In October of 2007, I ran in the infamously hot Chicago Marathon. At the time, it was the third marathon that I lined up for, after having raced Boston the previous two springs.
My PR going into this one was the 2:42 I earned on Monsoon Monday just a few months earlier. Little did I know that come October, I’d be praying for those Monsoon Monday conditions. A week out from race day, I took a peek at the forecast for Chicago, and remember just feeling defeated after seeing the awful, cruel 80+ degree predictions. I knew it would be tough, but didn’t fully comprehend how much of a strain it would put on my system.
The night before the race, I was on the phone with my friend Todd and he thought that if anybody could handle the heat then it would be me. Why is that? Because I can’t move in the morning, so I typically get out to get my long runs in during the middle of the day (even on the hottest of summer days). Considering that, I felt better about it. My goal for this was to bust out a big time 2:29, and although I’d need a perfect day to hit that, I thought there was a chance.
Looking back, I was pretty naive to think a breakthrough PR was coming on a day like that, especially since I was still sort of young and not very experienced at the distance. Even the race plan I decided to go with has me scratching my head now. What I ended up doing was PR’ing with a respectable 2:39:20, (good for 56th overall, 50th male), but paid for it dearly. Running in the sun and heat was something I could tolerate before that day, but it seems to affect me so much more ever since.
It was definitely one of those moments where you look back and see just how close you took yourself to that edge, then wonder if it was really worth it. The three minute PR I gained from not backing off doesn’t seem like it was worth it, looking back on it. I wouldn’t say I regret anything about it though, so don’t get me wrong. It’s just troubling knowing that, at the end of that race, the only difference between myself and a piece of KFC was the Colonel’s 11 herbs and spices.
What follows here is a spruced up version of my experience, cobbled together from my training log and my patchwork memory. I feel a little odd presenting my own race report like this, but thought it was relevant after watching people gut out a tough one last week. I wasn’t thrilled with the job I did writing this reccap 4.5 years ago, but wanted to try to leave it intact for a more authentic feel. Plus, Present EJN was getting annoyed with Past EJN in trying to edit it…that’s no good. Without any more rambling, EJN (2012) presents…EJN (2007):
Got up at 5 a.m. to start getting ready, or at least just to make sure I’d be awake by race time. I also needed to start pounding the liquids early, too. Kept my eye on the weather, and even at that early hour it was still like 70 degrees. Unbelievable.
Headed out to the start line at 7:20, wearing my new white hat, sunglasses, and brand spankin’ new uniform shorts. I took a 20 oz. Gatorade bottle with me and a little six ounce bottle that contained a water/Gatorade mix (Waterade). I ended up being at the back of my corral, which I didn’t mind because I didn’t seem far from the line. They made an announcement saying ‘additional water/energy drinks have been brought out to the course due to the weather’. Great, right? Well, we’ll see how that works out later. Goal was sub-2:30:00, and my rough plan was to open with a 6:00, then 5:50 for mi 2-5, 5:40 for 6-10, 5:35 for 11-20, then hang on as best as possible for the last 10k. Ended up running a 2:39:20, here’s how it broke down:
5:39 (29:12 through 5)
5:43 (57:29 through 10)
11:19 (taken at mi 12, missed the mi 11 marker)
5:49 (1:15:12 through 13.1)
5:51 (1:26:09 through 15)
6:34 (1:57:52 through 20)
6:42 (2:31:34 through 25)
7:47 (last 1.2, good for a 6:29 pace)
Well, there’s a lot to say about this one. A quarter mile into it, the Gu I brought along fell out of my pocket. Wow, good start. Still, at least I had the small bottle, which I drank over the first two miles (which meant being able to steer clear of the crowded fluid stations). I stayed relaxed during the first mile, but found it pretty difficult to move around. Time was a bit slow, which was annoying but I didn’t let it get to me. I figured I’d just get it going for mile two. Nope, even slower. I felt like I had picked it up despite the fact that the course was still packed, so now I was a little frustrated. I heard later on from multiple people that the first mile was short, and two was long, so they evened out. That must mean the split would have been even slower on the first mile!
I really tried to pick it up on mile three, but still to no avail. I think I may have lost time getting water, but not sure. I had to slow to grab it, and then the ground was very wet so I was careful with my footing. After that, I decided to pick it up again, and now, finally, I was moving….all the way to a 4:50 fourth mile. I looked at my watch a couple of times, stunned. What? Who the f*ck does that? Even if the mile was short, I doubt it was that short. I f*cked up, and I was going to pay for it. In case you’re keeping score at home, that’s the split you’d want if you were going for a 2:07. Let me tell you, it’s not easy knowing you’re f*cked four miles into a 26.2 mi race. On the bright side, this seemed to spark me and get me on track.
You can see I was about where I wanted to be for miles five through twelve. For this stretch, it was like Boston ’07; I was mowing people down left and right. Pretty soon, I was by myself and noticed that a. nobody was passing me and b. the people I was catching all had what I figured to be ‘top 100′ numbers (none had the A corral designation like I did). I was pumped. There was a camera man on a motorbike next to a woman just ahead of me; she had to be one of the top women (maybe 2nd or 3rd) to be getting that treatment. I bore down. Up ahead (maybe like .2 mi ahead) there was an f’n motorcade, and I figured it had to be the lead female(s). I got determined to hunt them down and be right with that pack…and then I met Mr. Wall.
Mile thirteen was a bit slow, but there was an incline there (an overpass/bridge type) which was probably the main cause in the dip. It really shows how much I was hurting when an overpass affected my pace that much. At the halfway mark, I was about where I wanted to be, and I seriously thought I could suck it up and negative split it. Looking back on it, that was probably the first sign of heat stroke. At this point, I had just run a PR for a half marathon by about 45 seconds. Talk about new territory, eh? I was sort of back on track for mi 14, and then this is where I really started to hit that wall that I mentioned earlier.
The fifteenth mile was still under six minute pace, and then it was a slow, steady drop off after that. My friends were at mile fifteen with Gu and Waterade for me, and it took me about five miles to drink the six ounce bottle. I had developed a bad stitch/stomach cramp by this time, which was awful. I started thinking, ‘okay, I have a good shot at a 2:35 here still’, but very soon after (at about mile sixteen), I was became absolutely terrified that I wouldn’t even break 2:40. I just kept thinking ‘get to 20, just get to 20 in good shape’.
The splits were still getting slower, but there wasn’t a drastic drop. The heat was stifling, and I was trying to stay in the shadows where I could (there really weren’t any). I was grabbing Gatorade to drink, and then grabbing a water or two and dumping it on my head, then finally grabbing a water and drinking it (did this at just about each station after the halfway mark). When I finally got to 20, I hit an even harder wall, only this time I was thinking ‘get to 21′. Once there, it was ‘get to 22′, and so on.
Dropping out occurred to me, but then the thought of all the money and time spent on this erased that idea. I was in full on panic mode, doing the math at every split in an attempt to figure out “how much time do I have left to get under 2:40?” At the kilometer markers, I was calculating how far until the next mile mark just to keep myself going. Thinking back on my mental state then, I’d love to see those calculations.
My slowest mile was 23, and then I was somehow able to dig deep and bring it home. At around 23 I ditched the hat but kept dumping water on my head. From just after 23 to about 25.8 is a long, hot, straight stretch. Once you hit 25.8, you turn a corner, and you have to run up a cruel, cruel hill to mile 26 (~ .2 mi), then turn the corner for the last .2 mi. I checked my watch about 6 times going down that stretch, pumping everything I could into it. I was still horrified by the thought of not even breaking 2:40. For a while I was terrified of not PR’ing, but by this point I knew that wasn’t a problem. Pace wise, the last 1.2 was my fastest since mi 19, which is a positive to take away from this.
Under normal circumstances, I’d be ecstatic about finishing that high in this race, but I know that number is off due to the upcoming trials, all the guys going for the trials, and the heat. In all honesty, I’m down about this, mainly because of the way I executed. The first four miles killed me. I wasn’t guaranteed to be under 2:30 even if I executed perfectly, but that was inexcusably dumb and I’m almost embarrassed by it. On top of that, the stomach cramp is another thing. I haven’t done any ab work since sometime back in July; how dumb is that? Now I had a turbulent summer, to say the least, and I think it was an accomplishment enough to keep up the running aspect of my training. But to run the times I want to run, I need to do the additional work. My shoulders were killing me also, and yeah, I haven’t done any pushups in a while either. I know, I know…it’s awful. The heat played into it to (obviously), but had I conditioned those areas like I should, then I would’ve been better off.
I also think I need to warm up better next time. I need to do more stretching/strides than I did for this, and maybe that contributed to the ‘cold’ feeling in the first three miles. Overall, I’m horrified by how I started out the first four miles, but I’m pleased/proud of the way I was able to follow through and finish it off, even with the heat and the hole I dug for myself. A couple of people passed me, but I was still racing at the end, still catching people.
The crowd support along the course was awful. Did everybody have a Cubs hangover? I wouldn’t think so; they should be used to that losing by now. I kept hearing about how amazing the crowd was, and on a day that’s better for spectators than for runners, there was NOBODY out there. The start was great, and there were a couple of spots here and there, but other than that it was terrible. Two things to note: we ran through one neighborhood that that ended up being one of the more festive portions of the course, also one of the most frustrating. There were lots of guys in drag, shouting into megaphones…it was pretty funny. Well, except for one guy that I wanted to punch. He was on the bull horn, saying clichéd crap like ‘it’s only 80 degrees!!!’ What a d-bag.
Going through another neighborhood, they were blasting Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust. As I ran by some woman was yelling enthusiastically ‘you’re biting the dust!!’ What the f*ck? Do you even know what that means? Thanks.
When I got to the ‘charity mile’, where all the support for charity runners was supposed to be (I was running for the Boys and Girls Club)….ghost town. There was nobody out there! I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to see my friends, but wow, no problem finding them. Later on I saw their pics, and you would’ve thought they were taken the day before the race. At Boston, there are so many spots along the course where the crowd can just carry you. Where was that in Chicago? It’s all within the city, but where was their Wellesley, eh?
From miles 20 through 25.8, it was absolute shit. At the toughest part of the race, there was pretty much no crowd to help me out. That part sticks out the most in my mind…so hot, so alone. At about 22 miles in, when I did see people, they said nothing. I was by myself, heading towards a very respectable time, and they weren’t saying ‘boo’. Finally, I started making arm gestures to get some support, even doing the old school Hulk Hogan, putting my hand up to my ear until they shouted. WTF? I didn’t hear anything until I turned the corner at about 25.8 to go up that hill.
In case you don’t know the story behind the whole race here, this was the Chicago Marathon where they ran out of water and ultimately canceled the race as it was still being run by a vast majority of the participants. Imagine being forced off the course, or arriving at chaotic aid stations that provided no aid? A lot of people were taken to the hospital, and one person even ended up dying. I have thoughts and opinions on all of what went down, but that’s not what this piece is about.
For further reading on the epic, infamous 2007 Chicago Marathon, check out this Runner’s World article.