Well, I’ve completed the 2010 Chicago Marathon. It was a great experience and a real testament to how ChiRunning has transformed my running life. Here’s my story:
Back in December of 2009, our friends in Chicago asked my husband, Bryan, and I if we would join their charity team, “Miles for Magic” for the Chicago Marathon. Team members would commit to running the race and raising $500 each for the charity they started, “Open Heart Magic,” www.openheartmagic.org. It’s a wonderful organization that sends volunteer magicians into hospitals to entertain ill children.
My husband had done his first Ironman in September of 2009, and was still feeling “burnt out” from that, and I had just run the LasVegas Marathon and was nursing another serious IT band injury, but we still could not refuse to help out this great cause.
With 9 months to get ready for the marathon, I knew I had plenty of time to train, but not sure if I would be able to avoid the dreaded ITBS issues I have struggled with in my first 2 marathons. My first marathon was Chicago in 2005, but there I also struggled with serious IT Band issues, and had to take 3 months off of running after the race.
In training for Vegas, I had ChiRunning in my mind, but my main goal was speed and trying to improve my time from my first marathon. In beginning my training for Chicago, I decided to reverse that equation and instead focus on FORM first.
As soon as my IT Band recovered enough to allow me to run again (mid January), I began running very short distances (my first runs were only 1/4 mile long), choosing only a couple of ChiRunning focuses to concentrate on each run. Per Danny’s Dreyer’s suggestion in the ChiRunning book, I would set the timer on my watch and alternate between the two focuses for a given amount of time (1-5 minutes). At the end of the run I would try to hold both focuses together. Because my IT Band injury was still pretty fresh, I also heeded Danny’s suggestion to tune into my body and notice any knee or hip pain, and try to make adjustments to my form to alleviate it while running. All of this running I was doing at a very easy pace. Annoyingly slow it seemed at first, but again, I wanted my focus to be form above distance or speed.
In addition to making my running very form focused, I also decided to heed another word of advice from the ChiRunning Book and start to practice the ChiRunning focuses all day long (not just when running). As often as I could remember I’d check in with my posture and make sure I was engaging my core and leveling my pelvis. I would practice leaning into the counter when I was making my kids meals, or brushing my teeth. I would also try to walk with relaxed ankles and let my toes just dangle down with each step.
Around this same time, late January, I decided to sign up for the Certified ChiRunning Instructor training to be held in Chicago in May. I was not sure that I would have the technique “down” enough by then, but I figured I would learn a lot going through the 4 months of intensive home-study and practice teaching that was required prior to the training. One of the suggestions in the instructor training manual was to place a strip of masking tape on a full-length mirror to check that the points of my posture were connected (hip, shoulder, ankle). This step alone helped me tremendously. Every morning I would “check in” with my posture, by lining myself up with the masking tape. I would then take a “mental snapshot” and try to carry that good posture feeling through my workout and the rest of my day.
I also began video-taping myself running every few weeks. (Yes, I would bring my camcorder and tripod to the gym and set it up near a treadmill.) Video is sooo revealing, and a lot of the things I thought I was doing I was not. One of the things that immediately popped out on the video tape was that I was running with a foot splay (feet turned out slightly to the side). It was worse on the left side, but there on the right too. After seeing this clearly on the video, I then started to take note of how I walked and stood during the day. Sure enough, I did those things with a foot splay too. I decided to make a concious effort to point my feet forward as much as possible during the day. Anytime I would catch myself “slacking off” and turning them out (which was often) I would point them forward again. It took about 40 days or 6 weeks of self-correction til standing and walking without the turnout became natural, but it happened!
After 4 months of easy short distance running, I had very gradually worked my way up to about 6 miles and it was time to begin a training program for the marathon which was now only 5 months away. I wanted to follow a lengthy program that would give me time to build my mileage up slowly. I also wanted to keep form as my main focus. I chose the ChiRunning Intermediate Marathon Training Program. The program includes a workout called “Form Intervals” throughout where you alternate 2 different ChiRunning focuses throughout the workout. It also provides a sensible mileage buildup, as well as tempo and speed workouts to help you prepare specifically for your target race. In the final phase of training the plan also includes some “Yasso 800″ workouts, which are an excellent way to predict your race-pace for marathon day. Mine were indicating that my goal of 3:45 was definitely doable!
I followed the plan pretty closely. I did make a few modifications along the way. For example, I kept my longest runs to a max of 3 hours, even though this mean not hitting 20 miles plus which was called for in some of the peak weeks. I also added some races ( a few 5ks and a half-marathon) in along the way, and adjusted my training weeks accordingly to accommodate harder efforts on these days.
Throughout the course of my training, I noticed two huge differences from my two previous marathon training experiences. One, I did not feel any significant knee pain along the way. In my two previous trainings I had become good buddies with my ice pack, and had made ice-baths a regular part of my post-run ritual. This time my knees were very quiet, and I do not remember pulling an ice pack out of the freezer all summer. Two, I wasn’t nearly as fatigued after my long runs. In years past a 15+ mile run would definitely have my body screaming loudly for a nap later in the day. This time ’round I had much more energy, and could actually go out and enjoy the rest of the day with my family. By the next day, I’d feel fresh and ready to take on a new week of training.
The hardest part of the training plan this time around was the 2 weeks of taper prior to the race. I knew the rest would be good for me, but my body was not beat up as in my previous experiences, so I was feeling a little stir crazy not running as much. Several of my friends were running the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon the weekend before Chicago, and I remember wishing my race was that weekend too. I was raring to go!
After a long wait, our race week was finally here! About a week out began the incessant checking of the weather forecast. All indications were unseasonably warm weather. How warm was unclear, but it was looking like at least mid-70’s. I like warmer weather, and we had had a very hot summer, so I wasn’t panicked – my husband on the other hand, who does not do well with the heat ,was not the least bit excited.
We left the kids with the grandparents and headed down to Chicago on Saturday morning. We hit the Expo, picked up our packets and said hello to our friends at Open Heart Magic, who were there recruiting for next year. They informed us they would have a large cheering section at Mile 18 to encourage us to finish strong. I also signed up for the 3:45 pace group at the Expo. I have never run with a pace group before, but I was curious to try, and I figured I could use all the help I could get to hit my goal.
We didn’t spend too much time at the Expo, opting instead to nap before meeting some friends for an early dinner. I highly recommend a day-before nap if you can swing it. That way, even if your nerves keep you up that night, you have gotten a little shut-eye. After dinner, we laid out everything we needed for the race. By this point it was clear not much was needed as far as keeping warm in the morning. The temp when we went to bed was still in the 70’s and the forecast was now for 80 degree temps for much of the race.
I actually slept well that night (maybe the glass of red wine I had with dinner had something to do with it). I usually have no problem jumping out of bed on race day though. My adrenaline must start pumping while I am still asleep. Our goal was to be at the start line by 6:30, so I woke up around 5:00.
I have not been having great tolerances with much of a pre-race meal lately, but I did want to allow time to get in a Power Bar and a bottle of Gatorade. I also took in a couple bottles of electrolyte-enhanced water, knowing hydration was going to be key on a hot day! I attempted to put on my pace-group tatoo, but messed up and accidentally transferred it to the plastic liner that came with it instead of my arm! Luckily I had gotten another 3:45 tatoo from the Marathon Nation booth. The splits were slightly different because it was based on a negative split plan, and the Nike pacers run try to run even splits, but I figured it would still let me know if I was in the ball park.
We left the room around 6:00 and walked the mile from the hotel to the start area. I did wear a light jacket to the Start, but I tell you it was not needed. We were already sweating from the walk over – it had not cooled down at all overnight!
When we signed up for the race back in March, I immediately faxed in our recent half marathon times so that we could be placed in one of the Seeded Start Corrals. I highly recommend this. When I ran Chicago in 2005, it took me 45 minutes to cross the start line, this time is significantly shortened with a seeded start. Our times were just fast enough to get us into the last of the seeded corrals, D.
It took us a while to find the seeded gear check and make our way to the seeded start area. Chicago is such a huge race, that the start area itself is several blocks long. It was about 6:45, and of course mother nature was calling with all the water I had drank, but we decided to get into the seeded corral area and use the porta-potties in there as there was already a long line forming to get into the seeded area. Once we got in there, however, we realized the line for the porta potties was quite long, but it was our only option at this point so we jumped in line. We waited about 20 minutes, and had made it about half-way through the line, when officials started coming around announcing that they would be closing the entrances to the seeded corrals at 7:15 and we may not make it if we continued to wait in line. Hmm…I knew if I didn’t go, it meant pulling over at some point early in the race, which would definitely take me out of the running for 3:45, so we remained in line. Luckily we made it to the front of the line, and into the D corral with a few minutes to spare. There were a lot of runners who did not make it by 7:15, and they were forced to scale the five foot fence to get in. I definitely would have hurt myself doing that, so I’m glad we had made it.
Once in we found the 3:45 pacers (there were 4) and then my husband and I kissed goodbye and wished each other luck. He was shooting for closer to 4 hours, so he wanted to head to the back of the corral. I chatted it up with a couple of the other people nearby. I met one lady from Conneticut, who was celebrating her birthday that day. Noone else was too talkative. I did catch one of the pacers explain however that the first few miles would be pretty slow until the crowd opened up a little bit, so not to panick that we were starting way off pace.
I did my as many of the ChiRunning body looseners as I could in the crowded corral, and soon enough the national anthem was playing and the gun went off! Very differently from 2005 we were moving up very quickly, and in less than 5 minutes we were across the start line. My race had begun!
The pacer wasn’t kidding about it being tight and slow in the beginning. We were running elbow-to-elbow. I didn’t think I was clausterphopic at all until that day. I did the best I could just to avoid tripping on someone elses feet or tripping someone else. I also tried to weave through the sea of runners as best I could to keep up with the 3:45 pacing signs the pacers were holding.
The crowds are simply amazing though, especially those first few miles where people are packed 5-6 deep in the downtown area. My adrenaline was really pumping, and I was trying to soak up all of that energy from the supporters. I also very quickly noticed how warm I was already only a mile into the race. It was going to be a hot one folks! I was glad I had decided to wear my hydration belt, as I was already stealing sips from it.
We soon passed Mile Marker 1, a 9:02 pace. Not bad! Our race pace was 8:35, so we weren’t that far off. Soon we were out of downtown and heading into Lincoln Park. We were still packed in pretty tight though. At Mile 4 we were at 35:09, about 50 seconds off our goal pace. I was also quickly realizing that the bottles in my belt were not going to last me long in this heat, and I began taking in water and/or gatorade at the aid stations.
Here’s where the pacers decided we needed to start catching up. Mile 5 was an 8:08 split. The next several miles were in the 8:20s. I was doing my best just to keep those pacers in sight. I found the lady from Conneticut somewhere in there. I had lost sight of one of the pacers (the one I thought I would try to stick with). She said he was worried about missing anymore splits and had bolted ahead. We still had 3 of the pacers in sight though so I figured we were o.k.
By mile 7 it seemed to me that we were caught up with our splits, but the pacers still seemed to be pushing the 8:20s. What happened to running even splits? I was still trying my best to keep up with them, but I was having a hard time getting in and out of the aid stations very quickly. I would take at least 2-3 cups to swig from , plus a cup of water to dump over my head or down my shirt. The pacers, however, seemed to just bop in and out very quickly.
I was also starting to get very annoyed with my hydration belt. I guess I was losing so much water weight, that it kept twisting around be and dropping lower and lower on my waist. I had added two extra bottles to the front which made tightening it on the fly almost impossible. I didn’t want to have to toss the thing (they aren’t cheap) but I was certainly getting tempted.
Thankfully some very kind residents along the route had put on their hoses to sprinkle us. The race also provided a couple of locations with water soaked sponges to provide some relief from the heat. I guess they had learned a lot from that year Chicago had the 90 degree temps.
I crossed mile 13 at 1:50:24. I couldn’t tell exactly if I had hit the even pace half way goal, but I knew I was well ahead of the split on my tatoo, which was based on running a slower first half. I wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad sign, but I felt pretty good (just hot) by halfway, so I was happy, and believing the 3:45 BQ was doable.
For some reason the pacers continued to push hard, my next mile was an 8:01 split! I wasn’t sure what was going on. I had the pacers in sight still, but they were quite a bit ahead, and I seemed to be losing ground on them, even though my splits looked better than good.
At this point the sun was blazing, and we were onto the more industrial part of the course, with much less shade. I ran my next several miles at pretty close to 8:35 pace (between 8:28 and 8:40), but I had now lost sight of all of the pacers. I hadn’t been passed by the 3:50 pacers, so I knew I was still o.k. there, but I was hoping I would pull one of the 3:45 pacers back into view. I was glad to see the Open Heart Magic Road Crew at Mile 18. Their sea of red heart-shaped balloons and our friend Mike up on a ladder with a megaphone gave me a big boost. In addition I took this as an opportunity to shove my sweat and water soaked hydration belt and 3 of the 4 bottles to one fo the road crew members and huffed “Can you please give this to Mike?” She smiled and said she’d gladly do it. I have to imagine she was a little grossed out though.
Seeing them gave me a definite boost and I was able to keep up a steady pace until about mile 22. Then it became harder to hold pace. Mile 22 was an 8:53, but from looking at my tatoo, I could tell if I could get back to closer to 8:35 I could still get that 3:45. I’m not sure I believed that would be possible though, it just seemed like I was having to spend so much time in each aid station grabbing multiple cups to maintain some level of hydration. I did save one water bottle from my belt and I was frantically sloppily trying to pour water into it as I’d pass through. I think somewhere around this point I told myself that if I finished under 3:50 on this hot day, I would still be happy.
Mile 23, 8:53. A little better, but not as fast as I hoped. Then came Mile 24! I don’t remember feeling particularly slow this mile, but I do remember it being the one time I drew to a walk through the aid station to make sure I filled my water bottle up. Sure enough, I paid for it with a 9:15 split. More time than I could afford to lose at this point.
Mile 25 was an 8:58 and Mile 26 was an 8:49. I did manage to run the last .2 in 7:51, but again it was not enough, and I knew it when I rounded the last corner and headed towards the finish line. After crossing the line I checked my watch 3:47:23. Just 84 seconds over my needed 3:45:59. No Boston this time, but I still felt great!
I was on Cloud 9 as I gingerly walked my way through the finishers chute. I took my time, got sport drink and some food into my system. Stood in a short line for a finisher photo and even grabbed my free beer!
It took a while to meet up with my hubby. The heat really took a toll on him. He’s about twice my size, and as I mentioned, does not like the heat. His calves began cramping about mile 20, and he was forced to walk much of the final stretch.
I helped him as best as I could back to our hotel (which seemed much farther away than it did that morning!) We ordered room service, and I had my first hamburger in about 2 years – it was good!
We also celebrated later that night with a bottle of wine and some deep dish pizza.
All in all this was a great experience. We raised money for a wonderful cause, I ran a race I could be proud of, and most importantly I came away injury free! If you haven’t had the chance to run the Chicago Marathon yet, I highly recommend it. It is an awesome course with amazing crowd support. Iwill say, however, you never know what you’ll get with the weather. Last year was 30 degrees!
Now, the question is…where should I run my next marathon?