Chicago Domination

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not good at setting goals and then sticking to them. My most recent case in point is the 3M Half Marathon. Well, I have a new, better example of sandbagging underestimating my abilities. I wasn’t planning on doing any Fall marathons this year, but got recruited by Team VW to run the Chicago Marathon as part of a Volkswagen PR marketing campaign. Well PR I did!


Sunday morning I woke up at 5am to prep for the race. Thankfully my hotel was only a short walk to the starting area so I didn’t have to stress about transportation or arriving late. On the contrary, I got to the starting area around 6:15am for the 7:30am start time. There was a lot of sitting, stretching, more sitting, a little more stretching, and then finally… sitting. I got situated in the “B” corral, reserved for people who have run a marathon under a certain time. While waiting for the starting horn I met up with one of my Team VW compatriots. We exchanged pleasantries until the airhorn finally sent more than 35,000 of us on our journey through the streets of Chicago.

Start & Mile 1

The forecast leading up to the race had been listed as “warm”, which for my Texan self equated to “kinda cool”. The starting temperature for the race was in the upper 50s and got up to probably around 70 by mile 26. A far cry from “warm” considering the 90 days over 100* this summer in Austin. My goal of 3:30 (as mentioned in

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my preview) meant hitting 8:00 minute miles. At the Mile 1 marker my Garmin chirped a darn-near perfect 8:01. I was feeling good and looking forward to seeing my superfan around mile 1.5.

Miles 2 thru 7

Right on cue I saw Ev, or really, she saw me as I snaked through the north end of the Loop. Shortly after, my watch beeped for Mile 2 with a 7:44 split. I actually cursed out loud realizing that I was speeding up way too early in the race. Well hopefully I could slow it down for Mile 3. Not so much, clocking a 7:46. Ok, well, I was in a groove and an overall 7:45 pace would be stellar. After seeing Ev again right after Mile 3 for another boost, I tried to settle into my target pace. The next four miles heading north of the city towards Lincoln Park ranged from 7:22 to 7:29. With each mile that passed all I could think of was how badly I was going to crash and burn.

Miles 8 thru 13

Right at Mile 8 when the course turns back south I heard Ev’s friend and coworker shout my name cheering me on (Thanks Erin!). Two miles later, still feeling good, I was pleasantly surprised to see Ev again (third time!) and then immediately saw her friend Jamie who was working the water stop (Thanks Jamie!). At this point the road narrowed and the pace slowed just a bit from the breakneck 7:20s to the more relaxed 7:30s [sarcasm, still too fast].

Going into the race I had decided to take it easy until the halfway point and then assess how to handle the back-13. My first half time clocked in at 1:39:37 (7:36 min/mi). That would work itself out to sub-3:20 if I could hang onto the pace (and more than 2 minutes faster than my old PR of 3:22:34 from San Antonio). Well, my assessment was “I’m feeling pretty good, let’s see if we can hold this 7:35ish min/mi pace”.

Miles 14 thru 18

Naturally, planning on holding a 7:35 min/mi pace meant Miles 14 thru 18 would be 7:26, 7:22, 7:25, 7:22, and 7:22. For the unfamiliar, that’s a lot faster than planned. At Mile 17 I told myself I was going to sprint the last mile of the race. My legs only got part of that message and seemingly started to sprint right away. It was part of a mental game that I was playing against myself and obviously losing.

Miles 19 thru 25

The fastest miles I had during the entire race were Miles 19 thru 22, getting progressively faster 7:16 down to 7:12. I’ll be completely honest, at this point I had no idea what was going on or how long I could keep it together. What I do know is the absolute highlight of the entire race was between Mile 20 and 21. Exactly when the course takes a sharp left, I see Ev jumping and cheering for the fourth time (!!). Amazing! How could it get better? She was holding out my sunglasses for me to grab just as I was about to turn into the sun. Boom. Because of that, the next two miles were the two fastest.

The feeling faded around Mile 23 and my strategy changed from “push it” to “ahhhhhh”. Things started to take a turn for the worse, switching from self-propulsion to self-preservation. I did what I could to maintain my pace but ended up dropping about 20 seconds per mile over the next three miles. It was around this time that I started thinking about making a run at Colin’s PR, which I knew was 3:15:something.

Mile 26

So for the final mile I tried to make good on my promise to sprint. Promise: Broken. The tank was empty. I considered really digging deep and finding an extra gear, but shied away from that idea as I passed 5 runners who were laid out on the sidewalk with medical staff, some with IVs in their arms. Colin’s PR (3:15:09) will have to wait. At least I’m knocking on the door. After a quick right-then-left turn setup (uphill mind you) the finish line was in sight and I did what I could to look like I was in control.


I crossed the line and immediately slowed up to something resembling a walk. I looked down at my watch to see the glorious finish time of 3:16:29. That’s a full 6 minutes faster than my old PR and only 80 seconds behind Colin’s seemingly insurmountable time. And for the number addicts (like me) you can see my splits in all their glory here. It was an awesome race that really surprised me. It completely shifted my future plans, which seem to change with the wind anyway. Thanks for all the support and well wishes here and on Twitter.

Stay tuned for what lies ahead in terms of my next races and goals and a separate post dedicated to the non-running part of the weekend.

Distance 26.2 Miles
Time 3:16:29
Pace 7:29 min/mile
Overall Place 1660 / 35558 (4.67%)
Age Group Place 316 / 3050 (10.36%)
Gender Place 1434 / 20154 (7.11%)

By the way, how’d I do compared to the rest of Team VW? Nailed it:



click to enlarge

4 thoughts on “Chicago Domination

  1. Kurt says:

    Mike, that’s just awesome. I figured your fast time had more to do with not having to stop for the food trucks on Chicago streets…


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