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Chicago 2009

11/18/2009

Chicago 2009

 

 
It’s 5:00 am, but all I am thinking about is 3:45.   Run that and I reach the Super Bowl of my sport.   

Since I first decided to run a marathon I wanted to qualify to run Boston.  For anyone who calls themselves a distance runner, qualifying is the ultimate prize. Why? Because it is hard to do. Not many people make it, the percentages are against you. When you are young the qualifying times are fast, went you are old, well you’re old and the times still seem fast. However, it is a great historic race, full of tradition and pageantry and you’re there because you earned it.  

The race starts at 7:30.  I’m leaving the hotel at 6:00 but it is 5:00 and I am standing on the curb. I’ve planned everything carefully but now I am not sure what to wear.  It’s cold and windy.  Does that mean I need a long sleeve or short sleeve T-shirt or maybe even a jacket?  

I have my standard long-run breakfast, coffee, yogurt, breakfast bar and then I stop drinking two hours before the gun as bladder management is critical.  Little did I know how critical.  Still nervous, I decide on a long and a short sleeve T-shirt with a heavy throw away jacket.  

I have tried to qualify 4 times before; was all confidence in my 1st – missed by a mile, came so close in my 2nd, the 3rd got worse and the 4th, total disaster. Four seeds of doubt had me thinking I may not be cut out for this challenge.  

I head for the subway at the appointed time and at first I am alone, but as I got closer to the tube more and more runners joined me in a procession to the train.  Now my anticipation is really building, but I have an easy train trip and then a short walk to the starting line.  I am appropriately early, and start to think maybe I could have used a pair of throwaway pants as well.  I try to calm myself and look for a warm place to wait.   Cold – shivering cold – waiting.  Then it is time for one last pee and into my start corral.  There, believe it or not, among 45,000 runners I see Gina, a training partner from home.  She looks so confident; I hope a little of that will rub off on me.  

I almost cry at the start of every marathon I run. The crowds, the music, the excitement really gets to me. But most of all, it is the realization that the months of training are over.  That this challenge I have been working so hard for, for so long, is really here.   

The gun goes off, we surge forward and I am over the start line in just a couple of minutes.  Surrounded by runners who had qualifying times like mine means that although it is crowded, we move nicely together.  Into a tunnel, I feel warm for the first time in hours; back into the light it is cool again.  Crowds are big and very loud but we settle into what is for me, a very comfortable pace.  

My training for this race, my final attempt at a Boston Qualifier (or so I had promised the family), started back in January when I signed up for indoor track with the Merrimack Valley Striders.  A completely new experience on so many levels: very focused workouts, running in a gym on a very tight track (11 laps to a mile) and lastly, running with people who are really fast.  

The early miles roll by easily; I warm up and drop my heavy jacket around mile 4, and then I am cool but not cold.  Around 6 miles I see a familiar band stand that I remember from my last Chicago run, where as I went by they were playing the Cars song, “Just What I Needed”. As I look up I think, “Cars Corner” and with that the music starts, and yes, it is the same song.  Is it a sign? I think I need to pee.  

Winter turned to spring and my training moved outdoors.  I was slowly ramping up my miles, determined to have a really solid base in place when my marathon training program began in earnest.  I ran a couple of races and was feeling very comfortable.  No pains, no injuries.  

“I need to pee”, I think to myself.  That feeling is growing but I resist.  “Do a few more miles”, I tell myself, “You might need a break later.”  The miles are piling up quickly; the pace is strong and very even. I would learn later my 5K splits varied by less than a minute. Nice and even, just like the coach and I planned. On race day, it is all about execution.  

My real training program got underway when I signed up to train with Fernando Braz in June.  12 weeks, six days a week of running with track on Tuesday nights, most runs with a real purpose. He promised to not only get me fit, but to train my mind and guide my execution.  The Tuesday night sessions started off hard and only got harder.  

The crowds are amazing, it seems like everyone knows somebody as the shout outs are continuous. I start to recognize the runners around me; after all we have, by this point, been mostly together for an hour and 45 minutes.  Shortly after the half way point the course heads out to the west and the crowds start to get a little thin, or so I remembered from past races.  I’ve had some trouble at this point in the past, something about getting past halfway and then realizing that I still have a long way to go.  But this year it seems like the crowds never thin down and I avoid that sinking feeling. But I still have to pee.  

My confidence grew with each week.  The plan was hard but I was doing well, feeling strong, feeling fit and injury free.  But even so, doubt always has a way of creeping into your mind.  Then there was a test that changed my mind. With 6 weeks to go, one of those hard Saturday long runs, this one 23 miles with the last 5 at marathon pace.  I ran a route that had me at the PA track after 16 miles.  I wanted to know just what my pace was over that final 5.  After one mile I thought, “Can I do this?” My second was sub 8 minute, as was the third, with the final two at 8. The last 5 miles of a really tough run in fewer than 40 minutes?  Wow, my confidence was sky-high, with 6 weeks to go.  

Somewhere out there around 20 miles I have a sinking spell.  We all go through them; the challenge is to get over that hump. It is times like these where the mental preparation is just as important as the physical, and I just put my head down and tell myself over and over, “You can do this, just get to the next mile marker.”  

Fernando worked my brain too.  I can’t imagine how many 95 second laps I ran on the track but it was a lot.  One week after a bunch of ½ mile repeats at speed, he asked us to just jog a mile at marathon pace. After all those 6:20 miles the pace seemed, well, pedestrian.  

Chinatown is a big lift.   You cannot imagine the size of the crowds.  The sidewalks are over flowing, people are standing on everything – hanging from lamp poles, flowing out the windows, screaming – it is just amazing. By now I have forgotten about peeing; cannot spare the time.  (I never did stop.)  Now I am just thinking about Michigan Avenue.  

Although my confidence was off the charts it needed one more boost.  Track night, one mile repeats, five of them.  Fast.  Very fast.  Faster than I have ever run miles before.  After one I thought “No way.”  After three, I was feeling pretty good, and then after it is done, during the cool down, I was floating on confidence. I was ready for the race, right then.  

During my training I had imagined hundreds of times, making the right off Michigan Ave, then up the little hill and a left turn to the finish line.  Visualizing success – a key motivator, I’ve done it in spades.  Now I am living it.  I know I’m on pace, right turn, up the hill I go, left turn and I see it, the finish line.  

After I cross the line, after they put the blanket on me (I am freezing as  

Chicago Marathon Finish

Making My Time

 

soon as I stop running), after they hang the medal around my neck, I almost cry for the second time in the same day.  I have realized two goals that I’ve worked towards for six years.  I’ve got my Boston qualifier.  I’ve got my 3:30 marathon. It is one of the most amazing feelings.  

What will I remember most about Chicago 2009?  This marathon obsession is a very selfish thing; I am not feeding babies or saving lives. But the support of my family never faltered.  They gave up a lot for me and they were always there to cheer me on.  

Hearing the Cars song at mile 6 will stick with me (I still get tingles when I hear it), as will all the training and that magical final left turn to the finish line.   

The road to the Super Bowl of running was not easy.  Luck played a huge part, no injuries, no colds. Training was absolutely key, without Fernando it would not have happened. But then on race day it was about executing the plan.  I am too old to make any mistakes; the margin for error is very small.  But it worked.  The race was just like a long training run.  I have done it before, only this time I had 45,000 companions.

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