Prepare for the IMPERFECT day… even before the race starts

07:18:02 I blinked twice at my watch in disbelief: 07:18:03, 04…. I was still stuck waiting in the port-a-potty line with all of my gear and my assigned starting corral at the Chicago Marathon was closing in a minute and 56 seconds. I took a few deep breaths and accepted that things were out of my control—I probably wasn’t going to start with Corral A. At large races like Chicago with tens of thousands of runners, runners are assigned waves and corrals based on their projected pace, so starting farther back likely meant that I’d need to work a little harder to weave around other runners going different paces, so it was less than optimal. I thought back to what my coach, David Roche, sent me in his race day celebration email: “Don’t envision the perfect day, envision the IMPERFECT day. Prepare NOW for a bad day, and decide how you will respond.” All things given, not getting in my ideal warmup and not starting with my assigned corral weren’t major setbacks by any means.

FFor anyone running Chicago in the future, we had Ubered to within a 5 minute walk away from Ida B. Wells gate pretty seamlessly and gotten there around 6:30am for the 7:30am start, so we figured we had plenty of time to kill and kind of hung out and chatted a bit before getting into the security line to enter Grant Park. DON’T DO THAT. Get in, get to the port-a-potty line! Also, there were port-a-potties AFTER you entered the corral with MUCH shorter lines. The security line for gate 5 was a lot longer than some of the other gates, so I didn’t get into the park until almost 7am, and by then the port-a-potty line was SUPER LONG.

Anyway, after I got out of the port-a-potty, I ran over to gear check, handed my bag to the smiling volunteer, thanked him, and ran off to the starting corrals. Just as I got to the A/B corral entrance, the volunteer announced “Sorry, Corrals A and B are now closed. Please proceed to Corral C.” (Sidenote: totally understandable since it was way past the 7:20am mark when they’d said it’d be closing.) A few more deep breaths. I shed the navy Sullivan High School hoodie, Scarecrow Scramble tech tee, Adidas sweatpants, beanie and gloves that I had picked up for a grand total of $9.31 from the local thrift store and Dollar Tree, tossed them into the donation pile, and made my way over to Corral C. I looked around and saw the 3:15 pacer up ahead and scrunched my face. I was planning to take it easy out of the gate, but the plan was to run roughly at 2:55 pace at the beginning, keep it relaxed and easy, then try to negative split (run the second half faster than the first half). It might be a little difficult to do that with the huge 3:15 pace group ahead and presumably a 3:10, 3:05, and 3:00 pace groups to pass as well. But I shed y warmup beanie, ate my pre-race Gu Roctane, took a deep breath, smiled wide, and crossed the line around 7:38 AM.

How I got to Chicago and how I approached this race

This was my twelfth marathon and well over my 100th race— but I still got pretty nervous leading up to this race. For me, marathons (and other goal races) are a celebration and culmination of many months of training. This training cycle was one of the more memorable ones because it was my first one with my new coach David Roche. I ended up running many hundreds of miles solo during this training block, including all the key workouts, tempos and long runs. I have to admit at times that that was pretty tough, but it gave me a new appreciation for and renewed love of running and marathon training. After setting a PR of 2:48:32 at the Boston Marathon back in April, I kind of felt a little lost— unsure what to tackle next. I happened to listen to David Roche on Jon Levitt’s podcast, For the Long Run. I still had a copy of David and Megan’s book on my shelf that I had read five months prior, so I pulled it out, flipped through it, and on a whim, emailed David to see if they had any availability to coach me. Luckily, they did!

For those unfamiliar with their philosophy, I LOVE THIS ARTICLE by Coach Roche and Secret #3 in particular, which really, really resonated with me: “Emphasize process over results. Results are dust in the wind, and almost meaningless over time…So never let your self-worth get wrapped up in finish lines. Instead, make goals based on the daily grind, with races and similar benchmarks just serving as an excuse to live the life you love.”

If you buy into the process, results just become great sights along this long and circuitous roadtrip rather than the destination (spoiler: there may be no real destination). Sure, some of the sights you’ve had circled will be AMAZING and you’d do the whole trip JUST to see/experience(/instagram) JUST that one thing again. But sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate that day (whether it’s a race or viewpoint) or you just aren’t feeling it that day. Try to enjoy it for what it is that day, and know that there’ll be more along the way. And sometimes whether because of running injuries or because you’re driving through just a long uneventful highway, you might miss the races/sights and wonder if it’s all worth it. But road trips are all about the songs, stories, laughs, games, and most importantly the company AND FOOD along the way.

With that all in mind, I did feel like I was in PR shape for Chicago having had some of my best tempo long runs and workouts ever during a training cycle, but I still acknowledged that it’s still just one stop along a long trip. You want to enjoy as many sights as possible, but not if it jeopardizes the longevity of the trip, and the California International Marathon in December was the main attraction that I really didn’t want to miss. I had been sick for almost a week just a couple weeks prior and then traveled to Japan (LOVE) for a week for work to attend DevCon and speak at one of our investor’s events (AMAZING!) and hadn’t had a proper taper. So the game plan was to take off around 2:55 pace and practice negative splitting. Coach Roche and I came up with these Chicago Marathon Goals before the race:

✅ Run like a puppy unicorn 🐶 🦄

✅ Smile every mile 😃

✅ Take off conservatively and run a big negative split

From the start to the halfway

This was definitely new for me— I hadn’t run a marathon where I wasn’t either pacing someone or trying to go all out for the fitness I was in, so it’d definitely be a bit of an exercise in self control. I’ll admit that weaving through thousands of runners in the early miles and having Chicago’s famously wonky GPS made me a little uneasy through the first few miles. I tried to keep the effort really relaxed, but was definitely spending some effort playing Frogger around people and didn’t have a great idea of what my real pace was in between miles. I hit the lap button at every mile marker (I missed mile 1) and tried not to look at my watch much and tried to run more based on effort and feel. I ended up coming through the first few miles a little faster than the gameplan, so I consciously slowed down and tried to focus on smiling and breathing. From miles 3 until the halfway point, I just let it flow and tried to run a really controlled easy pace. I came through the halfway point in 1:25:39, a little hotter than the 2:55 pace (closer to 2:52 pace), but I felt like I had close to a full tank to push for a big negative split in the second half.

From 13.1 to the Finish

Mile 14 had wonky GPS readings, which I knew going into the race. As I mentioned previously, I had been trying to be better about not looking at my watch too often and learning to go off feel, but out of curiosity, I glanced down at my watch to see 9:50 pace, then glanced at it again a few seconds later to see 4:20 pace 😂. I tried to just enjoy the sights Chicago had to offer, but boy there were a lot of turns and some of the neighborhoods definitely became a bit of a blur. I pretty much just let my fitness/flow guide me through the second half while picking up the pace a little bit.

I also love seeing friends along the course. I saw my buddy David Lam not too long after the halfway point— I tapped him on the shoulder and told him he was looking great— he had just run his half PR, but was still cruising pretty smoothly (spoiler: he ended up BQ’ing in 2:58:29!). Once I had passed the last 3:00 pace group (I guess they started with the A corral— at first I was confused why I saw a 3:05 pace group after I had passed a 3:00 pace group), I felt like I had a ton more room to run and just hit my stride. I definitely started feeling a little fatigued around mile 22 or so, but the crowds at Chinatown gave me a nice boost. I saw Excelsior teammate Thia and her sister around mile 23 or 24 or so (I can’t remember)? and they cruised to an amazing 2:54 PR, said hi and talked a little bit before pushing on through to the end. The last 800 meters or so was slightly uphill and super windy, so I wasn’t really sure when to start my kick, but I definitely remembered to smile and take in the last few hundred meters. I wasn’t really sure where I was with time— I knew I had picked up at least a couple minutes during the second half and was probably on pace to come in slightly under my previous personal best of 2:48:32 from the Boston Marathon, but I tried not to focus on that and just wanted to finish strong.

Thanks to Coaches David, Megan and Addie Roche and Excelsior teammates for an amazing training cycle. Special shoutout to the crowds at Chinatown and the November Project cheer station— y’all brought so much energy at a time when I was starting to fade just a little bit. I’m ready to enjoy the sights at The New York City Marathon and then leave it all out there at California International Marathon! But first, lots of burgers 🍔 and pizza 🍕.