When I last left you, it was marathon eve and I had drifted off to sleep. Today's post is all about the following day and how I won the Chicago Marathon!
Okay, so I just wanted to make sure you were paying attention.
As with any race, I must have woken up 10 times and checked the clock to make sure I hadn't missed the race (ever seen that episode of Seinfeld). No worries on this day, I beat the alarm clock about two minutes, jumped out of bed, dove into my race kit and wolfed down a nutritious breakfast of microwave waffles, powdered doughnuts, Starbursts, and Hershey's chocolate dipping sauce; only the finest for this well-conditioned all star.
The weather was wonderfully brisk as I made my way through the quiet streets of Chicago's Loop. As I approached the race, the city slowly grew into a thriving metropolis; mostly of runners who were sharing in the same excitement I was feeling. My charity group, Team PAWS, had a heated tent for us charity runners to relax in, however I decided to grab a secluded piece of concrete to review my race strategy. I threw my hoodie over my head, stuck in my headphones which were tuned to chillout music, and poured over the virtual course that hid beneath my eyelids.
Finally, it was time to ditch the gear and head into Corral D, my holding area for this race. I wasn't too upset about my placement since I didn't have a strong qualifying time to share. My goal was to finish in under fours hours, which would be a first for me across my five marathons. Surely, it was doable, but as with any race there's always some doubt.
After Corrals A-C were out the door, it was my turn to get started. The first few miles of a marathon are always good to take stock of how you're feeling and try to maintain your strategy. To me, the hardest miles of a marathon are the first few. It's a mental test of not getting caught up in the excitement which can really run you for the race, and it's very hard not to let that happen. I held fast to my training and reminded myself the clock is my enemy, not the people around me. For the first few miles my legs felt incredibly tight which had me worried. There was no way a sub-4 was in the cards if I couldn't work out the kinks. However, I soldiered on, listening to my body, but choosing to ignore the tightness.
As the miles pressed on, I relished in the excitement of the crowd in the most wonderful city in the world. I traveled through all of my old haunts in Lincoln Park, Old Town and the Near North. My mind was a torrent of thoughts, as I reflected on my training, my buddy who was running his first Chicago, and all of the great times my wife and I experienced in this city. Not to mention, the weather was perfect, the crowds were plentiful, and the run sublime. It all bubbled up to the surface at Mile 8, when I started to get a little choked up. Frankly, I missed my city.
After seeing my wife at Mile 9 and finishing the north side of the race, the course took us west, where the crowds thin out. While the crowds may not be as plentiful as the north/south sections of the race, they are no less dedicated. Through Miles 14-19, I feasted like a king on orange slices, bananas and candy. Those beautiful people kept me on track. Thank you.
By the time, I reached Mile 21, I was in bad shape. My pace had slowed, but I was still running forward. The smiling and tears of the early part of the race were all but a memory, as I had now shifted to talking to myself out loud; willing myself to continue. Doing some quick math in my head, I realized it was going to be a 50/50 chance I'd finish under four hours. This is where I reached for something, anything that would light a fire under my slogging feet. Then, I found what I needed. You see, the corral assignments for an upcoming race were released just a day earlier, and for the first time I was in a lower corral than I had ever been in before. Now, I understand that may not seem much to some people, but this was very important to me. In fact, it weighed on my pretty heavily for the next mile or so. How could I not make that front corral? What happened over the course of the year caused me to drop? It dawned on me pretty quickly, the problem was me. Over the course the year, the joy of running had run dry and my training suffered because of it.
Well, no more.
Right then and there at Mile friggin' 22, my inner Dylan Thomas told me to rage, rage against the dying of the light and I surged forward with a refreshed determination.
The adrenaline of my running rebirth carried me swiftly over the Finish Line in a record setting, 3:58:25. My sub-4 dreams had come true! Secretly, I wanted to keep going.
After the race, my wife, friends and I met up in the Team PAWS tent, where they had free massages, drinks and mounds of pizza (this must have been heaven). I also received a special finisher's medal for my effort in saving Chicago's stray animals.
That night, my wife, friends and I hit one more Chicago staple, Rockit Bar & Grill to indulge ourselves in post-marathon food & drink. I had the "TV Dinner," which consisted of meatloaf, peas, corn, bread, mac & cheese, tater tots and brownies. It was amazing.
Everything about this year's trip to Chicago was incredible. Of course, the old haunts and restaurant visits are always crowd pleasers. But, this year there was magic in the air. Everywhere I went I could feel it. And, I truly believe it translated to an amazing race.