Tuesday, November 11, 2008
chicago marathon ‘08
If you've ever wondered what it's like to run a big city marathon, ChiTown is a great place to find out. Trail runs and ultras appeal to me because of their small town and close-knit feel with their limited participants and spectators, usually of no more than a couple to a few hundred.
The Chicago Marathon, however, is a stark contrast to this with, imagine this, 45,000 registered runners. That number is mind-boggling to someone like me who'd be happy to see another soul out there on the course while I'm out running. Double that number to account for at least one supporter per runner. Then multiply that with all the spectators that came out just because they want to support the runners and this grand event that their city puts out. And you'd have the makings of one of the funnest experiences for runners out there.
We went to pick up our bibs at the marathon expo at McCormick Convention Center the day before the race. It is huge with several running and health related companies serving up their products and wares. Nike, as one of the major sponsors, had a huge showroom of their footwear and apparel. Gatorade had a sweat testing center (yeah, you read that right). Mizuno had a gait analysis track. Bank of America, the main sponsor had a little "race course" for the little ones while Volkswagen gave anyone the opportunity to star in their own VW commercial with Max, their vintage bug/beetle.
The race started promptly at 8am on Sunday morning. At that time it was already 70deg F. Apparently the forecast for the day was highs at 85deg. This probably partially explains the large number of no-shows, about 9,000 or so, not that I noticed. When the gun went off, the mass of people started moving forward as one. It took me about 10 minutes to cross the start line from where I was.
With all the excitement and adrenaline of the crowd, I started faster than I normally would prefer. My quads felt tight at the start and unfortunately stayed that way. At mile 3 I was still feeling off rhythm, and by mile 6 I noticed that I was starting to fall behind. I told my brother who's been running with me to go ahead on his own. I'm not sure if he heard me but with all the runners on the course I soon lost him ahead of me.
I settled into a comfortable pace, but soon realized that my goal of a sub 4-hour marathon was not going to happen today. Instead of pushing it, I decided to enjoy the run and the city. After all, the organizers promoted that this run was going through 29 neighborhoods. When people asked me how the Chicago Marathon was, the first answer I have is that the support and the crowds were just phenomenal. After mile 3 or so, there were aid stations at every mile until the finish. Water misters were also available to help cool runners down. People coming out to cheer handed out popsicles, water, ice, fruits and even cold beer to the runners. In several points the crowds were about a dozen deep, and their energy helped a lot of runners, at least certainly for yours truly.
Around mile 20, I tried to pick up my pace again, but I felt a twitching feeling in my calf. Uh-oh, we all know that's a sign of cramping. I backed off and it went away. A couple more times, I tried to push it, but every time I did, I felt that same sensation again. My foot which had been hurt through training was holding up but was definitely sore. The tight quads from the early part of the run had not loosened up so at this point. And with the forecasted heat making its presence felt, I was content to be where I was in the race (about a 4:15 projected finish). I thought it would be wise and prudent not to try anything stupid so I decided to just cruise the remaining six miles.
In my experience the longest mile in marathons and ultras seem to be the last, and this one was no different. I usually have enough left in my tank for a good kick at the finish but not this time around. As I crossed that line, I was overcome with relief. I made my way through the crowd of other runners and volunteers and limped my way to the adjacent park to meet up with my brother who finished about 7 minutes ahead of me.
Overall, I had a great day. The race was so well-organized, and the fan support was just unequaled. The course was fairly flat and with plenty of straight-aways, it offered promises of fast finishes. Throw in some cooler weather next time, and I couldn't ask for anything more.
My official recorded finish time was 4:29:21, placing 12,368 out of 31,401 finishers.
Chicago, thank you, and I'll see you again.
Click here for photos of the expo and the marathon.