And then there were 4..........

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…..this time last week (well at the time I began writing this), I was landing in the Windy City. Somewhat weirdly all on my Billy! I’ve been very fortunate that up to now, when the International Marathons (Berlin, Paris & Boston) have come around Caz and Charlie have been with me.

Getting myself out of bed @ 0230 was a struggle even for someone like me who the majority of the time is an early riser, even more so because I was leaving them both behind.

I left home just after 3 and a little after 4 I was parking my car at Heathrow. Caz is my rock in most aspects of my life and it was quickly evident I was a little lost without her on getting to the airport. I’m a tremendous flapper and in situations like this, she would normally take all the stress away from me and just let me do my thing. I was fending for myself which was pretty alien to me, which for someone who is very meticulous about detail makes for more flapping than normal!

A pretty uneventful but comfortable flight was full of Chicago hopefuls and outside the terminal whilst trying to figure out where the hell I was going, I bumped into a ‘couple’ more and ended up sharing a cab with them into the city.

I arrived at my hotel at 1200, aiming to just drop my bag off, but luckily my room was ready and I was able to offload and chill out for a little while before heading to the expo to pick up my bib.

The expo was chaos and not in a good way, all expos are chaos, that’s not new, but even buying race kit was a battle and the line to buy a winter training top took 30 mins to get through. Expos are crazy experiences but I remember Boston having a lot more order to it, and as nuts as London is, it’s organised brilliantly.

I wandered around Chicago expo for about 20 mins trying to remember where I’d entered despite the fact I was walking constantly in circles, so still don’t understand how I missed the entrance/exit. A sign wouldn’t have gone a miss, especially when we all know marathoners are incapable of thinking about anything, other than flat lay, pre-race nutrition, massive pre-race poo, breakfast, more pre-race relief and trying not to go out to fast and trying not to poo ourselves (it’s fine everyone knows this is how the mind works)!

Expo done, now how to get back to the hotel? The organisers had laid on school buses from the expo to various locations in the city, so I hopped on one that was going back in the general direction of where I was staying. Being on those big yellow buses was like Boston all over again and for me, the thought of Boston was drawn on as a constant inspiration during the course of the weekend.

 The ‘Standard’ Flat lay….

The ‘Standard’ Flat lay….

During the week before leaving for Chicago, I’d been keeping a close eye on the weather, mainly because I find it hard not to go anywhere just in flip flops and shorts, so want to make sure I don’t pack shoes unnecessarily. But like Boston, the weather for the duration of my time in Chicago didn’t look like it was going to be great.

In fact Saturday morning the weather almost put paid to the International Chicago 5k, the rain was biblical, it was Bostonesque! It delayed the start by over 15 mins and a Red warning was issued, however, the rain quickly abated and by the time the gun went off, it was quite a pleasant morning and you’d would never have guessed at the conditions a few minutes earlier.

Whilst waiting for the off I bumped into fellow Brit, Jimmy Osborne, we’d both travelled out to The Windy City on our own. We got chatting all things Marathon Majors and it turns out we’re both doing Tokyo next March, we carried on the chat and ended up doing the 5k stretch out together. Jimmy’s a really nice guy and on finishing the 5k, we swapped numbers and aimed to meet for pre-race feed later that evening. The rest of the day was just a chill out taking in some of the sights and trying to familiarise myself with the start area, and how to get there on race day morning.

I met Jimmy (and his room mate Chris) at Maggiano’s just north of the river, close to where the guys were staying. Jimmy had been down to the restaurant earlier that afternoon, to see if we needed to book and he was informed, that there would be no need, although we should get there at 1700. We got there at 1700, and were greeted by a very surprised boss lady, surprised because she was in charge and there was no table, unless she said so and that we should never have been told we could just walk in at 5 and get a table! Luckily we managed to grab one in the bar area and settled in for a good protein and carb fest!

Loaded up we said our goodbyes and gave our best wishes for the morning and headed off in our separate directions. It was only a 10 minute walk back to my hotel, but in the dark and with the city lights creating a most stunning backdrop, I ambled back just enjoying the beauty of it all.

Back at the hotel I wrote out my pacing plan (one last time), and got the last little details sorted and just chilled out, aiming to get to bed by 2100 and hoping for a good nights sleep. As had happened the previous evening I was awake a midnight, my body clock convinced it was 0600, drifting in and out of sleep I eventually gave up around 3. With my race due to start at 0730, the alarm was going off at 5, so I just laid there watching movies until it was time to get up. At 0500 the hotel seemed to ‘wake’ up.

Standard creamed rice for breakfast done, along with tailwind and salts to top up on the day before done, I left the hotel at 0615. I arrived at Gate 3 on Van Buren a little after 0630 and instantly regretted not leaving earlier, security whilst absolutely necessary, was making getting through the gate a very anxious experience, even without a bag to check in. I eventually got through security @ 0720 in theory as my wave was due to close. Luckily the wave gates were kept open and I made it into my start corral (C) just before the gun went off to start the race. Mercifully the rain had abated completely on leaving the hotel and didn’t start to fall again until a couple of miles in to the race.

With the anxious and panicked enforced start to the race, the necessary ablutions didn’t get done and after a very solid start to my race I was diving in to the portaloos at mile 6 for the first of many visits during the course of the race. My race plan had been to start quite economically at 7:40/45 pace for the first 12 miles and then take it up 7:30 for 12 to 16 and then 7:20 for 16 to 20, then try and reduce again every 2 miles to race finish. Everything was going to plan up to mile 16, I was a little inside of where I expected to be, but when I tried to up the pace again for the next block, the legs just didn’t respond. The couple of ‘not normal for me’ trips to the loo were beginning to take effect. So I settled in and stayed at the pace I’d levelled at for the previous 4 and aimed to try and push on at 20. At 20 I was back in the loo and when I tried to go again, the legs as the previous block just had no extra gear to go through.

At that point I just resigned myself to trying to maintain as high a pace as possible and just aim to finish solidly. The weather although threatening to do a Boston, thankfully never really hit those heights although it did rain for most of the marathon, weirdly though with such high humidity it felt like we were running through a jungle albeit a concrete one.

I don’t remember much of the end of the race other than thinking at various points in the last few kms “there’s another target gone!” By the time I crossed the finish line at 3:26, to be honest I was pretty happy with my efforts. For the first time I’d actually run a race where in my last few miles my pace hadn’t dropped out massively, normally I go off far to fast, no matter how many times I recite the race plan and end up just about scraping 9:30 min/miles for the last few! And whilst I was nowhere near close to a PB, for the first time since the heady days of racing properly over 20 years ago, I felt like the work I’d put in had been worth it. I probably didn’t run the time my training had deserved, but on the day I gave it what I had, had the start been a little more relaxed, maybe I would have realised the plan fully.

The saying goes “you either win or you learn!” And I certainly felt like I learnt a lot not just during the Chicago Marathon but also from the training block I put in in preparation for it. I might not have realised my goals for this one, to be honest that was never really the goal, but I know with the lessons I’ve learnt and the tweaks I will make, that come the next marathon I will be another step closer.

 Progress is never a straight line!

Progress is never a straight line!

Chicago was a fantastic experience, again weird without Caz and Charlie being with me, so I know I didn’t absorb the experience in the same way I would have, had they been with me. But as races go, it’s up there, I would say it’s probably my favourite of the Major Courses, purely because you can just run without fear of being tripped up (well until aid stations, but that’s standard), it’s nice and wide, ok it’s not as iconic as Boston, nor does it have the landmark wow of London, but Chicago is a race all of it’s own that should be experienced by any lover of City Marathons.

After the race it was then just a desire to get back across the Atlantic to home, although I knew the annual ‘rejection’ from VMLM was waiting for me as Caz had already spilled the beans…..however when I stepped through the door at Midnight on Monday a note (and Bakewell Tart) from my littleman soon put that ‘no’ into perspective!

However, since I have been offered a place by Whizz Kidz to run next April at London in support of them, and I’m very proud and honoured to be doing so!

I’m hoping to raise well in excess of £2000 for them and help in the fantastic work they do, Whizz Kidz aim to transform the lives of disabled children by providing the vital equipment, support and life skills they need to reach their full potential., enabling them to become confident and independent young adults. You can sponsor me by giving on the link on my page below:

My fundraising page!

So next up will Abbott World Marathon Major No.5 in Tokyo on 3rd March 2019, followed by Brighton Marathon on 14th April (which would have been Lloydy’ 40th Birthday), a chance to improve on my London Marathon time on 28th April, before finishing Spring off with my 4th MK Marathon on 6th May. I’m aiming to run all 4 in support of Whizz Kidz so please share my page, every donation is very much appreciated and makes a massive difference!

So for now, there are a few relatively easy weeks building up the strength and conditioning to get the body ready for 12th November to hit 16 weeks of marathon training harder than I ever have done!

A reminder though if you’re reading this, there is always so much more that goes in to what is achieved come the end of any event and the writing about, is so much easier than the doing. Firstly the work that goes in to achieving them, secondly the support needed to earn them and thirdly the reason behind why I’m so driven to achieve them. Many of you on similar journeys will know exactly what I mean.

However, know this, I would give all my achievements back in a heartbeat for just 5 minutes more with the one person who inspired me to look up to him as much as he looked up to me. Also they wouldn’t be possible without the love and support I’ve received not just from my incredible wife and beautiful boy, but also my family and friends.

So to all of you, who have supported and inspired me, I owe you more than you know and I am eternally grateful, big love!