I registered for the 2017 Chicago Marathon on a post-race high following the 2016 Philadelphia Marathon. My summer spent ironman training more than prepared me to take on 26.2 miles in Philly, despite not doing a ton of training in between the October 1st triathlon and the November 20th race date. Nearly two months of squashing my sorrows in food and beer after a disappointing race experience (more about that here) had me weighing about 15 pounds heavier than my normal weight, and not in the “look how much muscle mass I gained”-way. Yet I surprised myself by running a 3:24:33 — my second-best marathon time (second to a 3:21:16 in the 2014 New York Marathon).
A few days after returning from Philly (or, more likely, the next day) a friend told me he planned to use his qualifying time in Philadelphia to enter the Chicago Marathon. I decided to join him, and, in my post-race stupor, was excited to work for an ambitious goal: a PR.
Unfortunately, a few weeks later — and most likely due to those 15 pounds — I found myself diagnosed with a stress fracture in my foot, and unable to run for more for than two months. I had to reevaluate my life, and later, my running goals. I decided not to run the Boston Marathon in April, and declared that my goal for Chicago would simply to be to finish pain-free.
The good news is, I succeeded! Here’s how it all went down:
I’ve run 12 marathons, but the only other race I’ve had to get on an airplane for was my very first marathon, the Nashville Country Music Marathon in April of 2012. I remember that trip being full of anticipation — my friends and I were giggling nervously and filled with genuine excitement to explore Nashville. In retrospect, I should have been more excited than I was for my trip to Chicago. I honestly think that after a winter of injuries (my friends experienced their fair share of injuries as well), a summer spent focusing on a difficult calculus class, and the complexities of coordinating accommodations for eight people, I wasn’t feeling the ‘journey’ at all, but rather just wanted to arrive at my destination unscathed.
The good news: flying out of Newark was seamless and easy; NJ Transit got us to the airport for $13, we got through security in a breeze, there were delicious margaritas and beers at the terminal restaurant, and I got to sit with my friends for the duration of the flight.
The spectacle of race expos honestly overwhelm me. I want to delight in all of the flashy apparel, race swag, and giveaways, but the crowds of people, no set walking path, and endless lines just make me antsy. Fortunately, Chicago’s expo was big, but as long as you weren’t looking to get any official Chicago Marathon x Nike swag, you could get out in 30-45 minutes.
I was able to get my race nutrition ($10 for two sleeves of GU shot blocks and three GU packets), a $10 throwaway layer from Goose Island Brewing Company (all of the actually running apparel at the expo was $50 or more.. no thanks!) and a photo that I didn’t hate. WIN.
My friends and I ordered heaps and bounds of pasta and garlic bread (carbs FTW!) from Nonna Silvia’s to be delivered to our Airbnb. I normally prefer to cook at home rather than go out for dinner the night before a race, but our Airbnb had limited cooking supplies. Delivery ended up being perfect! I got Tortellini con Pesto and added chicken, and had at least two pieces of garlic bread. OH! And I drank plenty of water, and one Lil Sumpin’ Ale.
My friends (Chris & Chris they’re famous!) and I woke up before the butt crack of dawn (I set my alarm for 3:15am) to stretch, eat breakfast, and get our morning depositories in before the race. Our friend Tiffany had a later start time, so planned to leave accordingly. We had all laid out our race day outfits the night before and packed our gear check bags, so we weren’t scrambling or distressed in the morning.
My race day outfit consisted of:
- The Most Informal Running Club, Ever (NYC) Adidas Singlet
- 2XU Knee High Compression Socks
- Brooks Chaser 3” Short
- Brooks PureCadence 6 shoes
- SPI Run belt
- Epson ProSense307 GPS watch
We had previously discussed taking public transportation to the race, but ultimately decided to call a car service for the quickest (and warmest!) option. We arrived way ahead of time, but it gave us the opportunity to stretch more, check our gear bags, use the bathrooms, and of course, take a Port-A-Potty photo!
Myself and Chris #1 were in corral C, and Chris #2 was in Coral B, so we had to part ways — but not before the briefest rundown ever of the Cardinal Rules of Running, the golden rules my high school track 4×400 team used to recite before every race:
1. Enjoy your pain.
2. Take all the energy from the earth, and use it in your running.
3. It’s going to hurt no matter what, so you might as well run fast.
4. The faster you run, the faster it’s over.
5. Run until you puke … or pee!
6. Never give up, never surrender.
Once in our coral, Chris #1 and I waited in line for the Port A Potties as the National Anthem was playing. I did not see anyone take a knee, but I did see FRANTIC runners climbing the fence into our coral (the entrance was overflowing and a line had formed), people running from the bathrooms into the corals, and a lot of people just genuinely overwhelmed with the anticipation of running a marathon that they did not pause. I always think this pre-race mayhem during the anthem is a bit weird, now so even moreso given the recent NFL drama (side note: I believe the players have a right to a peaceful protest, and them kneeling is more respectful than somebody climbing a fence to get a better spot in a race that only tracks your time from the second you step over the timing mat).
Two things I’ve learned about the coral situation in the 10 mins leading up to the race:
- It is always worth it to wait that extra time in the Port-A-Potty line. ALWAYS. The starting time of the race is only when the FIRST coral will go off, so you probably have a few extra minutes to spare..And if you don’t, your time chip won’t start until you cross the start line anyway.
- Acting like a frenzied, crazy person during this time will only lead to a frenzied, rushed beginning of your race. You are running a marathon, not competing in the Hunger Games. Calm down and act like a respectful human (i.e., don’t cut in Port-a-Potty lines, don’t push people, don’t go against race volunteer’s instructions).
Miles 0 – 3: Once Chris and I got inside the coral, we joined the other runners and walked steadily towards the starting line. Crossing the first time mat to begin the race was extremely anticlimactic, but once we entered a tunnel less than a mile into the race, some bolder runners woop’d and cheered to get the excitement going.
I lost my ‘Will Run For Beer’ headband straight off my head in the first mile of the race, which was upsetting, but forgot it quickly. My goal was to keep my splits between 7:50s and 8-min/miles for the first half of the race. With my Timex Lap Watch, I can keep track of every mile without worrying about GPS signals getting mixed up — but I need to know where the mile markers are in order to press “reset.” I missed the first couple of mile markers because it was very crowded, though my new Epson ProSense 307 seemed to be doing a pretty good job of staying on track.
Miles 4-10: These were pretty uneventful. Chris and I stayed together for the first half of the race. We saw our friends around mile 3, and another group of friends around mile 9. By running together, we were able to tag team water stations, alert one another of upcoming turns to run the tangents as efficiently as possible, and point out the funniest race signs to one another.
Around mile 8 or so, it started to get decently hot. Around mile 9.3, I noticed that Chris and I had completed a 15k in roughly the same time I had run a 15k race with my boyfriend the week before. That thought worried me a little bit, but not enough to slow down. By mile 10, the course was still pretty crowded, and I experienced a LOT of runner on the course making reckless decisions, like stopping abruptly after getting water without putting their hand up, or giving any indication, or trying to cross the course without giving other runners advance notice (and thus, cutting them off). GUYS, this is really annoying!! I know sometimes it’s hard to control your body during a marathon, but before mile 10 you should still have SOME control.
Miles 11-15: I got to see my cousin Kristine just before mile 12, which was a great boost! At this point, it’s starting to get really hot, and after gulping my water at every aid station, I’m splashing the remainder on my neck and head.
Mile 16-19: Chris and I separate, but I’m feeling pretty good so I want to keep my pace. Somewhere around mile 17 (or later? I am delusional at this point), my friend AB finds me and runs alongside me. Her presence gives me a surge of energy, and I go from 7:50s to 7:40s in my next mile split. I know that that’s probably too fast, but I don’t want to slow down…
Mile 20-23: I’m starting to regret my surge. My quads are feeling increasingly heavy, and it’s super, super hot. I know my pace is starting to slow to 8+ min/miles, but all I can do is keep moving forward. I see my friend Ben at mile 23 (I think?) and am able to pull myself together enough to smile for a picture and I pass the cheer squad of friends somewhere around here too. I cannot stop or think so I just wave and blow them a kiss to show them how much I love their presence.
Mile 24-26.2: This was a HUGE struggle. I feel like I’m inching along, and every step feels like moving an elephant leg. I see a guy fall because someone stopped to walk in front of him, and he starts yelling and freaking out, which reminds me to stay calm because he looks like an idiot yelling at other runners like that. I see my cheer squad friends again which is a really nice surprise because I wasn’t expecting them, but I can barely acknowledge them.
To pump myself up, I start high five-ing people on the right side of the street, only to find that we have to move to the LEFT side of the street to go through a chute. I’m exaggerating, but it felt like I had to move over through four traffic lanes. From there, we had the most brutal UPHILL CLIMB (was it 400 meters? 300 meters? It was horrible!) that I had been warned about but was surprised at its incline regardless, before a brief straightaway, and the finish.
Mile 26.2: BEER! Specifically, Goose Island.
I finished in 3:28:03. Everything hurts, but beer and an “ice bath” in Lake Michigan helps.
I thought Chicago was a great race, and was really well organized. The crowd support was amazing, and I enjoyed running through different parts of Chicago without having to wind around a pesky “turnaround cone.” I thought the sometimes-sharp and abrupt turns made for an interesting course that kept you on your toes. Looking back, though I struggled and slowed down at the end, I don’t think I would run it any differently. I pushed when I felt good, and pushed when I felt bad, too. I didn’t push myself to extremes — I feel like I’m STILL not 100%, and my training cycle definitely wasn’t going to produce any miracles or a PR — but I challenged myself and found out what I’m capable of now. After my injury, I read a blog post written by Amelia Boone about returning to training after her own injury. In it, she says:
“Don’t call it a comeback. … Because I’m not ‘getting back’ – I’m starting over.”
Reading about her struggles made me realize that after so much time off, I, too, would have to start over — so I wasn’t certain what my threshold was. Now, I have a better idea.
This race was also a good reminder for me to take my training more seriously next go-round. I’m a run coach myself, but I often focus so much on my clients that I forget about my own training. I won’t let that happen next time!
And finally, I was able to test out my new Epson Prosense 307 GPS watch. I love it, but perhaps my favorite thing about it is that it tells me how much rest I need after a workout. It prescribed me 3.5 days post-marathon, which I was definitely excited about.
Until next time,