Fall flights of fancy
Back in February of 2013 YJP & I went down to Texas for the Livestrong Austin Marathon. We had fun, a good time, ran a few miles, drank a couple beers, had some tacos. I’m always happy for an excuse to go to Austin. The one problem with getting to Austin is there’s no direct flight from Boston, and the tickets are a little pricey – I think I paid something like $290 for that flight. More than I would have liked to, but justifiable as we crashed with some friends instead of springing for a hotel. All in all it seemed worth that much to get my Texas marathon in and spend a warm weekend out of the New England winter.
On the way home from that trip YJP & I went to the airport four hours early, as her flight was scheduled at some stupid early time. I tried to get on a number of earlier flights out but couldn’t, as everything was oversold. By the time my flight came around, I had decided if they asked for volunteers I’d take the bump. They did, I did, and that’s how I ended up with a $400 flight voucher. The best part was they put me on a shuttle from Austin to Houston (a fairly interesting drive in and of itself) and I ended up catching the exact same connection home anyway.
I’m remembering this this week as I’ve just finished booking travel to three of my four October marathons (Chicago, Columbus and Marine Corps). I’ll be flying into Chicago, kicking around the Upper Midwest for a week until crashing with Mikey in Columbus, flying back home, then back on a plane to DC the following weekend. All of this on United’s dime. So thanks for that! That brings my per-marathon flight average for these four races down to $72.50. I even have another $19.40 worth of credit to go! :)
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All I want is to be a happy man
A bit of a Chicago Marathon race report for you.
Last spring I got into the Chicago Marathon by sheer luck, just before their servers crashed, before they stopped registration, before they instituted the stop-gap lottery. I got through five minutes before registration even started. Very lucky, very grateful.
I flew in to O’Hare & managed to make my way from there to Lincoln Park to my hotel. Via bus! After talking to another runner in the airport I flirted with the idea of going straight to the expo, but in the end was happy I was able to get an early check in and drop my bags.
The expo was quite large, and not terribly simple to get to. From Lincoln Park I took a bus down to Michigan Avenue (~40 min), then waited in line for a shuttle. A longish ride, time-wise, to the expo, which was cavernous. Highlight of the expo was a lady saying “here’s another B!” when I picked up my bib. Kicked around for a while until I found out that men’s hats were already sold out, then left to find food. Unfortunately the food court at the convention center was closed. The shuttle line back to downtown was even more massive, and having not eaten all day with the time getting late I was starting to freak. I jumped on the wrong shuttle with a shorter line that was more or less headed the same direction and finally found my way to a sub shop around 3:30pm. Poor planning on my part. After that another slow bus back to the hotel (& Jamba Juice). K-State was on TV, losing.
Morning of the race, I made my way down to the start at Millennium Park as early as I could. Another couple I ran into in my hotel offered to split a cab, but they were leaving at 4:45am which was too early even by my ridiculous standards. Given there were 45,000 runners I wanted to get through the bottlenecks as fast as possible. The security wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be – like other big races they now only accept clear bags through and at the bag check. All I had in mine was my water belt – I swapped in my jacket and ran to the bathrooms one last time. The timing turned out tighter than I thought it would be – corrals were ostensibly “locked” at 7:20 and I finally cleared the restroom line at 7:15, so found myself running with a mass of other people over to the start. We weren’t actually able to work our way into the corral before 7:20 but there was no way the mass of us could or would be stopped once past the bib checkers. I was finally in place with about three minutes to spare. No time left to fret.
Like I mentioned, I was assigned to the B Corral. Given then number of people running this race means the corrals were pretty granular, meaning I was surrounded by a big group of people who were more or less on my wavelength, speed-wise. As in the past, I found this to be pretty helpful. Unlike races like the BAA half where there’s a similar mass of people but no corrals, with a system like this the thousands of runners behind me wouldn’t factor into the race strategy – there was no weaving or dodging at the start. Which was good, as it was dense enough as it was, even at the same speed. Incidental contact everywhere. As I crossed the start I heard the announcer say that Rahm Emanuel was there, but I couldn’t see him, then we were off.
Right away the course drops underground. This was trippy, already dark-ish out, it was really dark under here. And since we were underground my watch was confused about what speed we were really going – it was probably two miles in before it settled and showed that I was running under 8:00/mile splits. My best prior marathon was Nashville, where I ran an 8:09/split throughout. I decided around mile 3 to just try to hang on to the sub-8:00 mile average as long as I could. For a marathon this corresponds roughly to a 3:30 pace, and as luck would have it I fell in with a large pace group at that speed. For most of the race I would run with them, ignoring my watch.
I didn’t have a real great idea of the course but knew the first half basically was a north/south out & back. Just past the first mile we passed the iconic Chicago Theater. A few miles of zig zagging from there. At mile 4.5 we crossed over into Lincoln Park and things got green for a while. At mile 7 we reached the north apex and turned south. At mile 9 we ran through the intersection right by my hotel. Miles here at the beginning were clicking off pretty quickly.
One cool thing about this race – we crossed the Chicago River a number of times, and the course organizers had taped these large carpets down to cover the metal latticework that made up the bridge surface. The first one was red, then later various purples and teals. Kind of random but it helped as the grating was rough with large gaps. First marathon I’ve ever run with a red carpet.
At mile 13 we were right back near the start of the race. From here we turned west and ran out to mile 15. Lots of people cheering on this section of the course. Generally speaking this course had tremendous support throughout. I was wearing my One Run Boston shirt and had a large number people throughout the city call out for me specifically. I got a feeling it was a mix of Boston expats and people trying to support me specifically, for whatever reason.
Mile 16 or so is usually where I start to question things, but today was ok. I did notice the first walkers here – these were fast people who were (obviously) ahead of my own pace before dropping out to walk for whatever reason. There were lots of these in the last 10 miles of the course. Maybe that comes with the flat course and sheer field size, people were pushing for PRs and some overextended.
At mile 20 we passed through Chicago’s Chinatown – I didn’t know this part of the course was coming. An interesting place, would like to come back here sometime. Miles 21-23 were (predictably) a low point that I could do without revisiting. Course volunteers somewhere in were handing out bananas and I grabbed two halves which helped. Direct sun and running south parallel to the Dan Ryan Expressway. This wasn’t fun and my splits and spirit suffered. Less said the better.
After 23 I started to turn things around, to feel a little better. I caught back up with the 3:30 pace group (who I had left around mile 11 & who had recently caught & passed me). It’s totally arbitrary, but I was mentally trying to run this race in 5K chunks instead of my normal mile approach (16 + two final 5s). This helped me to ignore the mile markers and keep looking out for the 5K markers and timing mats instead.
Also (and I know this is somewhat pitiful, but) I had set the race to report my split times directly to Facebook. So every mat I hit would, in theory, report in real time how I was doing. It’s a silly mental game, but winning or losing the mental game late in the race when your brain is trying to negotiate with your body to slow down can have a big impact on race outcomes. The autoposting feature made me feel accountable, and I pushed it for each 5K, trying to keep the mean split under my PR pace. As dumb as it sounds now, I was literally thinking that my post-race narrative would be like: “well, I didn’t PR, but I did hold a PR pace through 20K, 30K, 35K, 40K…” And once that was true at 40K there was really no valid excuse left for not taking it home.
At 23 we finally had some shade, and made the turn north. At this point I knew it was just a matter of running a straight shot back towards the big buildings, through the big crowds along the course. We ran past the convention center where the expo had been the day before, which I knew was a mile from the finish. Last few hundred yards were tough, a (small) uphill slope before turning into Grant Park just north of the Field Museum.
My final time was 3:30:25, 3-some minutes faster than my previous best. I finished in 4290th place (of 38,871 finishers), so not quite in the top 10%. I was the 3591st man, 680th in my age/sex group. I literally could not be happier with how this race worked out. My 15th true marathon was just about perfect.
For posterity, here are my splits. Since I had my watch set to average split rather than instantenous I didn’t actually know any of these as the race went on. Pretty consistent until the end there! No negative split, but I’ll work on that.
Split Time Of Day Time Diff min/mile
05K 07:57:23AM 00:24:32 24:32 07:54
10K 08:21:26AM 00:48:35 24:03 07:45
15K 08:46:03AM 01:13:12 24:37 07:56
20K 09:10:28AM 01:37:37 24:25 07:52
HALF 09:15:50AM 01:42:58 05:21 07:52
25K 09:35:03AM 02:02:11 19:13 07:56
30K 10:00:16AM 02:27:24 25:13 08:07
35K 10:25:40AM 02:52:49 25:25 08:11
40K 10:52:05AM 03:19:14 26:25 08:30
Finish 11:03:16AM 03:30:25 11:11 08:13
Post-race, I got a free beer & some chocolate milk and crashed on a curb for 10 minutes before a volunteer shooed us along. I managed to get out of the interminable chute and stumbled over to Buckingham Fountain to get my bag and phone. An hour later I wandered up to the post-race party, then eventually north through Millennium Park, past the Bean over the river and on down the road.
Song of the week, Happy Man by Sparklehorse. RIP Mark Linkous.
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Go for Tokyo!!
I got the email from Tokyo I’ve been waiting for at 4:27 this morning. The news was good – I was selected in the lottery for the 2014 Tokyo Marathon. My karma’s tight, my will is right. I’m registering & will have my flight within the week.
Look, I know, I gotta live life in the proper sequence. I want to be present in the now. There’s much on the schedule before I should be thinking about before next February. The biggest of which is the Chicago Marathon* in just (holy frick) 17 days. And Marine Corps in 31. These races are where my focus needs to be. I don’t want to be out there sleepwalking.
But dammit. Tokyo! February 2014. I can’t get into NYC or Boston to save my life but I sure as heck am going to knock this marathon major off my list. I am so friggin excited to be going back to Japan.
Schedule through next spring.
*If you want to get psyched up for Chicago with me, watch this video of Deena Kastor winning the dang thing in 2005. This is awesome.
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Waiting on Tokyo, Chicago’s a go
Two bits of World Marathon Majors news. Two weeks from today is the lottery drawing for the 2014 Tokyo Marathon. There were 302,442 entrants into the lottery for 30,000 spots (the odds are not ever in my favor). But for whatever reason, I remain optimistic. Unfortunately the price of flights has bumped up 20% in the last week but it’s still early, they may come back down.
The Chicago Marathon is five short weeks from this Sunday. I found out last night that my time from Nashville was fast enough to bump me from the C to the B corral. Not super important in the grand scheme of things but I’m pleased about nonetheless. It’s weird to be planning this trip to Chicago now that MV & KKV don’t live there. I’ve visited them so many times in the past but it feels different, lonely to be flying solo this time around.
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When I’m back home I remember the old days, when I’d walk along Lincoln Way.
Fairly uneventful week for me, running-wise. I relaxed much of the long weekend, happy to get to see all seven of my nieces and nephews. I decided not to run the Cape Ann 25K this morning, so no race to report on. YJP on the other hand rocked her 20 mile trail race yesterday. I’m a bit skeptical of the overall winner who ran the 20 miles in 0.2 seconds: this works out to 72,000mph, roughly Mach 93. It’s fortunate everyone else survived the plasmised air.
So instead, a list-wise look at my events for next couple months:
The other exciting thing – it’s now September, and by the end of this month I should know for sure about my lottery entry into next February’s Tokyo Marathon. I’m working under the assumption that I’m going to get in but will be happy when I know this for sure.
Song of the week from an album I’ve spent entirely too much time listening to this week, Hey You Bastards I’m Still Here by Mark Kozelek & Desertshore. I saw this dude play with Red House Painters back when I was an undergrad – I think he’s gotten better over the years.
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While I’m busy registering for big races, here’s a new one I’m excited about. Last year I missed registering for the Chicago Marathon by a few days, so I put the registration date on my February 2013 calendar, noticing it draw closer every once in a while. Given my range of experiences getting signed up for the BAA Half, I don’t bother messing around and knew I wanted to pull the trigger as soon as things opened. Me and everybody else, it seems. I checked the website today at 12:55pm, just before the 1pm opening, and was able to squeeze my registration through. Soon after the servers bit the proverbial big one, leaving scads of pissed off people trying to register, failing, or getting multiples through accidentally.
Regardless of that mess, I’m in. SMHB seems to think Chicago is a solid 10 minutes faster than Boston, which is already a fast course. I have no idea if that’s consensus, but maybe so, so maybe another shot at a PR this fall. I dunno. I’ve had good fortune in Chicago before. Whether it’s possible to do that on week two of a month of marathons is another question altogether.
The next races on my schedule are a few weeks off yet – the Half of Quincy on 3/10 & the Eastern States 20 two weeks later on the 24th.
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It’s quite premature, yes, but I’m already planning ahead for Rocktober III (note: please see the results of I and II). Come October 5th I’m confirmed for the New Hampshire Marathon, a make-up race for last year’s New England Double that I dropped out of after spraining my ankle. October 12th is Hartford, October 13th is Chicago – I’m planning to do one of these two (but not both – will have to decide when Chicago registration opens at the end of next month). October 20th is confirmed for Columbus, which I’ll be running with Mike. October 27th would, in theory, be my 4th in one month. I’ve not tried to do that before, but am aware that the Marine Corps Marathon is a) on that day, b) drivable from Baltimore and c) counts as a Virginia race for the 50 state plan. Should I feel super adventurous I could (in theory) dump the Marine Corps and pick up Indianapolis on the 19th, as my rental car & I will be in the general area anyway. I’m hesitant to try a double weekend as I got all psyched up about it last year only to have things come apart.
The short of this is – doing a batch of back-to-back races like this means the later ones will not be particularly fast, especially given the first one is quite hilly. So if I’m looking for a PR at this distance in 2013, it would either have to be in Nashville at the Country Music Marathon on April 27th or at the second October race (either Hartford or Chicago), after taking New Hampshire easy. Unsure.
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