2018 Chicago Marathon
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!