Last year, after finishing the Chicago Marathon, I posted my report and asked "What went wrong?" It was cool for the race and I had trained harder than ever, but the 3:50 finish I had hoped for melted away as I fell apart at 16 miles. I struggled to at least get a PR below 3:55:30, but I slowed to a crawl and ended up finishing in 3:58:42.
In retrospect, I shouldn't have been so hard on myself. As some pointed out, perhaps it just wasn't my day. Thousands of others only dream of breaking 4 hours. I wasn't THAT far off my goal, but I knew I could do better. I finished last year's report with the line "Look out Chicago, I'll be back!"
I have always trained with my own plan. I'm no scientist, but I consider myself a student of training theory and enjoy reading and learning about exercise physiology. I decided though, that I needed to work harder and I needed someone else to show me the way.
The marathon training plans of Pete Pfitzinger, as outlined in his book Advanced Marathoning, are hugely popular among those who frequent these forums. The 18 week program, topping out at 55 miles a week seemed like a good challenge for me. It would increase my peak mileage a bit and challenge me with tough mid-week longish runs and more tempo runs and intervals than I had done previously.
I stuck to the plan fairly well. To get the long mid-week runs in, I burned up a several half days of vacation. I really enjoyed those morning runs. I was able to beat the afternoon heat and I think they really helped me become a stronger runner. My average run went from 6 to over 10 miles.
I dodged a few disasters along the way. A month before the race I banged my bare toes on a step and badly bruised a toe. I thought it was broken, but managed to run on it ok. Then, a 20 mile run in new shoes caused the case of Plantar Fasciitis in my left foot to flare up. Some rest, ice, tape and slower running for a while helped ease it.
I arrived at the starting line healthy and hopeful that things would go better this year. Once again, I set 3:50 as my goal and hoped for the best. Here's how it went:
My 25K split was identical, to the second, to my time from last year. Just as last year, with 10 miles to go I definitely slowed, but this time I was able to hold on to a slightly slower pace for the rest of the race. Although it hurt, I never really hit "The Wall." The wind was brutal at times, especially the last couple miles heading north on Michigan Avenue before the finish, but I was determined to keep pushing.
I conquered the bridge on Roosevelt, turned the corner into Grant Park and finished with a sprint the last 385 yards, short of my 3:50 goal, but estatic to beat my old PR from 2004 by almost two and a half minutes.
I'll remember Chicago 2006 as the year of the cold wind, a mighty battle against the elements and how I found out that hard work does pay off. Take THAT Chicago!