The lottery for the 2019 Chicago Marathon took place yesterday. While a good portion of the runners were accepted, there were a lot of runners who were left out and will have to choose another fall marathon. Being a non-runner for 30 years I understand that it sounds crazy that there are so many people who want to endure 18+ weeks of training towards a grueling 26.2 mile race. So many people in fact that the race actually have to turn people away to keep it more manageable (somehow 45,000 people is manageable). But luckily, the end of the road is not here for these runners who did not get into thru the lottery. Runners have the ability to get an entry through one of many charities that are given bibs from the Chicago Marathon. The 2019 Chicago Marathon will be the 5th year I will be running for a charity – Ronald McDonald House.
There is a minimum fundraising goal of $1750 for each of the charities now. When they opened charity registration earlier this year, the minimum was only $1500, but after the lottery was completed it they increased it. From what I understand those amounts are set by the Chicago Marathon and not by the individual charities. Although it does sound like a lot of money to fundraise, it actually has been pretty easy to meet the minimum each year because I have found people like to help other families. There are definitely some perks into fundraising for the Ronald McDonald House.
You don’t pay for the race registration
Because you have chosen to fundraise for the Ronald McDonald House, they pick up the tab on the registration. That’s right, you don’t have to front the $195 race registration fee ($220 for international runners). If you were willing to pay that in registration fees, you can instead put that towards your fundraising as a tax deductible donation!
Free Nike RMHC shirt
If you are a runner who signs up for a bunch of races, it is easy to accumulate a closet full of free running gear. From personal experience, a lot of them are not too memorable. But having a shirt from Team RMHC shows other people that not only are you tough enough to train for a marathon, but also that you are compassionate enough to fundraise for families who need help while their child is in the hospital. About 1 in every 45 runners during last year’s race was fundraising for the Ronald McDonald House so you were able to find those shirts with the Team RMHC logo all along the course. You are not running alone!
Free coaching and discounted group training
As an RMHC runner you have access to Coach Brendan who has created plans for various levels of runners – Beginners, Intermediate, Advanced, as well as Run/Walkers. If you ever have a question about training, you are able to ask him as he has trained tons of runners and run a ton or marathons. He recently completed the six marathons to be recognized as a Six Star World Major Marathon Finisher and has done over 100 marathons. He knows what his stuff. In addition you get a discount on CARA Marathon group training. You are able to choose between 11 sites in and around Chicago to meet up and do your long runs in a group setting. They also normally have pace groups of all different levels and speeds. Accountability is a big key to training and you get to meet some people who share a common crazy interest in running a marathon!
Marathon weekend perks
I cannot stress how important these perks were for the marathon. Firstly, there are open blocks of hotel rooms downtown that are accessible to Team RMHC. They do fill up pretty quickly , so it is important to signup quickly when they do become available. Secondly, the pasta dinner the night before the race is quite fun. You are able to meet all of the other runners who are fundraising for the Ronald McDonald House and get to hear some stories of who you have helped. It is a great feeling seeing the people that have been impacted by your kindness. And lastly, and most importantly is the Team RMHC Hospitality tent. In the Team RMHC tent located right next to the corrals and the exit for finisher chute, you are able to come before the race and get some food and stay warm. Also, they have private gear check and restrooms so you don’t have to worry about the other 44,000 people trying to get a quick potty break or gear checked before and after the race. Family and friends are welcome into the tent after the start of the race (for a small fee) and after the race you are greeted with a glass of champagne and you walk into the tent on a red carpet. You have a ton of food that you can devour from cheeseburgers to cookies and everything in between. You can sign up for a free massage and they will stretch you out and work any tender areas (which is basically EVERYWHERE after a marathon). And you can sit on a chair. Normally you would have to sit on a curb or on the grass after the marathon. I can’t tell you how nice sitting on a chair is after running 26.2 miles. Seems like something small, but it really is the little things that make this experience.
Making it more than the marathon
Running a marathon is hard. And honestly, training for it is even harder. There are days when I absolutely did not feel like running. But then I took a step back and remembered what it felt like when Justine was in the NICU. I went back to when we were staying at the Ronald McDonald House trying to figure out what we had to do for Justine to come home with us. I remember seeing other families at the house thinking the same thing. We were lucky. We got to take Justine home with us, but there are so many families who did not bring their child home. The Ronald McDonald House did not only give them a place to stay near their child. It gave them precious minutes, hours, and days with their child who would not make it out of the hospital. As hard as our time was in Justine’s early days, it is those families that move me. It is those families that I fight for mile after mile during training. So when I hit my fundraising goal and I cross that finish line, I do it for them.
So where do you signup? Go to TEAM RMHC SIGNUP to register. You will gain access to a participant portal where you can setup your own fundraising page. This is My Fundraising Site if you wanted to see how one looks. You will also be allowed to join a Facebook group where you can chat with other Team RMHC runners about training and fundraising to help you throughout the year. Plus they sometimes some contests for the runners to keep you motivated and to have fun.
Hope to see you at the start line with your RMHC gear!
This year I had high hopes for my marathon. In previous years, my goal was to finish the race. This year, I wanted to see what I was truly capable of and run the race I knew I could run. I read in a book that if you want to get better at something, go hire someone to help you reach your goal. It seemed like such a simple concept, so I went looking for a coach. I found Heather at McKirdy Trained and we were a perfect fit. Over the past 6 months she has squeezed every ounce of potential out of my running by giving me workouts I had never done before. I will go over our training in another post, but one of the biggest takeaways is that you do not run over 2 hours and 30 minutes for ANY long run during training for a marathon. For me, that is time enough for me to run a half marathon. That’s right, I did not go over 13.1 miles in any run during my training. Seems crazy, right? But is it crazy enough to work?
The forecast going into race day was 60° with 10-15mph winds coming from the northeast. Also there was going to be scattered showers throughout the first 3-4 hours. Although I was a little concerned about the rain, the cooler weather excited me because my last three marathons were a little too warm for me! We ended up staying at the Sheraton Grand Chicago on Columbus. It ended up being about a mile walk to the RMHC charity tent where there was food, music, and most importantly fellow Team RMHC runners who were all running for such an important organization. I ended up biking to the tent in the morning because I wanted to stay off my feet as much as possible before the race. But what I did not take into consideration was that I had never biked in downtown Chicago, with 40,000 pedestrians walking around at 6 in the morning. It was a little stressful! And to add to that, it had rained pretty good the night before so all of the streets were wet, meaning now my shoes and socks were wet even before I started the race! Not ideal! Luckily there were some heaters in the tent to help warm me up.
I arrived at corral H around 7:30am. I tied plastic bags around my feet to try to keep them dry as long as possible. I love being in this corral because I get to see runners just like me who felt compelled to raise money for a charity and used the marathon as the vehicle to help them. I found a curb to sit on right as I entered the corral because I did not want to be standing for almost an hour waiting to start the race. At around 8am, a little but of rain showed up and I quickly threw on my disposable poncho we bought online. I knew I wasn’t going to wear it the whole time, but I needed to stay dry at least while I was waiting for the beginning of the race.
A week or so before the race, my coach shared the race plan with me. I never had a race plan in previous marathons, but after a 15K PR at the Bay to Breakers earlier in the year, I was very excited to see what a race plan would do for my marathon time. Here is what the plan was:
For the first 6 miles I made sure I did not get caught up in the excitement of the race. I stayed on the slow end of my pace range clocking in 12min/mi. Of course I cried while running past the Ronald McDonald House during the first mile, and the rain started to pick up a little more towards mile 5. I wore my Nike Flyknit Epic Reacts for the beginning of the race, and they do not protect you from any kind of moisture. Since rain was in the forecast I had already planned for my wife’s cousins to meet me at the halfway point to swap out shoes. But in the meantime I was going to have slosh around in these shoes. The winds started to blow around while heading north. I knew Diana was planning to see me around mile 8 so I just had to get to her for my first checkpoint. I had told her I would be there maybe around 10am. During miles 7-9 I wanted to stretch the legs out a little bit, so I picked up the pace a bit. I ended up averaging under 11:30 for that 3 mile stretch and that included a quick stop to the port-a-potty. Turns out, I was a little faster than the 10am expectation I told Diana and I could not find her. It was the first time I had actually missed someone who I expected to be there. Although I was a little disappointed, I knew in the end it was up to me to do well in this race, whether or not I see my friends. Good thing I was able to become self-reliant because that ended up being a theme for the first half of the race.
The next set of miles required a little more speed as there were surges at the beginning of every mile. I had done similar surges in training, and I liked them, so coach put them in my race plan. There was something to knowing that at the beginning of every mile I would pick up the pace. Oddly enough, I looked forward to those surges. I knew early into this segment of the race that I just needed to get to the halfway point. Ria and Erika would meet me to give me my change of shoes. My brother Tony and the Tumang family would also be there cheering me on. Getting back into the loop really is a big confidence and adrenaline boost. The crowds get louder again after tapering off a little bit, but the change of the course to run under the L was pretty awesome. I told Ria and Erika I was planning on being at the halfway point around 10:30 or so. But once again I underestimated myself and I was there a couple minutes before that time, and I missed them. I also missed the Tumang family around the same section. By some grace of God, my brother Tony who JUST stepped off the subway saw me and got my attention closer to mile 14. He was able to give me a fresh shirt and unlike any other marathon I had run, I changed and took off without much conversation. We only talked about how I missed everyone. I didn’t realize it at that point but I was only a couple minutes off of my PR for the half marathon distance during a race at 2:36:02 (PR – 2:34:56).
Changing that shirt was huge for me. I felt like a brand new runner. The raining had pretty much stopped and was nowhere near what it was during the first 1/3 of the race. The winds were still a bit of a factor, it would occasionally gust and take my breathe away and I would have to cough it out. But my God, I was actually enjoying myself. As much as I love the Bulls, the mile and some change to the United Center has always been a breaking point for me. But with my race plan, it was much easier to chunk it into smaller pieces. My feet were starting to hurt after I had seen Tony so I popped in my AirPods and called Erick. I told him that I NEEDED those shoes. I know it must have been hard for him to hear me while I was running, but he got the message.
Before the race I noticed a small whitehead that was on my stomach. I really did not think much of it, until about mile 15. Since I had my AirPods in I started to listen to some music to make the time go by a little quicker. Of course, I listened to the Hamilton soundtrack on Spotify. At some point I looked down at my feet to make sure they were pointing forward and not inward or outward and then I saw it. On my white Team RMHC singlet from last year was a deep red mark spreading down to my shorts. I honestly freaked out for a hot second. I was just jamming to “My Shot” and it looked like I had been shot. I quickly lifted up my shirt to find that whitehead had been chaffed raw and was not dripping blood. OK cool. That hasn’t happened before, but with all the rain, it was not a surprise. I went to the next Aid tent at Mile 15. I knew I was going to lose time, but I didn’t want this to get any worse. They patched me up and I lost about 3 1/2 minutes. I knew stops like that, and the stop to get new shoes would decrease my chances of hitting my goal time. I did not get to hung up on that. I knew I was doing well, and I would continue to do well, and maybe those stops will somehow reinvigorate me.
I got to mile 17 with faded blood now on my singlet and there was my brother Tony, the Tumangs, and my sweet, sweet dry socks and shoes. I spent several minutes there, trying to change as fast as I could. I was ready to go pretty quickly, but then I forgot that I needed some aquaphor on my feet before I started off again. I had to take off the shoes and socks, apply the aquaphor, and then put everything back on again. I lost closer to 6 minutes on this interaction. Abby asked if I had wanted strawberries, and they sounded really good at the moment. But I did not want to break the “nothing new on race day” rule, so I sadly declined. This race was the fourth time they had seen me run a marathon, and all around the same spots. They had seen me at very difficult times in previous races, but here I was at mile 17, still looking good. For the first time they were saying I was going “too fast”. I gotta say, that really picked up my spirits. With my fresh shoes on I took off back on the course, and they said they would meet me again at around mile 21.
It is around this time in the race that I tend to space out a bit. Not necessarily hitting a wall, but more just not being able to focus as much as I want. Although I now had dry shoes on, they are the ones I trained in all summer that had over 300 miles on them. They are the Hoka One One Bondi 5s which have a ton of support. But all I kept thinking about was that they had too many miles on them to race in. In comparison to the Reacts I was wearing during the first 17 miles, they were a lot bulkier. It is funny how your mind tries to create these roadblocks. What was I scared of? That the shoes were literally going to just break apart at the seams? I was going to finish this race even if I was still in the wet Nikes. Because of this internal argument, my pace slowed a bit over miles 18-20 to 12:13/mi.
I arrived at mile 21 tired but still ready to finish the race. In previous marathons, this is where I looked my absolute worst,. Defeated. I remember one year I said I was going to quit. This year, I knew I was still in good shape to PR and that drove me, But, I still needed something more. My support crew was there ready with my last singlet change – the white Team RMHC singlet from this year. It was a little more snug than last years but was gleaming white from only being worn once in training. At least I could take the gun shot evidence singlet off now and I could look good in the remaining race photos! Abby again offered me strawberries. I was absolutely done with the gels I was taking. I knew I needed them, so that is why I took them, but I could not stomach one more of those. This time, I broke the law and had a strawberry. A sweet, sweet strawberry. It tasted SO good! I had the rest that was in her container. She then had some dried cranberries and wow it was like tasting sugar for the first time. It was what I needed. Another extra minutes logged at the stop, but this was what I needed. Erick said, “You are going to KILL YOUR PR”, and he was right. Even if I slowed down to 15min/mi, I would still PR by a ton. After that boost, I was ready to finish this race. Just like years past, they told me they would try to catch me at mile 25. But this year I had a plan of my own.
It is interesting being in the latter half of the race finishers. You see all kinds of people going all kinds of paces. Some are just trying to survive the last few miles. Others are still moving pretty well, but you know they are mentally willing themselves to take each step. And finally there are people who are completely zoned in and determined to finish. I had been in the first two groups of runners at the end of the race. I always wished to be in that last group. And this year, I finally was able to put myself in that zoned-in group. It was a simple equation in the end: (1 mile + 1 minute surge) x 5 times = Chicago Marathon Finish Line. After the fruit goodies, I clocked a 11:57 on mile 23. I enjoyed that victory because I had never gotten anything near a 12min/mi at mile 23 of any other marathon. As long as I stayed around that pace and not longer than 13/min/mi, this would be easy. Mile 24: 12:52 – ugh, too close to 13 minutes, speed it up! Mile 25: 12:34, that’s more like it! I hear the familiar yell of “Go Joey” from my support crew. This time I do not stop. I simply stick my right hand out and don’t slow down. I hear my brother say “Oh! This is it? That’s it?” And then more cheering. There was only a handful of them there, but they meant so much to me in this race. I wanted them to know, that I got this. I FINALLY GOT THIS.
That second to last turn onto Roosevelt is one of the most exciting turns in the race. There is still about a 1/2 mile left, but there is nothing but fatigue, adrenaline, and excitement fueling your legs. You earned every inch of pain you feel in that moment, but you know in a couple of minutes you are going to be incredibly happy. But first, you have to get over that damn bridge. The excitement fades away for a bit, and grit comes and takes over. I am literally clenching my jaw to get over the bridge and control my breathing as much as possible. I did not come this far to pass out just short of the finish line. Not only is the biggest incline of the race at the end of the race, but it also happens to be where the most race photographers are. That does not seem like coincidence. They want to see that pain in our faces and they definitely saw it in mine.
The last left onto Columbus. I look at my watch, yeah I am going to destroy my PR. It was not the time I was hoping for, but I will absolutely take it. I feel like I am sprinting, but I realize that it is closer to a power walk than anything else, which is fine with me because I don’t want to run into anyone at the finish line. I raise my hands up in the air as I cross over the last timing mat.
5:36:24 – 63 minute PR!
I sent a kiss up to Heaven to all the angels who were with me: my Dad, Tita Imelda, Uncle Rudy, Mason Vigan, Baby Gray, Tony Ocampo, and so many more who I thought of throughout training and throughout the race. Finally, I enjoyed a marathon! Finally, I smiled at the finish line! Finally, I did my best!
As we officially enter the holiday season with the completion of Thanksgiving, there are a bunch of days that follow with snappy names used to boost businesses big and small. Many people (including myself) searched for deals on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. Now that the holiday decorations are up and the weather gets a little cooler, our thoughts start going toward the people who need help. It is the season of giving, and it all starts on Giving Tuesday.
My family has been blessed because we are fortunate enough to have been on both sides of charity. I have said many times how the Ronald McDonald House kept our family together when we were at our lowest. They took care of us when we did not know we needed help. I am forever in debt to that organization. In return, I will continue to sing their praises and share my experiences with the House. Actually, they were our Home. Our family was together, so wherever my wife and my daughter are, that is where I am calling Home. In addition to sharing my story, I will raise both funds and awareness for the Ronald McDonald House.
If you can, please donate to the Ronald McDonald House. You can donate money, volunteer to make meals for families, or even buy something off of their Amazon Wish List. I have done all three of these things for the organization, and it is incredibly satisfying knowing that my donation goes directly to the people who need it most – the families who want to stay together.
For more information on Giving Tuesday, visit givingtuesday.org and you can see what other charities you can donate to on this important day. Last year over 100 countries and millions of people took part in this special event. I hope this day continues to grow and more people get the help that they need.
Happy Thanksgiving! There are moments in life where things just seem to difficult and I struggle to find happiness. I think that is part of growing up. Once you open your eyes to all of the things you have to pay attention to like work, bills, health, and your future, life seems to weigh heavier on your shoulders. But once you stop and look at all the things we have been blessed with, the load does not seem so heavy. Here are the things I am thankful for this year!
I still cannot believe that I was able to raise $5700 for the Ronald McDonald House this year. I had never been a part of such a motivated fundraising team, but I am glad I was able to give back! They have done so much for my family and other families it was easy to ask people to donate. In total, Team RMHC raised $1.3 million during the Chicago Marathon, the most in its history.
Supportive Work Environment
With all the craziness in my life, my work has been incredibly supportive and flexible with our situation. They allow me to be there with Justine during some of her therapy sessions as well the tons of follow-up appointments. My work shows that they are investing in me by allowing me to do training as well as pay for classes for my masters degree. And of course they help me pay for our house and put food on the table. I am so fortunate to work for a company that takes care of their employees.
We may not get to see each other nearly as much as we would like, but I know we are always there for each other. We are at a stage where our kids are now friends and we see our relationships mirrored in theirs. Long gone are the days of drinking and partying till the sun comes up and here are the days of slowing down and enjoying life and each other.
I am blessed to have this family, both on my side and on Jaz’s side. It is sometimes hard for them to see us struggle, but they do all they can to help and make us smile. Family means so much in our culture. We learn that our family is our life very early on and just like everything else, we truly understand it when we grow up. The support and love we receive from our family is what pushes us some days, and they will always be with us no matter where they go.