"It's a little self indulgent..." - My mom
"After I read a sentence, I get mad at myself for caring what you're doing." -Karl Dusen

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Chicago Marathon- a cautionary tale

Long, long before I ever considered running a marathon competitively (about three years, exactly) I got this e-mail from Matt Meurer, detailing his Chicago Marathon experience. Suffice to say, it did not accelerate my interest.

My 2:36:00 adventure

As many of you may have known my goal for the marathon was to go out in 1:14 and try to negative split the race. After seeing the results you may be asking, “what happened to the plan?”. Some of you may think that I listened to John Hursh when he advised me that “whatever you do make sure that you get out fast!”.

I assure you that this was not my motivation for what happened.

I awoke the morning of the race completely committed to the plan. Once I arrived at the Top 100 starting tent I came across quite a surprise. One of my collegiate rivals was standing in the tent, Kevin Pool, an alum of Allegheny college and All-American in cross country. I asked what pace he was thinking of running and he said that he was shooting for somewhere between 2:26 and 2:28 and that he wanted to go out for the first 10K about at the pace that I wanted to run. Then he also told me that one of my main rivals post-collegiately would be joining us, Dan
Princic also an alum of Allegheny College.
Dan, Kevin and I all made our way to the top 100 starting corral behind the elites and lined up near the back, so we would not get taken out to quickly. I looked to Kevin and Dan and said, you’re not going to take me out in 5’20” are you? Then the gun went off and we had started.

We’re cruising along and chatting a little bit, everything feels really easy and I missed the mile split because there were still a ton of people around. At two miles I saw the mark and the split was 10’56”, at that point Dan said: “whoa, that’s a little fast for me, are you guys going to keep going at this pace?” Kevin
gave no response and I don’t think that I did either, at that point Dan dropped back and Kevin and I pushed forward attaching ourselves to the next pack up to avoid the wind gusts of up to 30 mph.

The two mile mark was the abandonment of my plan; my competitive spirit got the best of me and I had decided to see what I could do if I stuck to Kevin. We were running very smoothly, I seemed to be catching every even mile split and
looking at my watch to see yet another 10’56” or 10’57” 2 mile split. We came through the half right around 1:11’ (about 5’26” pace) and it felt like cake. At this point there was still a pack of about 20 guys moving at a good clip. There were huge crowds cheering at the halfway mark and it was a lot of fun to be that far up at the halfway point.

I felt great through 16 miles and 18 miles continuing to eat my gels and to take in water and Gatorade along the way. Somewhere around 19 miles however I noticed that the pack was pulling away from me. I think that my mile split for the 19th mile was right around 5’40”, from there everything went downhill. I found myself totally alone having lost the large pack that I was with. I saw my splits begin to climb and climb quickly: 6’07”, 6’17”, 6’37”. At 20 miles Dan went flying past and told me to: “stay strong Matt”, Dan would go on to finish in 2:28’xx”

At no point did I feel tired or begin to breath heavily, my legs simply turned into to big weights that I had to keep throwing forward if I was to finish. By mile 23 it was obvious that I was a part of the running dead. These runners are easily picked out at any major marathon by the following signs: expressionless faces, rapid deceleration and an overall haggard posture while running. Many of the running dead may actually walk at some points but thankfully I never had to walk.

I finally finished in 2:36’00” (11 minutes behind Kevin whom I ran with for the first 18 miles) with the slowest 3 miles I have ever run in any race and struggled to stay standing after I crossed the line. I was staggering and having trouble holding my head up, it was truly an experience unlike any other I have felt before. My body was completely and totally spent and I was seeing spots, I was probably a minute from fainting when I finished. Luckily they had helpers at the finish line to walk with the people who looked like crap until they could either regain their composure or collapse and be rushed to the medical tent. Fortunately I did not collapse but regained my composure after pounding all of the Power bars, English muffins and bananas that I could get my hands on.

I’m sure that many of you think that I am quite disappointed in my time, but I’m actually quite happy with the race. Sure I could have ran faster if I had gone out at a more reasonable pace, but by totally falling apart I’ve learned the absolute limit of my body and will be much better prepared for my next marathon. I’m not sure when the next one will be, but there will be at least one more. I just thank God that I finished this one.

Thanks for all of your support, well wishes and prayers,


I can easily see myself getting pulled into that trap- letting competitiveness get ahold of me. I certainly did so in the Cherry Blossom race and paid for it. What would be even more amazing than pulling it off, though, would be exhibiting restraint and discipline so I can tear the race apart in the last 10k.


  1. This is simple to avoid. Just don't do it.

    There is plenty of time to make a mistake early in a marathon, realize it, and then shift back.

  2. Hey, you could always come back to the open corral and start with me... now THAT would really prevent you from going out too fast! ;)

  3. Respect the distance. Fear the distance. Don't get greedy.

    And of course CRUSH IT! Best of luck Boom Boom