In 2009, I ran the Chicago Marathon as my first marathon. It went poorly.
In 2010, I ran the Chicago marathon as my second marathon. It went poorly.
Seven years later, I finally ran a decent road marathon!
The two Chicago marathons, like two of my Jemez races, were a contrast in weather. The first year was cold, but close to ideal running weather. Unfortunately, I barely drank water or ate calories the entire race, in addition to going out way too fast. Serious case of textbook rookie mistakes all-around. One year later, on 10-10-10, the weather was at near-record high temperatures and I crashed and burned again. To be honest, it was again more due to poor nutrition and race strategy than the weather.
Until yesterday those were the only two road marathons I had ran. My finishing times at both were almost identical, right around the 5:00 mark. Yes, I completed a marathon and accomplished a bucket list running goal, but I was never happy with my performance in either of them.
Luckily, the Duke City Marathon was a completely different story. Strangely enough I entered the race only a few weeks before, almost on a whim. I had been training with a focus toward running the Deadman Peaks 50M race again, but a co-worker friend of mine mentioned that she was running Duke City as her first marathon. The wheels started turning in my head and I realized I could run it as a last big effort prior to the ultra or as an end in and of itself, and hopefully redeem my previous poor performances. After all, the race is ran in Albuquerque, with the starting line only about 15 minutes from my house. The race course consists mostly of the Bosque trail along the Rio Grande, a multi-use trail which I’ve raced on many times, with a flat profile making fast paces possibles.
My friend happens to live very close to the start of the race, so I was able to easily park at her house, pet her cute dogs and walk to the race start. We lined up at the start together, but she mentioned having no real performance goals other than finishing, so we high-fived prior to the race start and I took off, prepared to run my own race.
Completely by accident we had lined up directly behind the 4:00 pace group. Before the race, I told my wife that my A-goal was a time of 3:59:59 and a B-goal of 4:00-4:20. So I decided to force myself to stay with the 4:00 pacer and run a smart, consistent race instead of going out too fast and blowing up during the back half of the race, the usual way I seem to execute my races.
Two miles in I happened to run into my friend Verena, also running with the 4:00 pace group. We ended up running the next ~15 miles together, tucked right into a group of a dozen people clustered together near the pacer. It worked out really well for me, because I’m not positive I would have had the self-control to stick with the group and otherwise and probably would’ve ran out ahead and blown up. Those first 17 miles were as perfectly paced as I could’ve hoped for. My watch actually beeped mile 10 at exactly 1:30:00 elapsed time.
At around mile 17, I decided to try and little surge and see how my legs felt with some faster mileage. I clicked off three miles at around an 8:30 pace before reverting back to a 9:00 pace, and eventually even slower in the final miles. Just to illustrate the folly of my mid-race push, the 4:00 hour pacer passed me as we were turning down the final stretch of the race, finishing just in front of me with only one or two of the previous large group left in his wake.
My finish time was 3:59:03, meaning I hit my A-goal almost exactly. If I had saved my surge for mile 20, and spent the time before that getting in more calories and water, I think I could have brought it down a few more minutes. But I PR’ed by almost an hour. When outside of a 50 or 100 miler race do you get to do that?
Only about seven minutes after I finished I got to see my friend finish her first marathon. I don’t think she had done a long run over 15-16 miles, but has a ton of volume and is a very active person. So I knew she had the fitness to fitness to finish, but it was awesome to see her hang in there mentally and crush her first marathon with a much faster time than she expected. She definitely has the right mentality if she ever wants to be an ultrarunner.
And just to close this post out, I should say that the Chicago Marathon is quite an experience. Just because my two races were terribly ran, I don’t hold it against the race itself. The course travels through many different areas of Chicago, each with their own very distinct flavor and it truly does warrant its spot as one of the World Majors. Between the 45,000 entrants and the crowds lining nearly the entire course it is special race.