(I will have more photos and comments on a separate page shortly.)
THE 2011 CHICAGO MARATHON IS IN THE BOOKS, and I’m home safe and sound starting my recovery week. I hear that some people experience a letdown after completing a marathon, but only two little things bothered me; I had hoped to run faster, and I had to go back to work on Monday. Other than that, feeling good!
Because this was my first marathon and didn’t want to push too hard, I decided not to run in a seeded start corral (those with an expected pace time) and chose the Open field instead. I knew it would be crowded at first, but the crowds always thin out after a few miles, right? Perhaps I should have gotten a clue of what lay ahead when our part of the field finally got to the official starting line 20 minutes after the opening gun.
I learned my first lesson pretty early on – if you’re running with the crowd, the streets of Chicago are not wide enough. I dodged, ducked, squeezed through, and otherwise tried to make some headway, but mostly waited for the crowd to thin out. And waited. And waited… Sometimes there would be space for a half mile or so, but at the next aid station, the road narrowed, people slowed down, and it was right back to the cattle drive.
One benefit of a slower pace was that I had time to take in more of what was going on around me – the cheers from the crowd, the signs they held up, and the slogans and such on the shirts the runners wore. I have a Panasonic Lumix camera for just such events, and as you can see, the image stabilization is excellent – I took just about all the photos while running. I wasn’t able to get shots of many signs, as by the time I saw them I was nearly past them, but here’s a sampling of what I saw:
- Run Like You Stole Something
- DO EPIC SHIT
- Pain is Temporary – Pride is Forever
- If This Was Easy, *I* Would Do It!
- Chuck Norris Never Ran A Marathon
And at least 4 signs that read, “GO JEFF” so I must have a lot of fans!
They had Gatorade and water at the aid stations (about 1.5 miles apart). The challenge was to avoid slipping on the carpet of discarded cups and dodging the volunteers raking them to the sides of the road. At the stations where they handed out sponges, it became a real obstacle course. There were also a number of spectators with sprinklers and hoses spraying into the street, and on a warm day with no clouds, they were very popular.
The food started appearing around mile 16 – a good thing, since one of my gels had fallen off early in the race, and I used my remaining one at mile 14. I discovered that a Jolly Rancher lasts about five miles, and in addition to providing a nice steady trickle of sugar, kept my mouth from drying out. Something to remember for future long runs.
They say “the wall” hits most runners around mile 20 or so. I never hit it, but things definitely got more challenging at that time. My calves began to ache, and it took significant mental effort to keep running. The aid stations became an excuse to walk for a few seconds rather than hydrate, and I was thoroughly sick of Gatorade and tepid water. It didn’t help that my Garmin said I was running farther than the mile markers indicated, and it got worse every mile. Which to believe? No matter – the finish line was the finish line, and I had to ignore the watch and just gut it out.
To my surprise, however, my breathing remained regular and smooth all the way through, even on the long hill leading up to the finish. I passed a lot of winded people those last six miles. The crowd got bigger and louder on the final mile. Shouts of, “You got this!” and “You’re almost there!” rang all around. And as I crossed the finish line, the announcer congratulating first-time marathoners called out my name. Woo hoo! I was further congratulated by the volunteers handing out the foil blankets, finisher medals, and cold beer. (Yes, everyone, I had a beer. Deal with it.)
Here is how my time of 4 hours, 11 minutes, 54 seconds fared. Not as fast as I’d hoped, but my main goal was just to finish, and to be in the top half of my age group ain’t too shabby.
Am I glad I went? Absolutely. I had a great time. Should I go back next year, however, I will definitely use a seeded start corral, so I have a shot at a much better time and less of a mob around me.
P.S. Yes, I am aware that a woman gave birth just a few hours after running the marathon. Does it bother me that earlier this year, already pregnant, she ran a marathon just 12 minutes slower than my time? No. Not at all. Not one bit…