Gorgeous weather. Unbelievable crowd support. An on-foot tour of one of my favorite cities in the world. The 2013 Bank of America Chicago Marathon was just about perfect. So how did I do?
I ran an absolute dumpster fire of a race.
Well, maybe that description is a bit harsh. But if you think of every rookie running mistake you can, I probably made it in this race.
I rode up with my buddy and training partner, Scott, on Friday morning to spend some time with my sisters (who were once again making the trip to see me run – this time with my nieces in tow). We spent the day mostly on Michigan Avenue, checking out the shops and the lake. We ate dinner that night at an Italian restaurant and took in a show at the Blue Man Group – which was perfectly weird and fun.
The next morning, we visited the Field Museum and had lunch at the Adler Planetarium before I left them to meet up with Scott at the expo at McCormick Place. The expo was enormous and teeming with runners. There were so many people milling about that it was slightly chaotic. Packet pick-up was easy, though, and we had our bags and bibs in no time. After a few hours checking out the vendors and looking for a buff (I’d lost mine after my last long training run), we headed back to our hotel.
That night, we headed out to Logan Square to have dinner at the home of our friend, Marta. Several of Marta’s family members were eating dinner with us, and it was exactly what we needed the night before a race – good food, a relaxed atmosphere and funny conversations.
I woke up Sunday morning to clear skies and temps in the upper 40s. Absolutely perfect weather. I went through my normal pre-race ritual, and Scott and I headed down to Grant Park to line up in Corral G while we waited for the elites and the first wave to begin. At this point, I still wasn’t nervous. I’m not sure what I was feeling.
The rolling start was flawless. There was no bunching or jockeying for position at any point in the beginning. I’ve been in 5ks with just a few dozen runners that didn’t start this smooth. There was plenty of space to run down Columbus Drive as we exited the park. I glanced at my watch to see how fast I’d taken off – 8:50. Given my horrendous training this summer, maintaining this pace for the whole race was not in the game plan. I really needed to be around 9:30.
We turned left on Grand Avenue, and I saw my family up ahead cheering for me. There’s nothing that compares to seeing and hearing someone cheer for you out of all the millions of people in the crowd. I’m so happy and grateful that they came. I was in a spectacular mood. We turned back across the river, and when we passed mile 2, my watch was already .2 mile off. I’m not sure what happened, but I would have to make do with a wonky watch for the rest of the race. My second mile clocked in at around 8:35, and I realized I would need to tamp down the emotions and watch my pace, lest I regret it later. This is called foreshadowing.
My speed eventually evened out around mile 4, when we were heading into Lincoln Park. At this point, the sun had risen and was starting to warm my back. Still, the scenery was gorgeous and the atmosphere was electric. I paused long enough at mile 6 to take my gel and some water. I had originally planned on taking nutrition on the 5s – 5, 10, 15, 20, 25. For some reason, I decided to change this to 6, 12, 18, 24. Why? I have no idea.
I found a couple of women to pace behind. They were both wearing white, so I mentally named them the White Ladies. Creative, I know. I drafted off them for awhile (without their knowledge) before a woman in red ran up beside us and asked if she could pace with them. I announced that I’d been doing that covertly for several miles, and we became a little team – a little team that was running a pace I couldn’t sustain. The White Ladies were from Kansas City and the late joiner was from Atlanta. We ran together through the turnaround on Addison and headed back toward the city. The team fell apart when the White Ladies stopped at a water station and Red disappeared.
Somewhere between 7 and 8, we entered Boystown, Chicago’s LGBT community. Several previous finishers had told me this was their favorite part of the race because area residents make such a party out of the event. I’m not sure what happened, but all I saw was a group of guys with rifles. Apparently, there was a whole drag show – complete with a guy in a wedding dress – that I somehow missed. Not paying attention to things would also become a recurring theme for me in this race.
At mile 11, I heard my good friend and fellow blogger, Dan Solera, shout out my name. I gave him some kind of weird rock-opera KISS pose for a pic and headed back downtown, where I was hoping to see my family for the second time.
I was almost to mile 12 when I heard them yelling for me. They were standing in front of large banner that read “See Glenn Run Chicago” that featured the little illustrated mini Glenn and zombies in my blog header. (I later found out one of my sisters had
stalked researched on the Internet and contacted Dan, who supplied the artwork, to help her.) I had a huge smile on my face as I kissed each one of them. They tried to give me a banana, but I didn’t need no stinkin’ banana. More foreshadowing, folks.
I had passed the 4:10 pace group and felt awesome heading toward the halfway point. I made a quick pitstop at a portapotty and took off again, this time flying by the Willis Tower. Sears Tower. What is it? I know it’s technically the Willis Tower, but does anyone call it that? Maybe British people?
I saw Marta and her mother at the halfway point amongst the cheering throngs. Mile 14 came and went, and while I was tired, I felt fine. Greektown smelled delicious, and it was at this point that I realized the crowds had been thick and loud for the entire duration of the race. Unbelievable. The news that evening announced that 2 million supporters were out to cheer us on, and I believe it. Well done, Chicago.
I knew I was slowing down by 15, and I was ready to see the United Center because I knew it marked the turnaround point for this leg of the race. Getting to 16 was a bit slower, but I was still clipping along.
And then 17 hit.
The wheels came off. The wall came crashing down. A big Chicago-style pizza hit me in the face. Whatever idiom you want throw out there, it happened. Usually, mile 20 is my nemesis. The point at which my legs just don’t want to work anymore. So suffice it to say that when it happened three miles earlier, I panicked. I hadn’t ever experienced what this felt like. It was as if someone flipped a switch and my body just shut down. I pulled out my phone and texted my family to tell them it was going to take me awhile to finish. I also sent a quick text to Scott wishing him the best because the next 9 miles were going to be difficult for me.
I would have given $5,000 for a banana. Anything to release the tension in my legs. I made myself run from mile to mile, giving my legs a break at the markers. I gulped Gatorade left and right. I watched the 4:10 pacers pass me.
Somewhere between 19 and 20, we entered the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago – the main Latin area of the city. There were so many Mexican runners in the race that I was rarely away from a ME-XI-CO cheer from the crowd. In fact, it was in this area that I joined in on a ME-XI-CO cheer so I could try to pump myself up a little. It was also here that I encountered an angel. I have no idea what her name was and I barely remember what she looked like, but she held a bowl of bananas out to the crowd. I ran over to her, dripping with sweat and most likely looking like a hot mess and pawed out three banana pieces. I shouted, “YOU ARE MY FAVORITE PERSON IN THE WORLD RIGHT NOW!” and took off again. I think the bananas helped because I managed to run to the next stop.
Just past mile 20, there was a runner on the ground, writhing in pain as medics tried to help her. I paused somewhere around here for a quick walk break. A young man ahead of me had stopped on the side of the road, and when I looked again, I could see he had one prosthetic leg. I gave myself a mental directive. Move, man. Move. You have no excuses today. I picked up my 500-pound legs and slowly jogged off again.
My friends, Dawn and Matt, who came to spectate, were between 21 and 22. They handed me an apple, and I chomped on it as I made my way through Chinatown. I wish I had paid more attention in this part of the race. The crowds were so thick and boisterous and the whole community felt so alive, but I was numb to it. My body would not do what I wanted it to do, and I think I kind of began to mentally block out what was happening in the race.
My family was there at 23 again with the treasured banana I had turned down 12 miles earlier. I took half of it, careful to avoid any kinds of stomach issues for the last 3.2 miles.
Sometime later, after numerous run/walk rotations, I pulled out my phone to see a text from Scott. I figured he had finished by this point, so I could let him know that I would be there shortly. Turns out, he didn’t have such a great race, either. We had both made the same mistakes, and now we were paying for them.
I usually study course maps like it’s my job. I’ve always been a huge map nerd, so it’s actually pretty fun for me to learn the neighborhoods, turns and landmarks along a race course. But I hadn’t studied Chicago that well. I thought for sure that when we turned back onto Michigan Avenue for the final push to the finish line, we would have five or six miles to go. We really only had about three. The longest three miles of my life.
The 4:25 group passed me.
The 4:30 group passed me.
Any faint hope of a PR was gone.
When the marker for mile 25 finally popped up, a young lady had stopped near me. When we got to 25.2, I looked at her and said, “Let’s finish this.” She made it about a quarter mile before her knee gave out. I made it about a half mile, and I broke one of my rules of not walking during the final stretch of a race. My legs simply weren’t there.
Finally. Finally. Finally. We turned onto Roosevelt for the last 400 meters to the finish line. Chicago was, by far, the flattest course I’ve ever run. I’m not sure you could find another 26.2 miles that are as flat as this course. That being said, the final hill up Roosevelt and into Grant Park felt like a mountain. Worse that the final .2 miles of Marine Corps. In reality, it’s probably like a 2% grade. It felt like Everest at the time.
At 200 meters out, a race volunteer had stopped a runner and wouldn’t let him finish because he wasn’t wearing a bib. I can’t vouch for whether he was a legit runner or a bandit, but the look of incredulity on his face revealed that he was probably the victim of an unfortunate mistake.
I finished the race in near silence. Due to increased security measures, the cheers and encouragement from the millions of people that lined Chicago’s streets couldn’t be heard inside the park – where no one but runners and race officials were allowed to be. I crossed the finish line dog-tired. I had given all I had to get through those last nine miles.
Official time: 4:34:33.
Immediately after I finished, I texted my family to let them know I was done. And then I shot a text to Scott, who had finished a few minutes before me. We met up and zombie-walked our way through the finish-line crowds. After meeting up with my sisters and nieces (and taking advantage of complimentary massages), we grabbed lunch and said goodbye to my family as they headed home.
Showers and a moment to relax followed before we took a cab to Gino’s East to meet up with the aforementioned Dan (and his wife, Stephanie), Jeff (and his girlfriend, Edna) and Otter. I didn’t tell them, but I’m not the biggest fan of Chicago-style pizza. Give me the flat and slightly burnt crust of a New York pie any day. So maybe it was the exhaustion of the race or the satisfaction that came with just finishing it, but this pizza hit the spot. I devoured my slices happily.
We spent the evening sharing our favorite (or worst) moments of the race and listening to stories of Edna’s 105-mile runs, Otter’s clandestine beer station at mile 25 and the guys’ upcoming races. I had a great time and enjoyed the hospitality and compant more than the food. Thanks, guys.
I could easily consider this race a failure. I had set a goal at the beginning of training with a sub-4:00 finish in mind. I revised that goal before the race to just finish faster than Flying Pig. Neither of those things happened. But I’m proud of my finish. This Chicago Marathon, arguably the easiest 26.2 I’ve ever run, turned out to be the hardest. There were times near the end of the race when I had serious doubts about whether I would get through it. So I’m happy with my time. More importantly, I’m happy with my finish.
Until next time, keep running, friends.