2021 Chicago Marathon

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

Photos:  https://www.icloud.com/sharedalbum/#B0fGI9HKKGq8LIk 

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.

Let’s Go!

Mile Marker:

0:  Wooooooooo!!!!!

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.

Reflection:

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.

The future:

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.

Subtle Interference #74 October 4, 2021

Alex and Erica continue to bash on Bob, who keeps digging his own grave. Gaming, streaming, AEW.

Theme Music:
Chill Wave Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
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Fox Valley Marathon (Err, Fall Final 20) Race Report

NOTE: I dated this post back to when I originally wrote it and emailed it out to friends (9/20/2021). Original publishing date on TeamPumaKnife.com is 8/6/2022.

TL;DR Haiku Summary:

A long race to run
Shrunk by the powers that be
A hard won finish
Truth be told, I was planning on this race for a while.  I kept it mostly quiet because I didn’t want to deal with folks trying to talk me out of it.  Going into the weekend we heard from the race that it was expected to be hot and that we should expect it to be red flagged and possibly black flagged.  As this would be my first marathon, this set off a flurry of conflict in me.  On top of that, it’s part of a 3 race challenge in the Chicago area, and I need to be a finisher of the weekend in order to qualify for the challenge.  I had a few options, but after a lot of thought, and reaching out to others I ultimately decided to just go, try for the full and see.  So, with that let’s go:  

Night before:  Pre-race jitters, I struggled hard to get to sleep.  Took a xanax, that helped.  Prep night before paid off, and I was able to get up, do my morning routine and go.  Got to race, parked, all good.

Planned Race:  Fox Valley Marathon

Planned Time:  Finish, expected 4:30

Start Temp:  59

Being in the starting corral was exciting!  I have run a few races now, but nothing of this size (~1,500 runners).  Horn blew, and started well.  I find that I generally am miserable for the first mile, and it’s really not until mile 3 or 4 where I start feeling good, that happened here too.  First few miles had a lot of turns and some hills (you western folks would probably call it flat).  End of mile 4 there was a really weird turn around in a church parking lot for an aid station.  After that, from mile 4 til mile 12 it was a really great race.  I was in the shade, I was running well, my hydration was good.  Smooth sailing.

Now, during this time, I was running a little fast, but I felt comfortable.  I did not feel like I was running fast, but when I got my lap times I saw it.  Particularly when I saw the 9:11 mile I definitely tried to ease it up a bit.  This was a challenge for me – because, again, I did not feel like I was going hard.  I felt comfortable, but my HR and my pace were saying something different.  Race adrenaline maybe?  

Somewhere around 11 1/2 miles we hit a wall of volunteers with a message:  The Race Directors are shortening the race because it’s too hot, everyone is now on the 20 mile race.

Temp at Diversion:  75

This was a huge mental blow for me.  For the next mile I was so bummed.  I had planned to run 26.2, it’s taken away.  It easily took me 10-15 minutes to get my head back in it.  I wasn’t even mad.  I knew it was a possibility.  I knew 26.2 was more than the training plan anyways.  But I was in the headspace to run the whole thing and now that just wasn’t going to happen.  

That was the hand that was dealt.  Just. Keep. Moving.

Miles 11.5-15 were ok.  The increasing temp was definitely starting to have an effect.  About now I was starting to slow down closer to where I actually expected to be, around 10:20 miles.  Still cruising, no issues.

And then we hit the 15 mile mark, lost most of our shade and the temp really started to spike.  These last five mile would prove to be excruciating.  There was just so little canopy and not an ounce of cloud cover to shield us from the sun.  Of the last 5 miles, I probably walked about 1 mile of it.  And what I did run was slow.  Shade was so sparse I really wasn’t sure what to do.  I ended up running the sunny sections to get through them quicker (and because there were just more of them) and walked the shady bits to try and cool down more.  Tossed what water I had on my head and kept moving.  

The final 1.2 miles was hell.  Most of the run was on the riverside trail.  So even in the last few where it was sunny, at least there were spots where you could get shade.  The last 1.2 was all on the street.  No shade.  Just a big blacktop bouncing heat back up on you.  I wanted to run out the last mile.  But it just wasn’t doable.  At .5 to go I could see the finish line.  There was a little hump to get over, and I said to myself, “I’m going to get to the top of that hump and then run it out, no matter what.”  Hit the hump, started running.  With .2 to go was the final turn to go over the bridge to the finish line.  I summoned everything I had left and sprinted as much as I could through the finish.

That last .2 miles was definitely something more that I’ve not experienced before.  Before yesterday the longest race I’ve done was a half, and I have run 20 in training before, but I’ve never raced this distance, even if I wasn’t really racing.  This proved to be very emotional for me.  I crossed the line, got my finisher medal (which I have to modify because I didn’t finish the marathon), struggled to get a banana down and some water and gatorade, found a shady bit and had a good cry for a minute.  If you had told me a year ago I’d be able to do this, I’d have laughed.  “I can barely run a mile without dying, maybe one day.”  

I can point to a number of things that have helped motivate me to do this.  Being healthy for my family, support from all of you, the folks at Mediocre Amateur, my running club, the folks at Ten Junk Miles, but something I learned out there in the hardest part of the race was this:  all the external motivation in the world doesn’t matter one bit when you are out there on your own and you need to dig deep to find the strength to keep moving.  And I think that’s why this meant so much to me.  When I passed that last aid station I didn’t stop.  I kept going, not for anyone else, but because I wanted to do this.  I wanted to prove to myself I could do hard things.  And I did.

The big bummer was my family had planned to be at the finish, and with the change in distance they ended up missing me cross.  They got there probably a half hour after I finished, and at least Izzy didn’t care that I was a sweaty, vaseline covered mess 🙂

Race actually ran:  Fox Valley Fall Final 20

11 Mile split:  1:53:07, 09:45 min/mi

Finish:  3:27:49, 10:24 min/mi

Finish Temp:  84

Strava:  https://www.strava.com/activities/5986519723/overview

Could I have gone another 6.2 yesterday?  I would have tried if they let me.  I do think it really would have depended on how much shade there was for the rest of the trail down to the marathon turn around.  The rest of the run was along the same side of the river and it was pretty shaded, so maybe?  Would it have been smart?  Maybe not 🙂  Either way, I did really appreciate the way the race diverted us to the 20 mile race instead of just black flagging us at some point along the route.  That was really nice.

I can say that as long as fall arrives and on 10/10 it’s actually a reasonable temperature, I am very confident I will finish the Chicago Marathon and finish strong.  My glutes are a bit sore today, but overall I feel pretty good.  While I struggled in the last few miles, I do not think it was the dreaded Wall.  I felt like I had more than enough fuel, my body was just so hot at that point in time I had to slow down or risk heat stroke. In fact, my body was radiating heat enough that Erica was pointing it out well into the evening many hours after the race.

I have 3 weeks of taper ahead of me.  I wore my hydration pack and carried 1.2L of fluid on me yesterday, which I will not do at Chicago, largely because it’s prohibited, but they also have a whopping 20 aid stations, so I shouldn’t need it.  I wasn’t super happy with my shoes, but at this stage I’m not really willing to risk trying anything new before Chicago.  They did fine for me up until now, but my training has been largely on crushed limestone and this was all paved.  They got me through and I think it’ll be ok for Chicago, but I might be looking for something different before Disney.

I really only have one more long run before Chicago, this Sunday (12 miles), so if there’s anything else I should fiddle with I need to do it then.  

If you’ve read this far, thanks for taking an interest!  I certainly had a lot of thoughts about this run, and it’s been great chatting with folks about it.  One of my hopes of this race was that it would take a little bit of pressure off of Chicago because I’d have broken the mystique of the marathon distance, but what can you do right?  Just. Keep. Moving.

Best:  Guy dressed as Gene Frenkle (Will Ferrell) from the more Cowbell sketch who showed up multiple times along the route with his cowbell.  Dude killed it.

Worst:  No shocker here:  The Sun – stupid good for nothing sun :p

UPDATE: 8/6/2022: At the time, and for a while after the race, I considered this race a finish of the 20 mile race. The marathon was called and not finishing it had nothing to do with me. As I’ve raced more, and grown as a runner over the past year I really have come to accept this as what it is: a marathon DNF. The race is gracious enough to still consider me and everyone else like me a finisher of the 20 mile, but in my own mind, it just doesn’t sit right. I didn’t leave the start line with the intention of running 20, I intended to do 26.2, and I didn’t. This isn’t about beating myself up about it, rather it’s about accepting the reality of a failure, finding the good in it, and learning. I think there’s a fine line between finding the silver lining in a failure and reframing a failure as a success, and perhaps, we sometimes too often do the latter.

Subtle Interference #73 September 7, 2021

We’re back! For yet another return from hiatus! But this time we’re really back! We think! We chat about how the last few months have been just a touch busy, COVID, wrestling, social media, OnlyFans, and Bob’s adventures.

Theme Music:
Chill Wave Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
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Subtle Interference #72 July 21, 2021

A tale of the squeaky garbage can. Bezos, Netflix, The Challenge, houses, games, and Bob digging himself a grave.

Theme Music:
Chill Wave Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
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Subtle Interference #71 July 6, 2021

People are stupid. Streaming services, Amazon, famous people saying dumb things, windows 11. They’re all stupid. Also, Alex indulges Bob and discusses Alaska while Erica reads fan fiction in the background.

Theme Music:
Chill Wave Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
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Subtle Interference #70 May 31, 2021

The Grand Return to in person recording!

Theme Music:
Chill Wave Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
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Subtle Interference #69

Alex is smug about HBO Max, The Challenge, Video Games, and the Hot Tub Meta.

Theme Music:
Chill Wave Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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Subtle Interference #68

Wrestling! Spirited Away chat. We talk about whether we’re going to spend the time to watch Justice League. Marvel Shows. The Challenge! And some great Food Chat.

Theme Music:
Chill Wave Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
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Subtle Interference #67

Bob got new headphones. Conservative “censorship.” How Democrats will continue to blow it. Bob hates Tom Brady. Mortal Kombat looks great. And of course, the Challenge.

Theme Music:
Chill Wave Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
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