Monday, October 08, 2007

A Tale of Two (Half) Marathons

Or, Marathon Hell.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. This is my 2007 Chicago Marathon experience. Heavy emphasis on worst of times.

In a word: Surreal.

My time? Pathetic.

Am I disappointed? Only a little in that you always want to have a pleasant experience after so much work and effort to get to the starting line. It was not in the cards on Sunday. I'm very happy to have finished though. It was a crazy day. There were times I thought I'd have to leave the course.

In the matter of one mile, I went from debating whether or not I should keep my 7:20 pace for another mile or so to Will I Be Able To Finish?

But I'm getting ahead....

The gory statistics:

Chip Time: 4:18:12
Pace: 9:50

First Half time: 1:36:09 ( 7:20 pace)
Second Half Time: 2:42:03!! (12:20 pace?!)

You can see where the problems started.

The Start

I started in corral B and, let me tell you, it was nice to be so close to the starting mat. I crossed a short 90 seconds after the gun and was able to lapse into pace right off the bat. I even ran much of the first mile near The Joggler guy (the dude that juggles during the whole marathon). That was neat to see him work.

Miles 1-9

I was moving pretty good here staying around a 7:12 pace. I felt the heat. There was a point around the mile 5-6 range where it seemed like I really needed a water station and one never came. It might have been mental just due to the heat and crowd but it did get to me a bit. Though I was right on my goal pace through the first 1/3 of the marathon, I knew in the back of my head that this was going to be no PR race for me. The heat was already dragging me down a bit. I took in the sights of North Chicago...the fans...the buildings...I really tried to see everything this year. Last year, I didn't even look up. At 15k, I was at 1:07:15 (7:12 pace). On pace!

Miles 10-13.1

I noticed something "not right" happening during these miles. I was really starting to wear down quickly. I think some dehydration was setting in. I pulled back on my pace a bit and tried to just keep moving. Even though I really wanted to stop and walk a bit, I kept pleading with myself to make it across the half marathon mark before taking a walking break. I was taking fluids at every aid station but, in hindsight, probably not enough to replenish what I was losing from the sweat just running off of me in buckets. By the time I crossed the half mat, my leg muscles were starting to twitch a bit and were feeling very heavy. At the half-marathon, 1:36:09 (7:20 pace). I wanted a 1:35 at this point but, considering the conditions, I was still alright with this time.

So here I am at the half marathon mark, unknowingly dehydrated, sensing something is not right but unable to really do anything about it other than take in extra helpings of fluids at every aid station. I've never experienced a race dehydration or cramping situation - even in training - so what happened next was a complete first for me.

Miles 14-15

I started cramping in my left calve just below the back of the knee shortly past the half mark. A knot developed that caused me to kick my leg out to the side and I immediately stop running to work it out. I walked a bit and ran some more. Another 1/4 and the cramp returned. I dramatically slowed my pace. At this point, I knew I was in for some trouble but wanted to just get to the finish no matter how long it took. PR's, a second BQ were out the window. Maybe still beat my 3:36 Chicago time from last year? Maybe! Here I was walking to mile marker 14 after knocking out my goal times for the previous 13 miles. Despair! Helplessness! I was still able to run a bit though. Short walk breaks, longer run segments...I'll get there eventually.

Miles 16-18

It ain't happening. I can now no longer sustain a run past 20 steps. Both my left and right calves are horribly cramping whenever I go into a running gallop. I can walk though. In fact, I can power walk. No problems with cramping there but just during a running motion. Chicago PR is now gone. There is nothing left but to get to the finish line. Please don't let the cramps get so bad where I can't even walk. Every 1/4 mile or so I'd give another attempt at a run just to check things out and - BAM! - cramps, knots, general unhappiness. The legs below the knee are a mess. Looks like I'm walking to the finish now. How about that. I never would have thought this would happen. Heck, just a few miles ago I was moving through the course alright.

Miles 19-23

More power walking. I'm amazed that I can really move the legs fast while walking but absolutely cannot get into a run without the cramps returning. I think I can finish now. Thankfully, the cramps aren't hitting during the walking stride. A slow tour of the Mexican Village, Little Italy and Chinatown. Interesting. I didn't get to take these in last year but I sure got a look at them this time. I'm slamming Gatorade and 2 waters at every station, eating bananas, and taking anything anyone was handing out. I was not going to DNF. I was not going to fall over on the side of the road. I was seeing people getting medical attention all along the route now. That's enough to keep you sane, realistic, and accepting of food and hydration. Somewhere in here I recorded a 5k time of around 45 minutes! Well, there's a first for everything right?

Mile 24

Another attempt at a run leaves me with a bulging right groin after just 3 steps. How about that? It's actually protruding an inch. Another new experience. I guess I'll continue power walking. The legs are shot.

Mile 25-26

Yep, more power walking. Of course, I'm envious of those still running and looking reasonably fresh all things considered. More power to them. All around me I see people wearing 3:20 pace team bibs. I'm not the only one struggling. As Mike pointed out, it was Night of the Living Dead as there was a veritable zombie march coming down Michigan Ave trying to get to the finish. Various temperatures on store fronts read between 92 and 98 degrees. Last year I saw people walking and pulling off at this point of the course as I ran by and I wondered what it would feel like to be so close but unable to run. Now I know. Except, I had been walking for much of the past 10 miles.

Right at the 26 mile sign, I heard a police officer on a bullhorn imploring people to stop running and to please walk to the finish. I didn't know what that was all about. I learned after finishing that they had already closed the race and were re-routing people to the finish as quickly as possible. At the 26 mile marker, try telling people who just went through hell to walk to the finish. People were starting to run as fast as they could now. I tried on Randolph St. I couldn't.

The Finish

Coming down Columbus to the finish, I was both thrilled and disappointed. It is a long, freakin' way to walk 10 miles. Much easier to run it I think. I was thrilled to be done but very disappointed that this was how it turned out. I tried to run again at the 200 meter mark. More cramps and knots aborted it again. At the 100 meter mark, I did in fact manage to run across the finishers mat. A small accomplishment in a disastrous second half of the race. I earned that medal, I thought.

Despite my time, I think my feeling of accomplishment still overwhelms my sense of disappointment. That was a race so far out of the norm that time, records, and other goals had to go out the window. I am envious of those who ran a smarter race and were still able to come close to their goals. I feel for those who were unable to finish. I think, however, that the circumstances of this particular race should not leave anyone feeling disappointed in their own efforts. How can you properly prepare for something like this? I could have done better with early race pacing and hydration but you live, you learn.

I had a great weekend in Chicago nonetheless and the experience taught me a lot. I have many interesting memories and stories attached to that finisher's medal.

Of course, the overall feeling of the day has to be one of sadness for the individual who died and the others left in critical condition. It's so wrong to have that attached to an event that should be uplifting and empowering. A tragedy.

What an experience. Standing so bright eyed and and anxious at the starting line, I had no idea what the next 4+ hours would hold. It was not what I was expecting.

More to come.

Happy trails.


Russ said...

I'm impressed with your fortitude in finishing...pretty sure I would have bagged it and picked another marathon in about 1 month.

I agree with your sadness over losing a life. It is a tragedy. Unfortunately it will be used by some to mock what we do as unhealthy.

Tom@RunnersLounge said...

You described the ordeal so well. It was crippling, wasn't it.

I so admire your courage and tenacity. You're a high caliber runner and it's so frustrating when these conditions break us down.

Recover well.

L*I*S*A said...

It was surreal.

That about sums it up for me.

Great job on finishing. You did a great job in those brutal conditions.

Mir said...

As soon as I crossed the line in the Twin Cities, I started wondering how Chicago went for you and the others I know who, survived it. I heard it hit 90 and who knows what heat index. My hat's off to you--finishing that marathon in those conditions is no less an achievement than PRing or anything one measures these things by. I admire your tenacity--I think most in your place would have dropped out.

I hope you suffer no ill effects from the ordeal! May your next marathon be cool and cloudy!

peter said...

It was the march of the Zombies down Michigan Avenue all right. Nice finish time.

Nancy said...

Wow, unbelievable. I applaud you fortitude, but more so, your attitude. I'm SOOOO glad you said your sense of accomplishment outweighs the disappointment. I would hate for you to be disappointed at this unbelievable effort.

Arron said...

congrats on the finish. i hope you are feeling better. this was my first. it was crazy. i cant even organize my thoughts yet. it was just crazy.

Tri+Umph said...

Your story from Chicago is very similar to mine; except I managed to avoid the cramping.

I started to feel tired a little before the half, then completely fell apart once we lost the shade of downtown. Great job on the finish, Chicago '07 is a race that goes down in the history books!

Mike G said...

Very nice tale of this particularly hellish race. I had read of it but your story really put it in perspective.