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Running in one of the top five marathons in the world:My thoughts on running in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on 07 October 2012


The short version: A brilliantly organized sold-out race where in I had a PB & BQed & forgot & then re-learned a few things about dehydration & cramping

So I have to tell you I was quite anxious even before the race started. But it’s not what you think. It wasn’t based the infamous hot weather that occasionally occurs in Chicago during previous marathons or my own performance concerns. It wasn’t even my on-going IT band issue which I had hampered my last marathon five months ago which thanks to my new friend this summer, the foam roller, it was under control. This was my 8th marathon and I had trained well and had a race plan that reflected my training. No, I was concerned about what it would be like to run in a huge crowd of runners. You see in February 2012, this marathon had 45,000 confirmed applicants in a mere six days. On the weeks leading up to the race, I imagined a tight elbow-jabbing stampede of runners bunched up at the start line. After attending a very crowded expo, my anxiety was peaking.  In reality, it was  quite the opposite of what finally greeted me on the morning of the marathon.  When I finally entered corral   “B” , I realized, that with each of the 12+ corrals holding 3000 runners, there was more than enough room for everyone to run comfortably. Combined with this, the roads at the start and for the vast majority of the race was 4 lanes wide so there was lots of room to run right from the start and not feel like you were going to shorten your stride or trip up in anyone else’s race. Moments before the the start of the race, the press of the crowd happened and then everyone started moving slowly walking to the start line mat and upon crossing, immediately the  pace picked up and the crowds thinned with lots of room for each runner to run their own race.

A further note on the corrals. The organizers had arranged corrals with the Elites and then alphabetically A-M assigning ~3000 runners to each corral.  There were two waves with Elites and A-E starting in the first wave at 0730 and then the second wave starting at 0800 F-M. The A-D assignment was based on submitted times and F-M had runners assigned based on expected finishing times, starting at <3:50:00 in F corral. However, there were no qualifying times for runners in E corral; the charity village corral. This setup lead to my hearing of some of the faster runners in corral F catching up with the back of the charity village runners some of who were walking, often in groups and therefore slowing their faster pace. My only suggestion to organizers would to either place these charity village runners within each of the corrals based on submitted times or expected finish times or to place the charity village runners further back in the corral sequence.

The temps were perfect for us hardy Newfoundland runners, around 4C at the start with hardly any wind (<10 kmph).  I think it reached 12C by mid-day. With the morning chill, we were all prepared to shed our warm up clothes just before the start. While most of us ran in shorts and singlets, I decided to wear a compression shirt and arm warmers, which turned out to be perfect for me in these conditions.

I have to  back up here and mention that most of us had signed up for the Balbo hospitality tent  access which made the race that much more special for two reasons. With the $70 entry ticket, we were able to go to a warm Balbo tent before the race where light breakfast foods were available, private change areas, gear check area, port-a-potties, with no line ups and a escort to your corral. The second reason why the Balbo tent was special was its near location to the finish line and all of its post race amenities including hot lunch, a televised live feed of the finish line on TVs scatter throughout the huge Balbo tent, a separate medical tent, and lots of massage therapists.

My race plan for the flat course Chicago is known for was to run an even pace (ave 4:50 min/km) for a 3:24 finish. I had trained for this pace and I was  ready. To add more support to my goal, at the Expo, I had chatted with the Nike Pacers and learned that there would be several 3:25 pacers in my corral (B) and located on the far right of the corral on race day. I found several of them just before the race but in the final moments just before the race began, I ended up moving to the center of the corral which by the time race began, I was more on the left than on the right side of the corral. This slight change in position had me running on the left side of the divided highway of Columbus Drive and then proceeding through the 400 m tunnel without any pacers in sight. This was not good as I especially wanted to run with the pacers through the tunnel as I had been told the tunnel would fool up my Garmin due to not receiving any satellite info inside the tunnel. Additionally inside the tunnel, I noticed that my watch went into auto-pause as it was no longer receiving a signal. Should have disabled this as I do every race but for some reason, I forgot. I stayed calm realizing this was a very small part of the race. Coming out of the tunnel, my watch resumed its normal functioning and I saw that my pace was about 15 seconds too fast and I adjusted accordingly. For the next 2k, I ran keeping my pace around 4:49. Then around the 5k mark, I started to see a bouncing little sign off to my right about 100m ahead of me so I speed up to read the sign. My little surge continued for about another 30 seconds until I confirmed the sign was the 3:25 group. I slowed down then and eventually caught up with the group in what seems like another minute or so. I must say I felt very calm at that point as I felt I had just secured my race plan. That feeling of confidence grew as, over the next several ks, I learned that the Nike pacer was named Roger and he had run 75 marathons and this was  his 50th marathon as a pacer. Talk about someone who knows what a marathon means. Certainly further built my confidence that I was running smart.He kept calling out the mile splits,  and then updating the overall finish time. These projected finish times varied only up 30 seconds or less as each mile clicked by. I knew I was on pace checking my watch occasionally and feeling very comfortable running with this group and I truly relaxed. I was able to see most of the 29 different neighborhoods and I was continually amazed by the number of people who seemed to be everywhere all along the route.  Here were many performers including Elvis impersonators, blues bands, DJs, mariachi bands, the flamboyant performers in Boystown and the dragon dancers near the big Chinatown gates.

At this point I’d best tell you that three marathons ago, I finally solved cramping issues that had plagued me for my first four marathons. During training for # 5, I had come across an electrolyte tablet (Nuun) that seemed to keep my cramping at bay.The result was that I had run in my last three marathon drinking Nuun and had no incidents of  cramping. So for the past two years, on long training runs and in those marathons, I faithfully carried four bottles of Nuun. However, about a month ago, I started experimenting with Torq on long runs up to 35k and found that while it was sweeter, it appeared to do the same job as Nuun. So, on an impulse when packing for Chicago, I packed Torq powder and gels leaving the quick-dissolving Nuun tablets at  home. I also had a new belt with only two bottle holders that I should not have brought but I did, leaving the four bottle one at home.   So that was what I had on my waist on in Chicago. In my painful hindsight, I noticed that with the cooler temperatures, I wasn’t feeling as thirsty as usual and that lead me to somehow forgetting to drink very much at all. And continuing down this path, I somehow forgot to drink most of the two bottles I was carrying and instead I found myself doing as most of the runners in the pacing group did and took a gulp of water or Gatorade at maybe every other water stop.  You know where this is going , right? It was around 37k mark that I started noticing cramping starting in both calfs and only then did I realize that I had made a major mistake in my race hydration. Then to add insult to injury, my Garmin died almost around the same time. So now I didn’t know how fast or slow I was going and with each slowing gait, the 3:25 group was slowly gaining distance ahead of me and soon disappeared. Not a good scenario and even worse reality. I tried to remain calm and recalled a blog I had read just the day before about a guy repeating that “this is my year” as a mantra helped him focus on his training and his expected outcomes so I continued to stay focused on making this my year to run a good race in Chicago. I knew that I had enough time to get under 3:30 if I could maintain a fast jog pace which quickly becoming my run’s only reality. I also knew, based on previous experience, that if I stopped to massage my legs, I might not be able to start again. I also tried, but way too late, to drink some electrolytes. I crammed in a piece of banana but nothing really changed the way my legs had decided to mess up my normal running stride. I was so much slower in those last 5k as I later calculated my pace to be 5:49 from that point to the finish. But I didn’t know that at the time and so just kept on checking the occasional posted time on course clocks and knew that I was more than a minute behind the gun. As I approached the finish line, it was coming up to 3:30:00 and I knew I had my PB and a BQ (my chip time was 3:28:19).

Part of my  race in  Garmin:

After receiving my finisher’s medal and receiving my recovery blanket, I slowly made my way to the Balbo hospitality tent, which I was thankful for not being very far from the finish line. In the tent, I didn’t even have to line up for a massage, where two massage therapists worked on me for about 40 minutes. They told me I was very dehydrated and had me drinking a couple of bottles of water while they took turns working on my very tight calfs and quads. As with every marathon, I learn something and what learned this time was not to forgot some hard learned lessons. After the massage I just kept drinking water and had hot soup in the tent. We sat around on chairs watching the race on the big TVs, drinking soup and hot coffee and eating great sandwiches

Another great part of this race that made it extra special was that I traveled to the race with a great bunch of fellow Newfoundlanders, whom I had the pleasure of the last 4+ months to have trained with and then to witness their PBs, BQs & in the case of Janet A & Josee H, the more incredible feat of qualifying for the very challenging New York Marathon.

After this marathon, like all others, I am reminded of why I run. It’s simple really; I love that it makes me feel so alive.

With no more training to focus on until spring,  I will now run weekly with my running club, Athletics Northeast (ANE), through the fall and winter with no speed sessions except for an occasional tempo if the weather conditions are right. This approach will have me both properly recovering and also building my base miles so that, come next spring, I can start a whole new season of racing with dreams of a whole new series of PBs. I’ve also just signed up for a weekly strength training program which can only help improve my core strength which will ultimately improve my running form.

Happy trails,



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20 October 2012 · 20:48

7 more sleeps to Chicago

This is the final week of tapering for at least 11 Newfoundland runners planning on running the Chicago Marathon (CM) next Sunday (7 Oct). This is the week to run about 20% of your former training volumes and  to continue with the intensity. Maybe the hardest thing to do this week is to stay calm and rest more. Equally important is to remember to take in lots of fluids, not just the day before the marathon. Combine those extra fluids with extra carbs 2-3 days before Sunday to bulk up your glycogen stores. More info on carbs/glycogen here:,7120,s6-238-267–11428-F,00.html

 To help you maintain those builtup stores, you shouldn’t plan to run much during this phase as it would be counterproductive.  An easy early morning run on Saturday will take care of those pre-race jitters. No last minute changes should be considered. Your last 20 weeks of training prove you are ready! 

 Monday: Rest

 Tuesday:  (CM) 8k at race pace /// 30 minute tempo run

 Wednesday: (CM) 11k at race pace /// 11k recovery run or cross-train or rest

 Thursday: (CM) rest /// 2 x 4000m , 2’30”

 Friday: (CM) rest /// 8k recovery run or cross-train or rest 

 Saturday: (CM) 6k easy. At 3k mark do 4 x 30-second strides at 10-K to half-marathon race pace /// 16k race pace run for Toronto marathoners

 Sunday: (CM) race day! ///  22k (for Niagara Oct 23) later marathons 30+k

 Looking forward to running with you next Sunday!




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Countdown to Ch…

Countdown to Chicago

Congratulations to everyone who ran in the Huffin Puffin yesterday. ANE was fully represented in the Marathon, Half-marathon and the Relay. Despite the head wind (esp for marathoners) and the humidity, there were PBs all around. I was proud to be part of the third place relay team (the PJs), where we collectively ran the marathon distance in 3:09. It was great fun, following our team mates, cheering them on and watching all the other runners throughout the race. Quite a different perspective! With all of our team completing in the relay for the first time, I know seeing that finishing time added to our on-going respect to those faster marathoners!


The PJs:(l-r) Joanna Harris, Josee Hotton, Janet Angel & me)

This week’s workout is again divided between those running in Chicago in 13 days and others who are running later Fall marathoners. Remember taper does not mean more rest, just less mileage.

Monday: Rest

Tuesday: 30 minute Tempo from RR at 1800. The usual route down to the Boulevard.

Wednesday: Rest ( for Chicago) or 8 k recovery or cross-train

Thursday:  3 x 3000m / 6′. Meet at 1730 at RR. 3000m route will be up and down the Boulevard. Note earlier time due duration and early evening darkness.

Friday: 8k recovery run or cross-train or rest

Saturday: 16k run (for Chicago @ marathon pace), Steady 10k run.

Sunday:: Rest (for Chicago) 22 k long run for marathons on Oct 14, 32k for later fall marathons

Happy Trails!



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24 September 2012 · 08:25

Taper for Chicago has begun!

We had another great long run on Sunday, even saw one moose on the course! My IT band issue seems to be under control as I would expect that running 35k with the last 1/4 run at marathon pace would have set it off. Here’s hoping! The TORQ gels and TORQ Energy drinki did not upset my guts either so I’ll continue using it. However I may carry only two bottles of it and two of water next time. The Huffin Puffin route is a challenge due to its elevations after which it is only normal to feel tired but you should also realize you are now ready for a marathon, after having punched our many weeks of training together. For those running Chicago, your taper has begun! Time for more rest and run less overall miles(mainly in the long run distances). But this won’t mean a reduction in effort in regards speed. Such an approach will have you more rested but also peaking when you toe up to the start line in 20 days. 

This week’s plan:

Tuesday: 30 minute tempo from RR at 1800

Wednesday: 8k recovery or cross train or rest

Thursday: Meet at RR at 1800 4 x 2000m/ 5′
Friday: 8k recovery or cross train or rest
Saturday: rest if running in the Huffin Puffin or 11k steady
Sunday: 22k long run (for those running later fall marathons after Oct 7, I suggest another 30k run)

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Last long run (…

Last long run (35km) this morning for Chicago marathon 2012 prep.  Final practice for all my racing plans, so I’m trying a new drink: TORQ Energy along with TORQ gels which I have tried previously and have liked as I find them more syrupy and therefore easier to swallow. Most of the  gels i have tried have made me gag as I try to eat them. Hoping my IT band problem is finally over.  This run will certainly tell me.

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16 September 2012 · 06:44

This week’s wo…

This week’s workout has various workouts on Thursday as the first of the fall marathons is only two weeks away (Huffin Puffin) and Chicago is now four weeks away. With that in mind, the Sunday run for Huffin Puffin racers should be no more than 16k while the rest of us will run up 35k. Also Tuesday evening’s tempo may be a write-off if the high winds that are forecast linger but the same forecast suggests they will drop out by suppertime. Stay tuned!

Monday: Rest

Tuesday: 30 minute Tempo run from RR at 1800 (weather permitting!)

Wednesday: 11k recovery or cross-train or rest

Thursday: RR @1800: Huffin Puffin: 3 x 4000m / 7′ rest ; Chicago: 5 x 1600m / 5′ rest ; Others: 9 hills 

Friday: 8k recovery run or cross-train or rest

Saturday: 10k steady   

Sunday: 35k following most of the Huffin Puffin (HP) route. Meet at 0730 at Bowering Park Parking Lot and carpool to 7k mark of the HP route.



10 September 2012 · 08:47

This week’s plan

I will be missing you all on both Tuesday and Thursday due to meetings I have in Ottawa but I’ll be back for the Sunday long run.  I also realize that you missed your hills last week but all agreed as to the benefit  of the Yasso 800s. So thus week we will do those Hills this week and next, and then we will be finished with hill workouts and concentrate on long intervals instead as we close in on the fall marathons. Those of you doing Huffin Puffin will have begun your 3 week taper  this week. Be sure to just drop your overall volume of miles but continue to do all speed sessions to maintain your training effect. 

Monday: rest 

Tuesday:  25 minute tempo

Wednesday: 11k or cross train or rest

Thursday: 8 hills

Friday: 8k or cross train or rest

Saturday: 10k steady run

Sunday: 35k route TBA

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