Sunday, December 19, 2010

Chicago Marathon 10-10-10

Hi Friends,

Leaving for the Chicago Marathon Friday. The actual run is Sunday, 10-10-10.

As usual, my running friends are falling apart and so am I. Two recently discovered small hernias, one smashed her knee on the door and my own left knee is ready for amputation.

All that’s normal. I remember the day before Boston, I couldn’t walk three steps and wished I’d kept the race a secret. I was sure I wouldn’t be able to run. Next day, I forgot the whole crippling incident and had a great marathon.

I’m trying to flush the bad thoughts OUT of my head. What’s bothering me is that a month ago I finished a 19-mile-workout and realized I was pretty comfortable with the distance. Next day, I left town for 10 beautiful days in Oregon. While I was gone, my O.C. running partners shared three long runs, 22 to 24 miles. I promised myself that I’d match the O.C. group with at least two 22-mile runs while in Oregon.

Turns out I like sleeping late on vacation and biking, hiking, eating. So when the rest of the O.C. runners were here learning marathon distance, I ran about two miles.

By the time I got home, the O.C running group was into our “taper” which means low mileage period designed to rest before the 26.2 marathon distance. As Joan Benoit Samuelson writes in Running for Women, “At this stage [taper] any new training cannot help you; it can only hinder your performance.”

I don’t want to think about missed work-outs because it reminds me of the miserable final four marathon miles where lack of preparation turns every single step into torture.

Thank you. Now that I wrote the above complaints and excuses, I’m looking forward to running the famous Chicago Marathon. Love, Carrie


A nonstop flight from California brought my husband Paul, 72 and me, 66, to Chicago O’Hare on Friday, October 8, 2010. The trip brought me closer to 10-10-10 and the famous Chicago Marathon. We collected our luggage and walked across the terminal to the train which streaks through the airport every few minutes to take travelers to their hotels. In Calif, CTA means Calif Teachers Association, but in Chicago it means Chicago Tranisit Authority, transportation all over Chicago for $2.25.

After a 30-minute-trip, we jumped off at Clark and Lake, in downtown Chicago. We pulled suitcases behind us for the two-block-walk to Hotel Allegro where my marathon running friends were staying.

At 5:15 that evening Cal Coast Runners from Orange County, California gathered in the Allegro lobby to catch another train to the EXPO where, as in all races, we show I.D. in order to pick up our numbers and computer chips, the timing devices which attach to a shoelace. The chip matches the runner’s number and records the exact time he/she crosses the start and finish. During the marathon, the runner must cross several check points along the course to be sure nobody takes the CTA to the end for a false finish. Ever hear of Rosie Ruiz?

So, we assembled in the Allegro lobby at 5:15 p.m. to go to the EXPO. Caroline our head coach and motivator, fastest runner, winner of Newport Beach, California’s recent Susan Komen Survivor’s Race took off to catch the 6:00 train, sprinting through the streets of Chicago at her pace. We scrambled after her scooting around well dressed Chicagoans, hoping she’d be stopped by a red light. She wasn’t.

By the time we arrived at the station, Caroline and Catherine, our other coach were nowhere to be seen. Nervous because we didn’t know where to go without them, we fumbled for our fares. I forgot to say that you need exactly $2.25 or the machine keeps your extra money. I’m a champion fumbler so John, a fellow runner bought two tickets and shoved one into my hand. The little band of lost Californians charged on to the platform looking for Caroline and Catherine. There were two trains on the tracks but only one train with its doors open so we agreed, “This must be our train.”

John, Jeanie, JohnO. and I got on. John took charge. He’s a nuclear engineer who works with Caroline, also an nuclear engineer. John asked a young man with a ball cap pulled over his eyebrows, “Does this go to the Expo?”

“EXPO?” the look on the kid’s face told us that not everyone in Chicago spoke Marathonese. “Does the train go to McCormick Place?” John corrected himself. “Yeah” the young guy said as he moved on to find a seat.

“WHEW!” we heaved a collective sigh of relief and sat down on the train--still unsure and on the edge of our seats.

John texted Caroline, “We’re on.”

However, due to doubts that we were headed in the right direction, we asked a rider seated near us. “No” he said, “this train goes out of town.” We four scrambled to exit back to the platform.

John texted Caroline, “We’re off.

However, a uniformed CTA worker appeared. “Does this train go to McCormick Place?” John asked. The thing is, this was the only train around and we badly wanted it to go to the EXPO so we kept asking until we got the answer we hoped for.

“Yes, first stop,” he said.

We reboarded the train and sat down somewhat uncertainly, on the edge of our seats.

“We’re back on,” John texted Caroline.

The train soon slowed for what we thought was the first stop. We jumped up to exit, waiting at the door, four runners over sixty, lined up like anxious school kids on the first day riding the school bus.

The door didn’t open. The train picked up speed. We reentered the car and sat down in loud chatty puzzlement as the train left Chicago at a rapid pace. Tall buildings gave way to brick houses with peaked roofs. We were speeding toward the suburbs. John texted Caroline. “We’re headed for Hoboken.”

We perched on the edge of our seats, wide-eyed.

A lady sat against the bulkhead of the train. Her tightly curled hair crowned a face with two eyes that went off in different directions. She was seriously hump backed. She faced our way and I thought our noisy confusion must have invaded her space so I said,

“Don’t mind us, we’re lost.”

“Where do you want to go?” she asked.

We want to get off at McCormick Place,” we explained. She smiled and later we all agreed, that smile was beautiful. We loved her more when she gave us specific directions. “Get off at the next stop. Catch the inbound Chicago train going the opposite direction and you’ll see McCormick place.”

We thanked her, watched miles of the burbs rush by before we could disembark. Pressed against the door as the train stopped, we bust out together when, this time, it OPENED.

Landing on the platform in the middle of nowhere, we four senior clowns looked longingly at the bench on the other side. A ten foot ditch with an electrified track separated us from the train we desperately wanted to ride back to Chicago.

We’d left our angel in the train, now two more appeared, giggling at our ignorance.

“See that door?” they directed us to an opening which led to a stairway under the tracks. Inside the stairway, the air was dank and pee smelling. We clung closely together as we descended into the catacombs of the CTA transit system. “You think anybody uses this secret passage?” I asked. Happily we climbed up another set of stairs into fresh air and miraculously on the other side of the tracks!

We spotted a little building with two neatly groomed Asian women seated on the bench inside. We asked, “When does the inbound Chicago train come?

They spoke Japanese, “No Englishie,” they told us, smiling sweetly.

We were in the midst of sign language when a train sped up. “Chicago,” it said. We boarded enthusiastically and sat down, all on aisle seats, on the edge of sanity.

A conductor came through to stamp our tickets. John, Jeanie and JohnO held up tickets. Panicked, I ransacked my big travel purse, finally locating my ticket. We gave him the tickets. “These are the wrong tickets,” as he shook his head, rolled his eyes and stamped each one.

I noted that the conductor was handsome in his CTA uniform so I asked him nicely, “Will you please stay here to show us McCormick Place?” but he went on down the line.

We were on our own again. It seemed like hours going out of town, but the train got back into the city rapidly. Eyes glued to the window, we must have looked anxious because an empathetic passenger said, “You’re on the right train.” We settled back into our seats, feeling the seat-backs for the first time.

We looked out. Suddenly, “McCormick Place,” big letters on the brick subway wall. The door opened. We vaulted up from our seats and flew out to find ourselves at the Grand Entrance to the CHICAGO MARATHON EXPO. Honestly, that train back into town couldn’t have left us off at a better place.

John texted Caroline, “We’re here.”

By the way, we got our numbers, shirts, computer chips and overpriced Chicago Marathon Jackets. We hadn’t run the marathon yet, but we earned the jackets by getting to the Expo.


For the rest of our stay, my husband, Paul bought 3-day CTA passes, learned the Chicago map and transit routs. With Paul, I saw the Art Institute, Museum of Contemporary Art, History Museum, Zoo and Conservatory, BILLY ELLIOT, Navy Pier and back to O’Hare Airport We never got lost once. CTA served us very well, once we got the hang of it.

Carrie Luger Slayback came in 6th in the 65-69 age-group in the Chicago Marathon. She is a freelance writer who lives in Newport Beach, California. Recent articles appear in the LA Times, SASEE Magazine.


Here’s what the Chicago week-end weather report looked like: Friday: 73, Saturday 75, SUNDAY 85, Monday 76. What kind of bad trick was this? Why was Sunday, the famous marathon date of 10-10-10 the hottest day of the week?

Marathon morning, I know the drill-- alarm sounds, pull on tried-and-true marathon shorts and top, eat an orange, peanutbutterhoney sandwich on Trader Joe’s Complete Protein Bread, milk, hardboiled egg, put on visor, sunglasses, sunscreen, and fanny pack with electrolyte “candy” and zip lock bagged cell phone. Grab water.

Hotel elevator door opened, crammed with runners. I squeezed in. Floated down to the lobby to meet my pace group: Catherine, Elizabeth, and Jill. We met at 6:00 a.m. to make it to the start by 7:00 for the 7:30 gun. No nervousness on my part. Marathons don’t register on my Nervous Scale, but driving the freeway does. [weird]

We walked through early morning Chicago to the the runner’s village, stood in line for the port-o-pottie and made our way to the gob of tens of thousands of people prepared to run. The gun went off while we were in line for the pottie but a fellow runner told us to relax. It’d be half hour before we saw the starting line as we shared the course with 38,000 other runners.

That came true. We left the potties, walked to our corral and waited, waited, waited. Meantime the sun got brighter and hotter. An official prevented us from joining the river of runners inching toward the start. She held a flimsy little rope across our path. Runners took a look at the barrier and jumped over. The official gave up, dropped the rope and we started out----WALKING. Evil portends. I never suspected my finish would book-end my start.

Anyway, we walked because we were stuck in a dense crowd. What was supposed to be a 7:30 start turned into past 8:00. The sun looked down, mocking us.

We finally crossed the start. I had my Garmin timing watch on. Caroline warned us the Garmin would go crazy due to tall buildings blocking the satellite message. Mine read l.56 miles when I pressed “start.” Should have read one mile at the end of the first mile.

The crowd thinned a little as we continued past the start and Catherine took off. Her goal was 10 minute mile, dropping to 9:40 and then keeping pace for the first half. Due to Garmin malfunction, we had no idea what our pace was, but we followed Catherine as she snaked through the crowd. Near mile two, I almost went down catching my shoe in a pothole. From then on, I kept my eyes glued to the pavement. An otherwise perfectly maintained city, there were many deep ruts in the roads of Chicago. Elizabeth, Catherine and I ran together for the first half.

We all had water lasting the first ten miles, so we sipped as we ran. We did stop for vile disgusting Gatoraide to keep our electrolytes up. We took cups of cool water to dump over our steamy heads.

During marathons in San Francisco and New York, I saw breathtaking views of Golden Gate Bridge or the N.Y. skyline. In Chicago, I saw the street nicks, potholes, and cement irregularities during the marathon. Chicago is a stunningly beautiful city. In the days that followed the marathon, I fell in love with the city skyline.

As in other marathons, I lost Catherine and Elizabeth at the half. I continued to drink water and Gatoraide and even stuck some Shot Blocks (Electrolyte candy) in my mouth. It was hot. Lee Ann, one of our running group took a photo of the thermostat at the high school, it read 96.

I didn’t think the heat bothered me. I became weary but that’s what happens to me around mile 18. I began to feel the hint of leg cramps around mile 20. “NO,” I told the cramps, “Don’t you dare!” I ran on, pleased I’d banished the cramps with my strong will.

Then overwhelming cramps grabbed my calf muscle, and quads. I’d been mad at runners who blocked me by stopping mid course. “Can’t you move to the side?” I snarled under my breath. Cramps stopped me dead, mid course. People dodged around me. OUCH, OUCH, OUCH, I said. A paramedic cut across the course and came to my side. “I can call an ambulance,” he said. “I’M NOT INJURED, I HAVE A LEG CRAMP!” I told him in a tone that made him retreat to the sidelines leaving me to suffer on my own.

A lovely lady runner stopped beside me.

”Stretch and massage those muscles.” she ordered me.

“Go on,” I said, “don’t wreck your time.”

“My time isn’t important, now stretch,” she answered sharply.

I did and she went on. I don’t have any idea what she looked like. I was doubled over, stretching and rubbing for the whole conversation.

I tried to run again but was almost blown off the track with fierce cramping of all my leg muscles. I walked. I could walk without cramps. I picked up my legs to run again but again paralyzing cramps seized my legs. I gave up, completely demoralized. I walked in. Yeah, I tried to run a few more times but no act of will could control the cramping.

For the first time in my marathon-running-life, I walked all the way through the chute and past the finish. I didn’t even want their corny finisher’s medal.

My finish time was my slowest at 5:03:06 and I got 6th place in my age-group.

I like the LA Marathon, I like the Orange County Marathon, I love the San Francisco, New York and double love the Boston Marathon. I don’t like the Chicago Marathon.

When I got home to my computer, I looked up leg cramps on the internet. As suggested, I took in the water and electrolytes. I have never thought of salt tablets, another antidote to cramps. With the heat, maybe the salt tablets would have made a difference. Potassium may be important. I eat a banana almost every day at home but I did not have one on the day of the marathon. Next time I will.

Other runners complain of leg cramps. I’ve never had them before and I hope that I never have them again.


That evening I spoke to the father of one of my former students, Nick Arciniaga, a world class runner. Nick hoped to break 2:10. He came in at 2:18. He did qualify for the Olympic Trials but he and his teammates could not make their times in Chicago. I spoke to a young man from Chile who came with 14 other Chilean runners. Like me, he had leg cramps and was almost half hour off his time. My pace group, Catherine and Elizabeth, well trained runners, came in half hour after me. In our Orange County group, only our head coach, Caroline made her time of 3:33. Nice to have a champion in our midst. We’ll all be back on the trail Saturday analyzing Chicago, and you bet there’ll be talk of our next marathon.

ADDENDUM: I came in sixth in my age group, 65-69 year-old females. Well, last week I found the record of my age group. Here’s the galling thing: I was in THIRD PLACE by an average of seven minutes all the way to a 35K or twenty-one miles. That must have been where the leg cramps started. I lost so much time, I dropped to sixth place. Curses!