Friday, October 15, 2010

A Warm Weekend in the Windy City

You’d think training in the heat and humidity all summer would have prepared me well for the October heat in Chicago as I completed the marathon last weekend. Maybe it was the lack of humidity during the race, but unfortunately things didn’t go as planned. Good news – I finished, not as good news – about a half hour slower than I had hoped.

The weather in Chicago was beautiful for entire weekend – although unseasonably warm. After arriving with a plane full of runners on Friday I took a 3-4 mile run along Lake Shore Drive. The thought occurred to me that I had trained in the heat and humidity, but somehow missed the wind (really a minor breeze that day) which seemed to be in my face constantly, and wondered if that would have any impact on Sunday (it didn’t – there was no breeze on Sunday). Friday night we had a nice dinner at CafĂ© Grand Lux – lots of variety on the menu, but Martin was pretty tired so we had to rush things along and get him to bed. Fortunately he slept pretty well that night (meaning mom and dad did too). Saturday we had a great breakfast (EggSperience was the name of the place I think) and walked around downtown a bit. In the afternoon we hit the Race Expo and then headed to dinner with the Diabetes Action Team where we met some friends from the Marine Corps Marathon a couple years ago, as well as several new folks who were running Chicago. Martin slept through dinner that night – and when he woke up he found a large serving spoon on the table that he enjoyed so much that it left the restaurant with him (I’m not fighting a one-year old for a spoon if it makes him happy – and I’m not naming the restaurant either – never know how those people might take this news).

Sunday arrived after another decent night of sleep (must have been the borrowed spoon). Fortunately we were staying downtown; unfortunately it seemed like a 2 mile walk to get to the Charity Village and the team tent. I left about 5:30 to find a nice warm morning and made the trek with Brad from Charlotte who was running for hospice. Fortunately the team tent was easy to spot in the Village and I had some water, laced up the shoes and got in on the team photo. From there we headed to the starting line – again walking what seemed like another mile, this time through Grant Park. The starting area reminded me a lot of the Peachtree Road Race starts – lots of people packed together inside of a fenced area – some stretching, talking, resting, wondering, and wandering. I met Sarah from the Cleveland area who has a daughter with Type 1. She was interested in the organization, how I handle things as a Type 1 and running marathons, and I shared the Insulindependence story with her (Tiffany – she may contact you). [I got a Facebook message from Sarah today after I had finished the initial draft of this message – thanks again Sarah!] One difference from the Peachtree start was that there seemed to be an open area to the left and the starting area marshals weren’t holding people behind the designated time ropes with much efficiency – so many people were moving toward the front before the race started. I followed them – perhaps not a good choice because that actually put me in front of several of the pace groups that would have been logical for me to follow (I saw them later in the race when they passed me).

Shortly after 7:30 the race started. With over 38,000 starting the race it’s probably easiest to picture a professional sporting event and everyone leaving the stadium at the same time after a game - crowds moving in unison for several city blocks, but with some space between bodies. About 10 minutes the “official” start I crossed the start line. My favorite comment at that point was from a fan on the side of the street who shouted “you’re almost there”. Wonder how many people responded by not laughing – wonder what the response would have been in Philly?

The first several miles twisted through the downtown area – the streets were filled with runners, the sidewalks with spectators. As Bill Carlson told me when I first met him in Toronto a couple years ago – it’s a great way to see a city. How true. After a mile I was at about nine minutes – too fast, but that’s what I got for moving up in the start area. Felt fine (at that point) – but was aware of the speed (maybe pace is a better term). Good news for the first half of the course – it was shady, primarily due to the buildings, and the time of morning as well I guess. The crowds were great – cheering loudly, calling people by name, offering encouragement, giving high fives - and this was the case the entire way. We ran through the financial district and headed north, through some residential areas, past a park, made a turnaround near the lake (never got to see Wrigley Field), and headed south back toward downtown.

I hit the halfway point near the Sears Tower in a little over 2 hours – still felt great, but also aware that my last half marathon took longer than the pace I was on at that point. Hoped that it was just a matter of the training I had done. I saw the Diabetes Action Team crew taking pictures (gave them a face like Nicole would make – not sure that will be one they want to put on the website).

At that point we were heading west, the sun was getting higher in the sky, and the shade of the downtown buildings had disappeared, and the heat was on. Things continued to go well through about mile 17. At that point I had some minor cramping in the legs. I was checking BGs about every 4 miles – had started about 180, hit 265 at 4 miles (adrenaline?), and was in the 90-120 range after that, which meant a yummy gel every 4 miles. At 17.5 I went for the race sponsor’s gel rather than the Hammer product I had. I was hoping their chocolate version might spur me along and pick me up a bit, but it didn’t work. Within another mile or two the cramps were severe enough that the marathon turned into a walkathon for me. I also realized that I wasn’t sweating much and felt parched. Maybe dehydrated? At that point all I wanted was some ice – the hat was on by then, but I felt fried. From that point things got a bit fuzzy. At one point along the route a woman held out a popsicle and encouraged me to take it – I don’t think she spoke English, but it was the best popsicle I had ever eaten.

  • The med stations seemed not to have ice – the water stations seemed to be missing that important component as well. As I proceeded I stayed close to the side of the course and asked several families with coolers for ice – they all willingly provided some, along with some encouraging words – and I kept moving, sometimes running, at other times walking or hobbling – depending on the severity of the cramps. At the water stations I tried putting water on my legs – sometimes it seemed to help alleviate the cramps. The last six miles seemed to take forever – the time groups were passing, the photographers were taking pictures (surely I could run at that point right ?) Nike had a big motivational area at about 25 miles – for me the motivation was just to get to the finish at that point. In the last mile I saw at least 3 runners on the street with medical staff hovering over them. Each runner had an IV – I was glad it wasn’t me. The last stretch showed the number of meters to go – at about 400m there is a hill that takes you into Grant Park for the finish. I staggered up the hill in a bit of a fog – one of the other runners yelled “come on diabetic guy – you’re almost there – finish”. I got to the top and ran (I don’t think it really qualified as running, but it wasn’t walking, though the pace was probably slower than a walk) the last 100m.

    After crossing the finish line I bent over to massage my legs – the cramps were pretty heavy again. One of the volunteers asked if I was OK. I told her I had cramps and wanted ice. She gave me some water and asked if I thought I could eat something. Sure. Bananas? I don’t like them. But they help with cramps. I don’t like them. I felt a bit like the green eggs and ham character, (I will not eat them in a race, I will not eat them anyplace) but she gave up before I tried them. I had a bagel instead. And then got my free beer, and some more water, and started the trek back to the Charity Village. When I arrived Jolanta and Martin were there. A few other runners were there too – and after I arrived a few more started to trickle in. The team had 3 massage tables set up. Fortunately there wasn’t a long wait. More water, more food, and a slow walk back to the hotel with some stops for pictures, and avoiding stairs wherever possible, along the way. Throughout the rest of the afternoon we heard sirens and saw ambulances heading up and down Michigan Ave. We passed some spectators who had passed out and gave the family some of our water as the ambulance was approaching. We had a nice dinner (steak) early that evening at a place just a short (slow) walk from the hotel. We got up Monday and took a long, slow walk to the Navy Pier. Saw lots of red 10/10/10 shirts on the streets. From there we took the train back to Midway Airport and back to Atlanta with a plane full of runners – they all seemed to be walking a little differently. It must have been the finisher medal that many of them were wearing that slowed them down.

    Lessons Learned
    Follow your own race pace (remember the tortoise and the hare story)
    Race what you practice (2 minute BG checks in practice do not equate to 30 second checks in a race, and a 9:30 – 10:00 pace is just fine)
    Drink early and drink often (this applies to exercising, not otherwise, though I probably heard this in college originally - for a different reason)

    Favorite Shirt Sayings
    13.1 is half of nothing
    If you can read this it means I’m not last

    Best Feature - the crowds, people on the course the entire 26.2 miles
    Worst Feature - no ice

    Would I do it again – absolutely! but I may try another venue next year (11/11/11 is on a Friday though?!).