ORN: Yesterday, I ran 26.2 miles in a personal-best 5:05'17".
Wifey and I went to Chicago with Chris and Helga, staying in the Congress Plaza Hotel. We were right across from Grant Park, perfectly situated to get from my bed to the starting line. We arrived Friday night, however, in plenty of time to see some of the city. On Saturday, we went to the Expo and got bags full of free swag. I started to get excited. Sadly, many fellow bloggers hit the Expo on Friday, so I missed out on meeting some people I would have liked to have met. Oh well. Let's skip ahead.
The night before the big race, the four of us met up with Trish and Fletch, fellow Louisvillians, and hit the town. We ate at the Italian Village. I had the stereotypical spaghetti and marinara sauce because I didn't want to eat anything too heavy. I wish I had ordered the pumpkin ravioli, but I still enjoyed my meal. [We had dessert there Friday night, and I had the best Limoncello. Alas, no hooch the night before the marathon.] Afterward, we went to the hotel and got to bed as soon as we could, near midnight.
Up at 6:15, I geared up, gobbled down a bagel, lathered up my tenders with Bodyglide, and headed to the lobby with my entourage. It was pandemonium down there. Even in the hotel lobby, there were tons of people milling about, headed this way and that -- stretching, dressing, undressing. Outside, we encountered the hordes. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of people were all descending on Grant Park, either to run [33,419 official finishers] or to support the runners. We fought the crowds to get my bag, filled with after-race clothes and junk, to the American Cancer Society tent in the Charity Village. Unfortunately, we soon lost Wifey in the throng, and I got anxious that I'd not be able to kiss her one last time before the start. Time was running out. After much fruitless searching and calling on the celly, no joy. She was lost. Chris and I had to make it to the starting corral. Once we found a spot to stand, I had to pee. Of course.
He was injured with terrible plantar fasciitis, so he was just going to cross the start and drop out. We stood around, packed like sardines for about 30 minutes until we could begin shuffling toward the starting line. Chris and I exchanged words, I handed him my sweatshirt, and then I took off.
Start - 10K
The first section of the race was me trying to stay slow. I tried to keep my pace right at 11 minutes per mile, and it wasn't difficult, especially since it was wall-to-wall humans all around. The crowds of spectators were AWESOME the whole way, and I spent as much time gawking at all the people as I did gawking at the city and watching Rudy, my Garmin, to keep my pace in check.
Even though I had used the bathroom several times before the race, as I said, I had to pee from before the starting gun. Every water station had portable toilets, but they were all packed. Finally, when we made it to Lincoln Park, I noticed people -- men and women -- using the trees, so I did the same. I watered a tree for what seemed like a couple minutes, and then ran relieved for the first time in an hour.
Still, at this point I felt great and was having a great time.
10K - Halfway
This portion of the race is a blur to me. I felt great, and I was having so much fun watching the crowds that I can't even recall many specifics. All I know is that I decided after 6 miles I was sufficiently warmed up, and I had started off slow, and it was time to turn up the heat. I picked up the pace to between 10 and 10:30 per mile. I started passing people.
My hydration/gel plan was working. I started to feel hungry about mile 10 and popped a gel. I instantly felt better. The water/gatorade stations were perfectly distanced, and the volunteers handed out just a mouthful of liquid at a time. Perfect for me. Things were looking good.
13 miles - 20 miles
This is where things started going downhill for me. I started getting tired. I started having trouble maintaining a 10:30 pace, even. Still, I was feeling good. I wasn't hurting anywhere. I was just getting tired. I ran into my entourage at mile 16. Chris ran out and patted me on the back. I quickly handed him my hat, thanked him, said hi to Wifey, all in a span of seconds as I ran by. It was great seeing them and did a wonders for my mood. I picked up the pace and ran on.
I think around mile 18, some people were handing out small cups of Negro Modelo [beer]. I took a couple mouthfuls and did not regret it. It was refreshing, but it did sit heavily on my stomach. Beer is beer, though. I love beer. It made me happy at a time when I needed it. Thanks people at mile 18!
On I ran, and on and on. The first time I felt like crying was at the 20 mile mark. I felt tears welling in my eyes as I passed that mark, but I kept it in check. 20 miles. Just a 10K to go. 20. 20.
Wrapping it all up
Somewhere between 24 and 25, I think, I ran past a section where there was a group of people blasting an Obama speech with a phat hip-hop beat behind it. It was a speech where he talked about his grandfather and father, how they came from Kenya to America and built their life. Like many of Obama's best speeches, it was incredibly inspiring and motivational. This was the second time I nearly lost it to weeping. After that, it seemed like the last two miles, as I plodded up Michigan Avenue, crept by. So slowly, I creeped toward the finish. But the crowds were going nuts, encouraging us, telling us we looked great, urging us forward. Pure will was driving the bus at this point, because I was exhausted.
As I made the last turn into Grant Park, at the 26 mile mark, I caught sight of the finish line. And then, looking left, I saw some bleachers. And in them, I saw my wife and my friends all cheering for me. Wifey was smiling and yelling. I looked like this:
The smiling is joy at seeing my wife and friends and being within a couple hundred feet of being able to stop running. I was done.
I finished in a respectable time of 5:05'17", which was 20 minutes faster than my last marathon. I wanted to go under 5 hours, but you always wish you had done better. Those five minutes were easily the stretch breaks, the walk breaks, the pee breaks, but you know what? I needed those. I don't regret a thing. I had a tremendous day. I had a fun marathon.
I turned in my chip, got my medal, grabbed a beer and got on with my day. I inteded to go to the Cancer Society tent and get my free massage, but the place was a madhouse. I just wanted to go home. I wanted to get my crap and go. I was done with crowds. I needed a shower and a fresh set of clothes.
I limped back to the hotel and got those things. In short order, we packed and loaded the car and left. We drove from Chicago to Louisville in 5+ hours, then collected Little One from the grandparents. I finally got to bed way too late, but I slept like the dead.
Today, we've been taking it easy. We've had doughnuts and lots of TV. Wifey got me an hour-long massage, and then I took a hot bath. I am amazed at how good I feel. Stiff as I am, I have nothing to complain about. I feel great.
More post-race thoughts later on. Time for more spaghetti.