Coming into the Chicago Marathon, I had setup some big expectations for myself. My previous PR was at this years Boston Marathon (I ran for a charity thus allowing me to run without qualifying) where I ran a 3:28:08. At the time I thought perhaps I could have done a bit better, but I did struggle through a few miles there so I'm not sure how much better I could have done. That said, as we (my wife and I) chose to do the Chicago Marathon, there was one goal on my mind: qualifying for Boston. Therefore I would need a 3:15:59. I signed us up the first day registration opened assuming we would run just in time for Boston registration. Fast forward a couple months and a new registration process for the Boston Marathon is introduced...including opening a month early! Say goodbye to my Boston Qualifier.
Onto race weekend. I still set myself up with that lofty 3:15 goal. In fact, I told EVERYONE I was shooting for it. I started second guessing myself a bit and was worried I wouldn't be able to hit my goal. That said, I had every intention of going for it!
We flew into Chicago Saturday, hopped in a cab and headed downtown. We couldn't check in yet, but we were able to drop off our bags and then we proceeded to Niketown to catch a shuttle to the expo. There was a shuttle ready right when we got there and we were soon heading towards McCormick Place to pick up our bibs/chips/tees.
We decide to see if we can take a boat tour, but that doesn't work out, so we take the water taxi to the Navy Pier and we just kind of veg out there for a bit. Then it's back to the hotel, relax, dinner at Buca di Bepo, and then back to the hotel for some shut eye. We actually are able to get into bed fairly early and if all works out, I'll get a decent amount of sleep (close to 8 hours if it works out perfectly...).
Race morning is finally here! Decent sleep, but I was mostly awake the last hour or so in bed. Oh well, I'm pretty well rested. I try to get some calories in, but I'm struggling. This is the first time it's really hit me that I may not be able to hit my goal and I could crash...HARD. Really having a hard time eating, but I manage to drink a reGen and a bagel (wow, is that all I ate???) - well, I take about 45 minutes to finally polish off the bagel and by that time we're at the race start/gear check.
Finally in the starting area and I'm getting pretty nervous. Find a few inches of empty space, sit down and do a quick back crack and stretch and it's almost go time. Soon enough, the pros are off along with everyone else. I'm across the starting mat within a minute thirty and I settle in, looking to do an "easy" 7:45 for the first mile and then steadily pick it up. I hit the one mile marker (by the way, the Garmin hit 1 mile at about the 6:30 mark - tough signal in the city, but I knew this - no auto lap!) at about 7:38...ok, right where I want to be. Mile 2 was 7:33 or so so I've got some work to do to get on pace for the 7:15, but 24.2 miles to do it in. First 5k comes and goes (along with some EFS Liquid Shot - thanks to www.personalbestnutrition.com) and by the end of mile 4, I am ahead of schedule. Ok Owen, time to back off a bit. I was feeling pretty good and trying to enjoy myself and the crowds, thanking the volunteers, etc. I hit the halfway point, I've finished my first flask of EFS Liquid Shot (wanted to finish around mile 12 and I did somewhere around 12 or 13) and I'm currently at 1:37:16. PERFECT. Now, to do that AGAIN. Yikes! Well, the miles keep ticking away and it's beginning to warm up. I was feeling pretty good, although the heat was definitely picking up. By mile 20 I was feeling it. Not so much so that it was going to take me down...yet, but enough that the run was definitely getting harder and keeping the pace was becoming tougher. I don't recall off hand without referring back to my Garmin, but I was below my needed pace for a few miles between 20 and 25. The Nike Cheer Zone at 24.2 had me picking things up knowing there were only 2 miles to go, but then I say to myself, "another 15 minutes??? Are you kidding me???" Even so, I kept up the pace and finally hit mile 25. I know I have enough in the tank to keep it going. I finally hit mile 26, chucked my other EFS Flask, and with one turn left, I know I'm going to do it. I could have given a little more, but crossing the finish line at 3:14:50 was pretty damn satisfying.
I hit my goal! I can't tell you how pleased I was/am with the results. It only takes me a couple minutes to find my wife waiting for me. I of course try to act like I didn't hit it, but she knew. Oh what's that? What did she run? Oh, just a 3:03:28! WTF??? The woman can fly! The Graham's had a pretty damn good day in Chicago!
Oh, to celebrate the accomplishments, a little food and drink at the Signature Lounge on the 96th Floor of the John Hancock Building!