On Saturday night, I laid out my race shirt with my bib number already on with safety pins, running shorts, socks, hats, sweat shirt, and running pants. My wake up call was 4:15a.m. which would give me enough time before I would be picked up by Rich Karnia who had agreed to guide me for the first ten miles of the event. I was in a deep sleep when I was suddenly awakened by my phone ringing. Am I late? Did I over sleep? I leaped out of bed to answer already making mental notes of where my clothes were and what other items I still needed to put into my bag. When I answered, it turned out to be a friend just calling to say hi. What time is it? She said about midnight. I hung up and attempted to go to bed, but it was tough. Soon it was about 4a.m. so I just rose up out of bed and began to prepare.
Rich arrived at 5:30a.m. and we made our way to Foster Avenue Beach in Chicago. We parked, made last second preparations, and walked over to the start area. It felt a bit cool, but Rich assured me it would warm up. "Besides", he said, "Once you start running, your body temp will rise, and you'll feel hot." The first wave of runners went off shortly after 6:30a.m. with a new wave going off every thirty seconds. We were in wave 45. We inched our way towards the start and it was fun to have Chicago Marathon Race Director, Carey Pinkowski, as the public address announcer making jokes, encouraging the runners, before saying, "Good luck. See you on the south side. Now, go!" Shortly after 7a.m. we stood at the start line waiting to be given the green light to go. How long will I be able to keep up the 9:30 per mile pace? I should have written ten minutes and thirty seconds or even eleven minutes. After all, this is twenty miles. Too late now. It is time to go! We started running. This was Rich's first time guiding so I figured he would need a while to adjust, but he seemed very comfortable almost immediately. Pretty soon, he informed me that we had crossed the one mile mark, but I was beginning to fall back from the pack so he encouraged me to pick it up a bit to catch up and maintain. I did. I normally would not push so early in a race, but I had to this time. I was not sure if and how this would hurt me later on, but I had to push. We would fall back then catch up right away. The miles rolled by then around mile eight we seem to hit a nice stretch of open space as some runners fell back and others pressed ahead. I found a groove and moved at this steady pace for a couple miles as we neared the tenth mile where Rich would hand me off to another first time guide, Jennifer Pfaff who I would meet for the first time when she would introduce herself at the exchange. We met her, Rich and Jennifer chatted for a quick moment, and soon she and I were off towards the second half of the run.
Jennifer was nervous about guiding so I said we could take the first mile slowly as she found her comfort level. It would also give me a chance to rest. We ran our first mile together in ten minutes and thirty-nine seconds. We ran the next in ten minutes and thirty-one seconds. Jennifer had asked for what pace I was aiming so by our third mile together, the thirteenth of twenty, she began to push me to dig a little deeper. We hit that mile at nine minutes and thirty seconds. That was the first of five consecutive miles at that pace. Sure I was tired, but somehow I was finding the ability to press on in a way I had never done before in any previous race. Prior to the Twilight 5K eight days ago, I do not remember running in any events in which I was consistently under ten minutes per mile yet I was hitting 9:30 on the clock in this event and we were at miles fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen. How was that possible? Meanwhile, Jennifer kept informing me that we were passing people all the time. Packs of three or four runners would add up to twenty-five within a couple minutes. We were moving. She kept encouraging me and in a sign that she was comfortable, she began to describe the scenery while navigating me through the course. My legs were taking a pounding and it was starting to wear me down, but with every step forward we were closer to the finish. Jennifer kept driving me. We reached mile nineteen. One more to go. The volunteers at every aid station were amazing, but the folks at this one were extra special with music and loud cheers. We refueled and off we went towards the finish. With only six tenths of a mile to go Jennifer insisted on laying the hammer. I wanted to slow up and even walk, but she was not going to let me. So close now. If she had to drag me across she would. Of course, there was not a need for that. The least I could do for her willingness to guide me is dig deep one final time. I did and before I knew it she said we had crossed the finish.
A post race party was well underway with food, drinks, and music. I was proudest that I had gone the distance. Twenty miles. For the most part, I kept my pace throughout the entire event. It was clear, I was ready to run. I am more confident in the possibilities which await me on October 10, 2010. I can go twenty miles so with a bit more training I will be able to accomplish something truly special at the Chicago Marathon.