enough for the experience, but there’s just something about things happening in New York that turns everything into chaos. If you’re a tourist you blame New Yorkers. If you’re a New Yorker you blame tourists. It was a little surprising to see that at 10am on Saturday they were out of men’s medium shirts. Good thing I take a large for long sleeve shirts. You’d think this would be one of those things that NYRR would have figured out. They clearly should have information from previous marathons about what types of shirts they needed. Anyway, although I always have the best intentions to buy stuff at the expo, I usually just wander through and never look at much of anything. This was the same way. The only thing I was going to pick up was a pace band, unfortunately the Timex booth was already out of bands for all times between 3:15 and 4:15. Youch.

Next morning I got up at 4:30am and did a short run down to the train. Just enough to get my legs going. I knew there wasn’t going to be much of any place to workout in Fort Wadsworth, so this was going to be my main chance. As usual, the closer I got to Grand Central the more people were on the train. Lots of foreigners who had no idea what train they needed to be on. Luckily the conductor didn’t seem too annoyed when I held the door open for a group of Danish runners at Union Square. I continued to chat with some of the folks into the ferry terminal and across to Staten Island. I felt like the expert being as it was going to be my ninth marathon and my second time running New York.

When I arrived at Fort Wadsworth I had three goals for the day. None of them involved a PR. Here they are in ascending order of possible disappointment if I failed them:

  1. Not get the hiccups
  2. Finish the race
  3. Avoid pooping my pants
Me in the last green corral for wave 1 shortly before the start of the 2011 ING New York City Marathon

Me in the last green corral for wave 1 shortly before the start of the 2011 ING New York City Marathon

Thankfully, I’ve never had problems with #3, and I’ve never started a race I didn’t finish. This meant I would probably get at least two out of three of my goals. The first one has been my nemesis. I’ve had a wonderful flareup, which might be related to hiccups and running.

I was fortunate enough to have a late ferry this year, 6:45am. Combined with a 9:40am start time, this meant that my ferry to start time was about three hours, much better than 2009 when I had the 5am ferry and started at 10am. The ferry really is one of the most interesting parts of the marathon. The only people on the ferry at that hour of the day are marathoners and, from my biased observations, people heading home to Staten Island from a night out on the town the night before.

Unfortunately, I was, once again on the bottom (green bibs represent!). Fortunately they made an announcement that said “urinating on the bridge is both unsanitary and unpleasant”. I really wish they would just said “Green runners, be careful of pee coming down from runners above you!”. Fortunately, I knew better. The German guy I saw get hit, not so much. Starting on the lower deck also meant that initial GPS readings were going to be rubbish. Oh well. We can deal with these things.

The green wave 1 starting line at the 2011 ING New York City Marathon

The green wave 1 starting line at the 2011 ING New York City Marathon

2011 New York City Marathon Split Results from Runkeeper

2011 New York City Marathon Split Results from Runkeeper

The beginning of the race went quite well. My second mile was WAY too fast and I knew I was going to pay for it. Somewhere around a 7:20 mile. What can I say, running under the bridge messes your timing up. Brooklyn was, as usual, great. I loved all the kids giving out high fives, it really helped to keep my pace going. I knew I was around a 3:48 pace, but I also knew I wouldn’t be able to keep that up for the entire race.

Me at Mile 11.5 of the 2011 ING New York City Marathon

Me at Mile 11.5 of the 2011 ING New York City Marathon

Although I knew this pace was too hot for me, I was doing far better than 2009. In that race I ran the first nine miles with another guy aiming for a four hour pace. I lost him about mile 9 and shortly after began to have horrible hiccups and acid reflux. I eventually vomited in Queens and had to do a combination of running/walking to the finish. I was still strong. Didn’t feel overly fatigued and proceeded over the Pulaski Bridge out of Brooklyn and into Queens with half the race behind me.

2011 New York City Marathon Official Splits - Part 1

2011 New York City Marathon Official Splits - Part 1

So what happened between the half and mile 14 (mile 15 in RunKeeper. Thanks jitter!)? Well, that’s simple. I had to use the restroom. Those nasty flare up problems. Yup, more information than you required. However, I learned from the 2009 marathon where I vomited from using a restroom later in Queens — the scent of a pretzel cart burning pretzels plus upset stomach plus restroom stank did not work so well. It was pleased that I was able to return from the restroom at about the same pace as before, although my legs did start to get wary and I could tell I was slowing down.

2011 New York City Marathon Official Splits - Part 2

2011 New York City Marathon Official Splits - Part 2

I managed to keep up a decent pace for the rest of the race. My wife managed to spot me at 87th Street as I cruised up 1st avenue although I completely missed her. Even the run through the Bronx, which normally is horrible, was feeling good this year. The improvements to the Willis Avenue bridge were noticeable although the loss of some lanes made it very tight. I had to strategize how to get around people who were having problems with the elevation change. A huge thanks goes to the Van Cortlandt Track Club, the Japanese drummers, and the fire fighters for keeping our short jaunt through the Bronx interesting. I exited the Bronx in great shape at mile 21 and proceeded into Harlem.

Me Full Derp at Mile 23 of the 2011 ING New York City Marathon

Me Full Derp at Mile 23 of the 2011 ING New York City Marathon

Now, here’s the thing about Harlem. It’s always dangerous to drive in Harlem. This isn’t because people will do anything to you, it’s more because people are very unpredictable about crossing the street. They tend to cross wherever is most convenient. This, sadly, was also the trend as we ran through Harlem on Sunday morning. More than once I had to shout “Get off the course” to people who decided to slowly cross the street. In the future NYRR should deploy marshals in Harlem (and to a lesser extent the Hasidic parts of Brooklyn) to minimize these problems.

Anyway, the last really difficult part of the race was the climb up Fifth Avenue before entering Central Park. This is only about a 100 foot climb, but when you’ve got 23 miles behind you climbing 100 feet in 3/4ths of a mile seems nearly impossible. Luckily, my wife found me for the third and last time around 93rd street. As you can see below, I had no problem going full derp for the photo.

I think this was the point where I finally realized I was running a marathon. It wasn’t because of the crowds or fact I just saw mile 23 and that a four hour marathon was within my grasp. It was because my legs felt like they wanted to give out. The muscles right above my knees were weak. This was a new sensation. So, I did something that I really hoped not to do. I stopped to walk for a short bit. This gave my legs a chance to recharge, but it was nearly impossible to start running again. As the miles ticked down I knew I would finish under four hours, but the bigger question is whether or not I would beat my personal record of 3:58:17 set three weeks ago in Hartford, CT. As the 800m sign appeared on 59th Street I realized I could do it, but it would be tight. I had about five minutes to run the last 800m. Sure, on a normal day that would be no problem, but my legs were killing me and it was uphill.

However, here’s where the crowd really pulled me through. It’s amazing how thousands of people shouting indistinctly for people that are certainly not me can make me run faster. I was heaving by the time that I saw the 200m sign, but I knew I could finish it. I pulled myself across the finish line and my watch read 3:57:58. I couldn’t remember if I started it early, but I knew I had stopped it late. I had beaten my PR. Not by much, but it was progress. I had run a good race and earned my medal.

Victory! A new PR at the 2011 ING New York City Marathon!

Victory! A new PR at the 2011 ING New York City Marathon!

Of course, the hardest part of the New York City marathon is the finish. Depending on your bib number you may be forced to walk twenty or more blocks to get your checked gear. It was a slow march that took me up to the American Museum of Natural History to get my gear and put my sweats back on. I thought briefly about sitting down, but decided that would be a bad idea. I slipped on my sweats, and slowly trudged to the subway station for a ride to meet my wife at Grand Central Terminal.

There were some things that went very well during the race. I managed to consume a couple of goos without problem. I didn’t vomit at all. I felt pretty good. A few things went bad. Going to the bathroom cost me a couple of minutes thanks to my flareup. But in the end, a PR is a PR, even if it’s only 32 seconds. Now, if I could only figure out what is next.

Keep Running.

03
Nov
11

Improving form with 100-ups

For the last year I’ve integrated “barefoot” (actually done in my Vibram Five Fingers) running into my regular routine as a method to work on different muscles and improve my form. I’ve worked myself up from only a couple of miles to a maximum of 17 miles this past summer. However, after 17 miles my heels were killing me, which is strange because barefoot running shouldn’t have a heel strike. Observation of my form showed that after long distances running barefoot my form goes to total crap and I take on a flat foot or almost heel strike in some cases. This really isn’t all that ideal, so I’m looking for alternatives.

As part of their coverage of the ING New York City Marathon this weekend, the New York Times is dedicating a large portion of their Sunday magazine to running, including some guest articles from folks like Christopher McDougall, the author of “Born To Run”. This includes a video where McDougall, and, for some strange reason, Peter Saarsgaard, demonstrate some exercises for proper barefoot running called 100-up. In short, this exercise has you almost run in place with a concentration on the proper way to bring your feet back down that will cause minimal injury.

While I’m in taper mode for the NYC Marathon this weekend and I don’t want to try anything new, this seems something that is simple enough that I could do it in my office over my lunch breaks.

Anyone else have good suggestions for simple training exercises to improve form?

16
Oct
11

Race Report: 2011 ING Hartford Marathon

There are times in life when you know you’re making a questionable decision. Usually my wife has the common sense to talk me out of these stupid decisions and make me do something more sensible. Sadly, living 1000 miles apart means that’s not always possible.

Anyway, I was sitting in my office over lunch on Thursday wondering what I should do for my Saturday run to try and figure out this annoying hiccup problem that messed me up during the Chicago Marathon on Sunday. Somehow I start poking around on the MarathonGuide and see that there is a marathon in Hartford, CT on Saturday morning. That’s kinda close, only about two hours from here. They even allowed registration at the expo. After a call to the marathon to confirm that you could register for the marathon the day before the race I was ready to have my wife talk some sense into me. Sadly, she had a lot to do and there was no talk of “You just ran a marathon” or “Are you sure that’s a good idea with New York in three weeks?”.

Well, maybe the hotel situation would figure everything out. Grandma’s Marathon can be prohibitive because it is so expensive to get a hotel room. Maybe Hartford was going to be $200/nt for a hotel room? Nope, rooms by the airport for $70/nt. Crap. Guess I had talked myself into another marathon, just a week after Chicago.

My goals for this marathon were much more mild:

  1. Treat it like a long training run
  2. Don’t get the hiccups
  3. Experiment with alternatives for aid stations

After a drive that took way too long for the 100 miles between here and Hartford (note to readers: never take I-95) I arrived in Hartford around 4pm. I had managed to find a simply awesome place through Airbnb that was within walking distance of everything in Hartford for only about $60, so I parked by the place I was staying for the night. I proceeded to explore downtown Hartford, which took about 15 minutes, and wandered into the XL Center and quickly registered for the marathon. Surprisingly there was another person next to me who was also registering for the marathon only 16 hours before the start of the race. I also signed up for the pasta party, because, let’s face it, eating at Olive Garden is a sign of desperation, eating at Olive Garden alone might as well come with a free forever alone forehead tattoo.

The pasta party, also known as “Run Fasta, Eat Fasta!” was well done, but a little messy. The part was held in a tent in the park and it had been raining the entire day. Everything was mud. But, the pasta was good and it’s always good to meet other marathoners. After the race a good number of us walked over to the historic Wadsworth Atheneum for a showing of “Hood to Coast“.

Me Ready to Go Before the Hartford Marathon

Me Ready to Go Before the Hartford Marathon

Because of the close proximity to the starting line I didn’t need to wake up too terribly early. Also, I didn’t need to wait in line for porta potties. I threw my Chicago Marathon shirt on, but made sure to cover most of the shirt with my bib so I wasn’t “That guy”. The day had changed from windy and rainy the night before to beautiful and cool in the morning. A few degrees cooler might have been better, but after the heat of Chicago six days before, I wasn’t going to complain.

The Connecticut State Capitol at the Starting Line of the 2011 ING Hartford Marathon

The Connecticut State Capitol at the Starting Line of the 2011 ING Hartford Marathon

The start and finish of the race were around the Connecticut State Capitol. Like most state capitols it is well manicured and quite pretty to look at. While it didn’t have the pizzazz of starting in Grant Park in Chicago, it was one of the nicer places to start a marathon. There were three races that all started at the same time, the marathon, half marathon, and a 5k. The Marathon was capped at 3000 runners. The half marathon was capped at 7000 runners and I have no idea how many runners were in the 5k. The marathon and half marathon shared the same starting line.

The Mixed Start of the Full and Half Marathons

The Mixed Start of the Full and Half Marathons

The start went off quite well considering there were 10000 runners and not much of a seeding system. However, the pacers got to starting line very late. Therefore, the 3:30 pace team lined up behind the signs for 9min/mi runners. Yeah, that’s not going to cause problems. I made friends with a lawyer named Bob who was running his first, and probably only marathon at the age of 41. We spent most of the first couple of miles saying “We really need to slow down”, however, we no idea how much. Most mile markers didn’t have clocks with them and both of us had conveniently forgotten our watches.

2011 Hartford Marathon Runkeeper Splits

2011 Hartford Marathon Runkeeper Splits


About mile 2 the 3:30 pace team finally passed us. Somewhere around mile 5 the 3:45 pace team caught up with us. Then we ran in front of the 3:50 pace team for quite a while. We kept on trying to slow down, but always failed, it just seemed like the 3:50 pace team slowed down an equal amount. Around mile seven Bob had to take off to use the facilities, and I decided I would stick around with the 3:50 team, something I did until mile 20.

The big experiments here were in how I handled aid stations. I would usually walk through most of the aid station, chomping some tums or pepto-bismol tablets at the start of each aid station and then grabbing some water at the end of the station. One in a while I’d eat some Clif Shot Blocks. I usually had no problem catching back up to the 3:50 pace group.

Miles 10-23 of the race were rather uneventful. This was largely an out and back portion of the course. We had good support from fans and at aid stations. Running with the pace group was helpful as the leader would call out for their pace at each mile. They were doing a little under a 8:30min/mi. The pace leader seemed rather unaware that this put them on a 3:43 marathon pace. At mile 20 I peeled off to use a restroom and start to take it easy. My stomach was feeling okay but not super. I still had quite a bit of energy left in me, but I didn’t want to kill myself because I had accomplished my goal of a good training run and I needed to drive myself 100 miles back to New York after the race.

The final six miles were done as runs with longer walks around the aid stations. Usually about 10 minute miles there. I kept track of how much time I had in my head and by the time I reached 25 miles it was 3:46 into the race. Unless I really strolled I had it made.

I absolutely can’t describe how good it felt to bolt through that finish line with a clock time that read under 4:00. Official time was 3:58:17. Somehow I had managed to PR and get my first marathon under hours. For the second time ever I was completely happy with my race (the first being Grandma’s this last June). It was a truly good day.

I Earned This Medal! Sub 4 at Hartford.

I Earned This Medal! Sub 4 at Hartford.

Now, I’m not certain if this fixed all of my problems. My hiccups could still be related to something that I didn’t change, like ulcerative colitis. While I didn’t hiccup during the race, my stomach didn’t feel great during the race. In the recovery area after the race it took me 45 minutes to eat two small fruit cups and a small portion of yogurt. My muscles also cramped heavily in the recovery area — a sure sign of being low on electrolytes. If I’m going to nix Gatorade Endurance then I’ll need to find a better way to get electrolytes into my system. I’ve got some hammer Endurolytes and Perpetuem that I’ll try out on my next run. Also, I’m going to try some Zantac to see if that helps out at all.

In any case, it should be an interesting couple of weeks of body experimentation. With luck in another three weeks I’ll have a race report of a successful NYC Marathon. For now, I’m just going to relish two marathons in a week, culminating with my best marathon ever.

Shirt, Bib, and Medal from a Great Race - 2011 ING Hartford Marathon

Shirt, Bib, and Medal from a Great Race - 2011 ING Hartford Marathon


Keep running.

16
Oct
11

Race Report: 2011 Bank of America Chicago Marathon (Part 3)

In part 1 of my writeup of the Chicago Marathon I detailed what happened before the marathon. In part 2 I covered everything up to about mile 16 — also known as the fun part of the race. Part 3, this part, covers what went so terribly wrong.

Mile 23 of the Chicago Marathon. I'm Not Looking so Happy.

Mile 23 of the Chicago Marathon. I'm Not Looking so Happy.

2011 Chicago Marathon Runkeeper Splits

2011 Chicago Marathon Runkeeper Splits

Shortly after mile 16 I started to feel some burning in my chest. I knew this was not a good sign and recognized it from previous marathons. I knew that the hiccups were coming, and when the hiccups come then often times vomit isn’t far behind.

When I get the hiccups during a marathon they’re progressive. When they start out I can run for short periods. By the end of a race I just want to stop and puke all over the place. This really wasn’t any different. By mile 18 I was struggling to run more than 2 minutes at a time without feeling like I was going to puke. By mile 23 when I saw Kristina around Illinois Tech, our undergrad alma mater I could barely run at all. Luckily, I just happened to have a little bit left in me when I saw Kristina.

It was now 3:37 into the race and I had 3.2 miles left. I had resolved that I wasn’t going to make it under 4 hours. Maybe I could still beat 4:07 if I could run the whole way. However, that wasn’t going happen. The hiccups were become more profound and were now hitting while I was walking. It felt like my entire throat was burning. What has been a great race had gone horribly wrong.

I ended up walking almost the entirety of the next 3.2 miles. I was crushed. Somehow I managed to summon enough strength to ignore my overarching desire to vomit and run the last 200m to the finish line. After a 1:50:13 first half I finished the marathon in 4:20:16. Runkeeper worked okay, but because part of the beginning of the race is on the lower level of streets in Chicago, it lost GPS and said I ran about 28 miles. In reality I probably ran about 27 miles. Any way you slice it, it was a long day.

When I look back it I had three goals for the race:

  1. Run under a 3:45
  2. Run under a 4:00
  3. Not puke, not pee my pants, not poop my pants

Framed through that lens I suppose I didn’t do horrible. Heck, any day in which you don’t poop your pants counts as a good day, right?

2011 Chicago Marathon Official Splits

2011 Chicago Marathon Official Splits

Completely Exhausted at the End of the Marathon

Completely Exhausted at the End of the Marathon

After the race I decided that I should finally look up what causes these hiccups. It turns out that it could be a lot of different things. It could be related to a mild case of ulcerative colitis (it’s okay, insert a poop joke here). However, I haven’t tracked when that’s been giving me problems around the time of marathons. It could be something related to the mixture of the Gatorade Endurance Formula used in marathons. It might just take a while longer for it to hit me. It could be related to me drinking on the run. It’s all very hard to say. Clearly this is something that I should work on debugging more in future runs.

Despite all the bad stuff that happened in the race, I was still able to crack open a smile at the end of the race. It was a wonderfully well organized race, especially given the size. Quite simply it was the most well managed race I have run in. Despite the crowds, it seemed like you should easily be able to PR on the course. However, that was not in the cards for me. Now it’s time to try and figure out what has made me hiccup so badly during four of my seven marathons.

Me and My Wife at the End of the 2011 Chicago Marathon

Me and My Wife at the End of the 2011 Chicago Marathon


Keep Running.

16
Oct
11

Race Report: 2011 Bank of America Chicago Marathon (Part 2)

In Part 1 of my writeup I covered a little bit of getting to Chicago and the Marathon expo. This section covers getting to the marathon and the first 16 or so miles before everything went terribly, terribly wrong.

I woke up about a rather restless night, quickly donned my clothes and made my way to the El for the ride to the Jackson stop on the blue line. I always try to arrive well in advance of the starting time for a race as the lines of porta-potties can be atrocious. The first thing I noticed when I arrived was “Hey, it’s still dark out!”. The second thing I noticed was that you can’t see inside of a porta-potty when it is dark outside.

The marathon started and finished in Grant Park, across from Lake Michigan. This had the nice advantage of allowing me to see something that I had only seen once in the six years I lived in Chicago, sunrise over the lake. It’s a beautiful sight.

Sunrise over Lake Michigan before the start of the Chicago Marathon

Sunrise over Lake Michigan before the start of the Chicago Marathon

Gear check was some of the best that I’ve ever seen at a race. Very well organized system with stalls for each grouping of numbers and enough attendants so there wasn’t a huge line to check your gear (or pick it up after the race). I also felt confident that if it were raining on the day of the marathon my gear would stay dry. Fortunately, the forecast didn’t call for any rain, but it did call for temperatures in the high-70’s or lower 80’s by the end of the race.

By virtue of me running a pretty face half marathon for the Brooklyn Half in May 2011, I scored a spot in seeded corral. I felt like a total poseur being up that far. I knew I was undertrained for this race. I was relieved when I looked around and saw that contrary to the people I saw headed for corral A, most of the people in corral C looked really similar to me. Of course, most of them had probably trained better than me too.

I'm Ready to Go at the Start of the 2011 Bank of America Chicago Marathon

I'm Ready to Go at the Start of the 2011 Bank of America Chicago Marathon

I’m pretty certain that Chicago has one of the most beautiful starts to any marathon. Yes, Big Sur is beautiful, but the start is kinda in the woods away from the jagged shoreline. Twin Cities and it’s fall colors are beautiful, but you start next to the Metrodome. If you’re like me, when you run NYC you start looking into the lower level of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and hope that people on top don’t pee on you. You start Chicago looking at some of the beautiful skyscrapers that Chicago is known for. From my experiences, there is no comparison.

The Chicago Marathon Starting Line -- Look at those Beautiful Buildings

The Chicago Marathon Starting Line -- Look at those Beautiful Buildings

The course for Chicago begins by heading north from Grant Park into the River North area, back south into the loop, and then up toward Addison. It’s a real treat to run right through the loop as that other US based mega race member of the World Marathon Majors thinks it’s more important to run through the Bronx than down Broadway. I was keeping a pretty constant pace throughout this part of the race even though I wasn’t running with a pace team. My goal was to do 8:30-8:40 miles, which was true for the most part, although there were a few times that I dipped well into the 7’s. None the less I was feeling good

The fan support on the course was really great — no doubt augmented by the CTA running extra trains to transport marathon fans around. My wife managed to see me downtown twice and tried to see me up by Addison but must have missed me. There were also some great bands and sideshows to see — such as the Lady Gaga impersonators from FrontRunners (can I digress and say how awesome FrontRunners is? They’re a great club for running better always are a hugely positive influence regardless of whether you’re a member or not.). Aid and medical stations were simply amazing. They were huge with ample amounts of water and gatorade and probably half the doctors from the Chicagoland area. I was trying to be all manly and drink on the run. This probably was not a great idea.

By mile 11 you’re thundering back into downtown and across the Chicago River a few more times and out to UIC and the United Center. This is clearly the section of the course where the organizers said “Crap, this thing needs to be 26.2 miles, lets throw and out and back somewhere!” Rather than adding something interesting to the course such as a extending it down to Hyde Park, they have us run by the empty parking lots of the United Center. There were sections where the course was completely quiet. No fans. No support in those areas. No runners talking. It was also at one of the most difficult parts of the race, the first half of the second half of the race (around mile 15).

I finally managed to see my wife around mile 16, right by the UIC-Halsted stop on the Blue Line. I wasn’t even looking for her there because we hadn’t planned on meeting there, but I wasn’t complaining. She was a very welcome face to see at that point of the race. I was so excited that apparently I did Jazz hands, that’s something that Ali on the Run would do. I know nothing about dance.

Mile 16 and Going Strong! Wait, am I Doing Jazz Hands?

Mile 16 and Going Strong! Wait, am I Doing Jazz Hands?

Unfortunately, this was kinda the high point of the race. Stuff basically fell off a cliff after this point. A very sharp, very depressing cliff. But I’ll talk about that part 3 of my Chicago Marathon race report.




Recent Tweets

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Marathon Times

2011 NYC Marathon3:57:45
2011 Hartford Marathon3:58:17
2011 Chicago Marathon4:20:16
2011 Grandma's Marathon4:07:43
2010 Big Sur International Marathon4:22:49
2009 NYC Marathon4:37:05
2009 Twin Cities Marathon4:43:28
2009 Pittsburgh Marathon4:14:38
2008 Erie Marathon5:11:40

Upcoming Races

  • Nov 6 - New York City Marathon, New York, NY
For previous races, check out my Race Log