Finally a Race Goes According to Plan: Chi Marathon RR

Sunday was my last official race of the 2012 season and I wanted to make it count.  This was my 3rd straight Chicago Marathon and if you have not run the race, it is a great and fast course.  I signed up for this race in February when registration opened not really thinking that it was a month after Ironman Wisconsin.  Considering it can take 3-6 weeks to fully recover from an Ironman I was a little ambitious.  But I mean my whole season was pretty ambitious; 2 Ironmans in my first season at that distance is tough.  Go big or go home I guess.  Going into this season the plan was always to nail Ironman Wisconsin so the Chicago Marathon might end up just another day at the office where I might cruise in and enjoy it.

That all change during Ironman Wisconsin.  If you follow this blog you know that I had a terrible race so I was going into the marathon with a fire lit under my ass.  I wanted to run this race well and go sub 3 hours.  I had already started thinking that if I did not feel good I would use the Chicago Marathon as a training day then sign up for the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon that I ran in 2010 to use as a race.  Luckily I had some good training leading up to the race and I also realized that my body just needed a break.  The Chicago Marathon would be my last race of my organized season.  I am still going to do some 5/10ks and some cyclocross racing I believe.

So now it was time to come up with my race strategy.  Do I go out with the 3 hour pace group and hope I can hold on?  Do I do what I did last year and start off at around a 3:08 pace than negative split?  I knew I did not want to start off too slow since I figured I could not negative split by like 5 minutes.  So my plan was, thanks to some online reading and strategies I’ve read, was to run the first 10 miles at around 7:-7:10 pace then see how I feel.  After those 10 miles the plan was to pick it up to around 6:40’s for at least 6 miles then see how I feel.  In a perfect world I wanted to then break down the final 10 miles into 5 more of 6:40-6:50 in hopes that I was already on pace for a 3 hour race then hang out for the last 5 miles.

Garmin Race File

Well that strategy went pretty much as planned.  The weather forecast for the race was going to be upper 30’s at the start and high 40’s at the end with some sun and around 10 MPH winds blowing southeast.  PERFECT running weather.  Woke up on the 7th, had my bagel with pb&j along with my Ensure.  Got all my stuff together then bundled up and headed out with my parents to the start.  I got to the start about 45 minutes early to find their was NO line at the port-o-potties which I have never seen in a race, especially one with 40,000 runners.  So of course I had to pee so I went to use them; well it looks like I was the first one to use it.  Hmm, this place blocks the wind and is warmer than outside.  So as gross as it might be I sat inside the plastic cover for a few minutes to keep myself warm.  Then I headed to my corral and sat around the grass for a while.

At the start of the race I ran with the 3:05 pace group since that pace was 7:03 min/mile so I figured I would stay with them for a while so I did not have to pace myself at all which would save some energy.  Well the problem with this pace group was none of the 3 pacers wore a GPS watch so they were going by feel.  That’s all good and all but everyone feels like a million bucks at the start of the race so two of the pacers were running faster and the third had to keep running forward to tell them to slow down.  So I got sick of this yo-yoing and started to run at my pace and keep them in front of me.  I don’t really like running in big groups so at around mile 6 I passed this pace group and started to run in front of them but still looking back to see them to keep me in check.  I saw my parents a few times in the first few miles then knew my girlfriend and another friend would be at about mile 8 so I had that to look forward to.

Mile 8ish. I was pointing out a dog that was behind my GF.

The first 10 miles I averaged between 6:50-7:08 min/mile, I was right on track.  At mile 10 I started to pick it up a bit and started running 6:40-6:50s.  My first 13.1 mile time was 1:31:35 so I was a minute and 35 seconds down.  I needed to gain 10 seconds per mile for the rest of the race which meant 6:42’s for the rest of the race.  I was not sure how I would feel the last few miles so I wanted to bank some time in case my legs started to fade.  Then at about mile 16 I picked it up some more.  I started to tick off some sub 6:40 miles because I was still behind my sub 3 hour goal.  It was not until around mile 22 that I was on pace for a 3 hour marathon.   So at that point I pretty much knew I had it.  My legs were feeling good and there was not wall in sight so I kept up the pace.  At the 40k mark I was only 25 seconds under the 3 hour mark so those last 2 plus miles I really made sure to keep up the pace.  My last 3.3 miles were 6:36, 6:40 then 7:36 for the last 1.2 miles which is around 6:15 min/mile or so.  Here are my Chicago Marathon kilometer splits from the website.

But before I could cross the finish line I had to get up the hill with about 600 yards left.  Normally this little incline would not be much but after 26 miles of quad pounding running there is nothing worse, well maybe running downhill would be worse, than running up a hill.  The good thing is there are probably around 10 thousand fans screaming at the top of their lungs pushing you forward.  My girlfriend was also at this part of the race but because it was so loud and so packed I could not hear or see her.  But finally I make the turn and see the finishing shoot.  I was going to make it!  I cross the line, stop my watch 2:58:38!  Almost a 5 minute PR from last year to go along with a 2:57 second negative split.

I was cursing at this hill the whole way up.

The one thing that I can point to that made this race easier than past years was my Ironman training.  At no point in the race did I get mentally down.  Normally you get to mile 18 and think “shit, I still have 8 miles left”.  But since I am used to 6-9 hour training days that mental part was more like “mile 18, only 8 miles left!”.  And that is a HUGE lift.  Finally I raced a good race and a race that went according to plan.  Now that I know I can go sub 3, I am thinking of low to mid 2:50s for Boston or next year’s Chicago Marathon.  Going sub 3 on only a few weeks of race pace workouts was kind of a shock to me but I did it.  It’s over!  Now time to relax for a week then do whatever the heck kind of training I want until like January when I have to get focused on Boston!

Final race stats:

2:58:38 (6:49 min/mile)

743rd overall and 173rd in my AG