After looking at the 25 predictions posted for our Chicago Marathon contest, I knew I had my work cut out for me. The fastest time, aside from Pete's overzealous 1:59.59, was posted by my optimistic wife. Jocelyn had originally submitted a time of 3:48, but in trying to be supportive, she changed it to 3:13. From there, the times spanned all the way up to 3:57.45, giving me a good-sized window for my first marathon. Of course, as I ran along in the sweltering heat, I realized that breaking four hours wasn't a given.
Fortunately for me, I had help. First, by the time my group reached the starting line, Springsteen's "Born to Run" was blaring over the loudspeakers. Second, I met up with two guys who were also doing their first marathon and had a similar goal. Third, the people of Chicago lined the course and never tired of yelling, "Go Jake Go!!!" Seriously, they loved me.
At the 15K mark - that's 9.3 miles for nonmetric folks - I was averaging 8:06 miles and on pace for 3:32. Maintaining that pace would have made Amanda a winner. I reached the halfway point (13.1 miles) in 1:46.28, raising my average to 8:07 miles but keeping my target time at 3:32. But then I slowed down. Sorry, Amanda.
At this point, I have to say again how amazed I was with the Chicago crowd. The best advice anyone gave me coming into the race was to write my name on my shirt. The wonderful fans carried me from miles 6 through 16. That's the only way I can explain my pace staying so consistent for so long on such a torrid day. I rarely went five feet without someone screaming - and I mean screaming - for me to keep up the great work. I was told that I was someone's hero (which is scary), and I got to high-five about 50 kids out cheering us on. Even when I was ready to quit, they weren't. It may have been some more energy I was exerting as I waved to the crowd and slapped hands whenever possible, but it was worth every ounce. And, I like the attention.
By the time I'd finished 35K - 21.7 miles for those scoring at home - my pace had dropped to 8:24 and my new target time was 3:40.13. At that point, Stan, my colleague and a marathon veteran, seemed to have the inside track with the 3:39.30 prediction he had given me over dinner the night before. He knew it was going to be hot, and that my mostly unspoken goal of 3:35 would have to adjust accordingly.
Well, he was right about adjusting my goal. At one point around mile 23, I threw it out the window. Until I realized that I was starting to flirt with the 4-hour mark - which, on this day, still would have been no cause for disappointment. So I tried to maintain a decent pace between water stations. And at the 3:48 mark, I could see the finish line in the distance (while hearing talk about halting the race). So I tried to finish strong, with the most plodding final kick I could muster, and I crossed the line at 3:49.28 for a final average pace of 8:45.
And as for your predictions, you saved the best for last. After I'd called it a night on Saturday, Lauren Roth posted a time of 3:46, saying she had nothing witty to share. When you win, you don't need wit. Congratulations, Lauren, you're our big winner, and I'll be getting in touch with you to send you what you've won.
Postscript: As you recall from earlier in the post, Jocelyn's original prediction was 3:48, a mere second off of my final time. It could be argued that she had the most access to my training tactics, or that I was simply playing favorites. Either way, I was impressed. I'll be sure to give her a Garmin pen.