I arrive at Maya leadsynth's late Sunday night after taking the South Shore train back into the city, then the red line up to her place. Being the greatest person ever, she's made a huge pot of spaghetti for us to eat, and although I should probably eat quickly and go right to bed, we stay up and talk for a long time. When I finally figure it's time to go to sleep, she actually gives me her bed and sleeps on the couch herself, so that I can be better rested for the race. See "greatest person ever", above. I still only get five hours of sleep, though, which is entirely my own fault.
The race is at 6:15 a.m. I'm up at four and on the red line south at 4:30. (This is why I stayed at Maya's -- because the purple line, which goes by my place, doesn't start running until 6:30 or so. I, uh, found that out last year.) This year, I take the red line to Cermak, walk over to Soldier Field, and have plenty of time to pee, check my gear, and get nervous. I often don't know until I start running if a particular run is going to be fabulous or awful, and this year's training has seen plenty of both extremes. But I'm glad to finally be at the starting line. A lot of people talk about what an accomplishment it is to get to the end of a marathon, but not enough is said about what an accomplishment it is to get to the beginning of one. Just like last year, I feel calm as I finally start running, since all there is left to do is actually run the race.
Good news first: The weather is beautiful, and the sunrise is spectacular. I feel good while running and even skip one of my breaks during the second half. I kick pretty big near the end and pass someone I didn't think I would catch, and she congratulates me on it later, which was pretty cool. I finish the course, and Maya's at the end to hug me and take my picture.
That's the good news. The bad news -- screw this present-tense stuff -- was that this was the most poorly planned, most poorly organized marathon imaginable. This front-page Trib article pretty much says it all -- they added an extra mile to the course by accident. Easy to do, I suppose, when there are hardly any mile markers. It was insane. It started out okay, but between miles 10 and 15, I saw no markers at all. This is not incredibly surprising, considering that a number of mile markers were missing last year, too. When I do these things, I don't need every mile to be marked, but I do need a general idea of where the three-mile increments are, because that's how I know when to take my breaks. So I'm going along, not having seen markers 11 or 12, but I figure that I'm almost half done, and that I'll take a long break at the halfway point. Last year, when I got to the halfway point, there was a balloon arch, a timing pad (it records your time as you run over it), and a huge sign proclaiming, "You're Half Done!", so I was expecting something like that this year -- or at least some indication that I was there. I ran all the way up to the northernmost point of the course, turned around, and still nothing. If I'm at the halfway point of a race, I want to know about it. More importantly, if I'm not at the halfway point, I want to know about it! I was really starting to drag because of that twelve-mile-point break I hadn't taken. Finally, I decided, "Screw it," and took my break, including a bathroom break. I didn't do that last year, but the bathroom was right there, and it made me feel a lot better. I set out running again, and the next aid station I got to, they told me I was on mile 15. Awesome.
What really cracks me up about the mile markers is that they'd mentioned on their website that they'd made great improvements this year, and that everything was going to be well-marked, thanks to the awesome 2005 Signage Team. I guess they'd gotten some complaints about the missing signs last year. Well, at least last year the signs that were there were obviously Lakeshore Marathon signs, with the logo on them and stuff. This time, they were comically ghetto. They were just these random mismatched signs with numbers scrawled on them. Some of them were taped to trees, some were stuck in the ground. Sometimes the number was spray-painted on the ground. Some were upside down. Etc. Nice work, Signage Team. I think a lot of the marathon volunteers knew that the race they were working on was a crappy one. One woman at an aid station didn't even wait until I was out of earshot before she said, "Well, at least people got cool shirts -- everything else about the race sucked."
I have to say that for me personally, miles fifteen through twenty or so were really, really nice. The sun was shining, there was a light breeze off the lake, and I felt very strong. I didn't take my planned break at 18 miles (or what I figured was 18 miles -- again, no mile markers), because I was going along so steadily -- not necessarily fast, but steady. I passed a number of people, which was pretty cool. I even considered running the whole rest of the way without a break, but by the time I got to the 21-mile point (yet again, unmarked -- that was just what the people at the aid station told me) I was ready for one.
From there to the end was pretty crazy. There's a part of the course that goes right next to the lake, which is supposed to be a good thing, but in Chicago, what that means is that you're running on a long, hot, dry, cracked slab of concrete with no mile markers and no aid stations while dodging all kinds of people who are biking and rollerblading and jogging on the lakefront. My favorite were the bikers who rang their bells and yelled "On your left" at me. Normally, I have the utmost respect for bikers, but when I'm in a race, I think they should be getting out of my way. Oh, well, maybe it was hard for them to tell that there was a race going on, due to the lack of mile markers.
Have I mentioned that the mile markers sucked?
Anyway, I ended up finishing with a time of 5:14:39 -- about twenty minutes slower than last year. I had been shooting for twenty minutes faster than last year, so I was disappointed at first, but now that I realized that I ran an entire additional mile (making it the farthest I've ever run in my life), I somehow don't feel so bad. Because of the terrible organization at this race, I know my 10K split (1:01:06, compared to 1:04:15 last year -- perhaps I gave too much at the beginning) but not any of my other splits. Knowing my time as I went along would really have helped me run a better race. I won't do this marathon again. I'm thinking about doing the Twin Cities Marathon this fall with Molly voolala. Right now, I'm just chilling out -- I haven't run since Monday, and I'm probably going to take at least a few more days off before I pick it up again.