With the Chicago Marathon on tap for this weekend, I thought I would go into Throwback Thursday mode and re-publish a blog post from two years ago. In it I dispensed all of my sage marathon tips based on my own personal experiences.
I was signed up for the marathon but had to drop out of training due to my knee surgery in July. But I'll still be involved with the race as a media correspondent for the website LetsRun.com. To me, covering the race is the next best thing to running it, but I hope to be on the starting line in 2015.
In the meantime, enjoy this blast from the past!
(Originally posted September 24, 2014)
While my own personal quest is all about running the Indy Mini Marathon
next May, my mind right now is definitely on the Chicago Marathon.
I love the race, and have since the first time I saw it on TV in
1999...which was the day I was inspired to start running. I have run the
race six times, spectated another three or four times and in 2011-12
covered the race for the running website Letsrun.com. And, during the
summers of 2004-05 I wrote a weekly column about the marathon for the
Aurora Beacon News, not to mention having contributed marathon-related
content to Chicago Athlete magazine.
OK, the last part of that wasn't to brag or name drop, it was just to
say that I have no doubt seen this event from every angle, for which I
feel very, very blessed. Actually, seeing the race from that side is
quite interesting and worth talking about sometime. Probably in the next
week or so.
But back on point, I figured since the marathon is on everyone else's
mind, I should join in too. I was supposed to run the race myself, but
ended up deferring my entry because between getting married, vacations,
graduations (and parties), one son's surgery (he's OK, matter of fact
he's better than OK now) and another going off to college, the summer
quickly got away from me.
So be prepared to be inundated with a few marathon-related blurbs over
the next couple of weeks. It will be kind of weird, but for the first
time since 1999 I won't be around for the marathon. I'll be in Atlanta
attending the Bears-Falcons game with my brother and his wife.
I will be there in spirit, and as my gift to you, I present ten very important pieces of advice about race day.
1) If it's your first, just finish. No matter how long you have
been running, or where your abilities lie, a marathon will be an
experience unlike you have ever had before. A mega-marathon like Chicago
can quickly overwhelm you and can lead to a lot of bad tactical
decisions. Tactic No. 1 should be just finishing the race. There will
always be more chances to post a time of you want to. In my first
marathon, I put myself into "run all day" mode, meaning I found a pace
that I felt I could run for a long, long time. It was even slower than
my training pace, but it was comfortable and I avoided a major crash in
the final miles.
2) Trust your training. If you followed your training to the
exact letter, you will have done somewhere between 70-100 runs over the
course of the 18 weeks. If you trained with a Chicago Area Runners
Association group or a charity group, I can tell you with total
confidence that you are ready. Last year I ran with a CARA group and hit
the line feeling completely prepared. Whether or not "you can do it"
should be out the window by this point. Just tell yourself that you can!
3) Don't obsess about the weather! Control what you can control.
You trained through a Midwest summer, there is nothing the weather can
throw at you that you haven't seen before. It doesn't hurt to be mindful
of the weather as far as your prep and tactics are concerned, but
beyond that it is what it is. Don't let the weather get into your head.
4) Start slow. See point one about just finishing. Adrenaline is a
crazy thing, so is tapering. You might be going along thinking "yeah, I
feel great!". Well if you feel awesome, then the taper worked! Which is
good news, because that means physically you are ready to run. But it
doesn't mean you are suddenly able to do something you weren't capable
of before. In the course of several hours, honestly, what does a minute
or two here or there matter? Run well below your means at the start,
which will pay off dividends at the end.
Which brings me to...
5) There are no race-day miracles. We all know of someone who has
"popped" a race, meaning they came in with one expectation and ended up
running something completely different. I've done a couple of those
myself, including setting my half marathon PR in 2007 and running what I
consider to be my "best" (but not fastest) marathon in the heat at
Chicago later that year. The thing is, popping a race isn't a miracle,
it is the rare harmonic convergence of several factors, with training,
confidence level, experience and conditions being among them. What you
have put into the race training-wise is what you will get out of it.
Keep that in mind when you set your race-day goals.
6) Tactics. Up at the front of the field, it's ALL about tactics,
and back in the pack with us mere mortals, it matters as well. Pace
groups definitely help, but over these next couple of weeks think about
what you want to do, and be as specific as possible. What works for me
is that I break the race into smaller pieces, run the first 5K, get to
under 20 to go, get to 10 miles, and so on. Then all I focus on is that
smaller goal, and check it off when I achieve it.
7) Be a good competitor. One thing that bugs me about big races
like Chicago is that they include rude people. Well, all races do, but
when 35,000 people get together for something, the number of rude people
that show up becomes that much exponential and much closer to my last
nerve. Try not to cut people off, or push people or just do something
you normally wouldn't in your daily walk of life. Last year I was moving
through a water stop and was reaching for a cup from one of the
volunteers, and a woman barged in front of me, knocked my arm away and
took the cup! Really? Is that couple of seconds you save going to make
that much of a difference? It's like heavy traffic on the tollway...be
cool, be patient and take care of each other, and you will get to where
you are going to go.
8) The course is accurate/follow the line. Just a reminder that
Garmins and GPS are awesome, but no matter what yours says at the end of
the race, the course IS 26.2 miles long. As a World Marathon Major, the
course has been checked, re-checked and checked again. Race director
Carey Pinkowski loves world records and would love it if it was broken
again here someday. And I know any race director would hate having to
give up a record because of an inaccurate course. Actually, the way it
is done is kind of fascinating and worth reading about. It's all about
tangents (a line that draws the shortest point-to-point of the course),
and you can cut some distance out of your day by learning some of the
course and running corner to corner. Pull up some marathon video of the
elite runners on YouTube and you will see what I'm talking about. The
follow pretty much the same imaginary measurement line that the
organizers use to measure it.
9) Be nice to the volunteers. These are people who are taking
time out of their lives to ensure you have a good day. They aren't
trained professionals, but most of them work hard and love being a part
of the event. Try to say "thank you" as much as you can...I usually do
when I grab water or Gatorade. Think about your unsupported long runs,
how you have to carry things, leave fluids in bushes and wait to cross
busy streets. Then think of trying to do that on one of the biggest days
of your athletic life. They take away a lot of stress and make our jobs
much, much easier.
And last, and most importantly...
10) Enjoy it! Yes, it's hard and yes, it's extremely painful, but
it's also one of the most awesomely rewarding things you will ever do
for yourself in your entire life. Ferris Bueller was right, if you don't
stop and look around once in a while, you'll miss it. A marathon is one
of the fastest four, five or six hours of your life, and by the time
you know it, you are making that final turn onto Columbus and crossing
the finish linie. We live in (or near, in my case) a world class city
with wonderful people who support this race, and you are missing out by
not taking some time here and there to realize that you are doing
When my son Matt was running in the National Catholic Championships at
Notre Dame last week I asked him if there was ever a time that he looked
around and thought "man, this is really cool!". He said he did a couple
of times. What you are about to do is cool and will be something that
you will remember the rest of your life, and you don't want to get so
focused that you forget that it's supposed to be fun and the final
exclamation point to an incredible journey. When the day is over you'll
be happy you did!