So it all began during a half marathon in Palma de Majorca just less than a year ago…a roasting hot day, two thirds round the course and me promising myself never ever to do this again...well it didn’t quite start there but close enough. A few hours later talking to my wife Tanja over a celebratory beer I mentioned that maybe running a marathon might be a good idea. The crazy logic being that it would be a bit slower and therefore a bit less painful than a half....as I write this I’m already thinking, what an idiot!
So as a Christmas “present” Tanja signed us up for Chicago marathon... that kind of present could seriously lose you some friends. What next, entry to an Ironman for my birthday, a voucher for a kick in the shin for Easter as a healthy alternative to a chocolate egg?!
We were both lucky enough to get through the ballot and so there we were flying to Chicago with our training behind us, me looking suspiciously around the plane for any sign of a sniffle or a cough having tried to avoid any human contact for the last week in order to not pick up a cold.
Chicago is a super city, we’ve been before and really like the place....a couple of days to acclimatise and avoid much walking, a visit to the expo for some free goodies, a marathon t-shirt, some free beer and of course our start numbers!
The big day came, despite my obsession with cold avoidance we'd both picked up colds! Sniffles and a bit of a sore throat but nothing too severe...nothing a 26.2 mile jog couldn’t sort out. It was going to be a pretty hot day, unlike any other holiday we've been on we were constantly looking at various weather apps leading up to the race hoping for a severe drop in temperature. It had been getting up to 31 degrees in the week before so we were pretty lucky it had dropped to a relatively parky 26 degrees on race day. Each time I mention to someone it was hot it goes up by another degree, to the point I've pretty much started saying my trainers were melting. To keep it factual, I’ve done some research and it reached a high of 28 degrees but thankfully after the race.
So to the race. We had a 45 minute journey from our Airbnb to the start line and we joined the throngs entering the park. We had a long queue for the toilet which put me a bit on edge, but that aside it was trouble free and we headed to our respective start corrals. I felt fairly good as I walked through to the front of the corral towards the pacers for 3hrs 40mins which was my target.
I had already decided not to run with the pacer as during my training I’d done a few long runs with half marathon at around 1hr 47mins so i thought if all went well I might be able to sneak a 3hr 35mins Marathon.
The first half of the race went great, I couldn't take the smile off my face! There were loads of people out supporting as we ran through the centre of Chicago. There were lots of funny signs out there to take your mind off the running, my favourite of those I can remember being “if Trump can run, so can you”. There were plenty of people out supporting and the atmosphere was great.
It was already quite hot, but the tall buildings gave really good shade. Unfortunately that couldn’t last forever and the second half is much more exposed as it winds through Chicago’s various neighbourhoods, each bringing it’s own distinct flavour.
The on-course services were fantastic, with sports drink and water stops every couple of miles and a load of other goodies like sponges, gels, chews and bananas being handed out at official stations and a load of other treats being offered by the cheering crowds. I really couldn’t have any complaints there...I’m sure I could have put on a couple of pounds around the course if I’d have been in the mood!
So I reached half way in my target 1hr 47mins feeling pretty good...happy with the world...dreaming of a run below my target. Unfortunately that didn’t last too long...a few miles later and I started to slow, my energy was drained despite taking my gels as I’d planned. I think back now and wonder why I didn’t stop and have a banana or something more substantial but I think at the time a combination of being nervous about trying something new and also just not really feeling like I had the stomach for it stopped me.
My pace dropped, it didn’t fall off a cliff but I lost about 20 seconds a Kilometer for a few kilometres and then another 20 seconds after another few kilometres. It was starting to feel pretty bad and the last 10km's was torture! I’d ran up to 35kms in training and had never felt like this...there was nowhere to hide from the sun and each water station involved throwing a couple of cups of water over my head as well as drinking plenty. I’d normally not drank too much on my long runs but decided that given the heat I’d take a little water at each of the stations right from the start...nothing new on race day of course but I felt given the temperature that I had to make that change. It certainly didn’t seem to impact me in the first half.
So did I say the last 10ks was torture! Obviously I’d heard people talk about this and our trainer, Mark had talked a lot about the mental side of things and how the last 10kmwas going to be mentally and physically tough....I guess I just really underestimated that and certainly hadn’t come anywhere near the feeling in training...I had expected pain as my left knee had been playing up at the end of long runs but that was surprising not too painful...maybe I was too exhausted to feel the pain! I told myself that I just needed to keep running, but in the end I couldn't manage it - this was a low point, I didn’t expect to have to walk and this hurt...I walked through the water stations, justifying it to myself as needing to walk to take on water but in reality I just couldn’t do it anymore without these rests every couple of kilometres. I started to dream of the next water station where I could walk again, the relief palpable as they popped up like an oasis in the desert!
Another low couple of lows came as the both the 3:40 and 3:45 pacers passed me…I made a feeble attempt to keep up with the 3:45 as I was pretty near to the finish but just had nothing to give, no energy in the legs and it was enough just to resist the desire to walk the rest of the way.
I don’t think I ever thought I wasn’t going to make it, I knew I could walk the rest if it came to it but I really wanted to carry on running to get the best time I could. I really was counting down each kilometre and as I’d done a year ago I was telling myself “never again”!
I crossed the line, relieved and exhausted but in control of my faculties enough to grab as much free stuff as I could! Protein shakes, ice bag (placed on head), wet towel, ubiquitous Marathon silver sheet thingy, bottle of water, free beer (very important), various crisp type snacks and energy bars and of course, last but not least a nice shiny medal! And what a medal!
I staggered over the bag collection, picked up my stuff, sat down and turned on my phone to track Tanja coming through on the race app. Loads of messages came through from friends and family tracking the race in the app who had seen that I'd finished and it was great to know that they were supporting us as we slogged around the course.
I went to wait for Tanja coming through and sat down on the ground in the sun, it took me a good couple of minutes to get to the floor I was so sore and I got a little cheer from some fellow runners amused at my inflexibility as I made it to the floor.
It was great to see Tanja coming out of the finishing area, I was really relieved to see she made it in one piece as it was so brutal out there. The journey wouldn’t have felt complete without both of us making it.
We hung around a bit, took a few photos, had another free beer and then headed back to our flat...I think mixed feelings for both of us, relieved and happy to have completed our first marathon, but both a little disappointed having not made our target time.
Spending the next few days hobbling around, that feeling of disappointment for me has now gone, the conditions were tough, it was our first marathon and it really is a good time I can be proud of... as for never running another marathon, let’s just say I now know the chance of getting into the London Marathon through the ballot in 2016 was 6.9%.