As I layed in the hotel bed next to my son – who kept me up most of the night – I rolled over and looked at the clock for what surely seemed like the thousandth time. In a few minutes the first of five alarms would sound alerting me that the day I trained five months for was finally here. I rolled out of bed at 4:30 a.m. and began my day.
After taking a quick shower to help wake up, I slowly began dressing in the days attire making every effort not to wake the kids. My wife woke up and helped make me breakfast – oatmeal with walnuts and fruit, a granola bar and a banana. Eating a ‘normal’ breakfast is very hard in a hotel room 1,000 miles from home with no microwave, refrigerator or even continental breakfast available.
As all smart runners do, I laid out all my gear and clothing the night before and triple checked for missing items. That way if I woke up late, I knew exactly what I needed. Fortunately that didn’t happen and I was able to take my time. I left the hotel room after a kiss from my wife and my early rising daughter and took a cab to the CARA VIP area at the Blu Aqua Radisson a few blocks north of the starting line.
After a quick cab ride, I arrived and entered the VIP area where my charity – Team Up with Autism Speaks had a designated area. Team members arrived quickly and we snapped as many photos as we could in the short time before the race started. It was great to meet people from all over the United States there supporting the same cause. I left the hotel at 6:30 a.m., one hour before the start of the race and walked the few blocks to the security checkpoint. My first mistake of the day was not leaving myself enough time to get through security without be rushed and having to jog to my corral. I made it through security and then had a rather long walk through a maze of fencing to my start corral.
Each corral was separated by different entrances guarded by no less than a dozen volunteers each checking and re-checking that you were allowed in that corral. After security, the long walk/jog and perhaps the use of wall (along with dozens of other men) I entered my corral with 10 minutes to spare before they locked the entrance.
I found my Nike+ Pace Team at the front of my corral and made my way to join them. As I settled my heart rate from the excitement and close call, I noticed people beginning to clap, cheer and whistle. I turned around and watched in awe as the wheelchair athletes made their way to the start line passing right next to where I was standing. The Star Spangled Banner was sung and it was almost time to begin.The time is 7:30 on the nose when the elite runners begin and everything else happened so quickly. I crossed the starting line on my 26.2 mile journey at 7:32 a.m. The start was crazy – dodging volunteers and runners as everyone was jockeying for position. I knew I wasn’t about to win, but I had to be sure to stay with my pace team.
I find it hard to truly enjoy a race while running it. I can’t look around and take in the sights as I pass locations. If I did I would have been trampled! The beginning miles were a blur of emotions but the one thing I remember vividly was the smile on my face. I couldn’t get it off in fact – at least until later.
I made it halfway through the race in spectacular fashion crossing the timing mat in 1:34:21 – 39 seconds ahead of pace and running very consistently. It was great being able to spot my family in the crowd right at the 13-mile mark and waving to my wife and son. Knowing I had their support was crucial to accomplish my goal.
The back half of the race went about par for the course with me. I cramped! I apparently have still not figured out my issue, despite attempts to analyze and rectify whatever is causing this to happen. I trained adequately, I hydrated properly, I consumed carbs while running and even methodically took Salt Capsules to help prevent cramping. None of it mattered.
At miles 21 & 22 my pace slowed down and I lost sight of my pace team. By mile 23 the cramping in my right hamstring began – locking up my leg and freezing me on the course. A volunteer lent me his shoulder to rest on while I massaged my leg in an effort to get back in the race. I began moving but barely able to walk for what seemed like eternity, although in reality it was less than a minute. I finished the 23rd mile 51 seconds off pace and my troubles were just starting.
During miles 24 and 25 the cramping moved from my right hamstring to both quads, directly around my kneecaps. This wasn’t nearly as bad and I was still able to walk, just not run. The worse part was this was a part of the course with a lot of photographers snapping photos and mine did not turn out well. I looked like a hot mess. I was a hot mess as a I finished these two miles a total of three minutes off of pace. Mile 26 brought more disappointing moments as I just starting to jog again when my right hamstring decided to be mean and cramp again right in front of the 800 meters to go sign – and right in front of the final section of spectators cheering.
I crossed the finish line of my third marathon in 3:17:34. I missed my goal of 3:15:00 by only 2:34. After making my way through the finish chute and collecting my medal, a heat sheet, food, water and of course a beer, I sat on a curb and quickly lost my emotions for a short time. In the immediate aftermath of finishing the Chicago Marathon I was disappointed in myself. I was disappointed that the months of hard work I had put in and to come so short of my goal. My goal was not unreasonable or unattainable. It simply did not happen. I left the finishing area and slowly made my way to the runner re-unite area to see my wife and children. My wife had a big hug and kiss for me and it was great to be able to take my medal from my neck and put it around my son; after all, he was my motivation for running with Team Up!
After a week of recovery and time to reflect on the race in general I’m extremely happy with my performance. I took 18 minutes and 18 seconds off my previous personal best time and in the process, proved to myself I am able to accomplish amazing things. Last year I wanted to run a 3:30 marathon and fell 6 minutes short. This year I set my bar higher and achieved higher. It just goes to show “you will never know your limits unless you push yourself to them.”