Chicago Marathon Recap – Putting the Pieces Together (Finally)

For as long as I can remember, I’ve considered myself an athlete…someone reliant upon body, mind, and spirit in pursuit of “something” greater.  Of course the “something” has changed, evolved, and grown over time, but my belief in needing all three (body, mind, spirit) to get closer to “it” hasn’t.  And while my pursuit continues…and I know I won’t get “there” till I get “there”…maybe surprising to some, I’ve never considered myself a runner, but instead often choose to run…and have even set running-specific goals, for the lessons it’s continued to teach, and the ways it’s helped me to strengthen (my body), sharpen (my mind), and enrich (my spirit) along the way…
I guess you could say breaking the 3 hour marathon mark has been a bit of a lifelong goal…or at least the primary athletic focus since 2010 when I first “publicly” stated it…not exactly sure why…maybe it’s because I’ve always been inspired by my Dad’s story of breaking his marathon goal by exactly 1 second…maybe it’s because after my first marathon in ’08, I knew it was something that was possible with a great deal of work..but not something I could just wing or rely on “natural” ability to achieve…or maybe it’s because in my five failed attempts and the events leading up to each in the years precedingChicago 2015 (2:58:30), I’ve continued to learn more about myself and things I’m passionate about (health, training, nutrition, fitness, the importance of relationships, faith, community, etc.)…and have met so many great people, training partners, and  friends throughout.
But when I look back…the “how I did it” isn’t really all that different than anything we’ve talked of before……the pieces of the puzzle were the same…the elements that make them up..the same…it’s just that this time around, I paid closer attention to them…acted upon them with more discipline, focus, and precision…
BODY: MOVE + FUEL + RECOVER – For years I’ve placed too much value on “harder” and not nearly enough on “smarter”.  This year I made use of all of the resources available to me…and with the help of our team here and the various training systems we use, I closely monitored each training session and the stress (training load) each placed upon me…training almost exclusively with a watchful eye on heart rate (the body’s objective window into the inner workings) instead of subjective “pace” as my guide.  I followed a systematic progression where I provided ample time for my body to establish a fitness “base” prior to encouraging it to “build” speed and strength via increased intensity, all while balancing and allowing the appropriate time to recover both in between workouts, and throughout training cycles (3 weeks up, 1 week easy, repeat x 4-5).  Although looking back, I probably could have done a better job adhering to my strength training routine (2x / wk), I made sure to jump in the treatment room whenever I was on the verge of breakdown or felt something not “right” (happened twice), and was so very fortunate to be able to rely on our PT’s to help me get back on track and facilitate the recovery process, FIRST, prior to returning to intense training….the results?…The blue line below is indicative of fitness progress / gains from 5/27-10/12 (race day)…something I was able to complete injury free for the first time since I took up this type of training…maybe the tortoise was on to something with his slow and steady approach.
My FUEL choices moved from primarily to almost exclusively a whole-food, plant based selection, and for the first time since I began extensive marathon training I didn’t “ache” post long run….I was somewhat surprised to finish a 19+ miler on more than 5 of the final 8 weekends in the season and still feel relatively fresh later in that given day…I guess I shouldn’t be given the anti-inflammatory properties of this type of nutrition…but to take it one step further, I was very excited to get down to “race weight”…nearly 15 lbs lower than I started in January…without ever feeling hungry, all while completing LESS total training volume (mileage) than in years past….can only be attributed to one thing…the right mix of FUELING (actual myfitnesspal results below).
MIND: ENDURE – If I’m totally honest, in years past…I’d have to admit that I’d often slip mentally before physically.  I’d approach workouts with ONLY the end in mind…cutting a little off the front here and a little off the back there….I’d tell myself I’d listen to my body if I was aching..but wouldn’t totally trust it and would default to cranking out more mileage just because “that’s what the plan says to do”….I’d tell myself how I’d eat “almost vegan”, but often almost turned out to be during the week with a junk binger on the weekend because “hey I just worked out really hard”….and what’s worse…if / when I failed, I’d often be more worried about my pride than the ways in which to improve….
Enter the world of positive psychology…the power of mindset…theways to make stress your friend…the concepts of grit and resilience..and so many more….with the help of these “friends” and their teachings…my mind stayed (for the most part) focused in the moment….on incremental change…knowing full well that my actions in the moment would dictate my outcome in the end.
SPIRIT: CONNECT – I had the opportunity recently to attend a mindfulness meditation led by a Tibetan monk…and though much of what he spoke of was fascinating…the two things that stuck with me were 1) we are all connected by something much greater than each of us individually…and 2) faith above all is the most powerful thing in this world…A “believer” even before I attended, not sure I could agree anymore strongly.
Throughout the training, and most especially on race day, there were so many people in this community I was pulling strength from.  If you’ve read this far, you’re most assuredly one, and I’m not sure any words will do justice to the gratitude I feel towards each of you.  When the going got tough…as it always does…I thought of you…struggles you may have gone through and obstacles overcome….I prayed almost continuously, and especially when the “hurt” set in between miles 22-25 and I began to lose time while fighting with what I had left not to lose faith……it became a bit of a mantra for me, “I can do all things through God who strengthens me”. With calves literally seizing on and off from mile 22 to 26.2, I’m convinced that your strength, prayers, and God saw me to the finish line right when I was supposed to arrive, in time to reconnect with a stranger I’ve only met once before on the sidelines of the Boston Marathon 2011, where he tells me I may have helped save his life (scoll to bottom of linked page), and in achievement of my goal, one step closer to “there”.  Somethings aren’t coincidence.
The 2015 Chicago marathon and events that led to it pushed my body…it pushed my mind…and it pushed my spirit…and when I crossed the finish line, arms outstretched in gratitude, it broke me emotionally, like only something you’ve emptied yourself for can.  Whether you know it or not, whether we’ve connected recently or not…you and yours helped push me through.  Should you be ready, I eagerly await the opportunity to repay the favor.
Happy Training,
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One thought on “Chicago Marathon Recap – Putting the Pieces Together (Finally)

  1. Linda Sielken

    Eric, you are amazing and an inspiration to me.

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