My road to Chicago started way back in March when I was still getting ready for Boston.
I wanted to find something for the fall that would keep me going throughout the spring and summer.
Chicago became the marathon of choice when my training partner and good friend, Lindsay Willard, told me that she was signing up for Chicago too.
Chicago has always been on my to-do list as part of my "sub-3 hour 50 states" marathon quest, so this was perfect.
My fall marathons have been a crap shoot the past few years mainly due to injuries and poor preparation, so I badly wanted a solid race in order to springboard me towards a strong Boston '14.
I was feeling really confident heading into Boston '13 with a goal of sub-2:46. If I could hit my goal at Boston, then I would go for another PR in the fall.
I ended up running 2:45:59 at Boston, and picked up a lot of new training ideas that I wanted to implement leading into the summer, and eventually, Chicago.
I spent the spring and summer cross-training for triathlons, and going to the gym at least once a week to strengthen my core, hips, quads, IT band, and hamstrings. The things that have always broken down on me late into the season.
Every Monday was my easy day: light run or bike in the AM, and then 45 minutes of core and a swim in the evening. Looking back now, these Monday workouts were key in keeping me healthy for the entire year.
For the first time ever I also tried following a set marathon schedule. It was a pretty intense schedule that called for doubles nearly every day with weekly mileage output of 85+ for three months, and upwards of 110 miles for a couple of weeks at the peak.
I use to do this type of mileage all of the time when I wasn't following a set schedule, so I didn't think it would be that difficult, but there was something about following a set schedule that intimidated me.
By the end of the first month of the Chicago training cycle I was never close to hitting my weekly mileage, so I modified the schedule and did my own thing. I backed off the weekly mileage and increased the intensity.
I went back to the way I had trained for my first BQ: reduce the mileage and get use to the marathon target pace (6:10-6:20).
During the peak of my modified Chicago training I only had one week where I went over 85 miles, and averaged only about 65 miles per week. The key was that all of my runs were in the 6:30 or lower pace range. I wanted this pace to feel easy at Chicago.
One other thing that I did was that I ended most of my workouts with at least two miles under 6 minute pace. I even did a few workouts where I went out for 13+ miles at 6 or sub-6 miles for the entire run. These were painful workouts that left me in agony, but I knew that they would pay off come race day.
Again, the key to my health, during and after these intense sessions, always came back to my relatively easy Mondays.
By the time Monday rolled around I felt like a car that was badly in need of a wheel alignment. My stride and coordination was completely off, and I could feel weakness in my hips and IT band.
After completing my 45 minute stretch and strengthening routine, I felt like a new car rolling off of the assembly line.
This became my routine for four straight months.
During this time I managed to set PR's at every distance that I ran, from the mile to the 50K. More importantly, I was able stay injury free, so something was working.
I was now ready to take on my final goal race for the year.
My main goal in Chicago was to set a PR, preferably sub-2:45, in order to get the Boston "A" standard for registration purposes.
I also felt that a sub-2:42 wasn't out of the question based on the way I felt, and the way I had been racing leading into Chicago.
I arrived in Chicago early on Friday and met up with Lindsay at the airport before heading to our respective hotels.
Our hotels were about a mile from the start and finish, so we spent some time checking out the surrounding area, the expo, and then just staying off of our feet.
By Friday afternoon, I was starting to feel really achy and almost feverish. All of my joints were on fire, and our 3 mile shakeout run felt harder than it should have been. This scared me.
I didn't know what was wrong, and chalked it up to the early morning flight. I took an Aleve and started to feel better almost right away. I was still a little worried that the aches and pains would still be there once the medication wore off, so it was nice that I still had another day to rest and see how I felt.
Fortunately, I felt fine after a solid night of sleep and when I woke up at 5:30AM the next morning.
The weather for race day was turning out to be ideal: low 50's at the start with overcast skies and a expected high of 65.
On a dark race morning I met up with Lindsay at 6:30AM near the entrance to our corrals. She went to check in with her sub-elite group. It was the last time I would see Lindsay for awhile.
I went over to bag check and changed into my racing gear.
For gear I opted to go with just a cap, singlet, shorts, gloves, and two gels. I planned to grab a few more gels out on the course around mile 17-18.
It was 7AM by the time I got into one of the many porta-john lines, but it didn't look like I would be able to go before race start. Poor planning on my part and I had even been warned about this by a friend who ran Chicago last year.
It was 7:10AM and I wasn't any closer to the front of the bathroom line.
I had to be in my corral by 7:20AM, for the 7:30AM start, so I decided skip the bathroom, take my chances, and head to my corral before being "locked" out. If you don't get to your assigned corral before the 7:20AM cut-off, then you have to start in the back of the wave. Not something I would want to look forward to if I was hoping to PR.
Fortunately, I found shorter bathroom lines once I got inside the corral area (tip to others), so I did manage to relieve myself one last time before race time. As most runners know, this is always a huge relief, literally.
My pacing plan was to go through the first 5K in a controlled 19:30, the first half between 1:20-1:21, 30K in under 1:57, and then hang on for dear life as I try to negative split the second half with a strong final 10K.
My entire training regiment had been geared towards a negative split marathon, which I had never been able to accomplish before. The flat Chicago course would be the ideal place to do it on.
Even though I was late to my corral I was able to wiggle myself to the front and within 10 rows from the official start line. I was in the middle of pack, warm, and ready to race.
The announcers introduced the elite runners and the gun went off right at 7:30AM with little fanfare. You gotta love and appreciate well organized races.
It took me 15 seconds to reach the start mat and I was off.
I quickly settled into a 6:20 pace, and then trouble struck.
Not just me, but probably everybody with a GPS watch.
About a half mile into the race you go into a tunnel and you lose the GPS signal on your watch. By the time I came out on the other side, my Garmin had me running a 4:30 pace for my first mile!
I usually let my Garmin automatically mark my mile splits, but because of the initial miscalculation, I decided to manually get my mile splits at each official mile marker.
I had never done this before in a race, so it was interesting to see how this would help or hurt me.
The first few miles were clicking off effortlessly for me, so I knew I was in good shape so far. I went through the first 5K in 19:35. Only five seconds off of my target.
The energy over the majority of the Chicago course is amazing! You're running through the downtown area for a good chunk of the race, so I felt like I was running down Boylston St for the first 13 miles at Chicago. It's that good.
It's very easy to go out too fast on a course like Chicago where you have crowds cheering, drums banging, and music blasting inches from you for miles and miles.
Part of the appeal of Chicago is the course layout is very spectator friendly. I managed to see a few friends at least 3 to 4 times throughout the race, and they probably didn't have to walk more than 2 miles in that entire time!
By mile 7 I was beginning to catch up to some of the elite and sub-elite women that started out in front. I kept my eyes peeled for the familair BAA yellow and blue that Lindsay always wears on race day.
It wasn't until right before mile 8 that I eventually caught a glimpse of her and her fluid stride. She was looking strong and fresh, but told me to just GO! as I went by her at 6:10 pace.
I went through the half in 1:21:20, which was slightly slower than I had planned for, but more importantly, I was still in control of my race and feeling great.
My next checkpoint was going to be the 30K mark, since I had just raced the Nahant 30K two weeks prior at my goal marathon pace. I was looking to come in around the same time of 1:56.
I noticed that the running packs were beginning to thin out at this point, and I was hanging around with runners looking for about the same finish times as myself. There wasn't much talking. Just racing.
I went back and forth with a couple of runners, which made the race more interesting, and saw a few others that took off too fast and were now coming back to us in agony.
The 30K mark came and went for me in 1:55:39, which was about a minute faster than my time at Nahant. This was a good sign. This meant that I still had at least 50 minutes to run roughly 7.5 miles in order to get under 2:45.
I was currently averaging a 6:12 pace and not having any issues, so it would take a relatively big and sudden blowup for me not to PR. It was now just a matter of how much I would PR by.
My final checkpoint before laying it all on the line was at the 20 mile mark. All of my training during this cycle had been geared towards the final 10K of the marathon. I knew exactly what I was capable of, and right now I knew exactly how much time I had.
I went through 20 miles in 2:03:55 leaving me with 40 minutes to run a 10K.
I remember telling myself to GUN IT after taking my last GU.
Oddly enough, the only section of the course that stood out for me was Chinatown at Mile 21. I was hit with the familiar smell of Chinatown: roasted duck.
Being Asian, I noticed that a few of the locals became more interested as I ran through, and even got a couple of nice cheers in Chinese for my effort. Yùnxíng!!
With four miles to go I just thought back to the endless miles I trained on the two mile stretch of Sandy Pond Road in Ayer. 2 out. 2 back. Finish strong.
I pictured myself at the turnaround at the end of Sandy Pond Rd at mile 24.
It was time to go home.
The 1 MILE TO GO sign on the course told me that I just had to give less than 7 minutes of my life to reach the finish.
I've got this.
Similar to the NYC Marathon, you have meter markers near the finish to tell you how much running room you have left.
Two laps around the Chelmsford track. Just like I had trained. 3 minutes to go.
I came around the final turn and could see the finish banner off in the distance. It isn't as bad as running Boston where that last quarter mile, after the left on Boylston, feels like an eternity.
It was over before I knew it.
I sprinted across the finish, raised my arms, and instinctively stopped my watch: 2:43:35
I gingerly made my way down the finish area still feeling pretty good. No leg cramps or feelings of being sick. Everything was still functioning.
I was happy with my 2+ minute PR, but more proud of the fact that I was able to run a pretty even race throughout.
I ended up running the first half in 1:21:20 and the second half in 1:22:15 for a +:55 second positive split. One of my better paced marathons.
The only thing left to do was collect my medal, get my bag, change into dry clothes, and begin my recovery routine.
I tried to find out how Lindsay was doing, but couldn't get a hold of anyone right then and there.
I eventually made my way back to the hotel and immediately drew up an ice bath while downing a couple of protein shakes.
I've been a lot better with my post-race recovery routine, since I was trying to figure out if I could possibly run back-to-back sub-3 marathons.
Done with Chicago it was now time to rest, recover, and get ready for the Stonecat 50 Miler on Nov 2nd, Manchester on Nov 3rd, Baton Rouge on Dec 7th, Dallas on Dec 8th, and Rocket City on Dec 14th.