2014 Chicago Marathon Recap

My 2014 marathon scorecard will read something like this:

  • Marathon – 2
  • Craig – 0

After recording PBs in 6 of my first 7 marathons – the only non-PB was a win at the Mississippi Blues Marathon – I’m in an unfamiliar position. It’s the first time since I started doing marathons that I’ve gone over a year without seeing my times drop.

But if you think I woke up Monday morning worried that the sky was falling…think again.

Of course Sunday didn’t pan out exactly how I envisioned it would. And I’m definitely disappointed that I wasn’t able to see improvements in my marathon times this year – I invest too much time, sweat, and energy to not be. But I left the finish line on Sunday in surprisingly high spirits. Those last 8 miles were not at all easy. They were some of the hardest miles I’ve ever run, in fact. But I learned a little about myself during those 40 minutes. And in a strange way, just finishing that race was a huge accomplishment. Whatever it was when I crossed the finish line – relief or excitement – it felt good!

I knew I was toast at 18 miles. It’s pretty bad when you start hitting that marathon wall before you even reach the 20-mile mark, but there I was getting these shooting-type cramps in my calves and hamstrings before we even had Chinatown in our sights. There were several painful moments between miles 18-23 when I thought about just stepping off the course, but luckily I got some of the cramping under control by slowing down and running some 5:20s.

It’s devastating in that race moment when you know the goals that you have been working so hard for are no longer a reality. You look at your watch and see times that you aren’t used to seeing and there are these incredibly emotional moments when you question to yourself: “why bother?”. But since I had the cramping issue held at bay, I didn’t really have an excuse to stop running; if I would have quit, it would have been because I simply was not running well. So I had a little “suck it up” talk with myself around 23 and managed to salvage a respectable time and place on a day when I just didn’t have it.

So what went wrong? At this point, I’m chalking it up to a tactical error on my part. All indications were that the weather conditions on Sunday morning were going to be ideal for running fast – cool temps, no rain, and light winds. However, one of the first things I noticed when I peered out the window of our bus on the way to the start line were the freely blowing flags hanging from the buildings on Michigan Ave. Part of me wanted to believe that it was just a gust blowing through the tunnel of buildings. There was no way it could be windy; none of the forecasts had wind in them. But when we were warming up in Grant Park, it became evident that the wind was real, blowing in off of Lake Michigan.

I should have been smart enough to consider a slight adjustment to the game plan, but when the race started and I found myself running with Christo Landry and Stephen Pifer, I decided to still give it a go. We had all talked the night before about coming through the half somewhere between 65:45-66:00, so when we got out there and were working together, I think we all wanted to stay true to our word. We hit the opening mile in 5-flat and were right on pace. However, when we turned south on State street, we were met with that strong headwind. We passed mile 2 in 5:06. That should have been the red flag warning to throw time out the window and hang back a bit.

Pifer, Landry and I worked together to fight the wind as long as we could

Pifer, Landry and I worked together to fight the wind as long as we could

The lead pack of Kenyans and Ethiopians had originally planned to run their first half in 61:40; they ended up running 62:11 – 30 seconds slower than planned. Rather than just easing off slightly, we continued to fight the wind and the stretch from 7.5-13 ultimately zapped me (probably safe to say, us) of having the energy to run well over the last half of the race. So my conclusion, for now, is that the end result had nothing to do with the training leading into the race – everything was normal leading up to the race. Ultimately, I was working too hard, too early in that race.

It’s a tough lesson to learn. Especially when you know better and given that I only get to do this a few times a year. But if you saw me on Sunday you probably wouldn’t have noticed a difference between how I was acting this year (after running 2:16) and last year (after running my PR of 2:13:52). And that’s because I still have a lot to be happy about and thankful for.

I’m really pleased with the block of training I put together these past 12 weeks. The 1500 miles I ran in preparation for the Chicago Marathon has moved me forward as an runner. There’s no doubt in my mind that if I continue to string together training segments like this, I’ll see it payoff on race day in the future.

More importantly, I’m thankful for the incredible support team that I have. The confluence of Van Wert, Athens, and Eugene coming together in Chicago was nothing short of amazing. I’m sure the guys running around me got tired of hearing my name shouted from the sidewalks. When I got back to the hotel from the finish line, the entire fan club was basically creating a fire hazard outside the Hilton on Michigan Ave. When you come back to that, it’s hard to feel too bad about having an average race. It puts things in perspective.

The Compound Comes to Chicago

The Compound Comes to Chicago

The Ohio U. crew celebrating after the race

The Ohio U. crew celebrating after the race

Team Run Eugene does the Chicago Marathon: (L-R) Coach Ian Dobson, Alexi Pappas, myself, and Dan Kremske

Team Run Eugene does the Chicago Marathon: (L-R) Coach Ian Dobson, Alexi Pappas, myself, and Dan Kremske

So even though the 2014 Chicago Marathon was the slowest of the three Chicago Marathons I’ve run, I’m leaving the Windy City feeling all right. At the end of the day, life is good, running is still fun, and even the worst day of racing is better than not having the opportunity to be living out this dream.

**If you’d like a little insight on what happens on the day-before-running-26.2, check out Kevin Sully’s article “24 hours ’til 26 Miles: Craig Leon and the Chicago Marathon“.

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Chicago Marathon Mile Splits powered by Garmin

Split Time Cumulative Time Distance Elevation Gain Elevation Loss
1 5:00.2 5:00 0.82 13
2 5:06.2 10:06 1.08 11
3 4:57.2 15:04 0.92 20
4 5:00.1 20:04 1.04 15 3
5 4:57.9 25:02 1.02 7
6 5:00.2 30:02 1.01 3 10
7 5:01.3 35:03 1.01 6
8 5:06.2 40:09 1.03 9 11
9 5:05.1 45:14 1 10
10 5:07.3 50:22 1.01
11 5:01.2 55:23 1.03 5
12 5:05.0 1:00:28 1.01 7
13 5:03.7 1:05:31 1.03 11 5
14-15 10:00.9 1:15:32 2.03 7 7
16 4:58.9 1:20:31 .98 7 10
17 5:07.4 1:25:39 1.04 13 10
18 5:05.3 1:30:44 1.01
18 5:05.3 1:30:44 1.01
19 5:16.6 1:36:01 1.01 3
20 5:25.8 1:41:26 1.02
21 5:25.5 1:46:52 1.03 9 7
22 5:29.7 1:52:22 1.03 19
23-24 11:03.9 2:03:25 2.03 29 15
25 5:32.4 2:08:58 1
26 5:44.8 2:14:43 1.04 6 6
26.2 1:16.6 2:16:00 .22

Comments (2)

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    Jake

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    Craig – I’ve been following your blog / training for a while. I really relate to this recap… we had very similar races (I was just a mile behind you at the end!). For me, the first half was a little over my head, wheels started to come off around 18-19, started thinking about how to justify dropping out… then rallied when I got a boost from a friend at 23. For the first time, I actually felt proud of simply finishing the race! You had excellent training and that doesn’t go away because the race didn’t go 100% as planned. Stay at it.

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    Amy

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    So proud of you!!! We had so much fun watching you race and making lots of noise for you along the way!!! Can’t wait to see what you do next!!

    Reply

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