2019: Whitefish Point Marathon UNEDITED DUPLICATE

The process of 2018 Chicago Marathon was a memorable experience on many fronts. It was my first time following a well-written training plan, sticking with a nutrition regiment (or a fad diet?), finding semblance of work-life balance and at the end of about 20 weeks later … running start-to-finish on race day to earn a 26-minute PR. As in most such experiments where the arrow of time flows purely in one direction, there was no opportunity for do overs. But a postpartum (yes, partum instead of mortem – it was the birth of a new experience and not just the completion of an event) analysis revealed a list of things I should have tried and I could have done better.

  1. Consistent strength training
  2. Warming up before and cooling down after each run
  3. Running baggage free or in other words, purposeful/mindful running
  4. Improving Running technique and efficiency
  5. 800 m (and longer distance) repeats during speed work
  6. More tempo, pace and progression runs
  7. More training runs at race length or longer
  8. Swimming, biking and/or yoga for active rest
  9. Minimal (preferably, no) nutrition experimentation on race day
  10. Post-marathon recovery training plan

Being of the scientific bend, I was naturally curious. Given the extent of progress and the result over just 20 weeks of training in light of the above shortcomings (and other things I didn’t do correctly or well), the BIG set of questions was: how much more could I improve if I

  1. kept up running (in addition to cross country skiing) in winter on a regular basis,
  2. continued pre-habing (with help from the HandlerHillRossStarksTempleVertin enterprise),
  3. cautiously pushed the envelope to increase the length and quality of each workout, made room in the schedule for I should have tried things and did I could have done better things better,
  4. made intermittent fasting (at least the 16/8 variant if 20/4 becomes unsustainable in light of increased mileage) an everyday thing, improved the quality of ingredients that makes my food and limited alcohol intake (average of 1 pint/week or less), dropped few more pounds by week #09, and
  5. coupled my blind faith in the training plan with an understanding of the underlying scientific rationale (thanks to the DurocherElesLarsonMillerSchwartzSharp enterprise) and in turn, was a bit more mindful during each training activity?

The plan … the was changed and changed again

In the absence of a post-marathon recovery training plan (I didn’t see the need for one then), my plan was to start training for the 45th American Birkebeiner (or Birkie) festivities from the very next day. In hindsight, I am glad I let that inexperienced idea go. So, the plan was modified and finalized: take a couple weeks of down time after the 2018 Chicago Marathon, read a good book (or two), watch a good documentary (or three) and from early November, start the 18-week training towards the 2019 Great Bear Chase.

I had found a very good book to read. I had stumbled across a wonderful documentary to watch. I had even signed up for the Whitefish Point Marathon in June to keep my winter running honest. Great Bear Chase training was to begin shortly. I had invested in Salomon SpeedSpike CS to have confident footing during winter runs. I found that getting out of the door was often the hardest par and once I got moving, the miles went by with ease! I was set for 2018-19 winter. Or so I thought.

The book, Deena Kastor‘s Let Your Mind Run, was a wonderful read. So much so that I found it difficult to put down and read it twice. In the process, I learned much about Deena (I didn’t know anything about her), behind-the-scenes lives of elite athletes and a bite-size chunks of usable of information that could potentially improve me as a runner, student and teacher.

The documentary I stumbled across, Run Free, was very well made and produced. It too offered several bite-sized bits of usable information that could make me lighter and faster on trails. Gaining facial recognition for many, if not all, of the characters in Christopher McDougall’s Born To Run, the second and subsequent readings yielded a much better understanding. Going down the research article rabbit hole, these two led me more books and documentaries.

Neither the city of Boston nor the marathon therein were new to me. Boston was the first BIG city I ever visited in the US in 2003. I have wholeheartedly cheered for at least one of Boston area’s sports dynasties since 2004. I have known about its marathon ever since my dear friend’s engagement near the finish line in 2011. I have cared about it, like many others, since the unfortunate events near the same finish line in 2013. I have taken the Patriots’ Day off to stay home and watch it live on TV since 2016. Ever since Des Linden won it in 2017, my Scientific Computing course at Michigan Tech has included a VO2Max-related exercise.

But it wasn’t until I watched Boston and Spirit of the Marathon documentaries – things I found in the aforementioned rabbit hole – a few several times over that I learned about its history (and that of the Boston Athletic Association) and evolution of from a trail marathon. Specifically mind-blowing was the progress of women’s running through the initial struggles and subsequent triumphs of Roberta Gibb (Boston: 1966-68), Kathrine Switzer (NYC: 1974), Grete Waitz (NYC: 1978-80, 1982-88), Joan Benoit Samuelson (Boston: 1979, 83; Olympic Gold: 1984), Paula Radcliffe (Chicago: 2002; London: 2002-03, 2005; NYC: 2004, 2007-08) and Deena Kastor (Olympic Bronze: 2004; Chicago: 2005; London: 2006). It was also from the Boston, courtesy of Bill Rodgers (Boston: 1975, 1978-80; NYC: 1976-79) and Amby Burfoot (Boston: 1968), that I learned about The Impossible Dream, which has now come to be one of my favorite poems.

Googling helped me find a handful of successful attempts by people who weren’t runners (i.e., weren’t track stars in high school or scholarship athletes in college) and are about my age now with similar work and/or life responsibilities and had gone from 4+ hours in their first/most recent marathon to qualifying for Boston and had documented their process for public access. The search was an invaluable re-inforcement of introductory statistics concepts: the probability of finding this and that is much lower than that of finding this or that. So, I was surprised I found any at all given the number of ands I had in my query. The ones I did find were the stories of accountability, commitment, discipline, intensity (or passion) and sacrifice – a set of traits that I believe I am blessed to have in abundance. So, the old plan got scrapped and a new one – mostly in the form of a subsidiary question to the aforementioned BIG set of questions – took its place.

If I smartly invested my sweat equity and used the common sense derived from the collective experiences, would the by-product of this marathon training process be sufficient to catch the unicorn at least once?t

Information gathered from what I read, saw and/or discussed changed the course of things by mid-December: I no longer planned wished to race any ski events during 2018-19 winter. Intent, instead, was to focus on running and get better at it. The Whitefish Point Marathon in June would be the first of two racing days of 2019 and I’d use

  1. Hal Higdon‘s Advanced 2 Plan to train for the Whitefish Point Marathon. The choice of training plan came from believing in John‘s claim that I had been good enough to use Advanced 1 Plan for 2018 Chicago. The lone modification I made to the plan was to swap weekend workouts.
  2. the first 4 weeks of Advanced 2 Plan as Prep Work to be karmically faithful to the 2019 Spring semester students of my UN5390: Scientific Computing course.
  3. cross-country skiing to either complement or as substitute for running whenever the conditions permitted.
  4. Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, MN, as a backup couple weeks afterwards.
  5. Hal Higdon’s Advanced Post-Marathon Recovery Plan for 3-5 weeks after the event to heal before moving on to the second racing day of 2019 in October.

Prep Work

In line with the BIG set of questions, I managed to run about 300 miles after Chicago Marathon until the New Year’s eve in addition to some cross-country skiing and very minimal indoor biking. Thanks to the DurocherElesLarsonMillerSchwartzSharp enterprise, I had a better understanding of the structure of the training plans – specifically, of periodization:

  1. 18-week plan split into 16 weeks of build-up and 2 weeks of taper
  2. 16 weeks of build-up split into 4 blocks of 4 weeks
  3. Each 4-week block split into 3 weeks of ramp-up and 1 week of step-back

With this understanding, it made sense to opt for a 4-week prep work period (instead of just two weeks as I had done before). Instead of re-inventing the wheel, I used the first 4-week block for this purpose – with a bit of experimentation in routes, workouts and nutrition.

Training

Notation: Easy (E) | Hill (H) | Long (L) | Race (R) | Speed (S) | Tempo (T) | XTrain (X)
Distance in miles and time in h:mm:ss
Wk Mon
Tue
Wed
Thu
Fri
Sat
Sun
Week Cycle
01 02/04
E 3.00
3.64
0:45:09
02/05
H 5.00
5.30
1:00:48
02/06
E 3.00
11.15
2:15:42
02/07
T 4.50
10.18
1:11:00
02/08
Rest
-
-
02/09
L 10.00
26.22
4:27:44
02/10
R 5.00
7.76
1:16:34
30.50
64.25
10:56:57
30.50
64.25
10:56:57
 


Vasaloppet Ski Marathon (W01D06) and North End Classic (W01D07)

If not for friends in high places (or as in this case, the highest of places), there was little chance that I'd even know about this event - let alone be a participant. Alice had not only won the 58 km freestyle edition in 2017 Vasaloppet USA in Mora, MN, but had gone on to be the first US female to complete the 90 km edition in 2018 Vasaloppet in Mora, Sweden. She believed that I was good enough to complete the 42 km Classic and so, I believed in her belief and signed up for the 2019 edition.

The longest ski outing of my life yet, 42 km, doubled up as first of the full length training acitivity in this cycle. It took 4:27:07 and was good enough for 160/187 overall, 122/140 in gender and 26/28 in AG. Instead of the recovery run the next day, I participated in a quaint yet very well organized North End Classic in Cable, WI. My time for 12.5 km was was 1:16:30 and good enough for 42/61 overall, 27/38 in gender and 1/2* in AG.

If interested, read more about these events in a complete recap here .

02 02/11
E 3.00
-
0:45:00
02/12
T 4.50
-
0:45:00
02/13
E 3.00
9.83
2:23:07
02/14
R 3.00
-
-
02/15
Rest
-
-
02/16
L 11.00
17.42
3:30:26
02/17
E 5.00
16.11
2:56:52
29.50
43.36
10:20:25
60.00
107.61
21:17:22
03 02/18
E 3.00
-
-
02/19
S 6.00
-
-
02/20
E 3.00
-
1:30:00
02/21
T 4.50
-
-
02/22
Rest
17.77
2:36:39
02/23
L 8.00
-
-
02/24
E 6.00
1.22
0:18:55
30.50
18.99
4:25:34
90.50
126.60
25:42:56
 


American Birkebeiner Kortelopet (W03D05)

140 km base training [for a ~30 km event] seems low ... remarked Jan Haase in the aftermath of 2018 Birkie festivities. Consciously work on your downhills and turns ... suggested Jan Odegard a month or so later in Washington, DC, during the 2018 Spring Meeting of CASC. How much base training would have been sufficient? ... I inquired the encyclopediac minds in and around our community. Deciphering their collective answer, though led me down an entirely new rabbit hole of time-based training, hinted towards a training plan that included some long/long-ish outings. Coupling that with the sneak peak I got into Jessie Diggins' annual training plan, courtesy of The Olympic Coach of the Year, I settled on putting in at least 300 km of base training ahead of the event.

Given that I raced in an even that I had deemed as non-racing, I was quite happy with a finish time of 2:35:58 (263/1067 overall, 185/607 in gender, 4/18 in AG, 2/XXX overall in wave #3 and 1/XXX male in wave #3). It was about 57 minutes better than my time in 2018 (3:33:05, 575/885 overall, 361/492 in gender, 14/16 in AG; not sure about the placement within wave #3). I expected to and was confident that I'd finish a few ticks before the 3 hour mark. But to finish nearly 25 minutes ahead of proposed time was the stuff of double secret goals and would have remained just that without help from Mother Nature, groomers, volunteers, ski patrol, friends who taught me things and spectators.

If interested, read more about this event in its own complete recap here.

04 02/25
E 3.00
-
-
02/26
H 5.00
4.73
2:19:17
02/27
E 3.00
4.54
0:47:16
02/28
T 5.00
11.97
1:59:22
03/01
Rest
5.04
1:48:37
03/02
L 13.00
-
-
03/03
R 6.00
4.11
0:54:24
35.00
30.39
7:48:56
125.50
156.99
33:31:52
05 03/04
E 3.00
-
-
03/05
T 5.00
3.06
0:42:27
03/06
E 3.00
4.41
1:18:06
03/07
R 3.00
-
-
03/08
Rest
-
1:30:00
03/09
L 14.00
15.58
2:11:27
03/10
E 7.00
7.09
1:10:50
35.00
30.14
6:52:50
160.50
187.13
40:24:42
 


Great Bear Chase (W05D06)

This too was an event I had deemed I am not going to race but much like Birkie two weekends ago, things changed and changed in a hurry. The last of the officially timed ski event for 2018-19 winter season, being held in our very own backyard in the good company many of my wonderful friends, sufficient knowledge of the course and its terrain gathered over the past 3-4 seasons with help from many said friends - to an extent that I feel at home on every loop and not just when I see the final stretch to the finish line, an opportunity rub shoulders with the elites, and a peroration for Pat Szubielak as he embarks on retirement a second time ... drove the said change.

The tracks/trails felt a little slow (especially in shaded areas) but it wasn't anything that any skier would/should complain about. I was fortunate enough to stay behind Makenna Stelpflug (#776) for about 5-7 km and Katie Roberts (#796) for another 3-5 km. Getting an opportunity to mimic their stride and strokes, energy-saving tactics and tehcniques was quite invaluable. The final 5 km proved to be the testing grounds of what I had learned from them on the fly. Plenty of sunshine, blue skies, little to negligible winds and a plethora of cheerful faces turned out to be the icing on the cake! The official finish time of 2:11:27 - though didn't improve my 2020 Birkie wave placement - was good enough for 55/137 overall, 40/96 in gender and 4/8 in AG.

If interested, read more about this event in its own complete recap here.

06 03/11
E 3.00
6.57
2:05:24
03/12
S 7.00
4.05
1:03:21
03/13
E 3.00
11.27
1:57:15
03/14
T 5.00
3.37
0:30:48
03/15
Rest
11.15
3:47:40
03/16
L 10.00
11.37
2:22:16
03/17
R 7.00
-
-
35.00
47.78
11:46:44
195.50
234.91
52:11:26
Wk Mon
Tue
Wed
Thu
Fri
Sat
Sun
Week Cycle
07 03/18
E 3.00
10.27
2:11:29
03/19
H 5.50
10.03
1:41:12
03/20
E 4.00
12.58
2:38:46
03/21
T 5.50
-
-
03/22
Rest
-
0:45:00
03/23
L 16.00
17.08
3:57:55
03/24
R 8.00
-
-
42.00
49.96
11:14:22
237.50
284.87
63:25:48
08 03/25
E 3.00
7.08
1:03:04
03/26
T 5.50
7.19
1:05:42
03/27
E 4.00
20.73
2:35:40
03/28
R 3.00
7.20
1:06:55
03/29
Rest
10.26
3:48:50
03/30
L 17.00
8.04
1:31:09
03/31
E 8.00
12.56
1:58:43
40.50
73.06
13:10:03
278.00
357.93
76:35:51
09 04/01
E 4.00
19.65
3:17:26
04/02
S 7.50
7.78
1:17:07
04/03
E 4.00
10.40
2:25:48
04/04
T 5.50
-
-
04/05
Rest
5.56
2:21:14
04/06
L 12.00
16.31
2:38:19
04/07
R 9.00
-
-
42.00
59.70
11:59:54
320.00
417.63
88:35:45
10 04/08
E 3.00
-
-
04/09
H 6.50
-
-
04/10
E 4.00
15.08
2:25:15
04/11
T 6.50
8.56
1:18:00
04/12
Rest
-
2:00:00
04/13
L 19.00
26.31
4:33:05
04/14
R 9.00
10.53
1:35:40
48.00
60.48
11:52:00
368.00
478.11
100:27:45
11 04/15
E 4.00
10.43
1:50:50
04/16
T 6.50
10.17
1:36:44
04/17
E 5.00
5.01
0:57:38
04/18
R 4.00
8.26
1:11:02
04/19
Rest
-
1:00:00
04/20
L 20.00
27.25
4:29:19
04/21
E 10.00
7.67
1:10:05
49.50
68.79
12:15:38
417.50
546.90
112:43:23
12 04/22
E 4.00
4.10
0:42:03
04/23
S 8.00
-
-
04/24
E 5.00
5.16
1:21:30
04/25
T 6.50
-
-
04/26
Rest
3.11
0:28:15
04/27
L 12.00
26.22
3:35:46
04/28
R 6.00
6.28
0:56:05
41.50
44.87
7:03:39
459.00
591.77
119:47:02
 


Illinois Marathon (W12D06)

I first learned about this event some months ago from Patricia Gropp during the Women in HPC networking event as part of the SC18 festivities in Dallas, TX. It resurfaced at a post-dinner conversation with David Moses and John Towns at the Spring 2019 meeing of Coalition for Academic Scientific Computation (CASC) in Alexandria, VA. In addition to using it as yet another long run but with support from the aid stations, my expectations for/from the Illinois Marathon were to treat it as a dress rehearsal (or a tune up event) and practice

  1. travel logistics,
  2. the final easy jog before the run,
  3. nutrition before and during the run,
  4. running and pacing strategy on a pancake flat course, and
  5. maintaining good breathing, cadence and body posture.

I did make my share of the mistakes with regards to timing of travel, easy jog and nutrition the night before. Their combination made me stop twice along the course to use the facilities. But getting a chance to meet Craig Virgin at the pre-race expo and coming in contact with Mike Mallon (pace guide for 3:35) around mile #23 ... and learning seemingly little but critical aspects of racing that can pay big dividends were very valuable. Combining these with what Shawn Oppliger had tought me during a ski lesson helped me finish stronger. My official finish time was 3:35:46 - good enough for 255/1089 overall, 209/695 in gender and 27/81 in AG (and a new PR).

If interested, read more about this event in its own complete recap here.

Wk Mon
Tue
Wed
Thu
Fri
Sat
Sun
Week Cycle
13 04/29
E 4.00
-
-
04/30
H 7.00
-
-
05/01
E 5.00
5.52
2:21:23
05/02
T 7.00
-
-
05/03
Rest
17.06
4:15:48
05/04
L 20.00
13.14
2:04:08
05/05
R 10.00
11.07
1:50:54
53.00
46.79
10:32:13
512.00
638.56
130:19:15
14 05/06
E 5.00
5.04
0:55:26
05/07
T 6.50
-
-
05/08
E 5.00
3.07
3:03:07
05/09
R 5.00
-
-
05/10
Rest
3.25
0:32:02
05/11
L 12.00
26.22
4:04:53
05/12
E 6.00
6.36
1:12:09
39.50
43.94
9:47:37
551.50
682.50
140:06:52
 


Journeys Marathon (W14D06)

If I had listened to my friends - Nancy and Josh - the half marathon associated with this event should have been my maiden half marathon when I got into running several years ago. Instead, Eagle River remained an occasional pit stop during adventures deep into the heart of Wisconsin. Apart from treating this as the fifth and final full distance training activity, my expectations for/from the Journeys Marathon were to treat it as a second and final dress rehearsal (or a tune up event) and

  1. not repeat the mistakes,
  2. retain the lessons, and
  3. learn more about running and racing.

I didn't repeat the mistakes of Illinois Marathon but I learned few more valuable lessons: respecting the terrain and setting appropriate expectations for pace (or finish times), thinking more clearly when things get seemingly difficult, training in warmer and humid conditions, and knowing when to shut off and being ok with it. Traveling to and from the event with Ray Sharp and learning more from him was another bonus! My official finish time was 4:04:53 - good enough for 17/51 overall, 9/27 in gender and 4/6 (3*) in AG.

If interested, read more about this event in its own complete recap here.

15 05/13
E 5.00
6.31
0:59:53
05/14
S 9.00
7.56
1:16:29
05/15
E 5.00
5.05
0:46:01
05/16
T 5.50
5.89
1:02:03
05/17
Rest
-
1:30:00
05/18
L 20.00
6.26
0:58:30
05/19
R 10.00
7.06
1:25:47
54.50
38.13
7:58:43
606.00
720.63
148:05:35
16 05/20
E 5.00
5.25
1:40:00
05/21
H 6.00
8.75
1:49:09
05/22
E 5.00
10.05
3:30:08
05/23
T 4.50
-
-
05/24
Rest
7.70
1:08:23
05/25
L 12.00
10.29
1:55:49
05/26
R 4.00
8.81
1:39:49
36.50
50.85
11:43:18
642.50
771.48
159:48:53
17 05/27
E 4.00
-
-
05/28
T 4.50
4.52
0:37:34
05/29
E 4.00
4.22
0:37:48
05/30
R 4.00
6.40
0:56:40
05/31
Rest
5.22
3:11:02
06/01
L 8.00
6.78
3:10:12
06/02
E 4.00
-
-
28.50
27.14
8:33:16
671.00
798.62
168:22:09
18 06/03
E 3.00
3.11
0:31:01
06/04
S 5.00
6.28
0:59:12
06/05
Rest
3.41
1:17:38
06/06
Rest
-
-
06/07
E 3.00
3.25
0:31:20
06/08
R 26.22
26.26
3:49:25
06/09
Rest
-
-
37.22
42.31
7:08:36
708.22
840.93
175:30:45

Geographical spread of distance and time (pre-training + training)
City County State
  Distance (miles) Time (h:mm:ss) Distance (miles) Time (h:mm:ss) Distance (miles) Time (h:mm:ss)
Illinois, The Prairie State
Champaign 29.33 4:04:01  
Champaign County Total 29.33 4:04:01  
Chicago 0.00 1:00:00  
Cook County Total 0.00 1:00:00  
Normal 6.28 0:56:05  
McLean County Total 6.28 0:56:05  
Illinois Total 35.61 6:00:06
Michigan, The Great Lake State
Paradise 26.26 3:49:25  
Chippewa County Total 26.26 3:49:25  
Bessemer 7.45 1:28:27  
Ironwood 9.53 1:31:57  
Gogebic County Total 16.98 3:00:24  
Atlantic Mine 30.98 4:50:57  
Calumet 81.07 15:02:14  
Hancock 43.56 29:37:38  
Houghton 575.43 117:18:43  
Klingville 10.53 1:35:40  
Senter Location 6.31 0:59:53  
Houghton County Total 747.88 169:25:05  
Copper Harbor 8.81 1:39:49  
Keweenaw County Total 8.81 1:39:49  
Marquette 0.00 1:30:00  
Marquette County Total 0.00 1:30:00  
Michigan Total 799.93 179:24:43
Minnesota, The North Star State
Mora 26.22 4:27:44  
Kanabec County Total 26.22 4:27:44  
Minnesota Total 26.22 4:27:44
Virginia, The Old Dominion State
Alexandria 22.61 5:04:58  
No County Total 22.61 5:04:58  
Virginia Total 22.61 5:04:58
Wisconsin, The Badger State
Cable 8.98 1:35:29  
Bayfield County Total 8.98 1:35:29  
Coleman 17.08 2:57:55  
Marinette County Total 17.08 2:57:55  
Hayward 17.77 2:36:39  
Sawyer County Total 17.77 2:36:39  
Sayner 26.22 4:04:53  
Vilas County Total 26.22 4:04:53  
Wisconsin Total 70.05 11:14:56
Season Total 954.42 206:12:27

Above all, I had over 4 dozen friends who not only opted to let me run with them (anywhere between one and over two dozen miles; anywhere between once to at least once a week) but also shared a plethora of time-tested and trusted tips and tricks that made the entire process a very very enjoyable and enlightening one! Running in their company helped magically keep my heart rate down and in turn, helped me stick with the HR-based method with lot less effort than I had expected. Many of them frequently fed me hearty and healthy meals along the way!

The Day Before The Day Before

John, being a veteran of many Chicago Marathons, had long ago made reservations in a hotel within a short walking distance from the starting and finishing lines. We (John and I) left Hougthon around noon on Friday and had an uneventful journey to Chicago with a dinner pitstop in Milwaukee. It wasn’t long before I called it a night – because, you know, the night before the night before is the last best chance to get a full night of sleep!

The Day Before

After waiting for the rain/thunderstorms to pass, John and I went for our final training run before the marathon. The run was punctuated fairly frequently at road crossings and to take photos. Shortly after that, we (Kara, John and I) headed out to the pre-race expo to pick up our bibs and stuff.

We got a good bite to eat at Hannah’s Bretzel and then watched people in the lobby once we got back to the hotel until it was time for dinner. Chris (from Davenport, IA) and Erin (on her way to London from Mexico or Minneapolis) came to Chicago to cheer us on and joined us for dinner at the Rosebud. A short train ride brought us back to the hotel. After setting up the 2D version of me and knowing that 4:30 am would show up sooner than later, I called it a night around 9:30 pm.

The Day

I woke up about 30 minutes before the first scheduled alarm after a pretty decent night of sleep. Not wanting to just lay around, I decided to follow one of Jim‘s traditions and take a shower before the race. Having read that racers without gear to check-in would have an express lane into the corrals, I opted not to carry any bag in spite of repeated reminders from John and Kara. We walked to the start and after a group hug, we went towards our respective corrals shortly before 6 am (John reminded me once more: just run today). Given that we were 80 minutes before the corral gates closed, there wasn’t much of a line. I could have easily checked a bag in with warmer clothes for afterwards.

26.22 mi, 3:40:05, 8:24 min/mile, 7.14 mph
Garmin Forerunner 935 and WP GPX Maps plugin for WordPress

Apriori knowledge gained from conversations with many friends (Ann Hoover, Cheryl, John, Kara, Ryan, Dr. Weaver) and analyzing GPX files downloaded from Strava was super helpful! For the vast majority of the course that snaked through numerous diverse and vibrant neighborhoods, it felt like I was in a Super Bowl parade. So many amazing people – including 3 of our own: Chris, Erin and Megan – lined up both sides of the course for almost all of the miles. It was cold and even rained some making it a miserable day for spectating a marathon. One would have to go out of the way to not feel the energy they bestowed upon all the runners.

One particular lesson that I constantly practiced – phrasing the remaining distance to the finish line as a safe destination distance (e.g., X miles from friends’ house to my house OR vice versa) instead of just X many miles to go – came in very very handy and made the finish line something I could work towards eagerly.

Goals (in order of importance) and their status
01 Complete at least 5 full length training workouts (run and ski) Yes
02 Finish below3:40:05 (minimum: 8:24 min/mile, 7.14 mph) and earn a PR
Finish below 3:35:46 (minimum: 8:14 min/mile, 7.29 mph) and earn a PR
No
03 Finish below 3:14:59 (minimum: 7:26 min/mile, 8.07 mph) No

I crossed the finish line and the clock showed a few ticks past 3:04 … about 31 minutes better than my previous best time for this distance (8226/44514 overall, 6360/23889 in gender, 1289/4030 in AG; unofficially official results are here and there). I was quite happy to have achieved 3 of the 5 time-related goals and having run the entirety of the course including aid-stations, I was pretty content with the effort. In the couple minutes I had to myself before Kara came blazing through the finish line punching her ticket to Boston for the second time in as many months, it felt good to have committed to and executed the training plan fairly well and be thankful to everyone that played any kind of role in helping me earn this PR. It’s too bad that the official results will show just my name.

Though we had agreed to meet at a designated runner re-unite area, it was much too long of a walk. Opting to conserve our energy and time, Kara and I made our way back to the edge of No Entry zone of the finish chute to meet John. Soon after John came through and changed into warmer clothes, we walked back to the hotel. We took the recommendation of a fellow runner and tried out Native Foods Cafe for lunch to start the 24-hour gorging opportunity! John and Kara then took me around through the Millennium Park to check out the Bean and other touristy things. And soon enough, it was time for dinner! A short train ride took us to Parlor Pizza Bar where Megan joined us. It didn’t take much time after a Speakerswagon Pilsner and a falafel burger (in a pretzel bun with extra avocado) disappeared for us to get back to the hotel and let the body heal with a full night of sleep.

The Day After

I woke up well before sunrise, fully rested and with minimal pain/soreness. There definitely wasn’t any pain in the joints (ankle, knee or hip) indicating that my running form must have changed from one of a heal striker to that of a front foot lander. We walked through the Millennium Park once more to photograph the Bean with fewer people around and then to Yolk for a hearty breakfast.

But apart from becoming a better organizer of data and programmer, I did learn quite a bit from this process:

  1. Good training plans, such as the ones from Hal Higdon, do work. It’s lot easier to stay with the plan and do most (if not all) of weekly mileage per week than to occasionally visit the plan and then try finding 150 hours the night before the marathon. It was extremely beneficial to have a local network of friends who had previously used this plan (and knew what to change) and who could verify and validate my progress along the way.
  2. The HandlerHillRossStarksTempleVertin enterprise knows my body way better than I do myself.
  3. I can’t possibly eat/drink whatever I want and whenever I want in spite of running any number of miles or exercising any number of hours each week.
  4. Consistent strength training and biking (and swimming too) would have likely improved my core strength, cadence and breathing. In turn, I would have likely improved my finish time. So would have remembering to run alternately on either side of the road. Thanks to help from Drs. Robert Larson, Christopher Schwartz and John Durocher, I am starting to formally learn the reasons underlying the structure of training plans and the value of strength/cross-training activities.
  5. Letting things go, even if it was just for 24ish hours and 26.2 miles, did wonders and ensured 18+ weeks of training didn’t go down the drain on an almost sartorially resplendent day for running.

This was by far the best marathon experience (in terms of training, logistics, size and energy of the field and the crowd, and my own performance) and I’d definitely go back to do at least once more. I hope this 2018 Chicago Marathon experience will serve as a foundation for bigger and better and faster things down the road.

What used to be an apparition, what I thought lay well beyond my reach on the far side of an impossible dream, the two magical letters that serve as the holy grail for most road runners … is now a reality that I get to live out.


Thanks be to

the opportunities, organizers, sponsors, volunteers, timing folks, law enforcement/border patrol/immigration officials, photographers, fellow participants, spectators, technologists with their creative electronic gadgets and tools, and my good friends in and outside of my community for the often unexpected, undeserved, unrewarded acts of constant encouragement, and offerings of constructive criticism, tested tips and tricks to improve myself as an athlete.

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