Tag Archives: marathon

Chicago Marathon 2013 — A Look Back

Yesterday, I found out that I was successful in getting into the 2014 Chicago Marathon.  I registered with the lottery, but I still haven’t decided if I feel like going through all of the training again.

Another factor that gives me pause is motivation.  Aside from the training commitment, I have to create a new goal.  I shattered my time goal of a sub 4 hour marathon.  I did so well, in fact, that I’m not sure if I want to compete in another marathon again because I don’t know if I can do better.

Without further ado, here is the data:

Split Time Of Day Time Diff min/mile miles/h
05K 07:56:10AM 00:23:52 23:52 07:41 7.82
10K 08:19:50AM 00:47:31 23:39 07:37 7.88
15K 08:43:20AM 01:11:01 23:30 07:34 7.93
20K 09:06:43AM 01:34:25 23:24 07:32 7.97
HALF 09:11:51AM 01:39:33 05:08 07:32 7.97
25K 09:30:05AM 01:57:47 18:14 07:32 7.98
30K 09:53:50AM 02:21:31 23:44 07:39 7.85
35K 10:18:27AM 02:46:08 24:37 07:56 7.57
40K 10:44:10AM 03:11:51 25:43 08:17 7.25
Finish 10:55:59AM 03:23:40 11:49 08:40 6.93

A casual reader might look at the above table and say “Hey, you didn’t hit your goal of 7:30 per mile.”  As it turns out, I was training for 8:00 per mile.  The conditions were so good (and I guess my training was more than sufficient) that I ran ~30 seconds per mile faster than my goal pace for most of the race.

So what happened that day?  How was I able to finally overcome the obstacles from 2011 and 2010?


Around the beginning of the year, I wasn’t feeling very good health-wise.  It seemed like any thing I consumed was causing me intestinal distress.  I went and saw a nutritionist and she pointed out that my symptons sounded like FODMAP.  So I started keeping track of everything I was eating and drinking.  In addition to feeling better, I started to lose weight.  Note that the FODMAP diet is similar to the atkins diet: lots of protein and limit sugars.

Chart of my weight for 2013
Chart of my weight for 2013

I actually got a bit concerned right before the marathon that I was losing too much weight (around 163 pounds early October) and so I started to eat more carbs.  Besides, I needed to carbo-load!

I read somewhere that the force of each step during running is 2.5x body weight.  The weight loss was quite noticable in my running as the year progressed.


Aside from diet, the other big factor that was lacking from previous attempts was training.  Sure, I was doing some running before, but I didn’t have any kind of schedule.  I needed a strict plan to keep me focused.  Therefore, I signed up for the CARA Summer Marathon Training Program.  This meant that for 18 weeks, I was running 5-6 days per week.

Given that this was my first formal training since Track and X-Country in high school, I had a lot of questions.  Was I a Beginner runner?  I didn’t think so, since I technically *ran* 3 marathons.  Was I an Intermediate runner?  Probably, since Advanced sounded too much like Professional runner which I wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination.  How fast should I run?  I know that I wanted to get a sub 4 hour marathon, but that was just a primary goal.  I knew that if I did more training I should be able to do better than that.  The annoying part is that for the training to work, you have to know your goal pace because it drives all aspects of the training.  The expert thinking was that you are better off taking long runs at a slower pace (about 1+ minutes slower than race pace).  I decided my goal race pace should be 8 minutes per mile.

So for training, I chose Intermediate and 9 minutes per mile.  I started running a few weeks and everything felt super slow.  Plus, that particular pace group seemed rather unfocused.  I decided to up my game and try running 8:30 per mile.  The group dynamic was way better.  It seemed like the mental commitment of the 8:30 runners was more about the running.  The leader, Mo (short for Maureen), was an inspired coach and cheerleader.  It really made all of the difference when you had to crank out hours of a run.

Short runs were around 4-5 miles and the long runs were 14-20 miles.  I can’t stress how much time was spent warming up, running, stretching and cooling down.  The long runs were on Saturday at Montrose Beach.  I had to get up by 5:00-5:15AM, eat a snack, and then drive there so that I could meet my running group which started at 6AM.  For the long runs, that would be 2+ hours of running at 8:30 min/mile.  After water and stretching, I wasn’t back home until 9AM.


I didn’t rush to sign up for the Chicago Marathon in 2013.  In fact, I let it slip by because after 2012, I was pretty much convinced that I could never finish one successfully.  Besides, I was mentally tired in 2012 and my feet were in pain.  That being said, if I was going to do a marathon again, I wanted to make sure that I had a good start position.  The last thing you want to have to do in a race is expend extra energy to move laterally in order to pass slower runners.

So on July 21, instead of a training run, I ran the Rock N’ Roll Half Marathon in Chicago.  I finished in 1:39:13 which was good enough to qualify for Corral C.

Home Stretch
Home Stretch

I was pretty happy with the performance, but I also had a contingency plan in case the weather (or some other race performance inhibitor occurred).  On a trip to San Diego, I ran the America’s Finest City Half Marathon.  I finished in 1:36:12.  This course was more my style as it started flat to downhill.

AFC Half Marathon Elevation Chart
AFC Half Marathon Elevation Chart

This performance got me into Corral B.  I was pretty ecstatic.  I felt so good at near the end (after the gigantic uphill) that I was full-on sprinting.

Crossing the 2013 AFC Half Marathon
Crossing the 2013 AFC Half Marathon


I spent a lot of time in previous races working on my music mix.  I decided that music wasn’t really getting it done for me.  I moved to podcasts for training (excluding the long runs with CARA where I actually talked to people instead).  This made it really easy to forget about the running and keep my brain distracted with the latest news.

On race days (both halves and the full), I actually went without any ipod of any kind.  I found that the lack of music really helped me concentrate on the race itself.  I could listen to my body and soak up the atmosphere.  Depending less on music for motivation forced me to motivate myself in other ways.


So race day finally arrived.  I had a plan and I was ready to go.  About 3 weeks before, I had done the CARA Ready To Run 20 mile run and I was fast.  It wasn’t a timed event, but I ran the last 3 miles 1-2 minutes faster per mile than the practice pace.  This gave me a lot of confidence going into the marathon.

The weather was sunny and a cool 60 degrees with low humidity.  Honestly, I don’t really think weather-wise it could have been better.  Some of the CARA practice group met before-hand at the Hilton hotel.

My plan was to run run with a few of the guys who had similar time goals.  We had all qualified for Corral B.  It was going to be 8 minute miles all the way.  If we felt good, then we would pick it up at the end.

Well you know what they say about plans…

I started running at the aforementioned pace with one of the guys.  The other guys were further back in the corral.  After a mile or so, I realized that it was just too slow.  So I started to go faster and left the guy behind.  I had actually lost sight of the other guys but figured it’s my race.  Around mile 3 I ran into them.  We talked about the pace being faster than planned.  There was some disagreement about whether to go fast or stay on pace.

I decided to stick with the faster pace for a few more miles.  At that point, I figured I could re-evaluate.  That point came and I tried to slow down to see if it would make any difference.  Ryan, the lead guy, kept going at the slightly faster pace.  I did this for a mile or so and then decided to just go with the faster pace.

As I passed mile 10, I noticed that my time was right around my finish time for the Soldier Field 10 miler time of 1:14:02.  Suffice it to say that I was a little concerned.  I remember having to work pretty hard to get that time and here I am with another 16+ miles left to run.  But I thought, hey, that was in May and it’s October now.  Besides, I did well in those half marathons too.  So I kept on trucking.

Things were ok until the 12th mile.  I was running with a mix of Gatorade and GU gels.  After having some Gatorade at a hydration station, I vurped.  I felt nauseous and immediately slowed down.  It was like the wind had gone out of my sails.  I took the slower pace for the next mile.

As I approached the half way point, I started to feel better.  So, I decided to pick-up the pace.  After a bit, I could see the fast group that I had been running with before.  This was good, as they gave me a rabbit to chase.  Eventually, I caught up to them.  They were surprised to see me because really, nobody usually catches up after that type of reaction.

The next 5-6 miles went by like a blur.  I was running strong.  Then something happened.  I’m not sure what exactly.  But basically, I just didn’t feel so strong anymore.  I had to drop out of the group which at this point was just Ryan and I.  I couldn’t hack the speed.  It was frustrating as I was hoping to feel as good as I did when I did the 20 miler.  Not suprising as I ran 18+ miles significantly faster than I did in the practice run.

So I kept pushing.  I was drinking my Gatorade but I stopped the gels since I didn’t want another stomach reaction.  In hindsight, I really didn’t have nearly enough Gatorade given the heat.  Checking the GPS, I saw that I was slowly losing pace time but my average was still ok.

Things got really bad with 2-3 miles left to go.  I could barely lift my legs and my lower back was in searing agony.  All I could think was that I had to keep going in order to make the early part of the race worthwhile.  Again, it was disappointing as I thought I was going to finish strong and really push hard at the end.

Going up the Roosevelt Bridge
Going up the Roosevelt Bridge

Finally, I made the turn onto Roosevelt and lumbered up that annoyingly big hill.  The pain was excruciating.  I tried to sprint near the end but at best it was a jog.  Thankfully, I made it across the finish line without falling down.  3:23:40 in the books.

2013 Chicago Marathon Finish Line
2013 Chicago Marathon Finish Line

I’m sure those who have read my previous marathon write-ups are curious if I had to go to the Medical Tent.  Well, I tried to walk it off, but the vurping earlier and the lack of enough Gatorade yet again dehydrated my body.  After saying no to 3 different people asking if I was ok (because I probably looked like crap), I asked the 4th person to help me to the Med Tent.  Thankfully, the nurse/doctor in charge was competent and able to give me a proper IV filled with hydrating goodness.


So am I any closer to making a decision?  I don’t know, but it was good to look back on all of the events that contributed to the race day.

Finish with my medal
Finish with my medal

Chicago Marathon — 2011 Edition

So another season has come and gone and so did my opportunity to beat 4 hours in a marathon.

Let’s start with the numbers:

Split Time of day Time Diff Min/mile Miles/h
05K 08:00:10AM 00:26:04 26:04 08:24 7.15
10K 08:26:40AM 00:52:34 26:30 08:32 7.04
15K 08:52:55AM 01:18:49 26:15 08:27 7.10
20K 09:19:54AM 01:45:49 27:00 08:42 6.91
HALF 09:25:42AM 01:51:37 05:48 08:31 7.06
25K 09:49:15AM 02:15:10 23:33 09:43 6.18
30K 10:19:52AM 02:45:47 30:37 09:52 6.09
35K 10:58:06AM 03:24:00 38:13 12:18 4.88
40K 11:36:09AM 04:02:04 38:04 12:15 4.90
Finish 11:52:58AM 04:18:53 16:49 12:20 4.87

My goal with this race was to run with the 3:45 pace group.  This roughly comes down to 8:35 per mile.  Given that I ran the Rock N Roll Half Marathon in 1:41:30 (7:45 per mile), it is no surprise that my half marathon split is about as on pace as expected.  Then things started to go badly.

Around mile 12, I realized that I was running far ahead of my pace team.  This meant that when I turned my head side ways or full around 180 that I couldn’t see anybody holding the pace placard.  Now before you go thinking that this is my fault, they suggested that people who want to walk or go more slowly through the aid stations go ahead a little bit.  I had been doing that and basically just got a bit too far ahead of myself.  So then I made my first mistake on race day; I started to slow down and eventually even walked through the next aid station until the pace group caught up to me.  Now I could lie and say that this was all for getting back to pace, but if I’m honest with myself, I was tired and thought that I could use this accrued time to recuperate so that I could start feeling not so tired.  Why was this a mistake?  Basically, that was my mental moment where my foot came off the ‘race’ pedal(accelerator).  When you give in to things like that, it’s very hard to stay pumped and in attack-mode ready to pass any runner.  Suffice it to say that when the group caught up to me, they were going a bit faster than I would have liked and it was a mental downer to have to speed up to get back onto the right pace.

As I approached the half way point, I experienced a problem that was unfortunately familiar: my knees and hips started to hurt.  I say familiar because this was why I didn’t stay on pace for the 20 miler preparation run 3 weeks before this race.  It’s hard to describe the pain.  It wasn’t as bad as “Oh crap, what am I going to do” but it was definitely not as good as “I love this and I want to do this forever”.  Perhaps the best way to think about it is, if I keep going this will only get worse and eventually I won’t be able to move along at the pace I want.  Not to mention that it really makes it hard to keep a spring in your step when all of your springs are complaining.  Fear not, dear reader, as I planned for this eventuality.  I had two packets of Advil (Ibuprofen) in my men’s fanny pack.  I was worried about any side-effects during the long run, but I was willing to risk those to avoid the crazy hip/knee pain.  But.  And there’s always a But.  I bought these the day before at a gas station.  These are foil packets that contains 2 200mg pills per packet.  I couldn’t open the packet.  Since I didn’t train with this drug (or form factor), I was not prepared.  So I tried tearing with my sweaty fingers.  I tried biting.  I tried swearing.  Alas, none of these techniques worked.  And so I tried begging.  I ran over to the side where there were people handing out water and screamed “Open This!” to some very frightened young dude.  He was about as successful as me in the beginning but thankfully was able to get it open.

So now I’m running west on Adams passing the 14 mile mark.  And one of the day’s fears is realized.  The sun is out and there isn’t a cloud in the sky.  This part of the run (i.e. the second half) is very unprotected from the sun.  And the temperature is probably around the low 70s.  The Advil has not kicked in yet and I was tired already.  This was the moment that I let go of the pace group.  I wasn’t worried about knowing the pace.  I knew that I was about 3.5 minutes off of the clock time and I had an arm band telling me where and when I should be pace-wise.  But I now was losing any sort of camaraderie that would have kept me going.  So why didn’t I just keep going?  After all, I’m mentally tough, my pain killers would kick-in at some point soon, and I’m not *that* old.  Hard to explain.  I guess the evidence would point to the fact that I must not be as mentally tough as I thought (ignore the irony).  And so began my stretch of walking and running.  I would walk for a bit (aggressively, dammit) and then start a slow to moderate jog.  Unfortunately, the jog wouldn’t last and I had to walk again.  But at least I was fighting.

I wasn’t doing too badly at this point.  My music was playing and I was running a little slower (current pace-wise) but I was still going to meet my goal of sub 4 hours.  I kept thinking that I just had to maintain this walk/run thing for a bit and then everything would be ok.  By a bit I mean that I would meet Su at the 20 mile mark (which was a little past the 30k mark).  So that gave me some motivation.  And as luck would have it, I started feeling better at the 30k mark.  So I picked up the pace (not sure what exactly, but faster than I was going before) and started to pass people.  At last, I thought, I’m getting my second wind and I’m going to accomplish my goal.

Then I started to get a cramp in my left calf.  I thought, no big deal, I’ve gotten cramps before.  I just need to run through it and all will be well.  This cramp was persistent.  I had to do something.  So I pulled to the side and started stretching it out.  Helped a bit.  So I was going to stretch the right one for good measure.  When I stopped stretching the left, I experienced pain.  Physical pain like I have never felt before.  I screamed.  There was a spectator who asked “Should I call an ambulance?”.  I said no.  I tried to stretch it again but the pain was ridiculous.  Eventually, for no reason, it subsided and I started walking again.  This may sound crazy, but then I felt really good.  I started running.  Then sprinting.  I was feeling like a million bucks.  I thought Su will miss seeing me because I’ll be a blur as I pass her.  Well, *that* didn’t happen.  The euphoria lasted only a few minutes.  No biggie, I will just keep on the non-sprinting pace and all will be well.

I met Su and gave her a sweaty hug.  She said “You’re doing great!”.  I said “I’ve had some cramping issues”.   She said “You can do it!”.  And so I thought I could.  I thought this cramping thing is behind me and I can finish with a respectable pace.  There was only one problem with that strategy: the cramping thing was not behind me.  In fact, it just kept getting worse.  It started with the left calf.  Then it moved to the right calf.  Then it was both calves.  Each time, I would start walking and wait until the pain subsided.  Then I would start jogging for a bit.  I couldn’t call it running anymore.  I had gel.  I had bananas.  I had water.  Nothing made the cramping pain go away.

And the heat was starting to get oppressive.  The long stretch heading North on Michigan was a real bear.  Very unprotected.  My body heat level was getting very hot.  I tried using the sponges (which were awesome) and wet towels (also awesome), but nothing seemed to get me back to normal.  As I approached the Roosevelt bridge without about 200 yards to go, I kept hearing people shout “Come on, you can do it!”, but I really couldn’t.  I was exhausted and in a lot of pain.  I managed a few smiles for the camera as I crossed the finish line, but that’s about all I could do.

Right at the finish line, I saw that they had more Gatorade G2 (which is what everybody considers to be the normal stuff) and I’m like no, don’t need need that.  I need my G3 recovery drink.  So I had water, a banana and sipped my recovery drink.  I made my way to the Gear Check tent.  I put on my sandals and changed shirts.  I texted Su that I was now heading to the agreed upon meet up in the party area.  I didn’t even have a 312 beer yet because I wanted to avoid going to the med tent due to dehydration.  I’m at the North side of Buckingham Fountain.  I started walking North to get to the party area.  And the cramping starts up and I feel woozy.

Yeah, that’s right.  I get put into a wheel chair and get carted off to the med tent.  (Welcome Back Dave!)  The doctor thought all of the cramping was because I didn’t have enough electrolytes.  He asked did I have any Gatorade during the run?  I said not really because the nutrition people said not to mix gel with gatorade, but I had 5 gels, bananas and water.  And so he had me drinking G2 gatorade to try and replenish the electrolytes.  In the meantime, the cramping got real bad.  There were about 6 different masseur and masseuses working on both legs at different points in time.  When I thought everything was ok, one leg would just start up again.  This was the crazy kind of physical pain.  I was screaming.  I probably had 2 bottles of gatorade at that point and I didn’t really feel better.  The doctor was like “An IV is what you need as that will get electrolytes fastest to the muscles”.  I’m thinking why the **** didn’t you give me that in the first place.  I had already been there for 1-2 hours at this point.  That’s when the real fun began.  It took 6 tries (that’s right 6) for 3 different nurses to try and find my vein in order to put in the IV.  I didn’t mind the sticking that much, but I really wanted the cramping to stop.

In the end, I got the fluid.  I never made it to the post race party.  I never had a single beer at the event but still managed to get dehydrated and visit the med tent.  The doctor said “See you next year”.  Can’t wait.

So what did this experience teach me?  I think that perhaps some people are not meant to run a marathon.  I think that I’m part of that group.  At a minimum, I will not be running any more warm weather marathons.  And definitely no marathons for several years (if ever again).  Hear I am, 10 years after running a marathon with no training at 4:12 (or so).  I trained and ran it 6 minutes slower.

Anyway, I have a bunch of excuses:

  • The weather was hot.  Now, to be fair, it wasn’t as hot as 2010; however, as anyone who has done any type of distance running will tell you, the cooler the better.  And this means that snow would have been preferable to sun.
  • I didn’t fuel correctly during the race.  This is the one of the most frustrating aspects of this event.  I borrowed a book about nutrition for endurance sports, I went to a “breaking the wall” seminar that included the nutrition book author, and I followed (as best I could) all of the advice and instructions.  The seminar panel said “You shouldn’t mix gel and gatorade” and I listened.  I bought a gel belt and fueled up often during the race; unfortunately, the lack of gatorade most likely caused the unbearable cramping.
  • I still didn’t manage the last 2 weeks correctly.  At the seminar which took place 2 weeks before the race, they said that you can’t do anything to improve your race; you can only mess it up.  I’m pretty sure that I ate too much during the week.  I tried to do the right thing, but I really didn’t know what I was doing.  The result was that I didn’t feel great on race day.  I felt heavy and annoyed that I didn’t run as much as I was supposed to in the last 2 weeks.


How did I improve from last year?

  • Got a new set of head phones that didn’t activate the voice control functionality of the iPhone.  They worked like a charm.
  • I created a play list.  This worked pretty well for the entire 2011 season.  Ironically, I ran into non running songs at the end when I wasn’t running.  I really didn’t expect my time to be that bad.
  • My shoes were much better.  I ended up running with Nike Lunar Glide 3 shoes.  Combined with my orthotics, they are a very good combination.  Slight mistake here that I should have replaced the orthotics after the 20 mile run.  Not doing that caused a bunch of nasty blisters, but I don’t think they had a negative material effect.
  • I used Vaseline instead of Body Glide.  Not really noticeable during the run but made all the difference in the world in the post run recovery.
  • I improved on my nutrition.  Though I still had issues, I think I had net improvement.


So what’s next?  I think that a half marathon may be the max distance in pure running for me.  I know that I don’t need to train that much for it and that it doesn’t require much in the way of in-race fueling.  And perhaps most importantly, I don’t run into all of these *other* issues like hip pain and cramping.  I’ve got my eye on the ING Miami half marathon but before that there is the good ole Turkey Trot.  I’ll see how it goes.