Let's start off this Race Report by saying that it's not often you feel like you just ran the race of a lifetime. That's where I am at and if that influences the rest of this post, this is your warning. You are certainly entitled to skip the background portion gibberish and get to the race details. But I do think it's the background that made this race possible.
I think the story of my 2009 Chicago Marathon started when the 2008 Chicago Marathon ended. That was my 7th marathon and I posted a then PR of 3:29:58 after what was then my toughest training cycle to that point. Sure, the heat cost me a few minutes, but I'd only improved one minute from my 2006 time. I had a conversation after the marathon with my friend Ron who posted a 3:40 that day. I'd met him on the Runners World 3:20 thread, which has become my on-line home since September of last year. He said, let's meet in Boston in 2010. I said sure, thinking that there's no way in hell I could shave 19 minutes off of my time and left it at that.
After the marathon, I decided I was going to try something a little different. Instead of running a day or two or three times a week when I had a few free minutes, I was going to consistently keep running 3-4 days and keep my mileage in the 25-30 miles/week range throughout the winter. I do not train on treadmills (although that could potentially have to change), so I'd get out in the Chicago winter and run. Didn't care about pace, just ran to run.
I ran a Turkey Trot 10K in November where I put a 41:48, shaving 2+ minutes off my PR set a couple months prior. It was at that point where started thinking I could really make some huge improvements if I actually trained the right way. I thought I wasn't cut out to run 5-6 days a week, so I'd always run 4 days a week. I also never had any recovery runs. Every non-tempo or interval run up until 2009 was always in the neighborhood of an 8 minute mile. In a nutshell, I was doing a lot of things wrong and not running enough. I was a marathon hack and never really trained for it the right way. I asked for and received a Garmin 305 and a copy of Advanced Marathoning (2nd Edition) for Christmas.
I stayed in the 20's for December and took a week off at the end of January when Isla was born. At that point I came up with the plan to ramp the mileage back up to get me ready to go for training to start on June 8. I stayed in the 20's in February, the low 30s in March, the upper 30's to low 40's in April. I ran my first-ever 5K at the end of the month and put up a 19:09. I ran 177 miles in May, touched the 50's and got in an 18 miler.
With that, I started the Pfitz 18/70 plan on June 8th with an eye on a 3:10. I figured I might as well train my ass off and see if I can Boston Qualify. I figured if I went 1:30 or better in the half and 40 minutes or better in the 10K, I'd have a chance. I didn't think BQ-ing will get much easier in the years ahead as our family continues to grow and the time I can give to running potentially shrinks. Week one had me running 55 miles, which was ironic, considering I had peaked at 54 my previous cycle. I wasn't too concerned about the miles because of the recovery runs. I ran my recovery runs as slow as I could 9-9:30s, although they got a little faster near then end of the cycle. I ran my marathon paced miles between 7:10 and 7:15 throughout training.
I told myself that if at any point I needed to back off of the plan, I would. It turned out I never had to. I followed the plan pretty closely. I'd usually hit the miles, but usually ended up juggling the days around quite a bit. The only times I didn't hit the total weekly miles were when I didn't have enough time to get in enough additional miles after the 10K (39:07) 6 weeks out and the half (1:28:25) four weeks out. I also didn't run a 10K two weeks out.
As I mentioned, the two races were important for me to see if I actually was on the right track. If I wasn't, I wouldn't stupidly go for a 3:10. I managed to shave over 2 and half minutes off of my 10K PR and over 10 minutes off of my Half PR, which was set in September of 2008. Both showed me I was ready and it was full steam ahead for the 3:10 on October 11th.
I made tremendous gains in my HR, as my last 13 miler one week before the marathon came in 15-20 beats lower than a few similar paced and distanced runs earlier in the cycle and in the month before training started. I felt like I was as ready I as I could get. Also, I weighed 178 pounds on June 1st before training started. I stepped on the scale the Wednesday of marathon week and it read 161. So I basically averaged losing a pound a week throughout the cycle. And a couple weeks ago, the top number of my blood pressure went below 120 for the first time that I can ever recall.
I also took the week before the marathon off of work. I used it to catch up on sleep and spend some quality time with my family - not in that order, of course. I think this helped tremendously as the 6 hour nights of sleep, the alarm going off at 4:45 and 5 A.M., the middle of the night work calls and the miles over the previous 17 weeks did finally wear me down a bit. I got 8 hours of sleep during the week Sunday-Friday except on the dress rehearsal Wednesday morning.
I ate pasta on both Friday and Saturday night and followed the Australian glycogen loading technique the day before the marathon. Instead of mixing in some strides, I went with the three minute burst and pounded a giant plain white bagel and some gatorade as soon as I walked in the door.
I got 3 hours of solid sleep before I woke up at 2:30. I laid in bed and tried to get back to sleep but it wasn't happening. I finally got out of bed at 4, showered, bodyglided up and got dressed - armwarmers included. I ate what has become my breakfast staple - two pieces of wheat toast with peanut butter and followed it up with a banana and some Gatorade. Tiffany snapped a few photos and I bundled up and took the train on down to the starting area. She wished me luck and told me I could do it. I told her I knew I could do it to. And for the first time in my running career, I really believed it. She did tell me that she knew I could run a 3:10, but wasn't so sure about the 3:07:25. I was pretty much with her, but felt confident the 3:10 was going down.
It was 30 degrees when I left my house. I ended up getting down there just after 6, so I had an hour and a half until the horn sounded. I wandered around, used the facilities and sucked down a couple Gatorades. I made my way in the B Corral by 6:45 or so. I met up with a few pals from Runner's World On Line - Chad, Walter, Jay, Carl and Kevin. There were six of us shooting for a 3:07-3:10 (Chad, Kevin, Carl and two of Carl's buds and me) that would be pacing pretty similarly. They were in the A Corral, so I kind of felt like the little brother staying up past his bed time hanging out with the older kids. We shot the breeze for a bit and we all started throwing off our excess layers about 10 minutes before the horn sounded. I ate three lemon lime Clif Blocks at about 7:20.
At about 7:25 they removed the gates and we moved on up. Chad and I had planned to run the first 2 miles at 7:15, miles 3-20 at 7:10 and hopefully hit 7:05's from 20-26.2. This would get us to the finish line in 3:07:25. I figured that was my best case scenario and wore that on one pace band. The other pace band was called the "If the Shit Hits the Fan Band" - straight 7:15's to get me a 3:10 and the BQ.
The horn sounded and we were off. It took about 45 seconds to hit the start line. The four other 3:10 or better hopefuls took off into the crowd in front of us.
Miles 1 and 2- 7:28, 7:05
Okay not exactly how we drew up the 14:30 through 2 miles, but effective.
Miles 3, 4 and 5- 7:01, 6:46, 7:09
What? 6:46? We were trying to dial it in, but the fired up crowd and seeing my support crew for the first time caused Chad and me to run the fastest mile of the day. We decided to make a conscious effort to back it down for mile 5 , so we actually backed it down - to our goal pace. Hmmm...Chad mentioned something about if we qualify for Boston and then quickly back-peddled and said WHEN we qualify for Boston. I told him that sounded much better.
Miles 6, 7, 8 - 7:02, 7:16, 7:01
Yo-yo-ing again on 6 and 7. A little too fast, then a little too slow. Mile 8 brought a 7:01 and at that point Chad turned to me and said, "At what point do you just accept it (the pace)? " I said, "Mile 20." I took a blueberry-pomegranate caffeinated Gu Roctane at 8. Somewhere between 6 and 7 I started feeling a little weirdness in my ankles. Never felt it before, so I tried to just ignore it. It went away after a few miles and it never popped up again.
Miles 9, 10, 11, 12- 7:04, 7:02, 6:56, 7:03
Okay, so we're hanging right around a 7 minute pace. I am feeling good, breathing is perfect and everything is cool. I know, I should have more to say but at this point, it was just a 12 mile run at a pretty good pace. That's exactly where my head was at. I wasn't thinking about mile 16, 20 or 26. Everything felt fine and Chad said he was feeling good, so we just went with it. We also passed the Zab support crew for the second time at Mile 11.5. We were a little ahead of pace so for the first time ever, we snuck up on them.
Mile 13 and the Half - 7:07, 1:32:52
Okay, I have to admit I was temporarily a little nervous about seeing a 1:32:XX at the half. I had thought the fastest I wanted to hit the half was 1:33:30 and 3:07:25 plan was a 1:34:03 at the Half. So we were about 1:10 ahead of our 3:07:25 best case pace. I decided to let it go and did think of everyone tracking me at that point. I am sure there were a couple "What the hell is he doing's?" We had a pretty good laugh thinking about everyone saying we were running too fast. I clearly stated my plan in a few places and I was not following it. Even more interesting is that we still hadn't caught up to the other four guys.
Miles 14, 15, 16- 7:01, 7:03, 7:05
Nothing too crazy here, just averaging 7:03's for the first three miles of the second half. Gulp. We actually caught the other four guys in mile 15 and ran with them for a few miles. Carl commented that we looked great and fresh, which is always great to hear in the second half of a marathon. I remembering laughing a few times about random things with those guys. I think the first thing I said to them after exchanging hellos was asking how their nipples were doing. They all chuckled a bit and I think it was good for them. They seemed pretty focused and in need of a mood lightener. I took a non-caffeinated strawberry-banana Gu at 15. We hung with them for a few miles. I am not sure when we pulled away but I know it wasn't before 17. I felt a little niggle in my right hamstring here and there in this stretch, but it wasn't anything to get worked up about.
Miles 17, 18 - 7:04, 7:06
Those guys were right around 7:05's the whole time, so I am pretty sure we were with them through 18. I had a few good conversations with Kevin and Carl in there, which was nice. Sometime right around 17 , one of Carl's friend's inexplicably stopped and bent over. In the middle of the street. At mile 17. Of a fricking marathon. Chad basically had to hurdle him to get over him and put his two hands on this guy's back and leap-frogged him. After things calmed down in the next quarter mile or so, it comes to light that the guy saw a 20 dollar bill and stopped to pick it up. No bullshitting. He stopped to pick up a 20 and almost took a guy out. Chad told me in the next few miles that if the guy would have taken him out he would have punched him in the face. I started laughing pretty hard, which may not be completely advisable at mile 20 of a marathon when you are putting paces of:
Miles 19, 20 - 6:57, 6:58
Weird. Didn't feel much faster. But two sub 7's? Interesting. People talk about mile 20 signifying the beginning of last part of the race and I was feeling good, with the exception of an odd feeling behind my right knee. It felt like a ligament (purely a guess, could have been a tendon or muscle) was rubbing against something it shouldn't be. It went away by 21ish.
Miles 21, 22, 23 - 7:01, 7:00, 7:05
Took my last gel, an orange-vanilla Roctane GU w/caffeine at 21. This is when I briefly first started thinking about beating the 3:10 (and 3:07 for that matter), but quickly re-focused to that mile. Started feeling it in my legs just a touch at 22. Nothing too bad. I saw the support crew at 21.5 or so and it was like a shot in the arm. I love seeing them. I loved seeing them even more on Sunday because I was feeling great and was well on my way to running the best race of my life. I had Tiffany make sure my brother Nick was ready with a hat and a Gu in case I needed to make a change or switched up my Gu strategy. I didn't need either one, so I waved it off, gave 'em a couple thumbs up, a smile and told them I was doing great. At 22, Chad told me he had to stay around 7:05-7:10. I asked if he was okay and he told me he was fine, he just need to back off a bit. We put up a 7:05 at 23 and the thoughts of just about a 5K remaining started entering my head. Chad told me to go ahead and go for it. At 23, there was a giant screen that was showing video of us as we ran by. He told me he'd hold up the number 3 and I should hold up 10, for the 3:10 we were attempting to run. I did and had a nice laugh as I saw us on the screen. Just past 23, I see a couple friends cheering us on - Kris and Maryann. I didn't expect to see them at all, so it was an awesome surprise. The 3:07:25 pace band pretty much became worthless in this stretch. It ended up being a "feel" race all day and the last 10K was no different.
Mile 24- 7:02
I left Chad at about 23.3 miles as we made the turn north up Michigan Avenue. This was the first time I could really feel the wind in my face. Crap. Not good. I saw another set of friends late in the 24th mile - Justin, Alicia and Adeline. It was awesome. Adeline just turned 2 and was bouncing on Justin's shoulders. Alicia is 36 months pregnant and was wearing her Running for Cru shirt. Another shot of adrenaline!
I did some quick math and though I finished really, really strong I could have a shot coming in right at 3:05.
Mile 25- 7:14
No, no, no, no! While a 7:14 for mile 25 is nothing to sneeze at, it didn't fit the plan anymore. Sure it was right in my marathon training pace, but it wasn't good for me on Sunday - that wasn't my pace anymore. The wind was getting in my head a bit. Remarkably, I only got passed by two people. They looked like they were out for a nice Sunday jog. I thought to myself, someday that'll be me. I told myself that if I didn't run this race so well to throw it away in the last couple of miles. I know a little drastic, but I had to do it. I thought of the people who were tracking me and all of them who were so surprised that I was running this race. I had to keep it up. I thought of a bunch of random comments I had stashed away over the past few months "He set an aggressive goal, just like you." "You should be able to put up a 3:15." "Why do people keep on trying to PR at Chicago?" I thought of Tiffany telling me I could do it before I left the house that morning. I also thought of my friend Matt Rauls who was the first runner to believe in me last year and told me I could be much faster. He left me a simple note on Facebook that was the last one I read before I left in the morning - "Go dominate." I also thought about Cru and all of the people who helped support my Running for Cru. I used all of these things and whatever else I could muster up to get me to the 26th mile marker as close to a 7:00 minute mile as possible.
Mile 26- 7:04
With about a half mile to go, I suddenly felt amazing. I was passing 1400 South, knowing that Roosevelt and the "hill" were right there. My feet felt light, my legs felt fine and the crowd was pumping me up. I took a great angle around the turn and saw people wasting steps. I made the right turn onto Roosevelt and headed up the hill. Everything started to hit me then. Holy shit. I was just over a quarter mile away from the finish line. This was it. This was what I worked so hard for. This is why I set the alarm for 4:45 and ran 15 mile mid-week runs. And peaked at 75 miles in a week. And it was finally there for the taking and I had this thing by the balls. Sure, I could have thought this several miles ago and was a little bit, but knowing where I was on the course and the five previous times I have struggled up that hill was a lot to take in. I powered up the hill and was passing people with ease. I got a little choked up as I crested the hill. My goals were coming into realization. I regained my composure to see the 26 mile marker and make the final turn onto Columbus. I took the turn really tight and stayed on the very inside part of the course, wasting as few steps as possible. I was just focusing on the finish line. I looked at my Garmin and saw I was not only going to qualify for Boston, but I was going to run a 3:05:something.
Mile 26.2- 1:26
As I was kicking down the home stretch, I felt like I was floating. I felt like I was the only runner on the course as I was giving it all I had to get to the finish line. Really, I took another great angle while everyone else split out pretty wide. I didn't see the other runners. I was about 50 yards from the line and I started doing some fist pumps and yelled "Yes!" a few times. How about some more with 25 yards to go? You bet. After I crossed the line, I stopped my Garmin, stopped running and was just smiling. No yells, no screams, no primal, "BOSTON!" I just couldn't believe it. I just ran a 3:05 marathon. Me. Paul Kapellas - a 3:05 marathoner? Did this really just happen? You are flippin' right it did. Wow! What an amazing feeling. Everyone who was tracking me and following had to shit themselves a little bit. A PR by 24 minutes? Holy Crap.
Post Race Thoughts
As I made my way through the finishing corral, I grabbed a beer and some pretzels, bagels and stuff. I made my way toward the meeting point with Tiffany, Isla and the rest of my supporters. Tiffany finally saw me and came sprinting towards me. She was already crying as she was approaching me and I couldn't help it but cry too. We qualified for Boston. For one day, I slayed the beast that is the marathon. She told me my official time came in via text at 3:05:18. We hugged for a minute and went over to meet everyone else. It was hugs and congratulations all around. I changed my clothes, we took some pictures, got back on the L and headed home for some pizza.
Numbers and such
Half Splits: 1:32:52/1:32:26.
5K Splits: 22:19/21:48/22:04/21:52/21:58/21:56/21:42/22:05
Finished 1069 overall, almost 1000 spots of where I did last year
Heart Rate by Mile:
Second Half: 170/171/171/175/178/178/181/182/184/184/188/188/191/195 for the last .2
Yep - on top of clearly underestimating my abilities, I ran a very solid race and negative split the thing. Unreal. I really don't encourage the racing by feel in a marathon, but everything just aligned for me on Sunday. I am big into numbers and planning, but it just felt right the whole time. I wasn't dead afterward, I just felt like I executed the race how it was supposed to be done, which was a very new feeling for me until this cycle was well underway. One of the toughest parts of the cycle was mentally letting go of the runner I used to be. I didn't have to fade at the end of races, I learned I could execute a plan in both the 10K and Half and I was actually becoming a pretty solid runner.
The marathon kind of felt workman-like. I felt like I had a job to do out there and I was just doing it. And don't think I didn't have fun either - I gave out some high fives, was waving my arms at times to get the crowd up and have never laughed as much during a marathon as I did this past Sunday. As far as fluids, I think I had my first Gatorade around mile 4, and grabbed one every 2-3 miles or so. If I had taken a Gu, I went with water instead. There were also a couple stops where I grabbed a water instead of Gatorade just to rinse my mouth out a bit.
First and foremost is my wife, Tiffany. I couldn't have done this without you. You and Isla are my inspiration. The moment of you running towards me and hugging me after it was over will be a moment I cherish and remember forever. Thank you for putting up with this habit of mine that started so innocently back in October of 2004. And it was so awesome to see Isla after the race. I know it wasn't the easiest thing toting around an 8 month old in 35 degree weather. Being able to hold my smiling daughter after the race is another moment I'll never forget.
My other supporters this past Sunday: Nick, Mike and Lynn, Aunt Barb, Blake, Libby, Joe, Melissa, Kris, Maryann, Justin, Alicia and Adeline. You guys are awesome and I can't thank you enough for coming out and cheering for me in 35 degree weather. Many of you have seen me run a few of these before. I hope it was as enjoyable for you as it was for me. An extra special thanks to Mike, my father-in-law, for holding up the "ZAB" sign. Again. For the 6th year in a row. Good thing you hung on to that thing after I told you to burn it after the 2007 Chicago Marathon and said I'd never run a marathon again. A few of the guys on the course I was not running with said they saw it. How cool is that?
My other supporters who chimed in with kind emails, phone calls and words of encouragement over the past 18 weeks. Gail, Jerry, Michael, Aunt Denet, Kim, the Wills and Johnsons...there are simply too many to list here. Please know that all of you are appreciated very much.
All of the Running for Cru supporters: over the past two years we have raised over $42,000 to help support FSMA and try to help them find a cure. I can't thank you enough for your kindness and generosity. A very special thank you goes out to the Fanaro family for letting me continue to honor Cru and his life. We are so excited for the arrival of Gianna Marie and couldn't be happier for you.
Chad Gruett- what can I say? It was an awesome time running those first 23+ miles together. I think we helped each other stay calm and consistent and relaxed. I look forward to seeing you in Boston in April.
My 3:20 threadmates: Ron, Amy, Steve, Walter, Nick, Greg, Flo, Rich, Brian, Clay, Carl, Chris, FB, Jim, Dave, DLSMD, Jeff, Justin, Kevin, Tommy and Joe. I hope like heck I didn't miss anyone. My deepest apologies if I did. You guys have helped me become the runner I am today and it has been amazing to watch our group improve. Thanks for the support and thanks for keeping me honest over the past year or so.
Steve from NY- Thanks for helping me re-structure the two weeks of the 10K and Half and for your knowledge. I have learned a ton from the people on RWOL and you are one of the best voices on there.
That's it. So next up is Boston. I guess I have to figure out how to train to run "The Boston" in the winter in Chicago. Any advice is welcome.
Thanks for reading,
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