Before running the Chicago Marathon, I suspected I’d run somewhere between a 3:05 and a 3:25. The course is flat and fast and I felt fairly decent. The night before, I called 3:14 as my best guess. I ended up crossing the finish line 3:29:27 after I went through the start, and for once, I’m not disappointed with the result.
I’ve been struggling mentally a little bit lately, but when I got to the race, I got pretty excited seeing all the charity runners. I’ve obviously become a charity runner this year and I really dig seeing others run marathons for a cause. There must have been 10,000 charity runners and I got pretty excited to run well when I saw them all.
Before the start, my legs felt a little bit tired because I was on my feet too much the day before, but they didn’t feel all that bad. At the start, I still had confidence I could push for a sub-3:15, and I thought I might be able to lock into a good groove and maybe even go for sub-3:10. We got rolling and I felt pretty good. The tall buildings were making the pace on my Garmin go a little wonky, and my heart rate monitor wasn’t working well between miles 6 and 16, so I went by feel for the most part.
Just to sum up the course, it’s a nice tour through lots of Chicago. Tall buildings everywhere. It enjoyed it as a run through a major city, but I found out afterwards that I missed a lot. I was paying attention to what I was running by, but I realized I spent more time looking at the spectators than the sights. There were loud fans covering about 90 percent of the course. But I missed a lot of the different parts of the city and I’m not sure how. Whatever the case, it’s a great course, and it’s definitely fast and flat.
Back to the running, I felt pretty consistent early and not too bad. I didn’t feel like I had any zip in my step, but I felt pretty good. I thought that since I’m two weeks removed from the Tahoe Triple, my legs would start recharging and get closer to where I want them to be. Last week was a difficult 3:28 for me — surely this would be a better day.
I slowed a touch, but nothing that concerned me. I went through the half at about 1:38 flat, which isn’t great, but still about halfway to a Boston qualifier — just one second off. I was faster through the half than I was in St. Charles last week. Plus, the second half of Chicago is easier than the second half of St. Charles. I had no concerns, but all of a sudden at about mile 16, my legs just quit on me. I could tell I was falling off in a hurry. I had been running in the 7:20 to 7:30 range without much problem, but all of a sudden I couldn’t get the pace down below 8:00.
I’ve been having this shutdown effect a lot lately. Mile 16, mile 18, whenever. My legs just quit on me. It’s not a problem with my training or my nutrition. It’s just an issue with fatigue. Imagine that — 48 marathons into the year and I’m getting fatigue! I saw some things along the course that inspired me, mainly religious signs and enthusiastic spectators. But I just couldn’t pick it up. I knew by mile 18 that it was going to be a progressive slowdown to the finish.
At around that point, there was an Elvis impersonator singing “My Way” and I instantly started thinking about this year as a whole. I’ve done this my way, the ways I thought would work best. Regrets, I’ve had a few. But then again, too few to mention. I haven’t always been right, but I’m pretty proud of how hard I’ve tried. About a mile later, there was a DJ blasting “Coming to America” by Neil Diamond. I’m probably the first person to have an emotional reaction to that song. I’ll admit it.
I don’t even really know the words to the song or what it’s about. But it made me think about something I’ve thought about all year. This is America, land of opportunity. Take a chance, take a risk, reap the rewards. Or fail, but at least fail trying. When I heard that song, it made me think about how I took a chance this year and risked failure. The chance I took was that I would willingly run my body into the ground, and the reward I sought was to raise money and awareness for Train 4 Autism.
Note: If you’ve never been here before, my 7-year-old son Jack is severely autistic and I’m trying to run 61 full marathons this year to raise money and awareness for Train 4 Autism. This was marathon No. 48 of the year.
I’ve raised the money and awareness, which was my goal. Have I been perfect? Of course not. But Train 4 Autism is in a better place because of what I’ve done. That’s what I set out to do. I vowed at the beginning of the year that as my part of the deal, I would run myself into the ground to get this done. At that moment, when I heard that song, if finally hit me. I have succeeded in running myself into the ground over the course of this long, tough year. In a weird way that only I can really understand, I’m really happy that I have nothing left.
I wanted to do this for Jack. I want to make the world a better place for kids with autism so he will have an impact on others. It took 47 marathons, two ultramarathons and 19 miles of marathon No. 48 for me to finally come to the conclusion that I have physically torn myself up as my way of fighting autism, the neurological disorder that has wrecked my 7-year-old’s childhood.
I started getting tears in my eyes as I thought about my cute little curly-haired boy, who might not have even known that I was out of town and who certainly doesn’t know that I run or that I’m doing Operation Jack. I set myself up with what I consider to be a pretty daunting task as one way of coping with Jack’s struggles, and I got it done, save the 13 marathons on the schedule the rest of the year.
I kept the tears from really flowing, but I started having breathing problems and was struggling for air. I was having a full-fledged emotional breakdown in the middle of a marathon. I was bound to have a moment like this. Thank you, Neil Diamond.
About a mile later, I saw Operation Jack supporters Adair, Jerry and Asia Renning. Asia is an adult and has autism and is also a distance runner. In fact, she ran her 100th distance race this year! She was excited to see me and I was looking forward to seeing them along the course. I’ve communicated a lot with Adair and Jerry over the past year and it was great to finally see them (even though it was kind of from a distance and I could barely see without my glasses).
Two miles past them, I saw Operation Jack supporter Jen Morgan, who has been super supportive of me since last year. I met her in Tampa and saw her again in Boston. It was great to see her once again. She was out there in her tutu and her Operation Jack shirt and I got a big grin out of that. It’s a pretty special feeling when people back you the way she has. I got a little teary-eyed again when I passed her. I guess I’m just an emotional train wreck over all of this right now.
Anyways, I struggled and struggled, trying to salvage my time, but failing miserably. With a mile to go, I needed to run a little better than 9:00 to stay under 3:30. I tried my best and pulled it off, going 3:29:27. Two months ago, I would have been pretty bummed. Today, I just don’t care. Like I’ve done all year, I went out, gave it my best, didn’t get all I’d hoped for, but finished what I started without any regrets about my effort.
I caught up with Adair, Jerry and Asia after the race and as I was telling them, I’m not proud about the number of marathons I’ve completed. My ability to run and recover is a gift from God. He gives the strength and ability to do everything I do. But I have the choice to use my gifts and work as hard as I can, and I’ve done that. That’s what I’m truly happy about. 48 marathons is trivial in my book.
So there you have it, my take on the Chicago Marathon. 48 marathons and a couple of ultras down. 13 victory laps to go!
I stayed with the family of an Operation Jack follower named Dave Pittman. Super nice people, no question. This is me and Dave before the start of the race.
Me and Dave after the race. I went 3:29:27 and he went 3:29:40, so of course I teased him that I beat him by 13 seconds!
Me with Adair, Jerry and Asia after the race. I am so fortunate that I’ve been able to meet so many good people this year.