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Marathon #2: 2008 Chicago Marathon (2008/10/12)

[2008.10.11] Bank of America Chicago Marathon 2008!  My second marathon, 2nd in 2 months.  The Health & Fitness Marathon Expo for Chicago (held at McCormick Place Convention Center) was really good.  It was a lot better than the Yonkers Marathon, which doesn't even have an expo (only 100+ participants)!
The 2008 Chicago Marathon was a great marathon!  It was my second marathon and was completely different from the Yonkers Marathon.  The atmosphere was amazing and was a complete change of scenery when compared to Yonkers.  Yonkers felt more like a NYRR Central Park race because there was minimal support and barely had any spectators.  This was understandably so because only 107 runners ran and finished Yonkers, whereas nearly 300 times that number of runners completed the Chicago Marathon, 31,344 runners to be exact.  The crowd support in Chicago was great, and the big city feel is something that needs to be experienced.  The marathon had plenty of cheering and had a New York City Marathon feel to it.  Although I have yet to run NYC, I did witness it as a spectator last year, in 2007.

[2008.10.11] Debbie & Me in Chicago for Marathon Weekend.

The city of Chicago and its race officials learned from last year's debacle.  The route was very well-supported.  There was plenty of Gatorade and water this year.  The sights of running through a big city and crossing 6 bridges across the Chicago River was nice.  The Sears Tower was within sight for much of the 2nd half of the race, and Mile 21 took us through Chinatown.

The race started at 7:30am in Grant Park. It was really hard to get into my Corral “B” because of all the runners.  Luckily, the start was close to Michigan Ave and the hotel that Debbie and I were staying at in the Magnificent Mile area.  I was lucky to be in Corral “B”, which was only behind the Elites and Corral “A” (Boston Qualifiers). My gun time / net time differential was a mere 1 min 5 secs.  For many of the runners in the open corral, the difference was up to an hour!  That hour is valuable because I would rather be begin running at 7:30am than start an hour later and have to still be running that extra hour close to high noon in hot weather.

Once the race exited the park, we found ourselves running into a tunnel on Columbus Dr. heading due north and then right away across our first bridge.  There was such a rush of adrenaline because this was a BIG CITY marathon with all of its spectators and camera flashes going off that I ended up over-pacing myself and running a 7-something 1st mile.  It also did not help that I was running at the front of the pack with the 3:30 pace marathoners.

The flatness of the course lent itself to a very fast few miles out of the gate through the downtown Loop area.  Right before Mile 5, we entered Lincoln Park passing the Lincoln Park Conservatory (the Botanic Garden I had visited the day before) and the Lincoln Park Zoo.  The park provided some shade, but then as we ran along Lake Michigan we were exposed to the sun with no tall buildings to help block out the sun.

Wrigleyville, between Miles 7 & 8, provided us with our first lively neighborhood atmosphere accompanied by blaring music and actual locals cheering us on, rather than fellow tourists.

I did not run with a camera, so the only pics I have of the race are whatever the photographers posted up plus one picture of me that Debbie took at Mile 11 when I was still on a good pace.  Debbie & I had planned for her to cheer me on and hand me a vital banana right at the Mile 11 marker.  There she was, just as planned, waiting along Wells St.  After running for over 100 minutes, she was a pleasant sight.

I crossed the half mark at 2:01:51, a tad better than my Yonkers 1st half split of 2:03:07.  I expected a faster mark since there was no uphill portions that I encountered.

The 2nd half was not as exciting as the first.  The run to the United Center (where the Chicago Bulls and Chicago Blackhawks play) was void of worthwhile sights.  Every time there was a turnaround, and we headed East, the Sears Tower was in plain view.  It gave runners something to focus on.

Mile 19 provided a change of scenery as the Pilsen neighborhood had lots of flavor to it.  It is Chicago’s largest Mexican neighborhood and was well-supported.

[2008.10.12] 2008 Chicago Marathon.  (Picture courtesy of MarathonFoto.)

Mile 21 took runners to Chinatown, which was quite lively with the sound of banging symbols and a lion dance!  After leaving Chinatown, it was back to emptiness until Mile 23 and Comiskey Park (where the Chicago White Sox play).  I saw beer being handed out to runners (a Hash House Harriers tradition), which proved to be amusing.  I saw some runners taking down the beer too!

In terms of the “marathon shuffle” and “hitting the wall”, I fared better in Chicago than I did in Yonkers.  I wasn’t forced to do the marathon shuffle until Mile 18 (Mile 13 in Yonkers), and didn’t slam into “the wall” until Mile 23 (Mile 20 in Yonkers).  From Mile 23, I had to run/walk until the finish.

[2008.10.12] 2008 Chicago Marathon. Finish!  (Picture courtesy of MarathonFoto.)

The final stretch up Michigan Ave past the McCormick Place Convention Center (site of the Chicago Marathon Expo and the largest convention center in America) was painful at best, but eventually I made it back up to Grant Park to finish the race in 4:52:16 (11:09 min/mile).

[2008.10.12] 2008 Chicago Marathon. Time to smile. No more marathons until Philly in Novemeber.  (Picture courtesy of MarathonFoto.)

I was only able to shave off 8 mins from my Yonkers time even though I felt like I ran the best I could.  I didn't feel like I ran as slow as Yonkers, but my time indicates I only ran 19 secs/mile faster.  Unknowingly, the heat had played a factor.  The race was another hot one (though without any fatalities)!  At 8am, it was 65 degrees, and rose to 78 at 9:30am, and reached 84 by 11:30am.  Almost all of the Nike pacers were off (behind) their target pace.  The pace tattoos that Nike handed out at the Expo were useful and a great idea since the pacers themselves couldn't keep pace.

As advertised, this was one FLAT marathon.  The only hill that I encountered was at Mile 26 (right before the finish), and it wasn't that bad.  By that point, you have so much adrenaline that the hill won’t demoralize you.  There were six bridge / overpass crossings though. Those provided slight inclines.

Although 45,000 registered, there were only 31,344 finishers, so it didn't break the all-time record set at last year’s 2007 New York City Marathon with its 38,557 finishers.  That was a historic race, chronicled in Liz Robbins’ book, “A Race Like No Other: 26.2 Miles Through the Streets of New York”.

As for my training, I didn't train enough, but I did put in a couple of half marathons, two 200-mile relays (for the Green Mountain Relay in June, I ran 22 miles over 4 legs, and for the Reach The Beach Relay in September, I ran 20.6 miles over 3 legs), and ran a full marathon (Yonkers in September) as part of training.

I didn't carbo-load the night before (but did so the few nights prior to that) because Debbie and I tried this amazing restaurant called Alinea.  We celebrated our 6 month anniversary there.  Zagat rated Alinea #1 for food (29/30), service, and wine in Chicago.  If you go to Chicago and have a reason to celebrate, you must dine at Alinea (you definitely need to fight to make reservations though, and the experience will cost you a pretty penny).

I would like to thank Powered By Dim Sum teammate Betty Eng, who supported me and kept me up-to-date with Chicago Marathon registration deadline emails (she ran it in 2005).  If she hadn't sent me those email updates, I would have missed the registration cut-off since the race filled to capacity by late April, a whole half a year before the start of the race!

Debbie and I flew back the day of the marathon.  I pretty much went from the post-race party back to the hotel to shower, pack, check-out, then off to the airport to fly back to New York.