Quick background: I am a cyclist who runs during the off season (winter months) who was talked into doing a Marathon by a couple of "buddies" who eventually backed out in early Spring. I achieved some cycling goals in Spring and early summer before turning to focus on the Marathon in July. Quick background done.
I was up a 4am. Six pancakes, large bagel, small coffee, & 16 ounces of water. Out the door at 5:15am. In Chicago and parked by 6am. A quick meet & greet & photo with a few Runners World forum folks at 6:30am. Arrived at the open start corral at 7am with 16 ounces of HEED and a Cliff Bar. Took a seat on the concrete next to The Saint (RW folk) and we hashed out our plan.
The plan was a 3:50 Marathon, skip the first water station (just the first), walk the aid stations every 5 or 6 miles to consume food (gels), and adjust from there based on how we felt.
The open corral was weird. Online it indicated the open section started with the 4 hour pace group. However, the first pace signs were for 3:30 or 8 min/miles, but I never spotted any pacers for this group??
The next pace group was the 4 hour one. We lined up in the middle of the two. I would estimate that we were in the front 1/3rd of the 35,000 participants. I am a tall dude and was amazed to see the mass of runners lined up behind me. Seeing it in person just amazed me.
The gun went off and we made it to the start line in a short 10 minutes. I thought that was impressive. From there I could never get on pace. There were people everywhere. Darting and stopping. Bobbing and weaving. The streets of Chicago seemed so small. I had no idea that my pace would be so out of my control.
I quickly learned to skip the first two tables in the aid stations to avoid the traffic jam and lack of water. It was always easier to obtain fluids from the last two tables. This lesson was learned at aid station number two.
The Saint and I parted ways around mile 8. I think it was this same time that the 4 hour pace group went flying by. I decided to grab on to them with hopes of smoothing out my pace. However, they were flying at a much faster pace then 9 min/mile. The two pacers were weaving in and out of runners in an impressive fashion. It was hard to keep with them. I managed to do so until I took a potty break. I can not remember what mile that was, but I was in and out of the porta potty with no wait.
The GPS signal on my Garmin was wacko and useless. I lost touch with the speedy 4 hour pace group. I felt lost out there. I just kept a pace that felt comfortable and trudged on. I crossed the Half Way point in 2:02:48 at which point I spotted my wife in the crowd and mouthed to her, "ITS FREAKING HOT!"
The second half of the race was brutally hot. Hot Pockets Hot. Paris Hilton Hawt! There seemed to be little shade once we left the Loop. However, looking at my numbers I was running consistently around 9:30 min/mile up until mile 19. Miles 19 to 21 were 10 minute miles. Miles 22 to 26.2 were above 11 minute miles. This must be that wall runners speak of.
It was mile 20 when I thought I heard someone state the race was cancelled. Maybe it was the heat I thought. They can't cancel the race. At mile 23 one of Chicago's Finest announced over his PA system that the race was cancelled and everyone should walk the rest of the way. I was confused. It didn't make any sense to me. People were still running. Volunteers were still handing out fluids, bananas, and gels. The crowd was still cheering. WTF did he mean Cancelled??
I continued on. Like I said at mile 20 I hit a wall. Maybe the wall. It was definitely a hard unmovable wall like structure. From there it was a run / walk finish for me. I was not cramping or dizzy. I did not have a headache. I did not feel like I was putting myself in danger. It was odd, my legs were just so heavy. I felt like I was barely moving. I was not alone though as I looked around everyone was barely moving.
I think it was the last aid station that lifted my spirits for the final push. A classic Chicago South Sider handed me a cup of gatorade. She looked me right in the eyes and with conviction proclaimed, "You Got This. You're Almost There!" The Volunteers and Crowd were just amazing. Thank you to all of you.
As I finished the announcement came that the Marathon was now a Family Fun Run. I was utterly confused, but had little time to think about this as I crossed the finish line into a sea of crazy. This area was packed with runners. It was a log jam of heat, sweat, and tears. It was making me sick (physically). I just wanted out of there. I really thought the finish would be something more then this. Something special, but it just wasn't in the game plan for this day.
I did not know the gravity of the days events until later that night. I was stunned to see the news footage. The race was cancelled, runners were forced to stop, 312 were hospitalized, and one passed away.
Looking back I do recall the frequent sirens after mile 20. There were some runners sitting on curbs getting medical attention, but they were not dropping like flies around me. I remember passing those cooling buses at mile 18 or 19 that were suppose to take us back to the start, but no one was instructing riders to board. The timing clocks were still ticking away.......... Was this the same race I just ran this morning?
In all honesty I was initially disappointed with my finish. I put a lot of time and effort into the Marathon. My wife and daughter made many sacrifices along the way to accommodate my training. They supported me 100% . I felt like the conditions and elements of the race that cost me time were out of my control. It was a odd feeling for me to have, but it is what it is.
Three days later this is no longer the case. I am a Marathoner. I am very proud to say that. Thank you to my wife, my daughter, my family and friends for your support. Thank you to those who have posted encouragement on my blog. It all has meant the world to me.