Chicago Marathon 2016 (Part 3)

Despite the ample warmup time, the hourlong shuffle to the startline had stiffened my muscles somewhat and the beginning of the race felt awkward, if not a little ominous. Of course, the rewarm would only take minutes, and in the meantime I was still passing many of the back-of-the-pack runners.

It was like an edited version of last year. Both achilles tendons were bandaged and hurting the year before, but this year nothing hurt. Nothing physically that is. My girl was here last year. Fortunately there was plenty to keep my mind occupied and off anything other than the race. As my muscles warmed up I began passing the slower runners with more ease. Not that I was running at any great pace, but these folks were the slowest of the field. Of the several thousand that would not finish the race, I imagined that I was passing a good many of them already. This was about as strong as I had ever felt for a marathon and that feeling would last-for a while.

The water stops were always a welcome sight, not only for the chance of rehydrating, but to take a little walk break through the block long stops. They were very slippery from the Gatorade spilled all over and my shoes didn’t have the best traction to start with. Surprisingly, even as the miles piled up I was able to keep my walk breaks to a minimum, In fact, it looked as if I might set a personal best. I was stoked, I was driven, I was motivated-right up to when I hit the dreaded wall. for me, that usually comes around mile 17 or 18, which leaves a whole lot of race to go while running on fumes. This time I was able to go a little longer before hitting the wall, but when I did, I hit it hard..

The first sign of trouble was when I had to visit the port-o-pots for a sit down. A foul place to take a break, but my stomach was protesting and there was nothing I could do about it. However, I did feel bette after that, but wondered how much more sugar I could ingest. It clearly wasn’t digesting like it was earlier in the race and visits to the toilet are not only time killers, but race killers. To have to drop out because of tummy issues would be humiliating to explain and hard to live down personally. I pushed on, trying to hypnotize myself into not thinking or feeling anything. It worked for a while.

At about mile 24 it got really bad. The fumes I was running on were just about gone, and my stomach was protesting once again, this time more vehemently than it had earlier. I had to stop again. This time though, I was shot. My energy was completely gone, and no doubt I losing what little hydration I had left with these bathroom breaks. After an unholy purge, I stood bent over in the port-o-pot, hands on my knees contemplating my next move. Maybe I could just walk the rest of the way. I would still beat the clock. How bad was it? If you’re strategizing inside one of those toilets, it’s bad. A port-o-pot at mile 24 is the most vile, stinking, disgusting places you can imagine. But I had no energy, I couldn’t-Suddenly I could hear music outside. It was a live band, playing a rendition of Jimi Hendrix’ Hey Joe. I don’t remember any band when I stopped. If they were there they certainly weren’t playing, but now they were and well into the song. I thought of my brother looking down from above. If he wasn’t the number one Jimi Hendrix fan, I couldn’t imagine who would be. He loved Hendrix any time, all the time. I knew it was him telling me to get my ass back out there. And it worked. I painfully made my way back on the course and past the band that was now there and playing. I stared as I shuffled by. The guitarist was just looking at me, smiling as he played. I pointed at them as a sign of respect (you’re the man!), and looked until I couldn’t crane my head in that direction anymore. The music faded as the noise that indicated the finish line was near caught my ear.

It seemed like a slightly different route at the end than last year, but as the finish line came into view it was like old times. I felt weak, but strong if that makes any sense. It was victory, another marathon under my belt. I needed a little help at the end though, and I got it. Unfortunately, that little interlude at mile 24 cost me my personal best by four minutes. Better than the last two years though, so I still felt good about the race. Sure, I’m slow, but pounding the pavement that many hours and living to tell the tale is nothing to sneer at. That steak dinner was mine, and well deserved.

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