My Fourth Go at the Chicago Marathon
By: Bryan Morton
Wow, where do I start with this one?? It’s been quite the year for me. Personally…professionally…and all the while running became increasingly more of a focus in my day to day. Why? To be honest, I can’t say definitively. It’s tough to put into words. It’s sort of a blended concoction of living a healthy lifestyle, combined passion with my now live-in roommate girlfriend and introverted competitiveness to push my fitness limits and see how far I can take it.
Early on in 2013 I tasted a bit of success with my first dip into the ultra world with a 2nd place overall finish in the Bandera 50k (Strava pace analysis here), just behind two-time Western States winner Timothy Olson. Immediately following this race, I started to get the itch to be a tad more focused in my training. The Boston Marathon was next up in April. For anyone who trains with me in Team Rogue, or those who I’ve run across on a casual off day run, they’ll tell you that I’m pretty ‘meh’ when it comes to setting finish time goals. Any time people would ask what I’m training for next and what sorta pace I was planning to run I’d pretty much give the same unassuming shrug of the shoulders, hands in the air ‘Enh, not really sure. I’m just sorta having fun with everything now. We’ll see how it goes on race day when the gun goes off.’ For my then coach, John Schrup, this had to absolutely frustrate the crap out of him. Or, maybe not. Who knows. But it was after Bandera that I told Schrup that I wanted to focus in on training and go for it in Boston. What did ‘go for it’ mean? I had no idea. Again, I don’t really set time/pace goals. Why? I guess I’d say it’s because this can only set one up for disappointment. There are so many variables on any given race day that are out of your control; weather, untimely illnesses, getting tripped in a crowded pack, etc. However, I wanted to go into this race knowing that after I crossed the finish line I did everything I could throughout training to put myself in a good spot. What’d this mean? Well, for one, this meant cutting back on doing some of these training runs with my teammates in Team Rogue who I’d become accustom to running with. My new paces led to some lonely secluded runs on the roads around Austin. At the end of the day, it was worth it. I secured a new PR in Boston, 2:37:28, and came out of it with even more confidence and passion to focus even more the next go-around (Strava pace analysis here).
This next go-around would end up being the Chicago Marathon on October 13th. Why? Well, it’s sort of a hometown race for me, with a pancake flat course profile and one I knew quite well with racing it in 2007, ’09 and ’12. There was one issue though, registration for the race had closed. I continued training and focusing in on this race date knowing that it’d work itself out. Somehow I’d find a way to race in Chicago. Fast forward three months out from the race, I convinced my buddy Josh to run the race with me again, like we did a year prior in 2012. Somehow, someway, Josh and the incredible team at SKECHERS hooked up a complimentary entry into the race. Unreal!! Now, the only thing left, was to train my skinny lil butt off.
Around this time (in early July) my coach and running mentor, John Schrup, made the difficult decision to take a new gig with a run shop across town. While I was selfishly bummed I more than understood. For a couple days there, I didn’t really know what that meant for my training. However, that period didn’t last long. Steve Sisson swooped in on the opportunity and would become our new Team Rogue coach. Pretty interesting timing too. My girlfriend Sarah had been training with Rogue Athletic Club for two years under Steve and only recently around that time made the incredibly tough decision to switch things up a bit and train under the leadership of Noah Moos, and with her bestie Natalie Picchetti.
In no time, Steve and I hit it off, got into a groove and he began to challenge me to want more for myself. Coming off my race in Boston, Schrup urged me to up my weekly mileage if I really wanted to start seeing faster, more competitive times. To date, I’d been a pretty low mileage marathoner, keeping it consistently in the 50-60 per week mile range while taking a day off each Friday. Schrup’s advice stuck. I upped my weekly mileage to 70-85 with a rest day every two weeks. Some weeks this meant a daily double or two of 4-6 miles after work, while other weeks this meant increased volume for my daily morning runs.
Towards the end of the training block Steve had some pretty focused workouts for us in preparation for race day. One of which was a pretty gnarly Saturday long run with a double that afternoon. In total the day was looking to be around 28-30 miles. Pretty crazy! At first glance though, the 6 miles at 90%, 4 minute rest and then into 9 miles at 98% mgp didn’t seem all that difficult. What had me a lil’ anxious was the afternoon 6x 1 mile repeats on the track, at 105% mgp. What sorta paces do these efforts actually translate into? On that day, this meant anywhere between 6:15s and 5:30s. All in all, I’d say the workout went pretty well that day (morning session paces here and afternoon paces here on Strava).
The highlight of the day, for me, came in that afternoon session where Steve and I collectively decided to throw out the 105% paces and just go for it in those mile repeats. In my short stint of calling myself a runner I’d never timed myself for a mile. To be honest, it just never occurred to me to even try. The last time I’d timed myself for a mile was in middle school PE class where I clocked a ‘blazing’ 5:45. Beyond that my faster mile splits were in the middle or workouts and/or races. Probably somewhere around 5:02 or so. But I’d never broken that 5 minute flat barrier. In this afternoon workout that changed. In my 26th mile on the day I clocked a 4:58. My mind was sorta blown that I’d somehow pulled that off. Then, two miles later, in my 28th mile on the day I broke that short lived ‘PR’ with a 4:52. Ha! Still a bit dumbfounded by it all. This workout in particular is the one I look back at throughout the training block and think, ‘yeah, if I can pull that off race day’s gonna feel like a cake walk.’
Fast forward to race day, October 13th. My buddy Josh and I woke up with plenty of time to head on over to bag check, allotting for the amped up security checks due to Boston. My pre-race meal consisted of a banana at the hotel, half a cliff bar and a Vespa packet 45 minutes prior to the gun. The game plan for the race was to let the Vespa run its course and get me through 16, then take a gel at 16 and 22. This worked in Boston so I was confident it’d hold up again. Fluid wise, I don’t do the sugar water (gatorade/cytomax) as there’s no telling how much/little they throw in the mix. So I stick to one lil gulp of water at each aid station.
Alrighty, so now I’m in the starting corral. I snaked my way all the way to the front of corral A, right behind the elites and elite development runners. In looking up previous finish times for the past three years I was confident that being at the front of my corral would position me towards the tail end of the elite development men and right in the mix with some of the back of the pack elite women. In Chicago there’s no telling what the conditions on race day are gonna be. I wanted to ensure I was around enough runners at my pace that if I needed to I could tuck behind them, draft if there’s a headwind and save some energy for later in the race. A minute before the gun went off they let Corral A come on up to the elites. Oddly enough I picked out a couple familiar faces, Jillian (Moser Rogers) and Megan (Betts). I wished them both good luck. Told ‘em they kill it out there, and to just f’ing run (a Rogue Running motto).
Before I knew it, and honestly I wasn’t even paying attention, the gun went off. As I expected, a flurry of runners went flying by me. I kept telling myself, ‘simmer down, stay in control and run your own race. it’s gonna be fun picking up the breadcrumbs later in the race.’ So that’s what I did. After the first mile I felt super loose, calm and began looking up to eye the tangents in the course. Tangents, you ask? So in a race like Chicago, with the number of turns all throughout the course, you can add an additional half a mile throughout a marathon if you’re not paying attention to cut every corner and cut the tangents going into the next turn. I was pretty conscious throughout the race to lift my head, eye the next turn and slightly cut to the other side of the road if needed to ensure I wasn’t adding any additional mileage.
Oh yeah, so pace plan for this race. I didn’t really have one. Steve and I agreed though that I should loosely go out 5 seconds per mile slower for the first 16 or so, pick it up to MGP then and with 3-4 miles to go push it in with everything I had left. For my half split I was roughly thinking high 1:16′s or so. This was a loose gauge if you will throughout the race to ensure I was on ‘schedule’ to be in the low 2:30s. While I didn’t have an overall time goal I felt pretty confident that I was in low 2:30′s shape.
Back to the race. Throughout the first couple of miles I was sorta running on my own. I had plenty of runners around me but it was a carousel of new faces as I passed some and others passed me. However, I seemed to be going around the same pace as a small pack of four runners 30-40 meters in front of me. In that pack were two elite women and two elite development males, one of which being Jared Carson’s twin brother. Knowing Jared’s brother was a collegiate runner I sort of psyched myself out in the early miles of the race thinking he was way outta my league and far above my fitness level on the day simply because he was a collegiate runner and I didn’t pick up running until my mid-20s. Whether he was or not really shouldn’t have mattered. Around mile 5, I made a decisive call to bridge the gap to this group, for a couple of reasons. The first being that running in a pack is something I was used to throughout my training and something I knew helped me personally throughout a race as long as the marathon. The second, and paramount to any other reason, was that I could already sense a slight westerly wind. So in that moment I moved on up, bridged up to their pack and tucked in behind everyone. Looking back this was easily the best move I made on the day. While the pace was a lil faster (marginally, not a ton) I was actually saving more energy tucking in and drafting off everyone.
Things continued without any highlights through the halfway point. The pack I was with cycled through taking the lead, the girls more than the guys looking back. Why? Honestly, they seemed to be more competitive with each other. It wasn’t that we (the guys) weren’t willing to take a pull in the front. They simply looked like they wanted to shake each other. Their lil cat n’ mouse game didn’t alter our paces at all, just slight upticks from time to time.
Through the half we came by in 1:16:20. Marginally quicker than I was thinking, but darn near the loose plan I had in my head. I felt great too! At this point we started to head out East and there was a noticeable headwind. Having this pack was perfect. I tucked right
in, let everyone else suck wind and conserved energy. As we made the turn and moved into mile 17 I could sense the pack was sort of pulling back and slowing ever so slightly. Without a thought (knowing I still felt good) I made a move around the pack to see who’d go with me. I had the wind at my back so it’s not like I was wasting any energy going into a headwind. After about a quarter mile I looked back. The only one who really followed was one of the elite women from Brooks Hansens, Melissa White. As she came up along my shoulder we settled into 5:45 pace and cruised through to China Town. Around mile 22 she began to lift the pace bringing it down to the high 5:30s. This was the exact point of the race Steve and I talked about where we’d lift the pace and give it a go to the finish line. So with that, I followed her move. I let her take the lead and drafted for a bit to take stock of my energy levels and what I had left. All in all I felt pretty solid; breathing was calm, heart rate wasn’t really rising and my stride felt a-okay. Then all of a sudden she surged again annnnnnddd my left hamstring curled up. I couldn’t match her. This is where I entered no man’s land, all by myself.
As I made the left hand turn onto South Michigan Avenue, I immediately regretted not giving it my all to stay with her. A gnarly headwind pretty much zapped anything I had left in the tank to push it on home. Knowing that I was going to miss out on breaking 2:30 (which was never a goal, but I’d be lying if I said didn’t pop into my head after the half split), had a PR in the bag and would be somewhere in the low 2:30s I cruised on in. While I didn’t quite mail it in with a glacial cruiser pace it wasn’t anywhere near my average mile splits on the day. That last 5k inched just over 6 minute pace, and wasn’t enjoyable at all. In the moment I felt like I was going 8 minute pace.
As I neared the only uphill in the race (an overpass on Roosevelt) I began to look back on all the training runs, early mornings, diet and whatnot searching for things I could’ve done better. Honestly though, what did it matter? I was coming away with yet another PR (around 4 minutes), healthier than I’ve ever been and enjoying every moment of the ride. I was happy! The final time on the day was 2:33:40 (Strava pace analysis here).
Shortly after crossing the line I began searching for my parents, who I hadn’t spotted on the course throughout the race. This being the first time they’d ever come to watch me race all I wanted to do was give ‘em the biggest hug. And I did. Somehow I still had enough energy to pick my Mom up and swing her around. She then showed me the video below of her yelling her lil head off as I neared the finish on Michigan. Hysterical! In the moment I couldn’t hear a thing.
There are WAY too many people to thank who contributed along the way (you all know who you are). However, I want to highlight my girlfriend Sarah. She’s hands down the most patient person I’ve met and I’m nowhere near the easiest person to deal with on early morning, and long runs. A big thanks as well to my sponsors for enabling what I do; SKECHERS Performance, Rogue Running and Strava.
Soooooooo you made it through this epicly long post. I’m not gonna attempt to guess what you’re thinking. However, if you happen to be thinking what’s next and where you might have the luxury of reading another post race novel, I’ll fill ya in. Next up will be the Bandera 50k in January, the Boston marathon in April and maybe some shorter races later in 2014. This race in Chicago gave me the confidence that I can be a 2:20 something marathoner and I’d be silly if I didn’t test it. With that, I’m out. Until next time y’all!