Chicago Marathon race report

I need to write this while I’m still feeling it.  I need to get it out.

I have incredibly mixed emotions about the race today.  I went into the race feeling optimistic, prepared, and well trained.  I spent the summer trudging through blistering heat and humidity in order to be prepared and well-trained.  At the end of the summer, I ran a half marathon in 1:51:48. And after that was over, I continued my longest training runs (20 miles) at paces right around 9:05 min/mile.  All of this “evidence” lead me to believe that being optimistic about a 4-hour marathon goal was not at all a pipe dream, rather an attainable goal if I worked hard.

I have to admit it, I felt lucky to have gone through a little of a year of running without anything but minor little soreness.  No injuries to write home about at all.  And I tapered well and went into today well rested and injury free.

The first half of the marathon went pretty close to plan:  2:03:52.  I felt like I did a decent job of not making the rookie mistake of going out too fast, and at that halfway point I was still feeling strong and in control.  I didn’t feel like I was working particularly hard which is exactly what I had intended for that portion of the race.  Just putting mile after mile on auto-pilot.

At about mile 12, I got to see my family, including my mom, dad and two sisters, who had surprised me by showing up in Chicago last night to cheer for me at this, my first marathon.  An unbelievably generous gesture on their part.  I truly have been emotionally overwhelmed by the amount of support I’ve received throughout this just-over-one-year running journey.  They made t-shirts that said, “I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”  A nod to the fact that I had decided to run this marathon in support of Run for Dom.  I did have promises to keep, and I had full intention of keeping those promises, regardless of how difficult it might be.

And it was about to get difficult.  Sometime during mile 13, I started to feel a twinge in my left knee.  Just before mile 13 ended, that twinge was a full-on, locked up knee.  Honestly, I was in shock.  I had no idea what to do about it.  As I said, I went through this whole year of training and races without a single significant injury.  And, even the insignificant stuff never, ever involved my knee.  But my knee was locked up tight.  For the first time during any race, I slowed to a walk to assess what was going on.  I tried stretching (a number of times) to see if it would help but it didn’t.  After walking for a bit, I was able to start running again for annoyingly short distances before it would lock up again.

So, I spent the entire second half of the race going back and forth between running and walking.  I tried desperately to maintain some sort of positive attitude, because I did have promises to keep, and I did have miles to go.  Seeing my family throughout that second half was bittersweet because I loved, loved, loved the support, but I felt the need to put on a strong face regardless of the increasing pain, and maybe even harder, the increasing disappointment.

A friend of mine sent me a tweet earlier this week that said I would learn a lot about myself today during the race.  Truer words were never spoken.  Here are some things I learned.  Please excuse the ugly honesty, but take it as coming from someone who can still taste the bitter pill I had to swallow today.

  1. I don’t want to be one of “those people” who feel OK with simply finishing.  I planned to run this race and leave nothing on the course, but I walked as much as I ran during miles 13-26.  I don’t want to feel good about that.
  2. I know that I should feel proud of even attempting something so few can do.  But that’s not good enough.  I trained my ass off and I expected to compete with me today.
  3. When I got done with the race and found my wife and boys, they tackle hugged me and told me they were proud of me.  That went miles and miles toward helping me realize that today’s specific result is not what it’s all about.  The months of training and sacrifice were what they were really proud of, and you know what, so am I.
  4. Today I raised about $3600 for a family and a cause I believe in.  That is what made me swallow my pride and keep going whether or not I felt embarrassed about walking.  Every mile I would have skipped would have been one fewer opportunity for kids who didn’t have any say in their dad’s lost fight with cancer.  They deserved every mile I had in me, no matter how slow.
  5. There are far more important things in this world than how I feel about one race.  Like what I taught my kids about hard work and seeing things through to the end, and keeping your promises.

My friend was right, I did learn a lot about myself today, just not about running, specifically.  I know with time and perspective, I’ll come to look at my first marathon through clearer lenses than I do today.  But for today, I feel grateful to have been able to line up and complete what I started.  For that, I am grateful, and I am proud.  Today, bitter taste or not, I am a marathoner.

8 thoughts on “Chicago Marathon race report

  1. Sean, you are, and have always been, a class act. My wife runs, so I know how hard running a marathon is. I am proud to call you friend. Keep running.

  2. Sean,

    You are an inspiration to me. I am hoping to eventually qualify for Boston and I hope you will join me, your cousin. I experienced a very similar fate at Cincinatti last year. We never know what our body is going to do. I was way, and I mean way off my usual pace for Cinci. I trained for 8 months at an 8:15 pace for a full. Then the fatefull day came and I had multiple issues. I ended up running four and a half plus a few. I did finish and that was moving none the less. I am sure when you are healthy again we, as family, can do a full together. I only hope I can pace you, if not I hope I can keep up. Next year you won’t have to go after Chicago alone. I will be right there by your side, provided I can keep pace.

    1. Josh, thanks for helping me keep this in perspective. It’s tough training for as long as it takes to get ready for a marathon, then to have it unravel in a few short hours. But, just a day later and I’m already feeling a little better about it. I’ll see a doc tomorrow to make sure I didn’t tear anything in my knee, then I plan to get back to running. And yes, if I can get to a point where I can BQ, I’ll happily run it with you! Thanks again, Josh.

  3. Sean, you should be proud. I get the disappointment, but you had the courage and will to see it through, even though most people wouldn’t have. You are a marathoner, now. Congrats! But you were already something rarer and harder to achieve: a person worth emulating.

  4. Sean,

    Your ambition is amazing, and such an inspiration. What you have accomplished so many desire, and while your outcome of this full marathon was not what you had in mind, it is an achievement you will never forget, especially who you did it for. I know personally you are an inspiration as I continue in my attempts to increase my training, and will certainly help me in my first half in a couple weeks. I genuinely hope you have a quick and painless recovery, as I can only imagine how much you want to get back on the pavement.

    Kate

  5. Kate, thank you, thank you, thank you for your note. Knowing that my training, not so much one race, has helped you toward reaching your own goals really reminds me what is important about all of this. Today I came home to find a Post-It note on our door, written by my eight year old, that said, “I’m so proud of you dad!” Seriously, how can possibly doubt that my time on one race day has any significance at all in the face of that? Thank you, Kate, for a great reminder to see this with clear eyes.

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