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Home » Endurance » Running » Marathons » Chicago » Race Report

Chicago Marathon - October 22, 2006

The Day Before

On Saturday I attended the expo at McCormick Center to retrieve my number and see what useless gizmos that only serve to complicate the simple sport of running vendors were hawking. The normal assortment of gadgets that supposedly improve your time was on hand. Quite a few booths though, were also giving away food samples, which were a nice treat since I never indulge in the over expensive, nutrient-packed provisions whose magic ingredients single handedly make you faster, get that raise, and win over your sweetheart. The best thing at the expo was actually Chicago Marathon branded cowbells being given away. (Their incessant ringing echoed along the entire course the next day. Whoever thought of them was a genius.) More importantly though, I found the ABTA booth and finally met the humble people responsible for organizing Runners Sharing Hope and its fundraising.

My Family at the pasta dinner

My family at the pasta dinner

The entire exhibition was huge, with hundreds of booths and thousands of people meandering throughout at any given time. The excitement and buzz created by this crowd energized me for the race, but the throng also reminded me how marathons can turn into big spectacles. Granted, race day is the culmination of months of dedicated training and sacrifice, but the entire weekend also becomes this huge production — travel plans, lodging, military-like logistics, and hundreds of thousands of people swarming the city. I guess since I race and train regularly year round, individual races (even if this was an “A” race for me) are not as big of an event as for some people. The small local races, where I arrive that morning, do my race, and am home while half the twenty-somethings are still sleeping off their hangovers definitely have their own appeal. The big scenes though, come with the territory of über-sized big city marathons, mainly because of the money runners bring along with them.

After the exhibition my family ventured across Chicago’s extremely busy streets to Galleria Marchetti for a pasta dinner with other team members of Runners Sharing Hope. It was encouraging and informative to dine with other families who were suffering from the affects of brain cancer. They converged on Chicago from all over the world to support this organization. I discovered representatives from as far away as England and Florida despite talking with only a couple people. Everyone was incredibly sympathetic and caring. Hearing each other’s stories and struggles helped us deal with our own.

Morning Preparation

Early morning encouragement

Early morning encouragement

My family and I woke at 4:30 a.m. to beat snarling traffic and have ample time before the start. About three hours prior to the gun, I consumed my trusty banana and bagel for breakfast, which had worked well for me at prior marathons. We took the scenic route through Chicago since roads were already closed, and my mom was only scared once by a homeless man before we arrived at the Grant Park parking garage. We walked through the dark, crisp morning towards Charity Village, where ABTA had its own enclosed tent. The Chicago Marathon provided a separate area with its own amenities for everyone running for an official charity. Only participants running for a charity were permitted inside before the race though, so my parents wished me luck before we parted ways. My mom had put more planning into how she and my dad could navigate the course than I had invested in my training though, so I know I would see them again during the race.

I stayed warm within the complex and eagerly waited for the start. Other runners continued to trickle into ABTA’s tent, several of which I recognized from the prior night’s dinner. We defused our nervous tensions by chatting and cracking jokes. Our discussions naturally turned to the weather as well since that morning was a blistery 40° with a strong wind. For the moment at least, any precipitation was staying away. Despite the conditions I attempted to convince myself to merely wear my ABTA singlet. I was unsuccessfully in this persuasion though, and sported an additional long-sleeved micro fiber shirt with a thin pair of gloves.

Runners Sharing Hope Team

The Runners Sharing Hope Team for the American Brain Tumor Association

The official photographers made their rounds and captured a shot of all the ABTA runners before I departed for the starting line. The three hour pace group, with which I wanted to run, was actually stationed in the Competitive Start corral in front of mine. I arrived relatively early to be near the front of my pen (Preferred Start I) so I could stay in contact with them.

My pre-race routine for prior marathons comprised only of stretching. The first several miles provided ample opportunity to ease into the event without adding additional distance before the race even began. I would be running at a much fast pace from the start today, so I jogged around the corral to loosen my legs. Five or ten minutes before the gun, the volunteers edged the runners inside my corral forward, and we settled close to the actual starting line. The siren finally sounded, and the race was underway. Only forty-five seconds or so elapsed before I too crossed the line in the crowded mayhem.

The Race

Mile 1

The start was very busy, with both sides of Columbus Drive packed shoulder-to-shoulder with runners. My pace was dictated by the people around me, since little room existed to maneuver. I could only imagine how crammed it was for people starting farther back. The course immediately went under Randolph Street into Chicago’s subterranean streetscape before quickly emerging back into the shadows of the city’s skyscrapers. With the tall buildings looming over the mass of moving runners, I felt like a twig being swept down a rushing river. Both banks of this canal were jammed with spectators, cheering us forward.

Mile 2

My legs felt tight and not very fluid, not sure why.

Mile 3

I caught the three hour pace group around 5K. Before the race I promised myself to stay with them for at least twenty miles, no matter how good I felt. Despite this pledge I passed the pace group, continuing faster than my goal pace to my later peril.

Mile 5

We entered the slightly more picturesque Lincoln Park, and a band played “Hold on Loosely” as we rounded the corner.

Mile 8

I took my first GU, which was more viscous than normal due to the cold. My stomach did not handle the thick concoction well, and it lingered unpleasantly inside.

Mile 9

I developed a small stomach crap (related to GU?), which faded after a short while.

Mile 11

My lower back suffered from a sharp pain, which was odd, but it left after a couple minutes.

Mile 13

My dad along the course

My dad waiting along the course

This stretch was probably the busiest along the course. For at least a mile, both sides of the street were packed with an audience three or four deep. I felt like I was in a parade while running through this cheering tunnel. Too bad I did not have any candy to distribute. The crowd support was definitely a boost.

My parents planned to be in this area, so I ran on the opposite side of the street from most of the participants to stand out. I stared into the quickly passing crowd trying to locate my parents within the throngs of people. We actually did spot each other briefly in the madness as I continued into the second half of the race.

My halfway split was 1:26:20, goal pace was 1:30:00.

Mile 14

My fast first half started to catch up with me already, as my legs tired. It was still very early in the race to be besieged, so the second half looked like it would be a struggle. I consumed my second GU, which felt about as good as the first.

At the water station, I accidentally dumped a cup of water onto a volunteer as I attempted to grab it. I felt bad about this since these gracious people sacrificed their Sunday morning to stand outside in the cold to distribute water. I yelled back an apology, and hoped he heard me.

The straight away leading to the turn around on Damen Avenue was one of the lonelier expanses on the course. The large drop in support after the extremely crowded halfway point coupled with the cold wind and my legs beginning to seize made for a difficult mile.

Mile 16

The run became even more of a battle, and I could feel myself slow. I kept pushing forward, determined to keep my pace beneath three hours. Although my portion of the course was not very crowded with runners, people having conversations would still occasionally overtake me. Listening to them casually chatting when I was having so much difficulty was a little demoralizing. I thought back to how someone would be affected by an idiot in a Scooby-Doo costume running past.

Mile 17

The course turned through Little Italy. Italian flags hung along the street, but I could not focus on much else by this point. Power Gel packs were being distributed, but I elected not to grab one since they had not been agreeing with my stomach.

Mile 19

As I passed the clock located at the mile marker, I noted that the winners should be crossing the finish line at this time, a full seven miles ahead of me.

Mile 21

My parents were waiting near Chinatown as planned. We glimpsed each other and they cheered loudly, but I was too fatigued to acknowledge them steadfastly. I passed under the big Chinese gate, but was unable to enjoy many of the festivities by now. The rest of Chinatown and most of the latter part of the course was just a blur. My miles continued to slow, but I hoped that my first half would make up for this deteriorating pace and keep me under three.

Mile 22

I looked forward to reaching the furthest point south so only a straight shot to the finish remained. That turn was near New Comiskey Park (or whatever the bastardized sponsored name was), at which I eventually arrived. Despite the chilly temperatures and wind, I was never too cold throughout the marathon. An occasional gust of wind caught me, but I was never chilled. An exception was my hands. The extremities were hard to keep warm anyway, and my gloves had become wet while grabbing drinks from the aid stations. My fingers were rigid, and they could barely hit the buttons on my watch to record my mile splits. The best way to warm them though would be at the finish line, so I kept moving forward as quickly as possible.

Mile 24

An intense hunger suddenly plagued my stomach, which was not normal. The pains went away shortly though, after my body remembered how bad the rest of it felt.

Mile 25

I became a little light headed, but even if I had to pass out I would have kept motoring to the finish. At the mile marker, my watch announced nine minutes remained until the clock rolled over past three hours. I had been mentally calculating splits, and nine minutes was exactly the cutoff to where I still had a shot to break three. The crowds were also growing as the finish approached, so I willed myself forward to the finish.

Mile 26

I kept on pushing, despite not feeling very well, since I could taste the finish. The 800m to go sign passed, and soon the 400m left sign emerged. It stood at the final turn towards the finish, and my watch indicated only eighty seconds remained until three hours expired. That was flying for me at the end of a marathon, but I tried desperately for my mark. As I sprinted, my stomach felt like it was about to give out, limiting me even more than my legs. I crossed the finish line without cracking my head on the pavement, and my watch read three hours and eight seconds (my official time was three hours, six seconds). I was a little disappointed to have missed three hours by such a small margin, but I was too dazed to be very upset. Seven seconds over the length of a marathon for an age grouper does not amount to much, especially since three hours was just an arbitrary round number invented by man. Nevertheless, I still could not profess that I was a sub three hour marathoner. I would have to do battle another day to attempt to claim that title.

Finish Area

My parents with me back at the ABTA tent

My parents with me back at the ABTA tent

I must have looked half as bad as I felt because a very friendly (and cute) volunteer escorted me after the finish to ensure I would not collapse. After convincing her I would survive, she departed to assist other runners. I turned to grab all the food I could carry, although it would be consumed later since I did not yet feel like eating. While I was wandering exhausted through the chute, I saw a woman with a prosthetic leg there as well, meaning she either beat me or came very close. Her accomplishment was a little humbling for my pride to see.

I crawled forward and eventually arrived at the massage tent. The line was still short, and the volunteers quickly laid me on a table. They ran a well-oiled machine. One person was directing finishers to open benches, and then multiple masseuses assaulted the casualty to do their work. While I was lying on the table though, my damp, sweaty clothes and the cold weather finally caught up with me. The physical exertion keeping my temperature regulated ceased, and I began to shiver uncontrollably on the table. The helpful volunteers recruited several more people in an attempt to warm me under my Mylar blanket. After a valiant, yet unsuccessful effort, they escorted me towards the big heater to try to break my shivers. I needed their assistance too. Despite the heat source being about twenty feet away, I probably could not have walked there myself. The heater helped immensely, but I needed its constant stream of hot air to remain warm. For sustained comfort I really needed to change into something dry.

I left the comforts of the massage tent to brave the exposed walk to Charity Village where my extra clothes was stashed. Leaving my bags there was very convenient in the morning, but after the race they were actually farther away than the normal gear pickup.

Unfortunately, since the volunteers in the rub down tent were mainly trying to keep me from become hypothermic, they did not actually perform that great of a massage. I am not blaming them in any way, since they treated what was more important, but my muscles reminded me for the next couple of days that they prefer deep post race massages.

Back in Charity Village

Me and Ronald McDonald

McDonald’s sponsored Charity Village

My waddle eventually brought me back to Charity Village. The rain soaked field that was its grounds had been transformed into a muddy quagmire as thousands of runners and support crew walked over it. I dodged the worst of the sludge and found relief at the ABTA tent. My wet clothes came off and I put on something warm and dry, which finally allowed me to stop shivering.

My parents and I reunited inside the ABTA pavilion, and they offered me congratulations as I began my recovery. Other runners began returning from their adventure, and we took solace in that we finished. We celebrated inside the tent, with box lunches provided.

The inside of my left shin had been tender for a couple weeks leading up to the race, and was sore after the race. I did not have a stress fracture, but the volume of training had definitely strained it. I was actually concerned to how it would endure while being subjected to the demands of a marathon. It occasionally bothered me slightly during the race, but it never seemed to affect my stride much.

To help prevent further injury, I went to ice it. Unfortunately, the only medical staff which had ice for non-emergencies was inside the finish area, so I had to walk all the way back there and sneak inside to be iced. Although frozen water was plentiful, the volunteers did not have much wrap to secure it to runners’ legs. That shortage was the only poorly executed part of the entire race weekend I witnessed. After a slight wait, ice was fastened to my leg, so it would hopefully recover.

After more visiting with runners in Charity Village, I slowly shuffled back to the car for the trip home. I took a detour to the post-race party in Millennium Park, but noticed upon arrival that it did not start until six that night. The evening celebration was also a cruel conspiracy to force me to walk extra after the race (despite the start time being clearly printed on the ticket).

The streets were absolutely jammed with people, much worse than the peak of Christmas season. Between Mylar covered runners and fans, hardly any room was left to walk or maneuver cars. I pushed my way through to the parking garage though, and enjoyed the chauffeured ride (by my mom) home for relaxation and a nice dinner. As we pulled out, I could still see runners making their last turn into the finish.


Although I was happy with my time (even if seven more seconds would have been really nice), I did not run my best race. My pace at the beginning was too fast, ignoring my strategy. A gradual fade started around fourteen, and I was hurting extremely bad by twenty-one. Even though I knew better, I became impatient and a little overconfident in being able to maintain that pace over a marathon. Maybe next time I can actually stick to a plan. The cold did not seem directly to affect my performance, but it did disrupt my nutrition plan, which hurt me towards the end of the race.

Those last several miles, when I was really hurting and wanted to quit, what kept me suffering through the pain was the clock. It was not finishing, my parents waiting there, the money I had raised for charity, the runners surrounding me on the course, the countless people cheering, Iowans tracking me online, the notes of encouragement written by third graders at my mom’s school, or people I would have to face the next day. Although they may have been subconscious influences, the only thing that occupied my mind during those hard miles was the desire to break three hours and knowing I was darn close. I do not know if this drive solely from within and not accepting others’ support is good, bad, or indifferent.

“One might hide behind the excuses of cold weather, an unkind wind, a slow track, or jostling competition, but ultimately these obstacles had to be defied. Winning a footrace, particularly one waged against the clock, was ultimately a battle with oneself, over oneself.”1


My official time was 3:00:06, placing me 110th in my age group and 992nd overall, barely breaking into the top 1,000 finishers. Not too bad considering around 35,000 people started. My time was good enough to BQ, although Boston is not currently on next year’s race schedule.

Two weeks later though, Lance Armstrong ran thirty seconds faster than me in the New York City Marathon. Although he did not delve into competitive training and that course was a little harder, it still would have been nice to say I beat the best cyclist ever in a foot race.

Splits for the Chicago Marathon
MileSplitTotalComment MileSplitTotalComment
17:027:02Dealing with crowds146:341:32:12
26:4113:43 156:501:39:03
36:3720:21 16?:???:??:??Missed Mile Marker
46:2926:50 176:471:52:37Avg of 2 miles
5?:????:??Missed mile marker187:001:59:38
66:3339:57Avg of 2 miles197:002:06:38
76:3246:29 207:062:13:44
96:2959:37 227:192:28:27
106:301:06:08 237:232:35:51
116:241:12:33 247:402:43:31Can you say wall?
126:321:19:05 257:382:51:09
136:331:25:38 26?:???:??:??
Half 1:26:20 Finish7:273:00:06Avg over last 1.2 miles

Pace vs. Mile Chart

Pace vs. Mile

And for you yuppies that use the metric system

Canada Style
Finish 3:00:06

1 The Perfect Mile, Prologue