Race report, Chicago Marathon 2009
Poor Steph had to put up with my tossing and turning the night before. I set the bedside clock for 4:30 am to eat breakfast, but I didn't need the alarm. I got out of bed at 4:15. Steph got up with me.
I left home at 5:30 am and drove to the Howard St. L, but without traffic I got there 15 minutes before my train's departure. I sat in my car with my blue sweatshirt, blue hat and black gloves, and waited for the 6:00 am red line train. I kept thinking someone was going to mistake me for a burglar.
Fortunately, when I got on the train, I was the only person in my compartment. I could obsess and worry in privacy. At the next stop, however, an older women got on and for some reason sat directly across from me. We were eye to eye on a completely empty train compartment. I wanted to move, but I didn't want to be rude. It took my mind off of my worries.
As we got closer to the loop, the train filled with runners, and their friends and family. I got off at the Jackson St. exit. It was already 6:45, the time my friend Charlie Parekh and I had planned to meet up. As I started off to our meet up spot, I was perplexed by the fact that everyone was walking away from the Lake (the direction of the start line). After 2-3 minutes, I figured out I was walking in the wrong direction! I righted myself and walked briskly to the N.E. corner of Van Buren and Michigan Ave. Charlie was waiting for me. We started walking to the open corral, where we'd begin the race.
The corral is organized by runners' anticipated pace, e.g., 7 minute milers lined up in front of 8 minute milers, who lined up in front of 9 minute milers, etc. We entered the corral at the 12 minute section and waded our way up to the 9 minute milers. We made it only as far as the 10 minute milers, and it became too crowded to go further. Ok, so the race has not even started, and I'm already screwed. I’ll have to fight my way through the thousands of people in front of me and around me in order to get into my pace group. Charlie insisted we were fine. He was right. While we waited, Charlie showed me how to set my watch to track my pace during the race.
The race started at 7:30 am and I crossed the start line 7 minutes and 40 seconds later. I finished my first mile in 9:19. At this pace, I'd never finish in under 4 hrs! Charlie didn’t seem worried, but said he'd follow me if wanted to pick it up. I started ducking and weaving, and in the process lost Charlie. I passed the 3 mile marker in 27:10, and reached the 6 mile marker in 54:10. At this point, I was still slightly off pace but I felt much better. The crowd had dissipated slightly, I was running through Lincoln Park , and the sun was shining.
Just prior to the 6 mile marker, I relieved myself at the aid station port-o-john and took my first drink. From here on out I would force myself to take a shot of gatoraide at each aid station. In hindsight, this was a good decision. In my training runs I was ad hoc in hydrating and I think this may have been in part why my long runs were such a chore. With aid stations every 2 or so miles, it was easy to hydrate consistently through out the race.
Upon reaching Boys Town , I ran back into Charlie. I ran with him for about a half mile, and then behind him for another half mile before I lost him entirely. This was around mile 8, and by this point I was comfortable with my pace, and happy to run on my own from here on out.
At mile 10, I had planned to take my first gel, but I felt good and decided to hold off. If I waited another couple miles, then I could skip the free Powerbar gel at mile 18 (which I'd never tried before) and rely on my three GUs. I stopped at the 12.5 mile aid station and took my first gel with a couple shots of water. At this point, my ankles were sore but my knees felt fine. I discarded my gloves and shoved my hat in my pocket for possible future use. Less than a mile later, at the halfway point, I put my hat back on and wished that I'd not discarded my gloves. I'd not run with a hat before, but my bald head was happy to be covered.
Miles 14 through 19 were mentally the hardest part of the race. The crowd was thin (and pretty much non-existent by the United Center), my knees started getting sore, it was too early to contemplate the finish line, and my left leg felt like it might be cramping.
As planned, I stopped for my second gel just after the 17 mile mark. At the aid station I received a very kind and much needed pat on the back from an elderly couple. From here on out, my left leg remained sore but (thank goodness!) it didn't cramp.
Next up were Pilsen and Chinatown , the two most memorable neighborhoods of my journey. Pilsen is a largely Hispanic neighborhood. The crowd was thick and the bars were blaring salsa music. I passed the 20 mile mark in under 3 hours. I was exhausted, but at least could finally start thinking about the finish line and (god forbid) getting there in under 4 hours.
The crowd in Chinatown was even more packed and even more raucous than in Pilsen. Some guy informed me he had just the cure for me, and then started ringing his cowbell. Very funny.
After leaving Chinatown, at around mile 22 I stopped at an aid station and downed my final gel. I was on track for a sub-4 hour finish, but I had slowed down during the last mile. I was anxious to get to the mile 23 marker to check my pace, but when we reached what I though was mile 23, I could not find the marker. My watch says 3:31, and still no mile 23?! However, a short while later I heard someone yell “just 2.2 more miles, you’re almost there!” Like hell I’m “almost there.” But I am at mile 24 and my watch says 3:38. This was the moment I realized I was going to finish in less than 4 hours. I picked up my pace just slightly, but it felt like I was flying. I was blowing by folks, and I felt good.
I kept looking on the horizon for Roosevelt (the street where you make the final right hand turn before the finish line). At the point I spotted Roosevelt, I heard someone yelling from behind me “David … hey Dad!” I turned back to see Sam, then Oliver, and then finally Stephanie. I ran back to get a hug from the boys and a kiss from Steph. I remember telling Steph “I am going to do it after all!” and Steph telling me to get back in the race. And I was back at it for the turn up Roosevelt, and then the final climactic left-hand turn onto Columbus Drive. When I spotted the finish line, I shed a tear.
Moments later I crossed the finish line in 10,244th place, and with a time of 3:56:51.