Chicago, 10-12-2008, 0800, 26.2, 5:45:32, Whew!!
At the security check, I realized that I'm missing my driver's license. Not knowing what to do, I told the security officer that I have forgotten it at home and had only my work Id on me. He let me in after thoroughly checking me & my bag. Whew!!
One of my coaches, Coach Raman was on the same flight as mine… flight was full but luckily we managed to get side by side seats. I got some last minute tips and chatted about his Power of the mind retreats. Our flight reached ahead of time.
My friend Basha & his wife Jeeshan picked us up from the airport; we went to Devon St for some desi food. He dropped us at the hotel Asha gang was staying in. Swamy, my running buddy & roommate at the hotel had already reached. Our program coordinators Ram & Gurpreet who also traveled to Chicago to ensure everything was taken care of were also there. I went to sleep after some chit-chat.
~~ flashback shuru ~~
Last year while training for the Silicon Valley Marathon, I had run into few knee related issues :). Though I completed the SV full marathon without anything major, I had kinda figured out that a full marathon is out of my league. Back in April '08 when both Deepa & I did the Asha spring 10K run, my plan for this year was to only do San Francisco Half Marathon and maybe Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon. It was more about running with the awesome Asha folks and raising the funds which help the kids. I had heard a lot about Chicago Marathon last year from Chakri (my mentor both of the years) and others who had run the course. I had also seen the 2006 Chicago marathon video; it looked way cool & motivating. So, at the time of re-commitment, I signed up for Chicago full. With that I also setup a goal to have an injury free and fun filled season this year.
~~ flashback khatam ~~
On Saturday morning we got ready early to catch the shuttle @9:30 AM to the Expo at McCormick Center. Our shuttle guy probably forgot about the deal; Ram & Gurpreet had to make tens of calls before they got hold of him & he finally showed up around 10:30AM.
Expo was like a big Gaon ka mela in which one could get lost very easily.
We got our bib packets & t-shirts; The t-shirt size was screwed up; the small was a large. Some of us tried to exchange their "medium & large" size shirts for a small but not many succeeded. We took some pictures, went to a few more booths, had some light lunch & headed back to the shuttle.
While most of the folks retired in the hotel for the afternoon or went out to get "real" desi style lunch, my friends, Venky & Anita picked me up from the hotel. We were meeting after 3 years or so, we went looking around for a Starbucks. Later in the evening Venky & Anita dropped me off at the Little Italy's restaurant where TeamAsha was having the carbo load.
What seemed like would be a nice evening started to show some colors :)
The restaurant owner refused to serve us dinner unless we paid for 60 people not counting the fact that we were only 27 and had reserved the place for 30 people only. After some healthy arguments we decided to walk out of the restaurant.
While we waited outside and Ram booked another Pasta place for us, the restaurant owner called the Police. Ram & Grrrrpreet handled the situation very well. The restaurant owner finally agreed to charge only for 27 people, though we were wondering real hard whether to eat in this place. In the end we decide to eat there.... food turned out to be decent. Any other day I would have called that food great but with the situation we were in, I was only glad that food didn't smell weird.
After the dinner we got back to the hotel & got our running gear ready for the next day; gu gels pinned to the shorts, Asha SmartId & the timing chip on the shoes, Bib on the shirt.. the whole shebang. My return flight was 6 PM, so I had to pack my bag also. Swamy decided to change his flight to Monday morning. We put the alarm for 3 AM, so that we could get ready by 4:30, have breakfast by 5 and leave to the race start line by 5:30.
Asha folks back at home took some pictures and sent to us for cheering.
After so much of interesting events most of us were confident that everything will go right on the race day. Luckily in the morning the shuttle was there on time. We got to the downtown around 6:00 or so. We had a Asha tent in the Charity Village. I left my bag there and had some bananas & gatorade in the tent. We started the warm up around 6:45. There was a lot of photu taking done as well.
With Coach Char & Praveen
Around 7:15 or so, most of started to walk towards the start line; once we came out of the charity tent and on the main road, it was an amazing sight. You could see runners as far as your eyes would see. There were approx 32,000 people running that day. Swamy, Praveen, Ganesh, Raju & me were together and decided to walk up a bit closer to start line. We managed to get to 11 min pace line or so. Swamy decided to take it easy as he had been getting pains during the past long runs. Last week I felt I was having some knee or feet or calf pains (probably psychological), but on the race day I felt great as never before. I had trained all season long with a 5/6 min Run, 1 min Walk strategy; Ganesh was also planning on doing the same, so I decided to run with him. It took us around 15 min or so by the time we crossed the start line.
The excitement of being there was overpowering. So many people just waiting to start the run.... Back at home, on a regular Saturday long run, when we have 100+ folks that itself feels quite good.... with this kind of crowd it was a commotion out there. I had the Garmin Forerunner 305 with the HR monitor which measured my heart rate consistently around 109. I realized I was too anxious; I decided to take the monitor off my chest. We were then headed to a good start. Temperature was around 70 degrees and it was going to get hotter.
First few miles we couldn't strictly follow 6/1 rule. Tonnes of people there cheering also made us forget about the run-walk. Since we were running in the middle, we had to move towards the side to start walking. We came around to the 1st water stop. It seemed a bit too big... later I realized all the water stops were that big. I guess, learning from the last year's fiasco the Chicago Marathon organizers made sure there was double/triple the amount of water/gatorade available.
Ganesh's pace turned out to be faster than mine, we split around mile 3. I continued at my regular 12 min pace. Time to time, I would hear some folks shouting "Go Asha!!"... all the time there were people cheering.. giving high fives etc. I was feeling good, enjoying the cheering, the music, the noise and the course. After 10 miles or so, it was getting pretty hot and I decided to take it easy, break at every water stop, drink gatorade & pour water on myself. Saw Ram, Gurpreet & other Asha folks at around 13 miles....
Around 15 miles or so, I saw Raju, he told he got some cramps earlier and had taken salt tablets. We ran together for few miles. Like all the long runs, I was sweating quite a lot, so I decided to pop in the salt tablets as well just as a precaution. I continued to hydrate extra & pour water on myself as well. Slowly, it was getting hotter; temperatures were probably touching 90 or so yet every yard of the course there were still large groups of people cheering; playing music, pouring water on runners and generally having good time. The organizers were announcing to slow down or walk. It was seeming like history repeating itself just with one difference; this time they were ready for it.
At the beginning of the race, I had hoped to finish in less than 5:30. Through 30K, I was still on time to meet that goal although I realized that I was slowing down; stopping at every water stop, having gatorade or the Gu gel and drenching myself. At this time I was very conscious about 3 things: i) Remembered my mentor Chakri saying, keep the shoulders down & relaxed, ii) Coach Harry's advice of landing on mid-foot for better efficiency & less chance of injury, and iii) 5:30 seems bleak, so try not to sweat about it.
At around 23 miles I saw Ram & the gang again.
Soon I was crossing 24, 25 mile markers. While on Michigan Ave, I even looked around to see if my friend's Harsha's mother was there (long shot). I can't remember now clearly but I think I saw a 25.2 mile sign too... and that meant just the last mile to go. I felt pretty good at this time and started looking forward to the last hill at 26 mile. Soon I saw the 26 mile mark and then turn to go over the bridge... the only mentionable uphill on the course. Once I turn from there, I could see the finish line. At this time adrenaline just rushed through and I ran as fast & strong as I could. Probably the only portion during the race when I tried to run faster than my comfortable pace. Gladly finished very strong... the typical hands high in the air style. Got the medal, a bagel & a finisher's photo & headed towards the charity village. I ended up finishing in 5:45.
Got back to the tent, Asha Chicago chapter had arranged for awesome food. Both Ganesh & I had evening flights back to home, so we decided to head off to airport as soon as possible.
Ganesh & I at the tent
Once I got to the airport, I again managed to pass through the security with no issues. Soon, I was on the plane back to San Jose.
Like this sign @ the expo... Sunday did turn out to be a victory lap.
Checkout this video from Runner's world coverage of Chicago Marathon
Thanks to my mentor Chakri, Coaches, TeamAsha operations, Coords and my running buddies Swamy & Somnath for all the support during last 6 months. I hope to train through the winter and run Big Sur marathon early next year. It was a memorable season. Now, I'm looking forward to running with my Sillicon Valley marathoners-to-be coming Sunday.
Special thanks to all the donors whose generous support is helping the noble cause and providing the children the much needed education. If you can, please use the following link and donate.