Chicago Marathon

or, Do As I Say, Not As I Do


Mark Jimenez

Disclaimer: there’s some talk about weight in this blog. Please understand that what follows is simply my perspective on how my own weight affected how I ran. It is not meant to body shame anybody. If you are happy with your weight, then I am happy with your weight!  Again, this talk is simply about physics and how my weight affected how fast I was able to run. On with the show.

I wasn’t planning on doing the Chicago marathon. I’m not a big “I need to do all the majors” kind of guy. It’s really not on my bucket list. But sometimes you gotta listen to what the Universe is telling you. A good friend of ours had a sister get very ill. Her favorite race is the Chicago Marathon. And then Carl, he of the golden hair and shiny muscles, decided he wanted to run Chicago as well. When the universe is telling you to do something, you do it.

With our friends from The Mann Group in Chicago. Leslie also ran the marathon.

I’ve run somewhere around 35 marathons, but I think I’ve only run 3 of them well (that’s counting the one I’m writing about, Chicago). Ok, that isn’t entirely fair. I’ve definitely progressed as I’ve done them. I remember being over the moon for my first sub 4 hour effort, which came in at around 3:42 I believe. I felt like I was the fastest man alive. My times have decreased over the years, and I’ve continued to get older (funny how that happens). So I guess I’m doing something right. So when I say I’ve only run 3 of them well, I mean I’ve run 3 where I’ve run fast enough to qualify for Boston. Three out of thirty-five.

I guess it’s all about perspective.

I finished the Boston Marathon in April and I was a little discouraged. My running felt off. My last two race efforts, the Surf City Half in February and Boston in April hadn’t felt right. My heart rate was way higher than it should have been. I felt like I needed a reset.

With the owners of Skinny Raven in Alaska, waiting to cheer Leslie and Makenzie to the finish

After talking with Coach Drew I decided to try MEF Running for a bit. Please go down the Google train on that as much as your heart desires. The basic idea is this: you take 180 and subtract your age, and that is the heart rate all of your runs should be at. I was 45 at the time, and some elementary school math told me that I shouldn’t let my heart rate get above 135. In order for that to happen, I had to slow way down. My easy runs went from 8:30 pace to around 10:00 pace. I spent the whole time looking at my heart rate, and it wasn’t a whole lot of fun.

The idea is that your body will adjust, your heart will get more efficient, and then you’ll eventually be able to run faster at that heart rate.

Yeah I didn’t like it. I joked that all it did was make me fat and slow.

As summer came around I knew that I was about to start my Chicago training build. I needed a change, I needed something to happen.

If you’ve read my blog you know that I have an interesting relationship with my weight. In my late 20s and early 30s I was heavy. I decided to make a change and fast forward to my early 40s and I’ve been floating between 175 and 180. I was comfortable at that weight, but I felt that I ran a little better in my 160s. It’s just physics. Less weight means less energy to move forward. Yes, I realize that this scale only goes so far, and if I lose too much weight then I’m losing muscle and not able to run. I get it.

Somewhere in Chicago

Now, I’ve done all kinds of calorie counting before. Weight watchers and Noom come to mind. Here’s the thing. I hate depriving myself of food. I hate thinking, “I can’t eat that.” I love food! I love to eat food. I love to eat all the tasty food. I like burgers, I like a good steak. I love everything about potatoes. I like soup. I like chips. I like chips even better when they have dip. So when I do these “calorie counting” plans I always end up angry.

I don’t want to be angry.

Since Facebook and Instagram clearly know all about our lives, they must have somehow figured out that I was trying to figure out how to drop a few pounds. I started getting targeted with intermittent fasting app ads. I thought, “I don’t need an app to tell me how to do intermittent fasting.” I did some reading on the google device and decided that a 16:8 intermittent fast where I only ate between the hours of noon and 8pm would work for me.

The tricky part was that I run in the morning. I didn’t know how my body would react to running without food.

So here is the do as I say, not as I do part… my body reacted just fine. I did all of my long runs with only water. I did my track days with only water. I didn’t eat until noon every day. I ran great and I was feeling great. This is something I wouldn’t suggest anybody do. I’m a big believer in knowing your body and doing what is right for you. This seemed to work for me, but that doesn’t mean it will work for you. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that it was kind of foolish of me to do this. I’m sure there are many experts out there who will tell me that I should have given my body some fuel during long runs. It is what it is. Listen to your body and do what works for you!

It took about two weeks of intermittent fasting for any weight to come off. Then it started to work. It was a steady decline, and over my 16 week training block I was down about 18 pounds heading into Chicago. I was also feeling good. Intermittent fasting has all kinds of benefits, from building neural pathways in the brain to improving gut health. I had no idea it had such an upside to it. It only took me a couple of days to adapt, and it’s not like I wake up at 10:00am and only have to wait two hours to eat. I’m usually up at 4:00am. I have a cup of coffee (black, no creamer) and start my day. I’ll usually have a second cup of joe around 9:30am or 10:00am. This helps hold the hunger off. I’ll eat at noon. The funny thing is that my appetite is under control too. I don’t need to eat a lot to feel full. I’ll have a sandwich and some chips at noon and that will hold me over until dinner.

When I first started doing this as it got close to 8pm I thought, “oh man, I better eat something because I’m not going to eat again until noon tomorrow.” As I’ve done it for going on 18 weeks now, I don’t even do that. I listen to my body. if I’m hungry during my 8 hour window, I eat. If I’m not, I don’t force it.

Intermittent fasting worked so well for me that for a long time before the marathon I was telling myself that I would do the marathon without any nutrition at all. My thought process was that if I didn’t need nutrition during my training, why would I need it during a marathon?

Now that’s just silly.

More on that and how it affected my race later. For now, back to the race training!

Running in the summer is hard. It gets hot here, if you haven’t noticed. I tell myself that I’ll never do a fall marathon again because it means I have to train through the summer. Yet every summer I end up training for a marathon. I was able to get it done, though, with some solid mileage throughout my training block. Aside from a couple of weeks when I went out of town, I was able to get mostly 60+ mile weeks during training. This helped tremendously!

Weekly Mileage

June 26 – July 2: 51

July 3 – July 9: 54.1

July 10 – July 16: 64.2

July 17 – July 23: 69.6

July 24 – July 30: 71.02

July 31 – August 6: 71.46

August 7 – August 13: 63.67

August 14 – August 20: 64.5

August 21 – August 27: 64.28

August 28 – September 3: 67.37

September 4 – September 10: 58.55

September 11 – September 17: 48.84

September 18 – September 24: 67.07

September 25 – October 1: 48.43

October 2 – October 8: 54.37

Can you find me in this picture?

I was getting faster as well. During the long runs I was able to hit goal paces, and on speed days I nailed my paces as well. I even knocked out a successful turn of Yasso 800s a couple of weeks before the race. The idea behind Yasso 800s is that if you can run ten 800s in a certain time, with equal rest in between, then you should be able to run a marathon in that time. For example, if you can run ten 800s at 3 minutes 45 seconds, with equal rest between each one, then you can run a marathon in 3 hours and 45 minutes.

Yasso’s aren’t scientifically proven at all. To me, the only thing they really are is a confidence booster. That being said, I crushed my 800s and felt that I was in shape enough to go for it and see if I can get that sub 3 hour marathon.

On to race day.

I’m not a fan of crowds. I don’t like standing in a sea of people, I don’t like waiting hours for a race to start, and I don’t like having to jostle my way through a crowd. The Chicago Marathon has more people than the Boston Marathon. Luckily I was able to get an AirBnB close to the start/finish, so I was able to walk to the start line. I waited at a security checkpoint, waited at bag drop-off, and waited to get into my coral. It was so crowded that I didn’t get fully into my coral until after the race started.

Where’s Mark? Can you find me?

I had read in several places that GPS won’t work accurately the first 3 miles of the race due to the tunnels and large buildings around you as you run. I decided to set my lap to “lap time”. The data my watch showed me was only good for the current lap. I did not have a total time screen up. I think this helped me, as I tend to have a lot of anxiety about my total time as I’m running. By focusing solely on lap time I was able to stay in the moment. I hit the lap button every time I crossed a mile marker (except for mile 26) and told myself I’d look at my total time around mile 20 and see how I was doing.

I also told myself to just go for it. I was feeling good and I wanted to see what I could do. I figured my first mile or two would be slower than the 6:52 needed for a sub-3 hour marathon simply because it was so crowded. I told myself not to panic, to stay the course and try to open it up as the race went on.

Carl and I walked to the coral together, we had the same start coral. In fact, our bibs were one number off. That’s just crazy. We got separated in the crowd as the race started, and then I saw him again around the first mile. After that it was hard to see anybody. It was just too crowded. I didn’t know if he was ahead of me or behind me. I just focused on running my race.

The Chicago Marathon is very flat. If you’re looking for a fast and flat course, this is it. Just ask Kelvin Kiptum, who ran a 2:00:35 on the day. The course is a North Loop, a West Loop, and a South Loop, with the “Whatchu talking about, Willis” Tower. Sorry, it will always be the Sears Tower to me. There is fan support the whole way, and the aid stations are very long, which makes it easy to get in and out without running into people. I highly recommend this race, if you can handle the 40,000+ people on the course with you at the same time.

I felt great for the first 11 miles. I started peeling off paces right at the 3 hour mark. I was positive and happy. I had decided about a week before the race that it would be dumb to try to do a marathon with no food. So on race day I had a Maurten Solid bar before the race and I took a gel every 6.5 miles for 3 gels total during the race.

If you’ve run long enough you’ve heard, “never do something new on race day.” Well, taking gels on race day wasn’t new to me, but I should have been taking them during my training runs. Right around mile 11 my body started to feel off. The best way I can describe it is a GI issue, but I didn’t have to stop and go to the bathroom. My guts just didn’t feel right. I slowed down and told myself not to panic.

Paces for first 11 miles. Look at the “time” column, as that is the time I hit the lap button at the mile markers.

“Just cruise,” I told myself, “you’ll get through it.”

And I did get through it. Probably in less than a mile I started to feel better. The problem was, I didn’t stop cruising. I just cruised the rest of the race. I didn’t push it again after that. I knocked out solid miles the rest of the way, I just never pushed it to the red line to see what I can do.

Now starts the lecture on mental toughness. Some people have it in truck loads, some people have it now and then. For a marathon, I’m a now and then kind of guy. I don’t know why I didn’t push it again to see what I can do. It’s almost like I forgot after I had that little issue. I let that throw everything off on the day and just kind of cruised it in. Lots of things went right. Chicago has a timing mat every 5k. I told myself that when I crossed the mat I was seeing my wife KJ, as she’d then get a timing update. It was something that was cool to look forward to every 5k in a marathon. In case you didn’t know, a marathon is about 42.2 kilometers. So that’s 8 times I got to “see my wife” on the course by crossing the 5k mats.

With KJ after the race

This wasn’t a bad race for me, although from what I’m writing it might sound like it. I had the 2nd fastest time I’ve ever had, and a 10+ minute Boston Qualifier. It was a great race! Still, there were some little things I could have done to run better. Remember my plan to check my watch at mile 20? Yeah, that went out the window. I was focused on staying in the moment. “Just stay in the moment” I kept telling myself. When I start thinking of how far I have to go in a marathon, I panic. There’s something about saying, “only 8.2 miles to go” at mile 18 that scares the crap out of me. I avoid that fear by focusing solely on how I’m feeling in the moment and telling myself that I will get to the end, just stay in the moment.

Mile 20 came and went.

I didn’t check my total time until mile 25.

“Ope,” as they say in the midwest.

I ran a 3:09:24 in Chicago. My Personal Record is 3:08:36. I was 48 seconds off a PR. I’m pretty confident that if I had checked my watch at mile 20 I could have shaved 48 seconds off. I was cruising, I wasn’t pushing it. As it was, when I looked at my watch at mile 25 quick math told me I’d have to run a 6 minute mile to PR. “Yeah, I’m not doing that,” I remember thinking. Still, I had a pretty decent last 1.2 miles into the finish.

The race turns from Michigan Ave onto Roosevelt right before the finish. I saw KJ there in the crowd and gave her a wave. Then it was on to the finish line!

Waving to KJ right before the turn

I’m really pleased with how this race went for me. There are certainly things I need to work on. I’m going to keep up my intermittent fasting, but as I start my Surf City marathon training build, I’m definitely going to be taking nutrition on my long runs. I’m also going to try to increase my pace on those long runs to see if I can get more used to being uncomfortable. Worse case, maybe I can “cruise” at a faster pace.

Chicago was a great race, but I don’t have a desire to go back. I’ve got 2 majors done. I don’t know if I’ll do any more. I’m sure I will, I seem to get talked into these things all the time. But right now it’s not on my bucket list. I want to go back to Surf City and have some fun there. I’m looking forward to training through the winter in cooler weather, and I’m looking forward to some miles with my friends!

One final thought: one of the reasons I love running is because if my 100% in a marathon is 3:09:24 and your 100% in a marathon is 5:30:35 and Kiptum’s 100% in a marathon is 2:00:35, the cool thing is we are all running 100%. We’re doing the best we physically can. I absolutely love that. I love the joy we all experience at the finish line. I love the happy tears, the hugs, and the feeling of accomplishment. Running unites us all. Give it a try, it will change your life.

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