Sunday, October 20, 2013

Race Recap: 2013 BoA Chicago Marathon

I'll start by just putting down the numbers:

Mile splits:
6:06, 5:57, 5:55, 5:42, 5:57, 5:47, 5:53, 5:54, 5:50, 5:57, 6:01, 5:47, 5:57,

5:54, 5:52, 6:00, 6:03, 6:07, 6:11, 6:22, 6:17, 6:29, 6:39, 6:45, 6:59, 8:38 (1.2 miles).

Half splits: 1:17:32 (5:54 min/mile) followed by a 1:23:45 (6:23 min/mile).

Race morning, I woke up around 3:45am and started fueling with water, the new Clif Bar hydration drink, and an All in Almond Picky Bar (which despite being an allergy sensitive brand is the only favor that really works for me). Did a ~1 mile shake out, went to the bathroom. Generally felt good with the exception of my left shin which to be perfectly honest for the past 4 weeks or so has been bothering me.

I did a 5 mile shakeout with a few soccer turf strides with some of my Fleet Feet Racing teammates on Saturday as my second run of the week. The shin, specifically the areas where my posterior tibial tendon attach, felt "runnable." Some fleeting pain, but nothing I couldn't tough out.

Anyway on my shakeout, the left leg felt "tight" and the pain was fairly acute. At this point though I was already committed to starting the race. Looking back, I should have committed to finishing the race at this point as well. Things had felt good the day before so I tried to stay positive and did a bit of self massage and took a hot shower after shaking out to help loosen things up.

Obligatory Pre-Race Gear Photo

Still feeling pretty good otherwise, I got down to the race site pretty early (~5:50am) as I typically allow myself a bit too much leeway for city races and didn't want to be stressing about getting to the race on time.

Up until actually starting the race, things seemed to be going very smoothly!

The Race Itself

The plan was to run with Fleet Feet Racing teammate, Dave Strubbe through 10k at around 5:55 average pace then slowly accelerate and hold 5:50s for as long as possible.

The first mile is typically very quick so I was actually somewhat relieved to find that I hadn't gone out in 5:20 though also bit disturbed by the fact that my first mile in 6:06 didn't feel as easy as it should have. Perhaps there is something to allowing the energy of the start into your brain and legs. I intentionally slowed myself several times over the course of this mile. I also chalked things up to being a bit "stiff" after only putting in about 15 miles on the week.

The second and third miles were my attempt at continuing to stay relaxed, running by feel, and attempting to stay out of trouble (trying to run on the smoothest portions of pavement and not doing a whole lot of leading). Around this time, Strubbe got about 5-10 seconds ahead of me. I let him go and decided to work up to him slowly as I was still not feeling smooth at the pace we were running.

The fourth mile, I got a bit antsy and dropped my fastest mile of the day, catching Strubbe in the process. This was also about  the time I got to see my family for the first time on the course and  that we started running through the familiar areas of Old Town and Lincoln Park. Seeing this split, I backed off a bit. But as you can see splits 5, 6, and 7 were all over the map. I was still having a difficult time feeling comfortable at this pace.

It is here that I think I should have adjusted my expectations. Running up Sheridan, I was pretty much all alone. There was a big group about 10-15 seconds ahead (which I ended up catching at Addison) and I believe a whole slew of runners behind (not sure by how much, but it couldn't have been more than 20-30 seconds). 5:55 average pace wasn't feeling comfortable (I was forcing the pace even though it didn't feel particularly hard). I should have dialed things back to 6:00 or 6:05.

Instead I pressed on up Sheridan hoping to catch the group ahead for some protection from the wind. It was about here that I also took most of my Honey Stinger chews. Honestly I hadn't ever practiced with them, but I had decided I'd be taking something with whole food-ish ingredients probably once early on in the race. I landed on the chews as gels just haven't been appealing to me lately and some of the other Fleet Feet guys were going to be using them.

After turning onto Broadway, I was safely tucked into a group containing most notably, 2012 Olympic Trials qualifier Laurie Knowles, the "Michigan Guy" I ran with in 2012's BoA Chicago Marathon who was running with a couple of his Club Northwest teammates, and fellow CPS-alumni Steven Bugarin. We rolled together for quite sometime though I was still struggling to stay comfortable. Which is exactly what I told my good friend Mark Wehrman who joined in for a couple miles at this point. He reminded me to stay positive. I kept telling myself things would loosen up and feel more smooth by the halfway point.

Our pack rolling through Old Town

I hung with this group through around mile 15 when we split at 5:52. Things weren't feeling any more comfortable and I knew that mile 16-18 is usually where the struggle really begins particularly if the early stages of the race were not particularly good. I decided to allow the group to go ahead and focus on relaxing and running 6:00 pace through the next stages of the race.

This lasted just a couple miles before I started to slow even more. I was hurting pretty bad both mentally and physically. In retrospect, probably more mentally than physically. I was tired of running hurt. It was pretty clear I was not going to loosen up at all and that my mechanics had been compromised enough by a sore shin that my right leg was taking more of a beating than my left. I was regretting running in my soft, cushy training shoes which helped support my shin, but made my feet work extra hard.

Looking back, I am realizing that while I had committed to starting the race after having a decent shakeout, I hadn't really committed to finishing the race mentally. I spent the "middle miles" of 19-22 making this commitment. Mark jumped in again around mile 20. Running down Halsted, I looked up and saw a mullet and a bright Fleet Feet Racing singlet. It was my teammate, ColeSans who was running his first marathon and based on talk pre-race had gone out with three other teammates at sub-2:30 marathon pace. We caught him quickly at what has become one of my least favorite parts of the course:

I really, really wanted to stop and jog it in with Cole, but Mark wouldn't let me. It was at that moment, I was almost 100% committed to finishing the race. The frustrating thing about this for me was that I couldn't make that decision "on my own." Without a commitment to finishing, Mark had to talked me into finishing mid-race. My mental environment had become too negative with anxiety surrounding running injured and not meeting performance goals for me to realize that running a 6:17 at mile 20 is still actually pretty decent.

While this was probably the watershed moment in terms of successfully completing the race, I still carried a little backup drop out plan in my back pocket for another couple miles. I was expecting to see my family a final time around Chinatown. If I was feeling really terrible, I would drop out in front of them so the would know I was done with the race.

It was running through Chinatown where the wheels really started falling off in earnest. Things were pretty uncomfortable and I think sort of warm since there really isn't much shade on this portion of the course (I don't recall feeling hot though). Mark continued to run with me. I saw my family just before turning east on 33rd street.

The rest of the race was me struggling just to put one foot in front of the other, not cramp, and maintain as much pressure as I could. I felt like I was halfway between racing and jogging it in. I was running slowly for a race, but I maintained sub-7:00 pace until the last 1.2 miles which was about 7:00 pace exactly.

The final turn onto Columbus, I got a bit dizzy and saw a flash of black. I told myself if I had to that I would slow to a walk to make sure I crossed the finish line. I didn't want to run all that way to pass out less than 200 meters from the finish line. Fortunately my body held together long enough for me to run across the finish mats.

I'll have to write another blog outlining the many things I learned and am continuing to learn from this race, but for now this will do.

Did you run the 2013 Bank of America Chicago Marathon? 

Share your thoughts on the race (or a blog recap) in the comments below!


  1. I really enjoyed reading your RR, Dan! It sounds like you had a tough race mentally (and physically) but that you did the best you could given the day and how you felt leading into the race. This distance is so humbling for all of us-- from the elites to the back-of-the-packers, and it always amazes me how much I, personally, can take away from every marathon I've done, regardless of my performance. I hope you heal up in your downtime and that you're rarin' to go come next cycle. :) Congrats on a great race though, even if it fell short of your expectations some. You're a rockstar!

    1. Erin, you're very kind.

      This race was a very humbling experience! I acted like selfish child much of the race, driven by fear and shame. When I couldn't run anymore "on my own," I was reintroduced to the power (this is going to sound corny) of friendship and community. Mark helped me do something I couldn't do on my own. After some thinking I realized it wasn't just Mark who helped me, but hundreds if not thousands of people who helped create the marathon experience. I cannot approach training or racing the same.

  2. Bummer about your left shin. Nice report though, Dan, and good work fighting to the end. It's funny the mental games that happen in the long races. So much negotiating with oneself. I thought you captured the essence of this pretty well. Good luck with your Boston buildup!

    1. Yeah, it's too bad the shin came back to bite me. I feel like I learned a lot though so hopefully I'll be honest with myself and truly nip it in the bud next time (finally coming to terms that there will be a next time).

      Means a lot to hear you felt I was able to capture some of the essence of racing! Thanks!