Tuesday, October 18, 2011

10/9/2011 Chicago Marathon, 3:20 Pacer

Chicago Marathon "in my opinion" is the best big marathon in the United States.  Why Chicago you ask?  The seeded corrals, the Nike Pacers, super wide road, flat course, 20 aid stations, spectators, it just doesn't get any better!  This was my 3rd time running Chicago and it will not be my last.

Now you might ask how the heck can you stand running a marathon with 45,000 people after running a 100 mile ultramarathon with only 100 people, there is huge difference in the two types of races, they are completely different types of events?  To tell you the truth ultramarathons on trails are my forte, but I really like running road marathons every now and then.  When I pace marathons I don't feel the need to race, I can practice holding pace for 3 to 4 hours, it’s great ultrarunning training, and I can give back to the sport that has given me so much.  It is fun to run a consistent pace, BS with other runners, and every once and a while give a little advise.

I wanted to run with the Nike Pace Team, at the Chicago Marathon, since the 1st time I saw them in action during the 2009 Chicago Marathon.  I finally got my chance this year.  In May a friend of mine gave me the email address of the Nike Pacing Team leader.  I sent him an email listing of all the marathons I have paced.  He told me sometime later in the year he would contact me if an opening arose.  I finally received an email from him on August 28th as I was driving home from Cascade Crest 100.  He told me the slowest time he had available was 3:20, OUCH,…. bad timing, as I am trying to get comfortable in the back seat of my wife’s car!   I thought; how am I supposed to train for that fast of a marathon when all the training I've done this year was for slow-long-distance-endurance running!!!   Besides I need a well deserved rest from running right now; looks like that wasn't going to happen!

So I devised a plan:
- Take 1 week off, run very easy recovery runs to break up the lactic acid in my muscles.
- After that week, run tempo runs "at least" 3 days a week, with my goal to average 6:45-7:00 pace, 1 week prior to Chicago.
- Try to get in 2 - 20 mile long runs!

Well it turns out the longest run I could get in before Chicago was a 15 mile run and a few 10 mile runs.  I was able to run 3 or 4 tempo runs every week averaging 6:45-7:00 minute miles the 3 weeks prior to the race.  I wish I could have ran a few long runs, but with my RD duties at Skagit Flats Marathon, volunteering at numerous races, moving my wife's friend Bobbie to Phoenix, and all three of my kids entering college, I just couldn’t fit any run long runs into my busy schedule. 

The week leading up to the Chicago Marathon I was a little nervous since I really didn't do the proper training regiment to "Pace" a fast marathon.  I knew a 3:30 or 3:40 would be a piece of cake, but would running a 3:20 be taxing?  I was very thankful to know that I would not be the lead dog pacing in this marathon, we had 3 other Nike Pace Setters in the 3:20 group, all three of them have faster PR's than I, and they are all also young enough to be my kids, Perfect!!!

Race day came and the weather couldn't be better.  It was warm enough that I didn't need an extra shirt at the start, and we would be done before the temperatures reached the 80's.  For all the Nike Pacers they provided a Nike Pacer Tent near the start, port-a-johns, food, refreshments, and a place to store stuff during the race. What a great way to start the day.  It was also nice to see some of my old friends pacing, Chuck Engle, Steve Vargas, and Marie Bartoletti.  After much talking, getting ready for the race, and the normal day-of-race stuff that we all do, all the Nike Pacers went to the outside of the tent and took a group shot, kind of cool seeing 100 pacers all together, then we paraded together to our respective starting corrals. 

Our group started in Corral B.  The two times I‘ve ran Chicago I started in Corral A, right behind the elite runners, there was never a time I felt like other runners were a hindrance like in Boston, New York Marathon, or ALL ROCK N’ ROLL Marathons.   The way they monitor their starting corrals makes a huge difference on the efficiency of the start and I feel it really does help participants finish times. One of the downfalls about having so many people in a marathon is how long we have to wait in the starting corral before the race starts.  Of course I had to take a leak before the race and the last thing I wanted to do was stop at a port-a-john.  I won’t say how I relieved myself before the race, but let’s just say it is a common way during a long road trip!  I am grateful that was the last time I needed to until after the race. 

For me the most exciting time in a race is the 30 seconds prior to the gun going off.  As I am waiting nervously I look around and introduce myself to many of the people running in our pace group.  I was amazed at the amount of people following the 4 of us.  While talking to one of the runners from the Dominician Republic the gun goes off and the race begins,….. We start jogging to the start mats, then as soon as we hit the mats (1 minute and 20 seconds later) we are able to start running.  Usually the 1st few miles in a large race it is tough to get up to pace because of the mobs of people, but we hit the 1 mile mark at EXACTLY 7:37 pace (chip time), nice….   The next few miles we were not so lucky, each mile we found ourselves 5 or 6 seconds behind, moving through the crowds was proving to be a bit cumbersome.  Finally around mile 6 we were back on pace and had made up all the time lost due to congestion.  It was at this point I looked behind us and noticed the amount of people in our pace group.  I’ll bet it was close to 500 people, it looked like a swarm of locusts following us, how cool is that? 

Somewhere in the 1st 6 miles we worked out what our duties were in the race.  Matt Flaherty (2:22 PR) was in charge of the group, as a 2:22 marathon runner he was the perfect guy for this job.  He kept all four of us on a flat steady pace and provided us an anchor point.  Rich Calvario (2:48 PR) did an excellent job maintaining pace as well, to me he seemed like Matt’s right hand man, always looking out for him and the rest of us, making sure everyone was able to get water, Gatorade, or a sponge and asking me how far ahead or behind we were at every mile split.  My job was to yell out how we were doing at every mile.  towards the end of the race.  Every team needs a guy like Jackson just to keep the race exciting.Jackson Johnson’s (2:45 PR) was a ton of fun to watch during the race, he was like the running comedian, he was the “Get the Crowd Pumped” guy.  He was all over the place in front, behind, taking care of the runners on the other side of the road when a median split us up.  I was amazed how much energy he still had
The Nike 3:20 Pace Team was a huge success because of the 4 of us, we each brought a little something different to the team, and we meshed well together.  At the ½ way point we were 30 seconds ahead, at the finish we were 3:19:45, 15 seconds ahead.  We couldn’t have ran the race any better.  Thanks Matt, Rich, and Jackson for doing such a great job for all the runners following us.  I am looking forward to running with the 3 of you again next year.


  1. Congratulations! What an amazing year!

  2. Hey Terry. Sorry we didn't get to meet in Chicago. That was my first marathon (nowhere near a 3:20 pace). It would have been great to see you. Maybe I'll see you at the Birch Bay Ghost again this year.

  3. I'm acting as Race Director at Birch Bay Ghost this year. Scott Krell will be on vacation in Hawaii. You'll see me there for sure! As for Chicago, it would have been cool to see you also.