Chicago Marathon, My Last Marathon

I intended to run Charleston marathon in January instead of a spring marathon, but got a cold at the last minute. Thus, this year for the first time in 3 years I didn’t run a marathon in spring. In theory, I had plenty of time to prepare for Chicago in October. In reality, I was procrastinating and didn’t prepare that well. I was always motivated to train to my best, because I wanted to run under 3 hours. I achieved that goal in 2012 in Philadelphia marathon (2:59). Their motto “Best time of your life” was quite adequate in my case. Since then my motivation dropped. Out of curiosity, I compared the difference in training. I looked up the last 10 weeks leading to Philadelphia marathon and the 10 weeks leading to the Chicago marathon. I averaged 59 miles/week before Philly and only 39 miles before Chicago. It was a significant drop—44%. Nevertheless, I estimated I would be able to “cruise” to the finish in 3:10–3:15.

With motivation gone, I didn’t concentrate enough and didn’t visualize myself running the marathon. I didn’t study the course. I even caught myself saying that I was going to bail out. Yet the weather was ideal. About 49°F at the start, sunny, very light breeze. Later, I overheard on radio the conditions were the best in decades. When I spotted the 3-hour pacing group, I knew I would finish the race.

My plan was to keep up with that group for as long as possible. And I would just follow the group. The pacer or rather they, as there were 3 pacers in the group, were running a minute faster than necessary at the beginning. I think it contributed to my falling apart at the end. (I’m looking for excuses). I ran comfortably following the group. I didn’t feel pain, but I didn’t live the marathon. My mind was not set on running.

I saw my family cheering at mile 8. I always prepare a backup shirt and ziplock bag of vaseline for them. I didn’t need anything at this spot. I carried salt and gels on me from the start. I used the first gel at mile 4. Now was the time for the second one. I flushed it with a cup of water—using a straw that I carry, too. I have never learned to drink from a cup while running. The straw is an excellent tool that was recommended to me by an accomplished runner, Fran Dowling. She runs with our group at the Lynbrook Runner’s Stop.

The pacing group ran through the half marathon mark a minute in advance. I felt great and continued following the pacers. I counted elevation bumps (ramps, overpasses, etc.) to kill time. I accounted 6 bumps on the entire course. This was the flattest marathon I have ever run. At mile 22 and little, I saw my family again. My eldest continued running with me. She usually paced me very well in the previous marathons and she was doing a great job again, but this time I was starting to lose the battle.

I was slowing down and at mile 24 I lost the pacing group out of my sight. I was thinking two miles only to the end—piece of cake. But my strength deteriorated pretty quickly. I sank into a mode I call a slow motion. Heavy legs were glued to the road, my vision was black and white only, surrounding sounds mixed together in an unrecognizable hum. The last words I remember from Jackie before she separated were: “Dad, way too many people are passing you.” She was very frustrated.

I looked around and it really seemed like I was standing and just creating an obstacle on the course. Masses of well prepared runners were rolling over me in their last kick. The pacer of the 3:05 group didn’t know he was not supposed to pass me. He didn’t have mercy and passed me about 20 feet before the finish line. I was not eager to see my finish time.

I met with my supporters. We took the subway and I had the luxury to take a bath right after the marathon. It’s rather a rare treat. It felt great except that I threw up—three hours after the marathon. Then, it was all right. We got together with more family members, ordered sandwiches and hit the road. I looked up my official time the following day at my wife’s sister in Michigan—3:04:29. And I was happy. It was a great finale of my marathon phase. Now, I’ll give marathons rest. I’ll concentrate on local 5Ks and 10Ks. Perhaps, I’ll run a marathon again when pacing a friend.