NOTE: I dated this post back to when I originally wrote it and emailed it out to friends (10/22/2021). Original publishing date on TeamPumaKnife.com is 8/6/2022.
Just one little story before the race details:
As I was sitting in the corral, waiting to get going, I was flipping through stuff on my phone when I saw my ‘featured photos’ for the day, photos my phone picks out for me every day and puts together for me to scroll through. On this day my phone served me up a photo of Izzy – which is not uncommon by any stretch – but what was unique about this photo was it was one of her in her crib at the hospital in Columbus with a big old smile on her face. There she is, not a care in the world, just being happy even with everything going on. Who knows how that particular photo ended up there on that particular day, but it gave me a lot of strength, and I thought about it several times throughout the race.
Race: 2021 Chicago Marathon
Distance: 26.2 Miles
Start Time: 08:40:20
Start Temp: 68°F – 84% humidity
Finish? Hell yeah!
Finish time (clock): 13:39:09
Course Time: 04:58:58
Place (overall): 16,436 / 26,106
Place (men): 10,050 / 14,223
Place (age group): 1,749 / 3,306
Finish Temp: 76°F
A Goal: Finish – Yes!
B Goal: < 5 hours – Yes!
C Goal: 4:30 or better – nooope, maybe 30 degrees cooler?
Split: Time – min/mile
5K: 0:31:36 – 10:11
10K: 1:04:49 – 10:42
15K: 1:37:02 – 10:23
20K: 2:13:05 – 11:36
HALF: 2:20:07 – 10:20
25K: 2:46:22 – 10:50
30K: 3:25:19 – 12:33
35K: 4:03:04 – 12:10
40K: 4:43:17 – 12:57
Finish: 4:58:58 – 11:30
Plan going in: Positive splits. I usually prefer negative splits, but I’ve found that trying to do negative splits or even splits for distances I’ve not done before is difficult if not impossible. My training runs were gearing me for a 4:30 marathon, but with warm and humid weather I left the start line just hoping to be under 5 hours. I aimed to alternate gatorade and water and get it from every aid station but the last.
So. Many. People.
0.5: Jesus signs!
1: Damn it, slow down bob
2: Second mile marker: BOB, SLOW DOWN
3: That’s more like it – but what’s going on in my colon?
3.25: Damn it, I really need to shit! Someone pause the race please!
4 – 8: Besides my bowels nagging at me, it was a nice section of the course. It goes through a section of Chicago I’m well acquainted with, and it was just quite pleasant. My running felt good here.
9: Another rest stop… But also, dancers on a stage in drag!
10-11: I was increasingly distracted now by the GI issue, and started worrying about how it was affecting the run. Sadly, I was not enjoying the race through this section as much as a result. Though, it was cool to go by Erica’s old condo!
11.25: Ok, this GI issue needs to end or I’m not sure how I’m going to get through this. Stop on the toilet for a good 4-5 minutes. I wasn’t certain it was resolved. Fortunately, this time did the trick. But it’s weird to know the clock is ticking while you’re stuck on the toilet. The big upside, and it saved me to a degree – this stop took my C goal completely off the table. With start temp I knew deep down the C goal was a no go, but there was a demon on my shoulder telling me it was still possible – this gave my ego the freedom to let it go.
12: I started feeling better but goofed and started running faster than I should have for a little bit. It was unintentional too, maybe I was subconsciously trying to make up time.
13: Back in the loop, very cool, the only ‘hills’ in the race of course being the bridges :p
14: Settled down – better late than never. Good jog through the west loop out to the UC.
15: About here my headset died – so much for an 8-hour battery life. It was more annoying that I was now wearing a headset that wasn’t doing anything than not having music itself. Still, the back half of my playlist for this race was awesome, so that was a little bummer. But, in general, I think I could have easily gotten through the entire race without it. If I was out in the boonies with no crowds, maybe then I’d need it, but this race it was mostly unnecessary.
16-17: Probably the quietest part of the course. Not residential at all, and not a lot of crowds. Not a bad thing, just noticeably different from the rest of the course.
18-20: As expected, this is where it started getting tougher. Consciously slowed my pace to go with my positive split plan
20: BANANA – and a couple of annoying turns
21: My physical low was yet to come, but this was my emotional low of the race. It was just before we got to Chinatown, and I wasn’t even hurting that bad. Was it the heat? Was it that we were at or near 4 hours of continuous running? Was I low on fluids? Probably some combination.
21.5: Chinatown saved me. Crossing through the gate and the crowd there, and just being a really cool part of town really picked me up. At that moment, for whatever reason, it made me think about my daughter. I looked at my wrist reminder, took a minute to walk, picked a target and started running again.
35k/22: I crossed the 35K pad at 4:03:04. Less than an hour to hit my B goal. Reviewing my official splits, 35-40K was my slowest part of the race, and there were a fair amount of walk breaks at this point.
23: 3.2 to go. Just a touch over a 5K. At this point, I know I’m finishing the race. You’d have to shoot me dead to stop me from getting across the line. So, my attention turns. I don’t have reliable data, but I looked at my watch, I’m about 04:15 into the race. I have 45 minutes to finish in time. At the time, I’m running about 12 min miles. This should be 100% doable
24: Last little stretch up to the 24-mile marker was pretty cool! Really nice narrow residential street with a great crowd and good tree cover.
24.5: 2nd to last aid station, and the last one I stop at. I decided to walk a long stretch of the aid station. At this point my legs are really burning. Overall cardio isn’t in too bad of shape though.
1.7 miles to go: I distinctly remember at this point having the conversation with myself that I was going to just run slow from this point, and I’d hit my goal.
40K/25: My watch is telling me I’m at 04:44. I’ve got 2.1 K to go. I didn’t have this data on hand, but the last 5K my pace was down to 12:57, a full minute off what I thought. 2.1 K in 16 minutes normally is no problem. But I’m now hurting badly. At this point, I tell myself just. keep. moving…
1 mile to go: The crowd gets INSANE. There are more people on S Michigan Ave than I can comprehend, and too many to miss. Y’all know you’re just here cheering for a slow ass runner like me? All the real athletes have long passed!
.7 miles to go: I must stop to walk. I very nearly gave up on making my B goal right then and there. My head is telling me there’s no way I can make it under 5 hours now. It’s throwing mental math at me that’s based on a feeling of my body not on real numbers. “Just take it easy, get across the line.” FUCK THAT. RUN.
800M to go: First of the big signs as we get close to the finish. Still blown away by how big the crowd is. I’m so close to the 5-hour mark… From here out, every time my body tells me to stop and walk I just ignore it and keep trucking.
400M to go: last .2, I got this, I think? I had been warned the turn onto Roosevelt is enough to crush your spirit. In a course that’s almost completely flat, ending on a 2 block uphill just seems cruel. But I’m strong on hills, let’s do this.
300M to go: Looking up Roosevelt I can see the 200M sign at the top of the hill just as you turn onto Columbus. This short stretch I’m just focused on getting to the next sign.
200M to go: Top of the hill, make the turn, there’s the finish line. I glance at my watch for the last time. I’ve got 2 min to get there. The finish line looks so much further down Columbus than it is. For a moment I’m worried I don’t have it to make it in time. I put everything I have left to get there.
Finish: I have one picture from when I crossed the finish line that proves I did get my arms up as I crossed. I have a few others that show that the second I crossed you wouldn’t have blamed me for being one of the folks who collapsed. I am in a fog, just trying to catch my breath. I feel overheated and kind of nauseous. At first, I’m not really processing it, I’m just looking for some water. I know I made my time just from my watch, but I wouldn’t see my official time for a while after.
I keep walking a little bit more and get to the volunteers handing out Medals. I remember what the email from Team RMHC said, “don’t grab it, take a bow.” I did. For the next couple minutes as I walk down Columbus, I’m crying in a way I had never done before. Relief, joy, pride, accomplishment. This was the payoff for something so much more than the 3 months of the training program. This was 3 years of hard work losing weight. Dropping 60, gaining back 30, dropping another 75. This was building back from flooding. This was only just over a year from doing Couch to 5K, barely able to run for more than a minute. This was surviving 10 weeks in the NICU with Izzy, multiple surgeries, and trips to the hospital. This was giving something back to Ronald McDonald House. This was doing something that I could have never imagined I could do. I actually finished a marathon.
The walk down Columbus seemed forever. They gave me a beer that I took 3 sips of and had to discard. I took some photos at a step and repeat. Eventually made it to the Team RMHC tent where I was able to sit and begin recovering. As I type that I think I just convinced myself to do it with RMHC again next year if for no other reason than to get the access to their tent! I eat, meet my family, and head home. Job done.
My next marathon I’ll be aiming for negative splits. Miles 20-26 felt just like more of miles 18-20, so if I can get my pacing to the right place to feel good on my 20 mile runs I think I’ll be in a much better spot. I thought my food in the days ahead was fine, but I guess not. Perhaps it was just nerves (I was super nervous) and the next without the pressure of it being my first marathon will be better. Still, I need to look at that more, GI issues almost ruined my day. Hydration I think was ok. I sweat very heavy, so even though I think I had a fair amount of water and gatorade, I’m not ready to say that I should make adjustments based on just that race.
In a funny way, this all started with a few lunatics in Utah I follow on YouTube. Their Channel, Mediocre Amateur, inspired me to start running. The idea of trail running just seemed like everything I wanted to do. Go get deep in the mountains and enjoy nature? Oh, hell yeah! But I was in no shape to be able to do that. The reality, as I would come to find, is that they were the spark. I was really doing it to take my mind off everything going on with Izzy. It worked well. That I was able to evolve it as her situation evolved has made it so much more gratifying. As she became more stable, I adjusted my goals higher. She was getting better; I should get better.
This race was special for me. In addition to everything above, Chicago is near and dear to me. Even though I live in the suburbs now, Chicago is where everything turned around for me. It’s where I grew out of the early 20’s funk. I met my wonderful wife in Chicago, I have lots of great friends here, and it makes me smile every time I get to wander the neighborhoods. Chicago is a special city, and I’m so happy my first marathon was this one.
Well, now that I have done 26.2, I must do it again, just faster, right? Truth be told, I’ve been thinking a lot about where I go from here. I’m not sure I have the desire to run Boston enough to do the work needed to qualify. I’d have to cut nearly 2 hours off my Chicago time. I know it’s not insurmountable, but is it really what I want to do? I’ve been listening to a podcast called Ten Junk Miles, and I ran one of their races (a half) and had a great time. They’ve given me this urge to go for increasing distance and run an Ultra. I’m registered for Disney, so I’ve started training for that. I’ll keep running, and just see where the miles take me
Now, I’ve been writing on for an eternity, so thank you for reading this far. I know there will be more races in the future, and not every race will mean this much to me. Not every race will merit this kind of emotional reflection. But this one did. In a way, I feel like this race marks the end of a period of my life, and now I can move onto the next part – the part where I don’t think of myself as a struggling overweight guy desperately trying to finish a marathon, now I feel like I’m a runner and I’m trying to be a better runner.