I found the whole thing utterly ridiculous and unbelievable, but there I was at 6:59:59 a.m., toeing the line with the Elite Wave 1 at the Urbanathlon in Chicago. It was a spot earned through a 2012 qualifying time (1:28:21), but unfathomable nonetheless.
Having spent my first two Urbanathlons in the distant 9th wave, I registered for wave 1 because I thought it would give me the best shot at an uncluttered course (it did), that I’d have my uninterrupted date with destiny at the feet of the Soldier Field stairs (it chewed me up and spit me out), and that the pace of the other runners would push me measurably (it did).
My approach at the Urbanathlon has always been a lot like golf; try to beat the course, not the competitors. The most imposing obstacles would be my own fabricated hurdles. So I simply ran.
My endurance felt good, the obstacles were doable but taxing, and exiting the gauntlet that is the Soldier Field / Marine Hurdles / Monkey Bars trifecta left me nearly in tears because my legs were shot hitting the back half of the course and I could barely moonwalk, no less run. I couldn’t fathom running another 5 miles feeling that broken.
I remembered Shane Logan in 2011 talking about how it took nearly a mile before he got his legs back after Soldier Field. I’m no Shane Logan, but I kept moving, and sucked it up after being easily passed exiting the Soldier Field lawn with no oomph to give chase. Eventually my back straightened, my stride strengthened, my pace quickened, and my confidence restored.
In the end I finished at 1:22:54. 16th place overall and 2nd in my 40-44 age group. I couldn’t have imaged either.
At the dinner table Sunday night, with me rehashing stories for the hundredth time, I told my family that 20 seconds separated my time from first in my age group. They couldn’t believe it. ‘My heart feels like a squashed tomato!’ was my wife’s appropriate response. When I first saw that so did mine, but only for a two-Mississippi count.
Now sitting at home, well rested and replenished, I could trick myself into any number of scenarios that would have saved me 2 seconds here, 3 seconds there. You want 20 seconds? I can find 40.
But in real time, running through a mine field of goose poop along Monroe Harbor, I knew I’d be at complete peace with my finish, whatever it may be, because every step was my strongest, and nothing was spared. I had nothing more to give at any given time.
And good thing, because the only thing separating my 2nd place age-group finish and 3rd place was 3 seconds …