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Also Ran, Part 7

By Rohit Grover

Singing the song of the majors, generally: Chicago and Boston

My disappointment at missing out a spot at Boston 2018 was tempered by being able to use the qualifying time I got at Vernonia 2017 for an entry to Chicago 2018. This was my consolation prize, since I hadn’t originally planned to run Chicago – ever – but the more I talked to my friends, the more I learned that I might enjoy Chicago a lot more than Boston. I also hadn’t known that the World Marathon Majors existed. And then, after Boston 2018, with the hypothermia-inducing conditions and runners completing the race in parkas and Pendleton blankets, I figured maybe I’d lucked out.

Then, I decided to experiment with a high-mileage training plan and had a result that I had not expected, at the Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon 2018 (2:53:24, FTW! – the subject of Also Ran, part 6). So now using a high-mileage training plan was the default for future races, even if the benefit was anecdotal (I had a sample size of exactly one).

What worked for LETM18: High mileage plan, lots of half-marathons (to force honesty in pace practice), back-to-back long runs, Tuesday intervals (as prescribed by Coach Rick Lovett), alcohol fast and caffeine fast for 2 weeks before the race, a shot of beet juice every day for 9 days before the race and two shots on race morning, carb loading upto 3000 calories the previous day, a couple of bagels and a caffeine pill on race morning, dressing as lightly as possible, and a packet of gel every 30-40 min during the race.

Since the Chicago Marathon is in October, I modified the training plan to have more 5k and 10k races — competing in the club’s summer series was an obvious draw, as also spending less time racing in the heat. Training for Chicago was uneventful – no aches and pains, and getting PRs in 5k and 10k races was a big confidence boost. Going under 20 min for the 5k and under 40 min for the 10k were long-term ambitions, and I achieved both marks in the lead up to Chicago.

And a couple of weeks before Chicago, I got the acceptance from Boston for 2019 using my LETM18 time (mere mortals have to chase multiple rabbits – we can’t rely on last-minute elite entries).

***

I landed in Chicago on Saturday morning and checked into an AirBnB about 2 miles from the start in Chinatown. I was able to walk to the expo, which was about a mile from the AirBnB, for packet pickup. I stuck with the nutrition plan from LETM, and was chomping on bagels and bananas all morning. After the expo, I bought some ramen for more carb loading. Deliberate carb loading is surprisingly difficult! That third or fourth ramen bowl was surprisingly awful to taste. I tried sleeping early, to no avail. After tossing and turning most of the night, the alarm clock brought blessed relief in allowing me to get out of bed. I ate some more bagels and downed some beet juice and packed a caffeine pill for later, and headed to the race start.

Based on advice from Louis, I disabled auto-lap on my watch to force myself to use the mile markers on the course, since the tall buildings in Chicago can be problematic for GPS watches. I was very relaxed on race morning – I had already got into Boston 2019, and I figured I’d go out at a sub-3 pace and see how I feel. Scoring a pair of Vaporfly 4% was a minor confidence boost.

My Kryptonite has always been heat and humidity. The first time I encountered it was during a sprint workout for field hockey in middle school. Chicago wasn’t nearly as hot as Bombay in the summer but could successfully compete for humidity (at 95%). The temperature at the start was around 62 F, warm, but not too bad. If the clouds stayed put, it would be okay.

***

The rain stopped just before the race started and we made our way to the start corrals. The start corrals were well organized and the race start went without issue, and soon we were running northward into the suburbs of Chicago. I settled into a good rhythm early in the race, and the miles were ticking by in 6:45-6:50. There were plenty of aid stations and I made sure I had water at most of them since I knew I’d be losing water in the warm and humid weather.

Halfway point came and went in 1:28:33. I was feeling great and figured I could keep it steady at that pace. This continued till the 30k mark. Spectators lined the entire course, cheering all the runners. Running through Chinatown was especially fun, with a lot of energy from spectators. I was religious about hitting the lap button at most mile markers, so had a fair idea of how long each mile was taking. Unfortunately, the struggle started around mile 20, when I started overheating and cramping intermittently and had to slow down a little.

At mile 21, a guy next to me asked, “Hey, weren’t you at the tunnel marathon?”

It was John Grover, who’d finished ahead of me at LETM! I told him we should run together, but couldn’t find him afterward; I later heard that he decided to walk/run the rest of the way because he wasn’t feeling good and wanted to be able to recover for NY Marathon (4 weeks later in Nov). Around mile 23, Portland runner Tim Murphy was waiting for his wife, Jessica, who was running the race. I don’t think Tim saw me. If he did, he definitely ignored me.

I started calculating the paces I’d have to hit to make it under 3 hours, and realized I could run 7 min miles and still make it under 3 hours. Sometime in the last 10k, both my toes clicked … toenails breaking. As I started the final mile, the sub-3 goal was definitely in sight, though I was worried about the final hill (an overpass). I crossed the overpass and saw the clock over the finish click past 3 hours, then realized that it was showing gun time, not chip time. A quick check of my watch showed I would make it under 3 hours, and I sped up and crossed the finish in 2:59:36.

I walked around like a drunkard and grabbed a bottle of water and some food. Someone handed me a medal and a glass of beer, and I lurched towards the exit, but just as I was leaving, everything in my legs seized (again!!). A fellow runner helped me to lie on the road while volunteers massaged my calves, then wheeled me to the medical tent. The medic there looked at me and said, “You should walk it off, because if you enter the tent, I’ll have to do a full workup, and there are people here in much worse shape than you, so you’ll be here a while.” I walked it off.

Someone asked me how I felt running in the rain, and I asked, “What rain?” I realized then that it must’ve rained during the race – my shoes were wet.

I went to pick up my stuff and ran into fellow club members Anna and Mike Komer and we took the obligatory group photos. I called my family in triumph and spent the next hour or two in a happy delirium with the result. I went back to the AirBnB and took a long shower, packed and dragged my suitcase through Chinatown and had a large meal, then got a hold of Anna and Mike, who were kind enough to include me in their celebration with friends and family after the race (also, free beer, though I suppose someone must’ve paid for it).

Then it was off to the airport and back to Portland by the evening flight – Monday was a workday!

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