One week after running the Tower of Terror 10 miler in Florida, I found myself in the lively city of Chicago, preparing for the Chicago Marathon.
Chicago is a city that I have come to truly appreciate and enjoy. I arrived at O’Scare Airport on Friday morning and immediately checked in to the Peninsula Hotel. This place is AMAZING. My room was something out of a James Bond movie – the entire room was controlled by a single control panel on my night table. Once I dumped my bag in the room, I set out to the Expo. As I left the hotel, one of the housekeeping staff wished me a good day…and my response was “Kolinsky. Joe Kolinsky”. Oh yeah – I was, in the words of that famous philosopher Austin D. Powers, feeling “completely shagadelic”.
The Expo was incredibly well organized. Buses took runners and their families from different location around the city to the Convention Center, where volunteers used Ipads to check the runners in and issue them their bibs. I had my bib number and all other essentials within moments, leaving me free to wander the vendor booths and check out all of the upcoming marathons being advertised, the various new forms of energy bars and electrolyte drinks, and other various running “stuff”. As an impulse buy, I picked up a pair of Newtons (for those of you wondering – “Fig Newtons? A lost group of refugees from the town of Newton? Sir Isaac Newton’s long lost great great great grandson?”….Google is your friend…) because I know that I am a heavy heel-striker. The more I run, the more I think that I must look like a cross between Alfred E Newman and Lerch from the old Addams Family TV show when I waddle through 26.2. So a pair of Newtons may just assist me with adjusting my stride to that of a normal human being. I made my way through the Expo in about an hour, and then headed to a local Chicago Deep Dish Pizza joint for a lesson in how to carbo-load, Midwest style. I arrived back at the Peninsula a rather stuffed yet happy camper.
Marathon morning arrived with a slight chill in the air, cloudy skies and a decent wind. I walked from the hotel along Michigan Avenue to the runner’s village maintained in Millennium Park. The level of organization for this race continued to impress me, as the village was separated into two distinct areas: one section for the runners participating in the first wave, and another section for those of us running in the second wave. In between waves, there was a thirty minute window of time to allow the race to progress smoothly from the start. Before I knew it, the first wave took off and we were being beckoned to our corrals.
The course is extremely flat and fast – and that was a welcome change from the various races I’ve run earlier in the year. I have a rather deep, seething hatred for any incline included within any race I run. Chicago’s course, therefore, gave me the warm and fuzzies.
I felt fantastic at the start, as I normally do. I controlled my pace and did not allow the runners around me to dictate my splits. Usually I succumb to peer pressure and feel this uncontrollable need to keep up with complete strangers that are running a much quicker pace that I normally do. Even though I’ve been passed by exactly 1,227,567,123 runners thus far in my running career, the general concept of actually being passed by anyone gets my knickers in a twist. So it is extremely difficult to stay under control…especially at the beginning of the race, when I feel like a world-beater. Somehow, I was able to block out what was going on around me and focus on my own race. As a Team For Kids mentor, I try to remind runners that are training for their first marathon to “run your own pace – not someone else’s”. Up to this point – that rule was a solid example of do as I say…not as I do. I was shocked that, on this morning, I heeded my own advice.
Nine miles into the race, I felt very positive and under complete control. I continued to clip off miles at a slow and steady pace, hitting the half marathon point in approximately two hours and eighteen minutes. This is the exact point in the race where my head normally begins to lose its focus for a bit – between the half-way point and the mile 17 marker. Unfortunately for me, this morning was no different. I lose track of my breathing. I become distracted with Marathon Math (when a marathoner begins constantly checking his/her watch as they begin to tire, trying to calculate on the fly the “acceptable” splits that they think they’ll be able to maintain through the finish). I also lose the ability to block out some of the negativity begin sprouted by The Tool (and if you haven’t been properly introduced to that tiny 4cm bastard, check out one of my older blog posts for a brief description: ___). Once I lose focus, I find it incredibly difficult to regain that world-beater feeling. I slow down….and then I begin to take a walk break or two. This is exactly what happened during the second half of this race.
The support on the course was wonderful. The volunteers were everywhere. There was an air of positivity within the entire city that the runners seem to feed off. The temperature was basically perfect once the race got underway and I began to exercise. There was no pounding sun to contend with. No external reasons for my poor performance. It simply boiled down to the fact that I lost my focus and could not regain it. This is going to be a major hurdle to clear before I can drastically improve my performance.
It felt fantastic finishing the 2012 Chicago Marathon. The finish line of any marathon is a special place for a runner – but Chicago is one of the Marathon Majors (Boston, New York, Berlin and London are the other four that make up this sport’s – for lack of a better term – Grand Slam), and over the years there have been some incredible finishes. So being able to cross the same finish line as some of the greatest runners in the world is a privilege that I’ve never lost sight of. However, one thing I keep thinking of is a quote from Steve Prefontaine: “Do give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift”. Each time I’ve crossed the finish line I’ve felt like I tried hard…but I have yet to put it all together and run my perfect race. For me, the perfect race is one where I start off completely under control, maintain the exact same pace per mile for 25 miles, and then drop the hammer for the last 1.2 miles, picking up my pace and crossing the finish line almost unable to catch my breath. The perfect race is out there, and at some point I’ll capture it. But until then, all I can do is just keep trying.
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