Chicago Marathon Recap
I left off with my last blog just 2 weeks out from Chicago. That final big workout I did went really well, but it left my hamstring/glute in not the best shape. The hamstring felt tight the morning before, and then during the workout. It wasn’t all that bad, but with a marathon just 2 weeks away I did want to take care of it. I talked to Wes and AJ Gregg about it on Monday, they gave me some exercises to help it, along with suggesting heating it before running to keep it loose and hopefully prevent it from tightening up while I ran. I took the next few days easy and felt that it was getting better. On Thursday, September 27th I did my first workout since it felt tight during the 2 x 6-mile workout. The workout was pretty simple; the Marshall Lake workout, which I’ve done a handful of time since I’ve joined NAZ Elite. The workout consists of a 2-mile tempo at 4:50 pace, followed by 5 minutes rest. Then we do 4 by 2 minutes up a hill I’d call a roughly 8% grade? I don’t know exactly, I just know that it’s pretty dang hard! We take 3 minutes rest in between each of them, and try to get a little further each time; basically going as hard as you can for the fourth one. I started the workout and didn’t feel like my hamstring was tight. Unfortunately, something did feel off in the glute/hip area of that leg. I was able to complete the workout, but what was supposed to be a “gimme” workout was not. I felt like I was working too hard to run the paces; and was starting to get really worried that if I felt like this for just a 2-mile tempo and 4 x 2-minute hills, how the heck would I run a good marathon in just 10 days?!
Over the next few days, I ran super easy and had appointments with chiropractors just about every day. Wes told me it was a mild glute strain. “Mild” made me a little at ease, “strain” did not. He worked on it a lot, and I was encouraged that it seemed to be getting better every day. I saw John Ball the week before the race, he worked on it and said it was nothing major, that I’d be good to go. That was a huge confidence booster, as well as having a great final workout the Wednesday before Chicago. I went down to Camp Verde and did 2 by 3 miles in 5:00 pace; the Scotts practicing pacing me for the first 3-miler. I felt sharp, relaxed, and super happy to not feel any discomfort in my hamstring, glute, or anywhere else!
I flew to Chicago the next day, feeling rested, healthy, and excited to race. Feeling that way, my mind started to shift toward the final preparations for the race, including our plans for the pace and what to expect weather-wise. The forecast for Sunday morning seemed to constantly be changing. I tried not to worry too much about it since there was nothing I could do to control it. I did a 3 mile prerace run with Coach Ben Saturday morning and imagined the weather the next day would be similar. I felt ok, but again became pretty concerned when we finished and realized I was sweating pretty good because of the humidity. This made me really nervous because I’ve never been very good at racing in hot/humid conditions. My last race, the 20k had gone terribly because of those conditions. I hoped and prayed that Sunday would be different, and as Saturday went along, my prayers were answered as the humidity dropped considerably, and it also got a little cooler. The weather during the race wasn’t ideal, but I was just glad it wasn’t humid! It was probably about 60 degrees the whole race, overcast the whole time with occasional showers. The toughest part was the little bit of headwind the last few miles.
I’d categorize the race itself as a mixed bag of good and below average. I woke up relaxed and excited. I really enjoyed having the Scotts around, knowing that they’d be there to help set me up for roughly 2/3 of this long race. They helped keep me calm that morning, keeping the mood light as we prepared. We talked one last time about the pace. They’d try to keep it between 5:02 and 5:00. That was the end of that, from then on, I didn’t want to think about pacing or times. I just wanted to relax and turn my brain off while they were around, and then compete with people once they dropped out. I trusted that they would do a good job, and they absolutely did! I tucked in right behind them from the gun, along with a group of other guys including Yuki Kawauchi, Kiya Dandena, and Jonas Hampton. There were clocks at all the mile markers, so I tried to keep my eyes glued to the ground any time I noticed one so I wouldn’t start thinking about time or pace. I focused on staying positive and relaxed. I kept my brain turned off by singing songs in my head that I heard along the course for as long as I could. The miles flew by. I tried not to think about how far we had gone besides when we got to fluid stations every 5k, which I was relieved to not have any issues with. The only thing I worried about was how my stomach was feeling. Pretty early on it started getting uncomfortable. Knowing how long of a race it was, I thought there was a definite possibility that I’d have to stop to go to the bathroom. I told myself I’d only stop if it were a real emergency, and that it’d hopefully go away soon. At the 20k fluid station, I took my caffeine pill and decided I would look for the half marathon clock to finally check on how fast we had been going. I felt really good, it was raining pretty good around that time, but I felt super relaxed; and got a jolt of adrenaline from the screaming crowds through downtown. I saw Coach Ben and gave him a thumbs up to let him know I was feeling good.
We passed the halfway mark in 66:05. I thought there was no doubt that I’d be able to negative split at least a little bit and run a 2:11:xx. I even thought that if we started going a little faster now, I could keep that momentum going and maybe even have a big enough negative split to run 2:10:xx! With that in mind, I yelled at the Scotts to get the pace down to 5:00s before they were planning to stop a little before 18. I’m not sure what splits we ran over those next few miles as I continued to try and keep my brain off and let them do the work. As we approached the spot they would be stopping, they began giving me encouragement, and I thanked them for helping me out. As they stopped, our pack had dwindled down to just Jonas Hampton and I. We had an understanding of trying to continue to work together, and to keep running the pace they had set for us the first 17.5 miles. My legs and breathing were still feeling good, but my stomach started to hurt again. I wanted to be aggressive and start working on catching a pack we saw up ahead but was afraid that if I pushed too hard my stomach would get worse and I’d have to stop. I’m not sure of the splits but believe we began slowing a little bit too roughly 5:10 pace. It seemed like we were making a little ground on the pack ahead of us, but not much. At 21 miles, Craig Lutz yelled to me that the pack we saw ahead of us was a pack of 3 Americans. Knowing that Rupp was in the lead pack, this meant that Jonas and I were currently 5th and 6th place Americans. I wanted to finish as one of the top 3 Americans which meant we had to get to work on catching those guys!
I finally got a little separation from Jonas at the 35k mark. It took me until the 23-mile mark to catch Parker Stinson, and a little further to catch and pass Ahmed Osman. That moved me into the third American position. I could see Elkanah Kibet ahead, but wasn’t gaining much ground on him. At the 24 mile mark, I finally paid close attention to the clock and did the math on how fast I needed to run to PR. By then, a 2:10 or 2:11 was out of the cards. But if I finished strong I could definitely PR, possibly break Scott Smith’s team record of 2:12:21, and maybe catch and pass Elkanah to be the second American. By the time I got to the 1 mile to go mark Scott’s team record was out of reach, and Elkanah had begun to widen the gap, so catching him was unlikely. However, I only needed a 5:10 to match my PR. I’ve wanted to reset that PR for so long I gave it everything I had that mile. Unfortunately, I was starting to fall apart. I was pretty sure I wasn’t running a 5:10, and sure enough it was right around a 5:30! My slowest of the race, resulting in a finishing time of 2:13:16 for 3rd American, and 14th overall.
Initially, I was happy about my race, and I still am for the most part. I had given it my all, and judging by my tough last mile, had paced myself about as fast as I could have that day. I had finished as the third American just like the year prior, against another pretty good American field. One of my main thoughts was of relief: relief that I didn’t have to stop to go to the bathroom, and relief that I hadn’t had a bad race. Three out of my last five races (Rotterdam, Boilermaker, 20k) were some of the worst races I’ve had my whole career. At the very least, this was a solid step in the right direction. What I have reflected on since the race that I’m not happy about are things I’ll have to work on in the next 16 months leading into the Olympic Trials Marathon.
In this race, I had two awesome pacers and pretty good weather, yet only ran 20 seconds slower than what I consider my pretty mediocre marathon PR (mediocre compared to my 5k, 10k, Half Marathon PRs). So, in 5 career marathon starts, I’ve had 2 horrible races, and 3 races with times of 2:12:54, 2:13:16 and 2:13:41. Does this indicate that I’m a 2:12/2:13 guy? Or am I still figuring out the marathon distance, and will eventually pop a big minute or two or three PR? I hope for the latter! All I can do is learn from this experience, and keep working hard!