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Monday, October 17, 2011

Chicago, Chicago, that Toddling Town-Pt. 2

After an intermittent, albeit fairly satisfying, night of sleep, I got out of bed around 5:30 a.m. to get ready for the race.  Ted was still sleeping, at least he appeared to be.  I went about my morning ablutions as quietly as I could so as not to disturb him, but the likelihood of that happening seemed slim.  If there's one thing I've learned about sharing a hotel room with Ted, having done it three times, that boy can pretty much sleep through anything.  I marveled at his ability to slip into slumber quickly, not to mention staying there.  And I was probably just a little bit jealous.

But only a little.

Eventually, Sleeping Beauty did rise.  We had decided the night before that we'd leave around 6:45 a.m.  That gave us 45 minutes to get to the start, which was only 3/4ths of a mile away from our hotel.  I completely relied on Ted's sense of direction to get us to where we needed to be.  I have a habit of not paying attention to my surroundings, and this happened to be one of those times.  As we walked, Ted remarked that he's never seen me this quiet pre-race before.  I told him that there wasn't really anything to say.  I was minutes away from starting this race.  I wasn't going to ask for reassurance on how I would do or voice concern about the unseasonably high temperatures (it was in the upper 50's at the start, but it was expected to reach the mid to upper 70's during the race which is not optimal for long distance running).  In the past, I would do that, but not this time.  I just didn't think it was a constructive thing to do.

All the work was already done.  And, contrary to what the engineers at the fitness center think, I do NOT control the weather. 

We were both in different corrals so, ever being the gentlemen, Ted saw me to mine before he went off to his.  We exchanged hugs and good wishes and then, he went off.  I waded through the crowd, looking for "the perfect place to stand".  Once I realized there really wasn't any, I powered up the Garmin and waited as we all got funneled into our corral, like cattle.  Did I mention that 45,000 people had registered for this marathon??  Since John didn't make the trip with us, let's call it 44,999.  I have never been at a race that big in my LIFE.

May I remind you that I am not a detail person?  If you read my Atlantic City Marathon race report last year, you already knew that.  For the benefit of new readers, if you are expecting a play-by-play of the race, with lengthy, graphic descriptions about the scenery, you may be disappointed.  I just put my head down and run.  I'm not on a sight seeing tour; I'm on a 26.2 mile mission.

Just wanted to...clear that up.

The gun went off about five minutes after the scheduled race start.  I got myself in a pretty good rhythm and told myself that I was going to do my best, whatever that ended up being, and that it would be enough.  I did have a goal time in mind and, having heard how fast and flat Chicago was, I figured this would be the race to shoot towards it.  As the miles went by, it became clear that I wasn't going to meet that goal.  There were lots of people to get around and I didn't want to expend exorbitant amounts of energy weaving around them.  The water stops got jammed up with people walking (when all the blood is in your legs, you tend not to think clearly and forget that you have thousands of people trying like hell not to run into you).  Perhaps I was a tad bit conservative due to the unknown of how the warm temperature would affect me, but hindsight is 20/20.  The good news is, I felt like I COULD have run that time.  I felt very strong and fit this time around.  When I ran Boston in April 2011, I pretty much ran out of steam at the 30K mark. 

But, not here.  Not this time.  That was not the issue.  

I ran the whole thing, no walk breaks.  And, when Mile 25 came around, I found I finally had some room to run.  So, I poured it on and did the best I could. My GPS showed me crossing the line in 3:50:49, but I probably lost signal a few times due to the abundance of tall buildings.  Here is the link containing my Garmin data:

After crossing the finish line, I continued to walk.  I received a heat sheet blanket that I took more out of politeness than sincerity (um, hello, it was 75 degrees by then).  The volunteers at the finish line were FANTASTIC.  They all smiled and gave you a hearty, "congratulations!" when they handed over the medal.  It seemed to be totally genuine too, which reinforced my belief that folks in the Midwest are super duper nice.  I got gatorade, water and food.  Happily, the streets in Chicago seemed wide enough to accommodate a large group of finishers at one time, at least when I came through (Boston's finish line mimics it's rush hour traffic:  stop and go, stop and go, stop and go).  I continued to eat and drink while walking.  Once I found out where the fountain was, I went in search of Ted.  Lo and behold, he was exactly where he said he'd be.  We shared our individual marathon experiences with each other.  Neither one of us ran our fastest times that day, but we were okay with that.  Besides, the bling looks the same:

My recorded finish time was 3:52:08 and I placed 6801 out of 35,628 finishers.  Out of the eight marathons I have completed, this was my fourth fastest time.

So, what did I learn from this experience?  That you can be satisfied with being dissatisfied.  I didn't get a PR at this race, nor did I match my marathon PR from May 2010.  But, I'm at peace with that.  I am thankful I went into this with a positive mental attitude, a solid training base and, most of all, dear friends like John and Ted that make this journey even more fun, not to mention meaningful.

However, that doesn't mean I don't want more.  My desire to run "that time" is even stronger than it was before.  But, it's coming from a pure place.  We are all meant to grow and expand beyond where we are now.  And that is exactly what I plan to do when I train for my next marathon...and the next...and the next.

Thanks a bunch, Chicago.  It was a real pleasure.  Next time, I'll be sure to try your famous pizza.

"My kind of town, Chicago is...My kind of town, Chicago is...My kind of razzmatazz...And it has all that jazz." 


Monday, October 10, 2011

Chicago, Chicago, that Toddling Town-Pt. 1

"Chicago, Chicago--I will show you around. I love it.  Bet your bottom dollar you'll lose the blues in Chicago, Chicago.  The town that Billy Sunday couldn't shut down." -- Sung by the legendary Frank Sinatra

I met Ted at Logan International Airport on Friday and we boarded a plane headed to Chi Town.  We were both running the "We'll charge you $5" Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Sunday, 10/9/11 (I just had to throw that in.  What do I care anyway...I'm with TD Bank).  Our third musketeer, John, didn't make the trip with us this time around due to an unwilling hamstring, but we brought him with us in mind and spirit, particularly since he was the first one of us to register for this race in the first place.

Thankfully, our flight was on time and went off without a hitch.  We arrived at O'Hare and took the CTA Train to downtown, where our hotel, the Hyatt Regency, was.  Once we checked in, we dropped off our bags and took a taxi to the expo.  Turns out, Friday was the day to go.  There was a good amount of people there, but the place was large enough to accommodate and there weren't any lines for number pickup.  After some light shopping, we took the bus back to downtown.  It was at this time we realized we had practically taken every mode of transportation known to man in one day (auto, plane, train, taxi and bus).  All we needed was to find a boat and our day would have been complete.

Thanks to some kickass room darkening drapes, we enjoyed sleeping until 7:30 a.m. on Saturday.  It could have been even later had the phone not rung.  Neither one of us were in a hurry to get up and go, but after receiving two visits from housekeeping in the span of an hour, we figured it was probably a good idea.  We got ourselves a light breakfast and went to scope out a place to meet post race.  This seemed like the logical choice:

 Look familiar?  Anyone that has ever watched "Married With Children" has seen this as it appears in the opening of every show.  It's Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park.  Impressive, eh?  I took a picture of it with my CrackBerry (which came out pretty good, if I do say so myself).  We picked a spot near some trees by the fountain cafe.  Having ironed out this important detail, we headed over to The Art Institute of Chicago.  I'm ignorant when it comes to art.  Now, I'm not putting myself down, I'm using the word "ignorant" in it's proper sense:  uninformed.  Ted has an affinity for the artsy fartsy stuff, so I followed his lead.  I won't bore you with the details, but I will provide you with their website.  Perhaps you're artsy fartsy too:

We had some tasty Asian cuisine for lunch (egg drop soup for Ted, hot and sour soup for me and Sesame Chicken we both shared) and hopped on the train to visit Ted's friend, Chuck, who lived just outside of Chicago in Oak Park.  He picked us up and drove us around so we can check out buildings and houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, a famous architect, of whom I had no prior knowledge.  The only architect I had ever heard of was Mike Brady (yes, I know it's a fictional character, but I come from a divorced family and television was my babysitter).

Chuck was kind enough to take us back to his home so we could socialize a bit.  His wife, Wanda, was super nice and made us fresh brewed iced tea complete w/lemon wedge.  We enjoyed conversing with them for an hour or so and would have made a night of it, had we not had a date with 26.2 miles of asphalt in 13 hours.  So, we said our goodbyes and headed back on the train in search of dinner.  We ended up going to this place:

They had outdoor seating which was cool...except you had to scream your face off everytime the trains went by.  But hey, what do you want?  It's the city, for crying out loud.  We limited ourselves to one beer each since we needed to be hydrated as opposed to hungover the next day.  Once we were finished, we headed to the store nearest the hotel to get runner friendly pre-marathon food.  It was hilarious going in there and seeing all of these lean, athletic types walking around with a bagel in one hand and a banana in another.  That is akin to a secret handshake for marathon runners.  I bet that store never sells that many of either item any other day of the year.

Once we got back to the hotel, we thought it best to get all of our race gear ready for the morning.  I covered all the bases:

For this race, I opted to rock my 2008 Lazarus House Team Hunger Striker Singlet.  It was light, it was white, and it had my name on it.  From what I heard, the crowds in Chicago are AMAZING.  I'll shamelessly lap up all of the encouragement and "Go Cyndi's" I can get on a run that long.  I also put the D-Tag (timing chip) on my shoe so I wouldn't have to screw around with that at 6 a.m. 

With all the pre-race prep done, all that remained was to relax, unwind and wait for sleep to come. 

Tomorrow was going to be a big day.