A big step forward and lessons learnt along the way.
For goal races, I usually wake up before the alarm goes off. October 13th was no different. Despite the 3:30 am wakeup, I slept unusally well considering it was the night before the race. I KT taped my foot carefully, which I had to do throughout the training cycle to defend against feet issues. After the usual overpacking of gear check bag, I joined my Dashing Whippet housemates on the train ride to the starting line.
In the race village, I watched the sea of green feet (nike Next %s), and waited till it was time to get to the start line. The race corral was already busy over half hour left before race start. I went through the motions of shedding extra clothing, doing warmups in the cramped environment and holding back the nerves. It was colder than I expected, which wasn’t a bad thing at all. It would stay cool during the whole race, which meant overheating never became an issue.
At the start line, I felt good. No major injuries have cropped up since March, and training went as well as it could. Despite that, I wanted to stay committed to running a smart race. Marathon is too long of a race distance to predict an outcome and I wanted to stay within myself as long as possible.
I saw the 3:15 pacemaker, and realized I was in two minds whether to go with him or not. I decided to trust my training and focus on running my own race.
The race began, and in the beginning mile I stayed attentive to what my body was telling me. The surge of adrenaline wanted me to speed up, but I held back and moved with caution. At mile 1, I heard my name from a friend cheering and immediately felt better. It is so valuable to see familiar faces during a race.
As early as mile 2, my GPS was completely haywire. I had to stop paying attention to the speed that the GPS was showing me and decided to count every 5k interval instead. I knew those times by heart from training.
23, 46, 1:09, 1:32, 1:55, 2:18, 2:41, 3:04…
I got to 5k within the limit without much issues. Chicago is one of the best marathons, and crowd support is a big part of that. The first half of Chicago is electric, with non stop crowd support, and they showed up strong on an overcast, windy day. It feels as if hundreds of thousands of people are on your side, and you want to run well for their sake.
Then next 5k also went fairly quickly. I have found the miles between 8-12 mentally tough during training and it was definitely no different during race day, injecting some doubt into my race strategy. Every person racing at their limit must battle negative thoughts, there is really no other way.
At 15k, I was able to keep a buffer of over a minute. It wasn’t clear to me whether the pace was sustainable the whole course. I wasn’t looking at the watch until a 5k interval, so there wasn’t much to rely on other than how I felt running. I kept repeating the words in my head.
Smooth. Calm. Relaxed. Metronomic.
Stay as calm as a Tibetan Monk.
Only a couple hours or so and I can go run trails.
Around mile 11 or 12 during the race, another runner cut sharply into my path, a near collision. As I looked at him, I went from bewilderment to anger to laughing out loud in the period of a second. “Wherever you are trying to go dude, I hope you get there”, I said silently as I shrugged and carried on.
I thought about getting to the start line and getting up to this point. I thought about the Tuesday night tempo workouts, Thursday night speed workouts in East River, Saturday morning long runs, all the work that went in. Even if the race fell apart at some point, there would solace in knowing that I came this far. Maybe I could go on for another 5k.
Once I passed 20k, I was getting more in the zone. There is a lot of beautiful Chicago neighborhoods the race takes you through. There are people carrying signs and blasting music and screaming words of affirmation from the sidelines. I don’t remember any of them specifically though. I remember staying close to the blue line as much as possible, which marked the point to point 26.2 miles on the course.
I crossed 13.1 miles at 1:36:21, well within goal time and feeling well. I was feeling well with the pacing, at the same time the relative effort was feeling harder with each 5k. I was feeling searing pain in my foot, but there wasn’t much I could do. The only possible option was to continue forward.