Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Perfect Tenth
Race Report from the 2010 Chicago Marathon
Part VII - Post Race Analysis

Now that you've all seen the pictures and read the story of how my sub-3 in Chicago came to be, I guess it's time to close the book on this epic marathon. After all, New York is coming up in a little over a week and I need to get my head back in the "Empire State of Mind", if you know what I mean. But before I (finally) leave Chicago behind, I'd like to take this opportunity to assess my physical and mental approach to this race as a whole and point out five major reasons why I think this race worked out well for me.
1. Effort-Based Pacing - Unlike any of my previous attempts at sub-3, I lined up at the start of this marathon not knowing EXACTLY what my pace plan should be. Because of a minor flu I'd been dealing with all week and the volatile weather that were expected on race day, I didn't know what my body was capable of on race morning. As a result, I made myself a pact not to calculate paces or projected finishing times except at major checkpoints (ex. 10 miles, half marathon, 20 miles). My plan was not to use an arbitrary time as a gauge of whether to speed up or slow down in every mile. Rather, I was going to rely one my own self-perceived effort as a guide to how I ought to be running every mile. Even in the last 10K, when I knew I was closing in on 3 hours, I did not dare look down at my watch. Instead, I told myself just to sprint and run to the best of my ability. I felt that if I could do that and give every ounce of energy I had left out on the course, then I could really be happy and proud knowing there would be no regrets, regardless of my final time.
2. 20 Mile Run 10K Race - Even as I was running well and feeling good for somuch of this race, I kept reminding myself that the first 20 miles is just the appetizer to the entree, the preface to the story, the prelude to the race. Although I felt I controlled my pace well through the first 20 miles and only allowed myself to "race" the last 10K, it wasn't until I compared my splits in this race to the ones from my last sub-3 attempt in 2009 NYCM did I realize how applicable the pace/race metaphor would be. If you performed a side-by-side comparison of the 5k split times between the two races, you'd see that I was only 7 seconds faster at the half and only 6 seconds faster at the 30K split in Chicago! This means that all the speed and fitness gains I experienced this summer compared to last year did not make any difference in the first 18.6 miles but resulted in a tremendous difference in the last 12.2K. This was a bit shocking to me because I assumed and convinced myself that I was running so much faster this year especially in the early going as compared to last year. Boy was I wrong!
3. Hydration - As many have said, this was a very warm marathon. We knew this was going to be the case all race weekend. Some chose to "freak out" and just ignore the sun. Others had a contingency plan to drop out or slow down when it got too hot. I told myself on race morning to realistic about my chances and just run as fast as I could without burning out. One thing that was nonnegotiable though was a self-imposed decree to drink 3 cups of fluids at every single water station, regardless of how I felt. This impromptu hydration plan not only kept me out of trouble for most of the race, I was so well hydrated that I was able to skip the last 2 water stops as I sprinted toward the finish line. That has never happened to me before.
4. Blessings in Disguise - Remember the guy that bumped into me at mile 23...causing my body to stop running and my right leg to seize? At the time, I thought it was an absolute disaster. For a few seconds, I thought my race was over. But after making sure I wasn't seriously hurt, I got angry at him and at the world and sprinted harder to the finish than I've ever previously done in a marathon. Now looking back, I doubt I would've sprinted so fast without his "intervention". What I thought at the time was the worst thing that could happen to me turned out to be exactly what I needed to nailed down the sub-3. Go figure.
5. Friends - Last but certainly not least, I had the fortune of having so many friends around for this race. From my friend MT who came to town just to see me race to Redhead Morgan who spectated at mile 22 to the Saucony Hurricanes who introduced themselves to me over dinner to all the NY Flyers who came and cheered, and took pictures and kept me entertained the whole 26.2, I never felt more supported and motivated to run fast than I did that day. To everyone in whatever capacity you played, big or small, including my twitter, FB, and DM friends, to make my dream a reality, thank you so very much for the support and inspiration. I appreciate every kind word, every encouragement you've sent, and every supportive comment you've left my way. Chicago Marathon, 10-10-10, will always be memorable and special to me. ALWAYS.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Perfect Tenth
Race Report from the 2010 Chicago Marathon
Part V - The Final 10K

During the Saucony Hurricanes team dinner Friday night, I found myself seated right between a woman who was about to run her first marathon and a guy who just completed the Leadville 100 miler for the fifth time earlier this year. Although the discussion topics varied and the conversation flowed effortlessly between us, there was one particular question that the marathon rookie asked that hung in the air for longer than it should - During the marathon, what happens after mile 20? As I entered the twilight zone otherwise known as mile 21 of the Chicago Marathon, I found my mind asking my body the same thing.

I've been here before, I was sure. But somehow it feels different. I see people with their head down faces transfixed in a daze walking, limping, struggling to move forward and it reminds me of me, how I was, how I used to be during this mile. But now I am not, I am running. My hamstrings and quads are becoming sore and my back is starting to hurt just a little but I am running! I take another GU, my third of the day, to celebrate. If I could run sub 7 minutes miles for 6 more miles, I will be golden.

I turned a corner at 20.5 to begin my final out and back loop on Chicago's South Side and see my Flyer teammate SH standing and cheering alone on the side. Given that this part of the course was relatively dead with minimal crowd support, I was surprised to see her there. I stick out my tongue to show my fatigue but she just laughs and snaps a photo of me as I ran by. I wanted to thank her but had no energy so I just continued on.

Relative to the others on the course, I thought I was running well. I was running strong. I passed many with ease and never felt like I was slowing down. So it was a little demoralizing when I passed the mile 21 marker in a very pedestrian 7:02. This was the first mile I'd registered over 7 and served as further evidence that I was starting to fade.

My head was not in a good place at the beginning of mile 22. My pace was bad, it was starting to get warm, and my legs were starting to hurt. I needed some help to get my mind back in the game. So I asked for my brother and conjured up our own private conversation. You see, a few days ago, I'd promised him 22 as his personal dedication mile. In return he was to find a special power song that I could hum/sing while running his mile. He came back to me a day later with a number by Justin Bieber and I just had to laugh. I smiled while running 22 thinking of all the excuses he gave for that little faux pas. It served its purpose as it distracted me from having to think about the road, the sun, and the deep fatigue I was starting to feel. Mile 22 ended with a 7:05, which wasn't good, but wasn't horrific either.

I started mile 23 wanting to regain my pace. After all, there was only 4 miles left and I wanted for all the world to finish strong. But right then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a bright yellow weather alert marker behind an aid station and quickly decide that it just wasn't safe to push pace. Besides, in the back of my mind, I knew a special spectator was waiting at 22.5 and I thought blowing up and dying right at her side probably would not make for a very good first impression. So I just continued on, running with the same effort I had established before. I made sure to concentrate on my breathing and focus on my form, knowing both will be important as I got more and more fatigued.

Then at 22.5, I saw HER. She was where she'd said she would be...out on the side of the road, all decked out in her pink tutu and posters filled with inspirational messages and names for all the runners she's planning to meet. Legend has it you gain an extra few seconds per mile on your pace just from witnessing her spectation at a race! I am speaking of the lovely Redhead Morgan who drove all the way from Michigan just to cheer and watch me run past. Although our encounter was brief (yet she manages to take 2 photos of me ?) I thoroughly enjoyed seeing her there, cheering for me, which honestly made me a little self-conscious, given that there was barely any other spectators around! It is weird to think that after a couple of years of reading and following each other's blog, our first chance encounter would be for just a split second at mile 22.5 of the Chicago Marathon!

I run on, more slowly now, because my hamstrings are sore and tight and are threatening to cramp with any sudden change in pace. I see more bodies on the sidewalks at the edge of the road, walking and stretching their feet and my heart skips a beat wondering if they were me some time ago or if I would be like them in the next mile or two. i see myself past mile 23 at 7:08 and can feel my goal slipping ever closer away.

At mile 24, I asked my late sister for advice. As marathons go, this is a tradition for me. Although her physical presence no longer inhabits the earth, I always feel a spiritual connection with my sister at this late stage of a marathon. We share conversations that are so deep i taste the salt of my own tears halfway through the next mile. Today, she tells me to focus on what's important. She tells me to believe in myself. She tells me I am not a failure because she sees me victoriously crossing the finishing line! As I closed my eyes slightly to say a prayer and thank her for those kind words when all of a sudden, the runner in front of me stops dead in his tracks and I crash smack into him. I don't fall but the force of our collision sends me to a complete stop. Immediately, my right hamstring cramps, I can't move and am in severe pain. I'm stunned. I send a slate of four-letter-word expletives into the air as he tries profusely to apologize. I take a couple of seconds to assess the situation and force my legs to move. Once I realized I wasn't seriously hurt, I just got angry...very very angry. In my head I was thinking - There is no way I'm running 23 miles just to let some punk kid ruin my chances at sub3. I force myself to run despite the shockwaves of pain shooting up my right leg with each step. I didn't care anymore. I saw that I was already at 7:30 pace for the first quarter mile of 24 and the world be damned if I lose my goal because of this debacle. Once the cramp loosened and the sharp pain gradually transformed into sustained soreness after a couple of steps, I just took off and sprinted HARD for the rest of the mile. I ran fast but still registered a 7:12 for mile 24.

We are all running for home now, one straight shot up Michigan Ave. Way in the distance, I could see the Sear Tower and the skyscrapers emerging triumphantly against a pastel of blue. Rows of spectators lined the streets and grew thicker and louder as we approached the finish. They rang cowbells, played music and yelled words of encouragement to urge the runners along . Although the atmosphere was jubilant and festive, I couldn't for the most part hear. My mind was fixated in another place in another time. After discovering that I was more than 20 seconds off my intended pace in the previous mile, I'd figured that my race was over. I felt sad, angry, and extremely frustrated. Despite the intense pain and burning in my quads, hamstrings and legs, I continued to sprint as if my life was dependent on it. I kept running hard because I was convinced right then that the only honorable way to race is to leave everything you brought coming in out on the course. NO REGRETS. LEAVE EVERYTHING. I repeated this mantra to myself as I forced my legs to accelerate and move faster than they've ever moved before. A mixture of tears and sweat sting my eyes but I was running too fast to acknowledge them there. I see a water station coming up on the side, but I don't dare waver from where I was in the middle of the road. The mile marker is coming up and there's just no time, I told myself. Besides, there's barely a mile and some change left now and there's too much at stake.

I covered mile 25 in 6:54 but still felt somehow I could've ran faster. I tell myself there's just a one mile sprint between me and the finish line now, it's time to charge! My legs though felt heavy as if they were just barely hanging on. I thought about all my twitter, DM, and Facebook friends who were tracking and virtually cheering for me right then and decide for them I must represent. For them, I must run as hard as I can.

At 25.5, I see my friend M again off to the side jumping up and down as I came sprinting by. She was yelling "You're Doing It! You're Doing it!" although at the time I was confused by what "It" meant. It was truly invigorating to see her so excited for me that I felt slightly embarrassed for all the other runners around. I didn't have time to run over and say hi so I just waved as I ran by. I see the giant crowds gathering at the finish and know I'm getting close to home. My legs were not able to sustain the sprint for so long so I'm slowing down slightly as I make the final turn onto the final bridge. I hear applause from spectators for the 3 hour pace team coming up behind and I pick up the pace once again. I see the 800m to go sign and curse Mr. Yasso out loud. 400m...a turn...and the end is in sight. 200 m...I can see the clock strike 3 and I let out a sigh. 100m left and almost there, almost there. Finally I come cross the line and stop my watch. I see 2:59:55 flash on my Garmin and was in complete shock. Did I indeed make my time? I walked through the procession of medical aide, space blanket, and medal, gulped down 2 free beers and picked up my bag. It wasn't until I saw my twitter feed blow up and my phone inbox filled with 50+ congratulatory texts that I realize that yes, indeed i had done it. A 2 minute PR, a sub-3 time, and a hard fought victory were completely mine!

In summary, all you really need to know is that Marathon #10 on 10-10-10 in Chicago turned out quite perfect for me after all!

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Perfect Tenth
Race Report from the 2010 Chicago Marathon
Part IV - The Second Ten Miles

It may come as a shock to many that I've never considered myself much of a marathoner. Ever since I crashed and burned so hard in my first marathon that I was reduced to crawling on my hands/knees for two whole blocks, I've always thought of myself as a 13.1 miler kind of guy. Never mind that I've done close to 25 of the short version and only 10 of the long kind, I find I often lack the physical stamina and the mental discipline to compete successfully in the longer distance. Besides 26.2 miles is so far to run and takes so much time that anything can happen at any point to ruin a perfectly paced race that you've been training for many many months. This is why whenever I'm running a marathon, I always feel as if I must fake the distance until i make the distance. I also take care to divide the race to a few shorter and more psychologically manageable segments. For this 26.2, in keeping with the theme of the weekend, I planned to split up my race into a first ten (miles), a second ten (miles) and the final 10(K). Having conquered the first ten in admirable fashion, I was anxious to begin the task of nailing down the second ten.

As I set off on what was now mile 1 for me again, I did an internal systems check on my body. Aside from some transient and intermittent back stiffness, my upper body was feeling great. I was breathing in synchrony with my feet. I had no stomach issues and whatever coughing, sniffling, and sneezing I had experienced this morning had long been gone after the first ten miles! As for my legs and lower body, everything was okay there too even if I was foreshadowing and anticipating pain and complaints all morning. In fact, as I gingerly ran through the 11th mile at 6:44, I began to feel cautiously optimistic that today might yet turn out to be a special day.

Back on the course, where mile 12 brought us back from the suburbs to the edge of town, I saw the crowds thicken and becoming more rambunctious as the morning worn on. Runners all around me were responding in kind, many urging the spectators on with hand gestures to turn up the volume as if their cheering alone could provide a power boost for the later miles. A pack of college boys all with their shirts off were running past me as if it was their every intention to sprint to the half and just drop dead. One of them knocks into me and I almost take a dive. Luckily, I catch myself just as I was about to lose balance. I wanted to get angry but quickly decide it's not worth the stress. Lose the battle. Win the war. I slow down to take an extra water at the next fluid station because I feel it's getting warmer and then speed up again to pass the mile 12 marker at 6:49.

I'm immediately excited running back over the cross bridge into the center of town. For one thing, I'm now less than a mile way from the half marathon checkpoint and as far as I could tell, still running strong and gaining time. For another, my friend M will be here again along the bend at mile 12.5 before the next out-and-back portion to the west. After missing her the first time near mile 2.5, I wanted to be sure to pick her out of the crowd. I kept my eyes peeled to the side as I ran along the left edge of the road. It wasn't long before I spotted her bubbly face at our pre-arranged locale. I went over gave her a hug and high-five and left just as quickly to resume my place with the group of guys I had been running with for the last half mile. Although our rendezvous was short, I felt relieved just to have seen her and know that we were both on our way to our last meeting spot near mile 25.

I clocked mile 13 at 6:50 and reached the half at 1:28:45. I felt extremely satisfied with these times as they were both exactly what I had planned for myself coming into this race. I felt a minute and change was enough of a cushion time where I had some leeway to operate heaven forbid something should happen in the last 10K but not so much so that I was jeopardizing a major bonk in the second half because I was racing the first half too fast. I was well pleased with my "perceived consistent effort" pacing strategy I was executing thus far and hoped that my strong summer training would lend itself to an equally strong pace in the second half.

After a straight and quick mile 14 at 6:42 and a slower mile 15 at 6:52, I was noticing that I wasn't maintaining my effort as easily as I had been in the first half of the race. I was running out of town again, heading straight into the abyss of the unrelenting sun. Although it was not yet uncomfortable to run, I knew it would get much worse before it got better. Volunteers and residents from the neighborhoods we passed through were already out in full force providing hoses, extra water and sponges for runners in need. I declined the hosing, but accepted sponges and extra water that were offered to me. After the debacle of '07, I was pleasantly surprised that everyone seemed ready for the hot day that was to come.

Mile 16 and 17 were a mental struggle for me. Although both miles clocked in at a respectable 6:51, they were fraught with potential traps and slight mishaps. I began by dropping my GU pack, forcing me to completely stop, go back a few steps and retrieve my fallen item before sprinting in a semi fartlek to gain back some of the time I had given up during the drop. Later on, I spotted the first few casualties of the heat - runners walking like zombies along the edge of the road. I felt bad for them knowing they must have been very speedy runners with fast ambitious goals. Then I started to think if this could possibly happen to me. Finally, I heard an older overweight spectator yelling out the three infamous words that never fail to make my blood boil. "You're Almost There! You're Almost There!" Really? With 9 miles to go, we're almost here? I thought about ripping off my bib, pinning it on him and watching HIM run the rest of the way. Maybe I can jog beside him and yell "Almost There" right into his ear every 5 seconds. We'd see how he likes that.

I was visibly upset. I knew this because I forgot to thank the kind volunteers who handed me a couple of wet and cold sponges that I applied on my face and chest. This shocked me because it was the first time all day that I felt not happy. I quickly reminded myself that I was running well, still on pace, not tired, not injured, and so should be very happy. At mile 18, I imagined myself running through the gauntlet of Flyers and friends that lines this same mile marker on First Avenue in every single NYC Marathon back home. It's the PowerGel station, and in my mind, I can see each of their smiling faces as they clap, cheer, and wish me well on my way. I decide to dedicate the rest of this mile and the next to them because right then and there the course felt empty and I needed my friends more than anything. Mile 18 came in at 6:52 and mile 19 was done at 6:56. I was happier than I had been a couple of miles back but it was obvious that I was also slowing down.

At mile 20, I began to game plan how the rest of the race was going to go. I knew it was getting warmer. I knew I was getting tired. But in my favor, I was also well hydrated, having stuck to the plan of taking in more fluids at each station than I felt I need. I also didn't feel hungry and my legs didn't feel crampy at all. When I thought about it, I couldn't remember I'd ever been able to say that at mile 20 in any of my previous marathons. All in all, I'd call this race a major success at this point. I was hoping for around a minute of cushion time at mile 20 (which I knew had to be 2:17 to be on pace for sub3) just to be on the safe side. When I finally passed this major checkpoint with a 6:58 mile and found that i was through 20 at 2:16:08, I was filled with many mixed emotions. On one hand, I was quite satisfied with my cumulative time having 50+ extra seconds on my side. On the other, I was concerned I was giving back time at such a substantial rate. I knew right then that it was going to be close. I'd have to dig deep, run hard, avoid the bonk, and make every second count the rest of the way in. The fight is ON!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Perfect Tenth
Race Report from the 2010 Chicago Marathon
Part III - The First Ten Miles

There's something about starting from the first corral of a world major marathon that is magical, breathtaking and inspiring. With the best athletes in the world leading the charge through the starting gate and into the deafening screams and cheers from several hundred thousand boisterous fans lining the streets on either side, you feel as if you're being sucked into a giant vacuum of speed and sound that would make any previous rollercoaster experience you've ever had pale in comparison. Of course, my designated plan going into the race was to start slow and gradually accelerate to marathon pace over the first two miles. However, I don't think I fully considered the energy of the crowd and the magnetic pull of my fellow first corral mates to be so strong. So even as I was focused on starting the race with a self-perceived conservative effort and watched as everyone around me took off towards a much faster start, I was surprised when I passed mile 1 in 6:46, a full 10 seconds or so faster than where I thought I would or should be. But I was feeling strong and effortless, gliding along the same streets I had just walked the day before. So I carried on.

Somewhere around mile 1.5 as I was settling into my pace, someone comes up on my shoulder and starts chatting to me about the race. I immediately see he has the same race shirt as me and recognize him as F, a Saucony Hurricane teammate I had just met over dinner a couple of days before. He is nice and asks about my goal time for this race. I tell him about sub-3 but add that I feel uneasy given the warm conditions expected for this race. He tells me not to let the weather get to my head and to execute my race like I had planned. He himself is holding back, having conquered his first 100-miler a few weeks back. Wow, a marathon must feel less than a training run for him, I thought to myself as he talked casually while sustaining sub-6:50 pace. I wondered aloud if I'll ever get to a point where a marathon feels as easy as a short training run. Amazing! I thanked him for his sage advice, wished him well on his race and scooted off to refocus my energy back on my race.

Mile 2 passed a little fast again at 6:40 but I was already preoccupied with another task to worry about it too much. My friend M was planning to make her first appearance as a spectator somewhere in this mile. Judging from the thick packs of spectators lining the streets five to six rows deep at times, I knew finding her so early on in this race would prove a difficult task. As I scanned the crowds, hoping to find a familiar face, I felt extremely grateful that she was here somewhere cheering for me in this race. I also thought about the tens if not hundred of friends back home virtually tracking my every footfall as I ran. This made me smile a bit too! Although I ultimately did not find my friend in this mile as the crowded conditions proved a bit too tough for spectating, I did find many funny posters and signs held out by nonrunners that made me chuckle. A couple of my favorites were: "If you can read this, you're not running fast enough!" and "Me: Beer for Run. You: Run for Beer."

I passed the mile 3 marker in 6:45 and felt myself settling into this race. Having briefly surveyed the course map the night before, I knew I was starting out on the first of three out-and-back loops at this point. The crowds were thinner now as the course moved through the northern sections of town. Gone are the skyscrapers and modern architectural marvels that dominate the Chicago skyline. They have slowly given way to three story houses and billboards over the course of a short mile. The sun was quickly emerging from behind the buildings and clouds too, sending particles of light shimmering out in Lake Michigan. As I approached the second water station, I reviewed my hydration plan quickly (which in retrospect seems more akin to a list of military commands than a water plan) - I will drink at every water station. Two cups of Gatorade, 1 cup of water to start...moving on to one cup of Gatorade and 2 cups of water in the second half. I will drink as much as possible. I will slow down if I have to. Under no circumstances will I allow my own sense of thirst to deceive me in taking less than I should. Given the plentiful fluid stations that will be available on course, we cannot be dehydrated today. We will not be dehydrated today!

I "marched" through mile 4 in 6:40 and mile 5 in 6:46, running almost as if on autopilot. I was feeling smooth. I was feeling strong. I was running without regard to total time which was a completely different strategy for me. Previously, whenever I ran a marathon for a certain goal time, I would always calculate how far I was ahead or behind at every mile and made incremental pace adjustments in the following mile. This time, because I was confident that my training would take me where I need to be, I didn't do any pace calculations as I was running. I figured it wouldn't help and would have just distracted me and disrupted my rhythm. So I just ran easy and smooth. At times, people with 3:00 pace bibs on their backs would pass me and cause me to momentarily doubt my own strategy. But I figured I'll probably see them all later anyways and just let them go on.

Mile 6 in the park was crossed in 6:47. Mile 7 was spent transitioning back to the streets in 6:40. I must have sped up because somewhere along here, "Eye of the Tiger" was playing on the loud speaker and I felt a sudden jolt of energy and inspiration. I remember flashing back to my first marathon when I first heard that song along the NYCM course in the Bronx. I felt a lump start forming in my throat. Wait, it's too early. It's too soon. Deep breath. Slow down. We've still got a ways to go.

After mile 7, the course runs for a few blocks along Lakeshore Drive before heading back downtown. For some reason that was my favorite stretch of the entire race course. Maybe it's because I had walked a section of the Drive the previous day and enjoyed the biking, running, and swimming I saw all around me. Maybe it's because it reminds me of the West Side Highway back home in NYC where I've done so many of my long training runs. Either way, I don't think I felt more alive and in sync with my body than I did at that moment in time. In my exuberance, I might have slapped a complete stranger spectator high-five when he wasn't expecting it and was holding a sign that simply said "RUN". It felt right at the time.

We're starting to make our way back to town in miles 8 and 9. The crowds became thick again. There was music. There was dancing. "Let's Get It Started" by the Black Eyed Peas was playing so loud I felt the ground shaking as I ran. Although I enjoyed the musical interlude because I had played that same song in my hotel room earlier that morning as I was preparing breakfast, It was not so obvious to me why this particular musical selection was chosen to be played at this section of the course. It was apparent, at least to me anyway, that if it hadn't already gotten started by mile's time to pack it in and go home. For some reason, i didn't run as well here, pulling in a 6:51 for mile 8 and a 6:50 for mile 9. But, since it was still below goal marathon pace of 6:52 though, I wasn't worried.

Mile 10 (I think it was here) saw the appearance of NY Flyer paparazzi camera man, YP. I wasn't expecting him so it was a pleasant surprise to see a familiar face along the sideline. When he saw me, he sprinted ahead by a couple hundred feet just to take some action shots of me as I ran by. He did it a couple of times and it was the funniest thing ever. It lifted my spirits tremendously and made me appreciate being a member of a running club that travels so well. For a little while there, I thought about each of my other Flyer teammates who were all out on the race course too. Although it was still early, I hoped they were individually having great races and imagining in my head all the great stories they were about to tell.

A bit weary but a bit invigorated by recent events, I passed mile 10 in 6:48. Since this was a major checkpoint for me, I took a look at my cumulative time, 1:07:38, and made a mental note that I was about 45 seconds under goal pace at this point I took my first GU, washed it down with ample water from a fluid station and braced myself for the next stage of battle.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Perfect Tenth
Race Report from the 2010 Chicago Marathon
Part II - Before the Start/In the Beginning

Before The Start

Having arrived in Chicago on Friday morning and experienced the warmer weather up close and personal for a day and a half, I felt as prepared to face the sun on race morning as I did the full 26.2 mile distance...which is another way of saying NOT. SO. MUCH. Perhaps I should explain.

For the past week and a half of taper, I'd been dealing with a slightly pulled muscle in my right hamstring that would give me little pinches of pain whenever I'd run at tempo pace or faster. On Monday of race week, I also caught a cold from one of the sick kids in clinic that left me a little sniffly and sneezy all the way to Chicago. So I'd be lying to myself if I thought i was 100% physically fit to race this course. But given that I'd been eating right and sleeping well and felt good on my dress rehearsal run of a few miles at marathon pace earlier in the week, I felt that I had a decent shot of running a good race. Besides, this was my 10th marathon on 10/10/10 and I'd been training all spring and summer for THIS RACE on THIS DAY to break sub-3. Was there any possible conceivable way for me to gracefully bow out of my race goal NOW? To make matters worse (or better depending on your perspective), my best fan/friend MT from home as well as several other blogger/podcaster friends were coming out to watch me race. To let them down with a sub-stellar performance would be more than a little disappointing for me.

So after gathering my things and filling my stomach with a blueberry muffin and a banana I had bought the day before, I left my friend M still sleeping at the hotel we were staying at and made my way downtown to the starting area at Millenium Park.

In the Beginning

The sun had barely begun peering over the horizon when I scooted into the seeded corral starting area after dropping off my bags at 6:45AM. Although I was a bit early, with the scheduled start at 7:30AM, I did not want to waste much needed energy fighting with the crowds and stressing over possibly not making it to my corral before they collapsed them. Besides I had a three digit bib number and a corral start right behind the elites for this race and so I thought I might possibly sneak up to the front and "touch a Kenyan" for good luck before it got too crowded in the corral. So I did, apologized for my intrusion, and grabbed a seat on the side towards the middle of my corral where I waited patiently for all the runners to come join me. As they came, one by one at first, then by the masses, I couldn't help but notice how many of my neighbors were so much younger than I am. I was surrounded by so many skinny legs and track tanks with college logos figured prominently in the front, that I felt as if I had just invited myself to a running fraternity party. Although I was a little intimidated by their boisterous talk, each verbally predicting a better finishing time than his peers, I was more energized by the immediacy of this sub3 attempt. I reminded myself that since I wasn't getting younger, I need to take full advantage of these racing opportunities as they come to me. As I always say before almost every race - Someday I will no longer be able to do this but today just isn't that day! Soon after I had this thought, the national anthem was played and the 33rd Annual Chicago Marathon got underway.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Perfect Tenth
Race Report from the 2010 Chicago Marathon
Part I - The Race Result

I've held out from you guys long enough. As you may or may not have found out, yours truly fulfilled a dream goal that I've set out for myself a long time ago. In the mini-microwave of heat that was the 2010 Chicago Marathon, I somehow pulled out a 2:59:55 to earn my first sub-3 hour marathon in my 10th marathon by 5 seconds! In many ways, it was the perfect race for me. In other ways, it was not. In my wildest dreams, I never quite imagined this day would come in one of the warmest marathons i've ever run. Yet I managed a strong pace for the most part and fought like heck when it seemed like all hope was gone. I have so many stories to tell and so many people to thank that it will take me a little while to think, reflect, and put down the details. Bear with me though. I promise to make it worth your while.

In the meantime, enjoy the results and my split times. Thanks for all the spectator/virtual cheers, well wishes, and congratulatory remarks. They were highly appreciated and was thought of during the race!

Final Statistics
Official Time: 2:59:55 (PR by 2:25!)
Average Pace - 6:52 min/mi
Overall Place - 707/36159
Gender Place - 598th
Age Group Place - 81st

Split Times
5K - 20:53
10K - 41:53
15K - 1:03:00
20K - 1:24:10
13.1 M - 1:28:45
25K - 1:45:17
30K - 2:06:39
35K - 2:28:29
40K - 2:50:32

1st 13.1M - 1:28:45
2nd 13.1M - 1:31:10
Positive Split - 2:25

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Five Days Away from Race Day

While the rest of the world (aka Chicago runners) is up at arms and freaking out about the 55° weather expected for race day, I, on the other hand, am about as calm as I have ever been about a marathon. I have not checked the weather in the past 24 hours. I have not packed a single item into my travel pack. I have not even watched the race course preview in its entirety that's right there on the corner of my own website! You might be wondering - Is Lam so confident in his own abilities that he can afford not to worry? Is he preparing not to race this one all-out? Is he perhaps trying to play some Jedi mind trick to make himself believe this is not a race with an all important goal?

Honestly, the truth is that I've already come to the terms with myself that this race may not turn out exactly right for me. I don't know about others but I've had a pretty disastrous couple of weeks juggling work, running, and tapering. I pulled my right hammy running tempo a little too aggressively last week. My body is fighting a viral infection that I probably got from one of the kids late last week and I haven't really had a solid long workout run since the run over the Palisades 3 weeks ago! To say that I'm a little unprepared for this all-out marathon effort is a bit of an understatement.

But on the bright side, I do feel that I have at least a fighting chance of running sub-3. Even if my taper wasn't as effective as I'd imagine it'd be, it shouldn't take away all the training I've done over the entire duration of the past 16 weeks. If I've lost a few seconds/mi of fitness over my projected marathon pace of 6:43, I should still have enough breathing room to come in under 3 hours. If my hammy doesn't give out and cramp mid-race and I remain in control of my pace, my body and my emotions, I believe the goal is still achievable.

Whatever happens though, I am already satisfied of how far I've come this year in my running. I withstood a couple 70+ mile/weeks during this cycle and proved to myself that training 5, even 6 days a week won't automatically land me in the D.L. I learned about active recovery and perfected my form. More than anything, I can stand in front of the mirror now and not cringe when I call myself an athlete. Sure it will be great to have the validation afforded by a marathon PR and a sub-3 time, but if it doesn't happen, I already know what I'm all about as a runner. I will be fine. I no longer need the label of a great race time to define me. Others may need the digits on a clock to categorize and validate me but I personally no longer place such importance on my performance or such demands on my body to meet/exceed expectations.

In five days, I can guarantee that I will run well, I will run fast, and I will run to the best of my ability. Whatever happens after that, I will deal with and accept. After all, isn't that what running is all about? Maybe that's why I am no longer anxious. Maybe that's why I'm no longer scared. We fear what we do not know. In my case, I already know myself. What is there left to fear? All that's left to do is to show the world what I've already come to know for quite some time - this guy is a runner and a mighty fine one at that!

Friends, are we ready to show the world what we've got? In FIVE days...READY, SET, CHICA--GO!
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