My Chicago Marathon: No Weapon Stronger Than WillDespite coming down with a throat infection the day before the Chicago Marathon MR reader Chris still manages to score a new PB. Read his review here.
Monday 15 October 2012Twenty hours prior to the Chicago Marathon’s 7.30am start on Sunday, I found myself sat in an Urgent Care unit, hood up, head down, having all but accepted that I wouldn’t be running the following day. As had happened so many times before, I had contracted tonsillitis. I knew the symptoms and knew what was to come; an almost complete inability to swallow, fever and exhaustion. Rather than an injury during training, I had been sucker punched at the final moment by a throat infection.
A text message I sent to my mum from the waiting room read ‘…there’s a 20% chance I’ll run, and if I’m honest with myself, I’m being overly optimistic’. After 16 weeks of training, 390 miles, 22 Crossfit WODs and PRs in 5k, 10k, and half marathon distances, I had an unwavering goal of a 3:45. I knew that anything slower wouldn’t do, and the thought of actually not running at all hadn’t even entered my thoughts. I relayed my feelings to the doctor and while he understood my predicament, he was quite frank with me: If you want to run, I want you to take all 3 of today’s penicillin this evening. Tomorrow morning take 1 pencillin, 1000mg Tylenol and 600mg Ibuprofen before the race. Drink twice the amount of water you normally would to ensure your liver continues to function properly. Instead of running past the water stop, really slow down to ensure you drink every last drop of the water. Maybe take two cups. This way you should be able to get through this; just as long as you realise that you will feel far worse afterwards. After a torrid night’s sleep, I awoke feeling groggy, achey and tired, but crucially, no longer dizzy. ‘That’s it’, I thought, ‘I’m running this’.
I guess there are certain moments in life that you will always look back on for better or worse. This was was one of those moments, and I had the opportunity to choose just how I would look back upon it. The choice was a clear one; I would rather give it my all and fail than stay in bed, never knowing what I could have achieved. I would rather limp off at mile 4, than wake up at 12pm and try and avoid everyone else’s stories about the race. Then every time someone asked how my marathon was, go into excess detail about just how ill I felt. Excuses are too easy to come up with, and I figured that if I was able to walk in a straight line, I was able to run in one too. Fast-forward to the start line and I found myself shunted to the back of Corral E rather than my own Corral C due to an obscenely long queue for the toilet. This meant I would have to spend the first few miles dodging slower runners, which is never very fun, and often very frustrating. This wasn’t the greatest of starts. The first mile was by far the hardest. Although the medication had slowly begun to kick in, I was wracked with nerves. Would I be able to drink enough water without slowing down?
Was I doing myself damage by choosing to run? The internet certainly thinks so.
Should I be running slower than I normally would to compensate for being ill?
Would I run out of gas halfway through?
That last one was the biggest concern for me. I knew how fatigued I had felt the day before and I was genuinely expecting that to catch up with me at any moment. I had hit the wall before when I wasn’t ill, and there is no worse feeling than that all-encompassing fatigue. With the way I had felt 24 hours prior, part of me assumed this was an inevitability. The first time I glanced at my Garmin, I found myself running 20 seconds faster than my planned 8:30 pace. I made the decision not to slow down because I figured that if I did run out of gas, it would stand me in far better stead if I had at least covered the first half of the course in good time. As time progressed, barring a couple of minutes spent in a toilet cubicle (blame the medication), I realised that I had started to feel normal again, more than that, I actually felt good. As the distance I covered grew, my determination grew, and as my determination grew, my confidence grew. I thought of all of those runs in the rain, the early starts, the late finishes, the hungover runs, the iced knees, the blisters and the chafing. It’s amazing how this kind of thing can just cause you to grit your teeth, clench your fists and push that much harder. Well, grit your teeth or push your tongue between your lips. Same difference. It must have been the halfway point where I started to genuinely believe that I could finish strongly. I felt incredibly powerful, like I did on my best training runs a few months earlier. The thing with running is you constantly assess yourself for pains, niggles, muscle fatigue or general tiredness. As I was ill, I was hyper-aware, but other than my persistently painful big toe (which has been a thorn in my side throughout my training), I felt none of these; so I pushed on. Throughout this, I was buoyed on by constant cheering from the crowd about my Team GB t-shirt. Whenever I ran close to the spectators, which I chose to do quite a lot for this very reason, ‘Come on Great Britain!’ could be constantly heard above my music. It was fantastic, and pushed me onwards. Not only that, but when I spotted them, I even diverted my course to high five a few Brits holding Union Jacks in the audience, which was great fun and really put a smile on my face. It was around about that point that I realised that I was really enjoying it. The crowds were fantastic and my mind was responding. I was pushing myself and my body was responding. As I pushed on past the half-way point I felt the training kicking in. I felt strong, and fast, and it was exciting after the disappointment of getting ill. In fact, it’s exciting writing this now. I even relaxed enough to make an ill-advised attempt at the Mobot. So, despite the fact there were 11+ miles to go, I worked out I was on for a slightly below 3:45 finish and I decided to see what I could do from there. So I pushed harder. The last half was a bit of a blur. It really felt like it went so fast; with about 8 miles to go I needed to take two more Tylenol as I felt the daggers in my throat again, but other than that I steamed forward and began counting down the distances as only a runner does. ‘Only 6 miles left. That’s 10k. I run 10ks all the time’ ‘3 miles left. That’s 5k. I run 5k when I don’t even have time to run’ Before I knew it we were at the final mile, I felt like I had been running faster as each mile passed, but was cautious not to push too hard in case I found myself having to take my foot off the gas with just a few hundred metres to go. And then it was in sight. A sub-3:40 minute finish; and not just a barely sub-3:40, a comfortable sub-3:40. I pushed my mp3 player on a couple of tracks until it settled on Bad Religion’s Kyoto Now, pumped my arms, gritted my teeth, increased my stride and gave the final hundred metres everything I had. It was the first time I’ve shouted as I crossed the line. It was such a relief. Such a triumph. Such a complete contrast to 24 hours earlier. It makes me smile writing this. And then I looked down at my Garmin, and there it was staring me in the face: 03:37:38. Eight minutes quicker than my goal time and thirteen minutes faster than my previous PB, set ten months earlier in Las Vegas. I could scarcely believe what I was seeing. In fact, if it wasn’t for the sharp pain in my tonsils, I would have had to pinch myself to check this was real. For the first time ever, I ran the second half of the marathon (01:46:52) faster than the first half (01:50:46). In fact, from 25k onwards my speed never dropped, instead constantly increasing until I cross the line. That’s something I’m incredibly proud of, and something I know I need to emulate in the future. A marathon puts such demands on the body that it’s rare you will run one and not discover something about yourself. If I learnt anything from this experience, it’s that positive thinking, will and determination can help you achieve far more than you ever thought possible. Not only that, but there is a reason for training. I know it sounds obvious, but you can’t bluff your way through a marathon, and the strength I was able to call upon was far greater than I have ever had during any of my previous marathons. That’s the reason for this smile. Now, I need to rest, take time off running, try some short runs with my the Vibram FiveFingers I picked up at the Chicago Marathon expo, buy a pair of Saucony Kinvara 3 and maybe look towards New York Marathon 2013 as my next goal! Chicago Marathon: 03:37:38. Placed 5,569th out of 37,314 finishers.
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