After 16 grueling weeks, Chicago Marathon, here I come.

As I write this, it's four days to the Chicago Marathon. Low single-digit territory. And holy moly, it's been two months since I've updated this page. Two whole months. In running, two months is a lifetime. In that space of time - since my last post about battling New York City humidity - a lot has happened. A helluva lot.

Since then, I've grappled with injury (which was slight, but at the time terrifying), ran 20 glorious miles around Boston, joined November Project and NYRR Group Training and pushed myself in different ways, ran countless regular runs, intervals, and tempo runs, and completed my longest training run prior to the Chicago Marathon - 23.2 miles. So why has it taken two months to write a new blog? Shamelessly, the excuse is: Life got in the way.

During every marathon training plan, one of the key things to remember is: Life will get in the way. However, it's up to you to determine how much you allow that to happen. In the last two months, as training has intensified, I've fallen asleep on the couch before 10 p.m. more times than I'd like to remember. What was sacrificed in order to balance life and training: Stuff like blogging, unfortunately.

But anyways - I'm just days away from the Chicago Marathon, my fifth marathon to date. So how am I feeling? What have I learned? What's the plan?

I'll run through those all briefly.

How am I feeling?

Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good. As aforementioned, I picked up a slight injury during my plans that scared the bejesus out of me. On August 17, I went to November Project's Wednesday workout (which was balls-to-the-walls amazing), but me being an awkward ham, I must have contorted my body the wrong way while doing planks and burpees. Form never was my strong point. The next day, I knew all about it as I struggled to get out of bed with severe lower back pain and a numbing pain in my groin. Stubbornly, I tried to "run it off." Good decision, Gary. Three pitiful and slow miles later, that plan - surprisingly - didn't work. Can you believe that? I then went into work and sat, miserably, in pain.

Not willing to fight through it any more - a doctor's appointment was scheduled and the result was an inflammation of the hip. Oh - and take 4-5 days off from running. As a result, I missed my first 'Critical Long Run' of three on the schedule, an 18-miler. That weekend, I was bitter, annoyed, and certainly no craic to be around. Just ask the Muffin. Sometimes, it felt like the anti-inflammatories worked, other days, the pain was still there. Dark clouds hovered over me as I trudged around. Worst-case scenarios filled my thoughts. “What if I can't run Chicago? What if this doesn't go away - ever?”

 At the iconic Boston Marathon finish line

At the iconic Boston Marathon finish line

Slowly, but surely, the pain went away, just in time for me to complete my 20-miler two weeks later, which I did in Boston as I was there for Labor Day weekend. That trip also included a jaunt to the iconic Boston Marathon finish line. Since the Boston qualifying time for a 31-year-old male is 3:05, that may be the only time I will ever see that finishing line because I ain't recording a 3:05 anytime soon. Even if I took two handfuls of PEDs, I couldn't do that. But yes, Boston was beautiful and a spritely run on a flat surface was the perfect tonic after a rough week or so of doubts and fears.

 Why do 22 miles when you can do 23?

Why do 22 miles when you can do 23?

And then there was the last long run. My NYRR Virtual Trainer had me down to do 22 miles. So, trying to be a genius, I signed up for NYRR's NYC Marathon 18 Mile Tune Up, thinking I would run from Queens to Central Park (4 miles) – just in time to join the tune up, do the full 18, and clock up a total of 22 in total. However, my planning skills let me down for the first time as I forgot the Tune Up started at 102nd Street, meaning the distance from Queens to the start line was actually 5 miles. So I ended up doing 23 miles instead of 22. Which is kind of a big difference. Those extra 8.30 minutes were not fun. But I got it done and felt strong throughout. With that, the hay was in a barn and time to taper.

It's my fifth marathon. So what have I learned?

More than I thought. When I prepared for my first marathon in 2014, I was pretty clueless. I would get up at 11 a.m. on weekends and start my long run at 1 p.m. And I do this during the summer in NYC, which meant the heat and humidity basically kicked my ass every weekend. And laughed at me for being a fool.

After every long run, I would be holed up on the couch for hours, unable to move or walk. In 2015, preparing for NYC again, and Philadelphia three weeks later, I took the learnings from 2014 and applied them, approaching things differently. Long runs started much earlier. Small changes were made. Diet was slightly stricter. However, by the time the TCS NYC Marathon came around, I had whipped myself in a total frenzy. In 2014, the Queensboro Bridge kicked me squarely in the stomach. It killed my goal time that I wanted to achieve.

 Trudging over the line in 2015

Trudging over the line in 2015

In 2015, I was so pent up on tackling that bridge that I put too much into it. By the time I left the Bronx at mile 20, I was spent. I beat my 2014 time by one measly minute, but inside I was devastated, as I knew I could have finished much earlier, had I raced smart and used my head. Three weeks later, in Philadelphia, I approached the race with a surreal, lackadaisical approach. While I had a goal time in mind, my strategy was to let the cards lie where they fall. That approach worked wonders as I PR'ed, which certainly eased the pain of NYC weeks earlier.

In early 2016, coming off that marathon high in Philly, I tackled a small, local marathon, the inaugural Queen's Marathon. Despite putting a lot into it – especially during the freezing winter months in NYC – a lethal cocktail of heat on the day (which really put me in a tailspin after training in the snow) and the monotony of a looped course – ended my dreams of smashing my PR as I finished with a 3:43.

Without punishing myself too much, I took the lessons from that day and said I'll apply them to my next race, which leads me to Chicago! So what has been done differently for this? On the surface, not a great deal, but it's the little things that matter when preparing to go 26.2 miles.

My dedication to training – which was always 'somewhat' strong – was reinforced this year. Long runs were always structured into my week. And numerous times – in order to battle my old friend humidity, I was up at stupid o'clock to get out onto the road and run in reasonable enough conditions. Afterward, the pain and immobility that I suffered in 2014 after long runs was no longer there. I could function afterward, due to stretching – and foam rolling at times. Eating on nights before Long Runs was planned better and I always ran first thing in the morning when completing regular runs, tempo runs, intervals, and more. And, thanks to the help of NYRR's Virtual Trainer Facebook page, I had an inspirational community of amazing people at my doorstep whenever I needed a pick me up or a kick in the ass.

 Good morning! #fuckyeah

Good morning! #fuckyeah

In an effort to push myself further – I joined November Project and NYRR's Group Training Runs in order to mix up my training and challenge myself in new ways. Small changes on the surface, but big returns. The Group Training Runs made me faster and taught me how to run smarter – and on tired legs. November Project introduced me to different running challenges and resistance training, something I rarely, rarely do – because I don't like it. It also taught me to be yourself, wear ridiculous items of clothing and laugh about it, spread some positivity in a world filled with too much negativity, but more importantly – to put it all on the line and #raceeverything, giving it all you have at times.

So. 16 weeks have passed. Compared to 2014 – and even 2015 – I feel like a better, more knowledgeable, and smarter runner. The only thing left to do is race on Sunday and chase the dream, a new PR. Buoyed on by the fact that I'll be joined by more than 30 others from the NYRR VT group, I'm looking forward to the excitement of it all - from pre-race to post-race. Anything can happen on race day – that I can live it, but after 16 weeks of highs and lows, life changes, little setbacks and small victories, this improved runner is going to give it his all in order to walk (slowly) away from the Windy City with fond memories. See you soon Chicago!