Chicago Marathon Recap: Running gains or pains?

@ Abbott Fitness Expo (Chicago Marathon’19)

Let me just start by saying this marathon course remains my favorite in all the cities I’ve run in the United States. From the start on Columbus Drive in the Grant Park area through its popular wide (I’m from New York) city streets and local districts just outside the city loop: Lincoln Park, University Village, Chinatown etc… and back to the finish in Grant Park it really is a beautiful course with all the trimmings of sights, sounds, and support. One couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day outside of the winds that picked up in the last few miles. No surprise there though, they don’t call it the windy city for nothing. Indeed, notwithstanding the wind, the weather was miles better than last year where it rained the entire time. This brought the fans out in their numbers along the route while sunshine littered the course. A good day for a marathon I’d say!

I’m afraid my back and knees wouldn’t agree. I mean, we had some fun out there during the first half. I enjoyed the crowd support, the pace was great, and so were the volunteers and fuel stations as per always. But man, it was hugely disappointing around mile 13 to feel my lower back caving to the pressure of the tempo pace I had been sticking to from miles 5 through 13. Up till then I had been ignoring the twinges in my right knee, hoping the other knee would remain silent. Unfortunately for me, with the start of those lower back pains, I had to yield to a slower pace and a couple bathroom breaks, which were more rest-my-back breaks, and slowly embrace the pains in both knees by this time, made much worse by my having to overcompensate for my lower back. By mile 18 I was in suck-it-up mode and was working on keeping a steady pace with minor interruptions for fuel – always sticking to the outside and picking it up close to the end of the line. I was aiming for no stops for two reasons: so as to minimize the pain and the length of time for which I was experiencing it, and yes, I was still keeping an eye on my pace. I figured finishing under 3:45 wouldn’t be so bad all things considering.

One thing I have learned over the years with racing and running marathons, and I think I’ve become good at, is adapting and adjusting a racing strategy. Experience has taught me that there’s a 50/50 chance on any given race day that I will actually run the race I had been training for. Because there are factors at play beyond my control such as the weather and, yes, God forbid injuries, one is always hoping and praying that all things being equal it will be a typical/ normal running day. However, if you know anything about typical/ normal these days, you’ve already realized that its no longer a thing. One must roll with the punches and play the hand you’re dealt to avoid being left somewhere at the side of the road eating the proverbial dust. Enough with the cliches, I’m sure you get the gist. That being said, I was prepared to let my body and how it felt that day determine the race I was going to run. Since I was well aware of my knee issues going in I figured I at least knew what, if any, my challenge would be. Imagine my surprise when the back issue popped out of seemingly no where. Only, on further thought – not while I was running but later on after the race, I remember the unfortunate instance of doing a round of heavy deadlifts at the gym the week prior, which had left me sore and pained. Days later the soreness and pain were gone and so was the unfortunate memory. But these things, left untreated, have a way of resurecting. And so that is just what happened.

At the end of the day, the why is less important than the how and the fact remains that because of my experience, training, and sheer determination I was able to suck it up and got to the finish line in a time I could live with. I often joke when asked “what if you don’t finish?” that it’s never a question of if, but when. I’ll endeavor to stay true to that philosophy and in the event I ever feel that I don’t have it within me anymore, I will bow out gracefully, 26.2 miles intact. For now, I can only hope these rolling hills of New York City will be gentler on me. I know what you’re thinking and in all probability you may be right – I’m hardly likely to fare much better here in NYC given the wide disparity in gradients of these two courses. Add to that my obvious disadvantage of being three weeks out from my last race with injuries and well it all seems to add up to one possible outcome right? The only thing is I’m sorta in the habit of defying odds 😉. Oh ye of little faith. 😊

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