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2012 Bank of America Chicago Marathon race report

*Housekeeping note: I looked at the data for what browser my readers are using & a full 34% of you are using Internet Explorer...the one with errors in reading the new Endurance tab for sports posts. So I'm ending that experiment for now & going back to mixing running/tri into the main blog feed. It's not ideal for the 75% of you who want to read parenting posts, but neither is having a third of my readers unable to see certain updates. 

Greetings from Personal Record land! It was a busy weekend around my house, obviously, so I'll try to get to everything in posts this week...though one of the things to blog about is the wave of colds that has taken over. So we'll see how far I get. I'm the last one standing and even this morning I have a blah feeling that is combining with sniffles to make me think it isn't just marathon recovery.

Whatever happened, I sure ran a heck of a race though so you won't get medical complaints here. I lowered my PR by over 8 minutes (the previous time I broke a PR it was by only 4 minutes)! And I also broke into a new sub-hour category which was my real goal I've been chasing since my first marathon. So I'm a happy camper with my performance. I'll break down the miles for me, personally, at the end but I wanted to also give a few impressions for the general public who is less concerned about MY race and wants to hear about the race in general. Feel free to read or skip to your choosing:

General impressions--
It's hard to separate the two so forgive a bit of blending, but this will be far less detailed about me. The weather was amazing for people hoping to run fast. In fact, not only did the course record fall to the winner, but it was the fastest marathon run on American soil and had record numbers of starters (38,535) and finishers (37,455).

As the sun was rising over the city, it was chilly and cloudy in the high 30's. Eventually, the sun came out for awhile, but Mother Nature toyed with us all day. It got warm. Then chilly again. Then windy. By the time they were handing out foil blankets at the Finish, I was ready for some warm clothes.

I can't wait for the post-race evaluation/feedback request to arrive. When it comes to things in the control of the coordinators, I'm ready to give some pretty vicious criticism of this year's race. As my 4th time either running or volunteering, I can say that despite my personal achievement it was the worst of the 4 times as far as enjoying the experience.

Grant Park was a nightmare of fences and lack of direction. Over the last few years, it's become a weekend build-out of white tents, gates, red tape, and catering to...who knows...rather than making life easier for the runners.

This year's race was congested from nearly start to finish with constant banter in my pace group about the weaving and need to pass. Where the course normally deadens to single file, it was a pack/crowd from curb to curb. The spectator support was great when they weren't crossing the street in front of you causing you break stride. The last mile even was cluttered with walkers in the middle of the street rather than to the side. Even the volunteers--bless them--had started to give up on handing out Gatorade and water at some of the final aid stations. Though at least there were bananas left--other years that hasn't been the case.

It was harder to find family at the end of the race. Some finishers didn't get a medal because they ran out. And there was chatter among the 2nd wave runners that the charity folks should NOT have been in the 1st wave for us to run around. Not to mention that--as I predicted here back in July--the new lettered corral system was horrible. Difficult to find corral entrances. Blocked walkways and entrances. Not enough toilets either in the park or on the race course. In the park, actually, I suspect there was the same number as always, but the layout and new fence systems make it difficult to get to some of the ones that were easily accessible in previous races. And, especially on the course once the race has started, there is no excuse for people having to resort to peeing on trees and in alleys. The alternative--a difficult choice I'll discuss in a second--is wasting maybe 10 minutes standing in a line.

Big race, big city? Maybe experience is giving me a more educated eye about what good race conditions should look like? I dunno. But this runner is finding my concerns validated if future races are like Sunday. I love the race director, don't get me wrong. He's had many good years of making this huge event happen. But it's time to evaluate. I know a lot of first timers who completed their first 26.2 on Sunday and I'm here to tell you newbies that it's been better. That race. Other races I've finished. Maybe it's that our sport is growing and so popular? Maybe these are the pains we face with increasing entry fees and races selling out quicker than ever?

I'm just thankful that my actual athletic performance far outweighed any negatives. Nothing was going to ruin my day when it came down to running my race.

My race--
In short, I ran just about the perfect race for me. There will always be "I wish" moments where you look back as an athlete and see things you would do differently, but so much happened right that I'm not going to dwell on the 5% when 95% of my plan went off like a dream.

Between the cold weather and the new corral system, I decided to arrive in Grant Park about 30 minutes before the corral closing. Walking south on Michigan Ave, there was a HUGE backup to enter on Congress so I walked down to Harrison where there was just a steady entering stream, no wait. I quickly found the line for the toilets and by the time that 20 minute wait was up, it was time to take off my warmups.

From the west side of Columbus, it was nearly impossible to enter my corral. The promised entrance on Congress wasn't there and instead they made people walk around to the east side to enter...where people just stood because it was also the front. Despite having tons of room to spread out. Once you shoved your way through the crowd, there was space to stretch and have personal space.

The first few miles were great. Saw my family. Stayed relaxed and slow. But around Mile 3, I realized that I was going to need to stop...though plenty of people were using trees, light poles, and peeing in alleys, I felt a little bad for the businesses opening later in the day to, literally, puddles of, um, used Gatorade. So I faced a choice and picked the aid station at LaSalle and Ohio for a 7 minute wait. Maybe not smart, but at the time my preference was to get it over with and think about racing. In reality, I had to stop only one other time and it was at an empty bank of toilets in the charity cheering compound where I figured "might as well."

So from the first 1/4 of the race, I was already playing catchup. I managed to makeup 4 of the 7 minutes by the Half mark and had a plus-3:00 split. That meant I'd run the first half of the course faster than I'd have liked, but my goal had really been negative splits--running the 2nd half faster than the 1st--so now it was time to do some work.

From about Mile 9 on, I happened to be near a group of pacers who were supposed to do about 5 min faster for the race than my goal...so I made a split second decision to see how far I could go with them. In hindsight, it was probably the smartest choice I made all day. One of them, interestingly, is my new hero. Marie from PA qualified for Ironman in Louisville. She was pacing the Chicago race along with the Columbus Marathon...oh yeah, she's going to Kona for the World Championships after having been in a bike accident where she went to the hospital with broken bones in her foot. She got my sorry ass across the finish line all while keeping spirits up and ready to catch a 7pm flight home with a smile on her face. Doug, you rock, too. Thank you both!

Anyway, they'd gotten lost from the main pace group and were somehow 5 minutes ahead of their goal time, but that meant they were now (because I was 3 minutes over) just about ON my goal time. That's a lot of math, I know. But I managed to run amazingly consistent splits for the day. Other than my little hiccup, nearly every time I posted for each 5k was within 5 seconds of each other. The BIG exception being from Mile 25 on where for the last 1.2 miles I ended up a full 90 seconds per mile faster in my pace.

By the time I turned the corner to go up the Roosevelt hill, I had guaranteed myself not only a personal best but I would have had to run a 4 minute 400 meters to not break the hour mark I was hoping for. It was a nice feeling to also pass a ton of people in the final few miles. I crossed the Finish without a doubt in my mind that I'd done exactly what I'd been there to do.

Nutrition-wise, it must be said that the new plan worked. Though "dear Honey Stinger, your gel packets poke some mighty red holes in my skin via my race belt...what's with the sharp edges?" I have a horrible rash at my waist. The Nuun tablets are a little slow to fizz on the fly, but I found myself more drawn to water anyway until well past 13.1. I switched over to the course Gatorade once I was confident I'd have no stomach issues and I felt like I needed the extra calories and salt for the strong ending.

Other odds and ends...in my age group there were still 600 runners behind me for the day. And thousands overall. Shout out to my friends who ran their first 26.2...some finished ahead of me, some behind me, but you're all marathoners now! I also know a bunch of people running other races around the country this fall...have a great time!

Mission accomplished! (Now bring on the next challenge.)

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