Chicago 2005 was a tough race for me. With cool weather, more training miles, and a better running base, I had high hopes of a new PR and running a 3:50. Instead I had to fight like hell to hang on enough to break 4 hours.
At the start I lined up with the 3:50 pacers, vowing to stick with them the best I could. The tension in the air kept building and building as we all stood, crammed together through announcements, speeches, the anthem, and then my favorite part of the start as they blasted out "Sweet Home Chicago."
And we were off! Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, stop. Walk, walk, jog...ahhh, running at last! We crossed the starting line mats and the sweet music of thousands of beeps from the timing chips and mats filled the air. Training is over. it's time to put up or shut up!
Mile 1 clocked in at 8:54 - faster than I would have liked. My usual slow second mile came by at 9:30. "Much better" I thought. Then a 9:08. I would have liked to ease into this a bit slower, but I was trusting the pace team.
Last year, it took 6 miles for me to get up to my planned pace. This year, mile 4 was an 8:30, followed by mile 5 in 8:25. "Yikes! What are they thinking" I thought. I knew I needed to average 8:47 to come in at 3:50. I decided to stop trying to chase the pacers so closely. Mile 6 - 8:44. "Now that's more like it!"
Mile 7, 8, 9 - 8:26, 8:22, 8:47. Maybe I should have kept with the pacers. I needed to back off. I kept thinking "But maybe this is my year and I'll be able to reel off a bunch of 8:20-somethings and really blast that PR!" Yeah, right.
The nest few miles came in much better - Mile 10 - 8:34, Mile 11 - 8:48, Mile 12 - 8:46. "Doing fine," I thought.
Another of the 3:50 pacers came up on me. I think they had 3 separate teams. I latched on to them and miles 13 , 14 and 15 came in at 8:43, 9:02, and 8:32. Kind of up and down, but averaging right where I needed. When the 8:32 came by, Joe our pacer said "Uh, oh, too fast" but then looked around and said "Cha-ching! Money in the Bank!" I was hoping he was right. I was soon to find out that someone absconded with the funds.
Miles 16, 17, and 18 - 9:02, 9:14, 9:28. The pace team pulled away from me as I started to slow drastically. I didn't know what was happening but I knew my legs were beginning to really hurt. As the pain grew they felt heavier and heavier. I tried to run faster, but my legs just wouldn't respond. "OK" I thought. "No 3:50 today, but if I can just get moving a little faster, I can still break 3:55:30 for a PR."
MIles 19, 20, and 21 - 9:21, 9:40, 9:53. A PR quickly slipped away as I started dawdlling through the aid stations. Resolved to keep fighting, I set sub-4 hours as my next goal and did my best to get my legs to move a little faster.
Miles 22, 23, and 24 - 9:58, 9:36, 9:54. Well, I felt like I was going faster. The crowds helped get me through this part. I traded a lot of high-5s here and tried to keep positive. The approaching finish line started tugging and I knew the pain would soon be over.
Mile 25 came in at 9:47. I turned the corner at Roosevelt and headed up over the bridge. In my pain-fogged daze I somehow missed the 26 mile sign and then that glorious finish line came into view. Last year I almost sprinted this part. This year I did my best to keep running, raised my arms at the finish and it was finally over - 3:58:42. I made it.
What the heck happened? What went wrong? The thought didn't really occur to me during the race, but I now realize that I "hit the wall" around mile 18. My legs, depleted of glycogen, just couldn't continue. Those too-fast early miles killed me I'm sure. My taper, pre-race diet and routine differed little from last year. I've got a lot of analyzing to do. I'll be looking over my training log, looking closely at my splits, etc. I know I have a better marathon in me and I'm resolved to get that PR. Look out Chicago. I'll be back!