I know I’ve been rather slack about blogging lately, and it is more a reflection on how busy I’ve been rather than not having much to say. The good thing is that I now have some more time and have thought of some new blog topics, so I should be back to updating things on a pretty regular basis over the next few months.
Back to the title of this blog. Yes, I have now completed my second fall marathon for the year (I still need to write the recap of the first one, the Marathon du Medoc): the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. As one of the world majors, I had high expectations going into this race. I mean, it wouldn’t be considered a ‘must do’ if it was not superbly organised, fun, exciting and a great overall event to take part in, right? I was NOT disappointed. The event planner in me tips my cap to the Race Director and his team for making this truly one of the best run events I have ever attended – of any type of event. With more than 40,000 runners, the 1.7 million spectators and the thousands of volunteers required to make this event happen (let alone happen without issue), you have to have an incredibly talented, hardworking team around you. It was clear they did. Kudos to an event well done.
We arrived in Chicago on the Thursday night and headed to our downtown hotel (the Hampton Inn on E Wacker Place – excellent location, very close to the start/finish of the race). The race expo was in a large expo hall that was quite a hike if you wanted to walk there, so luckily the event organised shuttles from four locations around the main part of Chicago. We chose to attend mid-Friday morning to avoid the weekend and lunch crowds, and it sounds like we made the right decision – even though it was still very busy when we were there. We did the short walk to the shuttle location, only to find out that traffic was rather messy because of Obama arriving in town. Of course. At the explo, I did get my obligatory picture with Bart Yasso, picked up my bib and shirt (see comments under the Pros/Cons section about that), walked around a lot and actually got out with only buying some Nuun. Amazing!
The Cubs were playing at home in Wrigley Field in the NLDS on the Friday and Saturday nights, so being baseball fans, my husband and I were very excited to get tickets for the Friday night game. It was our first navigation of the public transport system in the city, and it was seamless. We took the red line straight to Addison, where it dumped us on the doorstep of Wrigley. After a few photos in front of the stadium, we headed to the Cubby Bear for $8 Miller Lights (ugh!) then back over to the park to find our seats. We sat in the outfield area, along the third base side, so close to where the winning home run was hit that we couldn’t actually see where it landed because of the angle of the park. Sitting through the pitching duel for eight innings was finally rewarded when all the fans in the bleachers and in the front rows of our section erupted as Baez’ hit landed as a home run, giving the Cubs a 1-0 lead over the Giants. Chapman then started his warm-up, essentially making his way up to his signature 100+ mph fastball right in front of where we sat. He headed in to the top of the ninth and closed out the game. Cubs fans broke into song and the W flag went up the pole to signal a Cubs win. This is why we bought tickets to this game. There is no place like Wrigley Field when the Cubs bring home a win.
Saturday was the inaugural Chicago International 5K race, which I talked my husband into running with me. After the previous night of making it to bed after midnight, he tried to talk me out of running this as my shakeout run, but I didn’t cave. I woke up at 5:30am, headed out our room to the elevator, where I planned to go to the lobby and eat an early breakfast. I was met with this sign taped on the elevator buttons. We were on the ninth floor.
In all, I did two up and downs of nine+ flights of stairs before the elevator was functional for guests later that day. Certainly was sweating bullets a bit there, hoping this wouldn’t be a problem on Sunday as well! A hotel full of marathon runners trying to walk up/down the stairs? That may have been one of the most amazing and funniest sights ever. Glad I didn’t get to find out. I was honestly fully prepared to sleep in the lobby if I had to walk up the stairs after the race. I’m sure I wouldn’t have been alone.
We ran the 5K, which was fine for a shakeout run. Participants received a beanie hat as their participant finisher reward (sorry Chris, no medal for this one). After taking a short nap post-run, it was time to stretch out and get ready for our early dinner. We were meeting up with others from our Meg’s Miles group at an Italian restaurant for food and friendship. Time with these amazing women was some of the best time of the weekend. It was our chance to give each other final pep talks and remind ourselves that we have a whole community of support out there cheering us on to our respective finishes. Goodbyes said, we all headed back to our hotels for final prep for race day.
Amazingly, I slept the entire night before the marathon. I have NEVER done this before a half or full marathon. So I ended up waking up at 5am rather well rested. The hotel had put a ‘good luck’ note under our door overnight, which was appreciated. I ate my breakfast then went back to the room to grab my final items to find my husband still in bed. A bit of panic set in upon seeing this, and I started freaking out because this discovery now put me behind the schedule I wanted to be on for race morning. Luckily, Chris can get ready quickly, so we were out the door in another 15 min. We walked to the Jones Prep school, where Girls on the Run Chicago (GOTR) had set up their hospitality area for their SoleMate runners, the people who raised enough money to provide more than 2000 girls in Chicago the chance to participate in their life changing programme. I met up with fellow MegsMiler and GOTR SoleMate Dee, with whom I’ve now had the privilege of running three races. We did a few pre-race pix, had a few pre-race pep talks, gave a few pre-race hugs, had the chance to meet other GOTR SoleMates with whom we’ve only communicated with on Facebook and headed out to be in our corrals by the 7:45 cutoff, as we were both in Wave 2 (Wave 1 started at 7:30am; Wave 2 started at 8am).
As I lined up in my corral (F), there were many first time marathoners around me. I thoroughly enjoyed their energy and excitement of the moment, tried to give them a few tips that I’ve picked up along the way, and I wished them the best race possible, which I reminded them included enjoying the experience. I never saw any of them again after we crossed the start line, and I truly hope they all made the most of their 4-5 hours on the course.
When the gun went off, it took me about 3 1/2 minutes to get across the start line. I was not nervous at all. Again, this was a very new experience for me. We headed away from the start and into the heart of downtown. I knew my GPS watch would have problems early in the race because we went under a road, and the GPS devices would lose signals. Sure enough, between this and the tall buildings, I had two very fast miles, but I tried to stay on top of how fast I was running from mile sign to mile sign along the way. My original goal when registering for this race was a 4-hour run, and I trained for that all the way until we went to France for Marathon du Medoc in early September. Then my training was derailed, and I honestly doubted I would be able to make that time in Chicago. I started out at approximately the pace I needed to achieve that goal, and decided I would just scan my body at every 10K to see how I felt and adjust as needed.
As we headed out, I knew the approximate locations of where I would be able to see my husband; what I forgot to do was tell him which side of the road I would be running on. So in a field of 40,000 runners and so many spectators you couldn’t really find anyone, I didn’t see him at either of the first two locations (mile 3 and mile 11/12). He was wearing a bright pink shirt, which is what I was looking for. Somehow, he still didn’t stand out in the crowd.
Leaving the downtown area, we headed north to Lincoln Park and the Wrigleyville area. Around mile 7, I noticed there were two residents of a nursing home positioned at the bus stop outside their building, holding a sign for the runners. I looked up at the building, and there were another six or so residents sitting at the window, cheering the runners on, holding signs to the windows to encourage us in our race. I waved to them, and in the end, I believe this was my favourite moment from the race.
As we headed away from the Wrigley area, there were So. Many. Spectators. I ended up at one point turning off my music to just listen to the wall of cheering from both sides of the street. It was unlike any other race I’ve done, and it was memorable. This was not the only place where the cheers were so loud I turned my music off just so I could get the full effect of the moment. All those people cheering for random runners. The energy is really amazing.
Next up was trying to find my husband between miles 11 and 12, the next appointed meeting place. I already had doubts about being able to find him since I missed him at the 5K mark, but I kept my eyes peeled. To my dismay, just before this point, the course split into two sections – with a median in the middle. If he was on the left side of the street, I definitely would not see him. If he was in the median, I had a chance to see him. Unfortunately, I was in a part of the field where there were so many runners, that he couldn’t really see me, either. I kept running on the right side of the road, heading into the half way point and the charity cheer section.
I was still on pace for a 4:05 marathon (my current PR), consistently running about 9:10/mile at the half way point. Of course, this is where the body starts to fade, and the adrenaline of the start is gone. This is where the training must take over to get a marathon runner to the finish. Luckily, the Chicago Marathon sets up a number of ‘cheer zones’ where spectators congregate to help the runners in what might be a rather ‘boring’ area otherwise. The charity cheer zone was in mile 14, and as a GOTR runner, I was excited. Until I remembered that I didn’t wear my GOTR singlet (I opted for my Marathon Maniac shirt). Haha! I did have a GOTR gold tattoo on my right cheek, which a couple of the people at the GOTR tent noticed and cheered even more loudly for me when I ran by. I still had a great time seeing all the charity teams provide support for the runners.
It was around mile 16 that my right glute started to feel really tight. Because of this, I tried to adjust my stride to ease the discomfort, which in turn caused soreness and fatigue in other muscles. Because of this tightness and then the resulting soreness, I had to drop my pace a little, pushing me off my goal of a 4-hr run. I was still close to maintaining a 4:05 race up until about mile 19; however, by mile 20, my shins hurt so much and I knew that matching my current PR was not going to happen. The mental game I had with myself through the last eight miles of the race was ‘you can walk when you get to the next mile marker.’ So I would get to that mile marker and realize I was ok, continuing to run to the next aid station, where I did walk while sipping water and/or Gatorade. It was constant discussion in my head about how far I needed to go before I could walk and relax. Deep down, I knew that I would continue to run as much as was physically possible as long as I had a chance at a 4:20 or faster. So on it went, me trying to bribe myself to just get to the next point before I would walk. All the way through the end of the race.
At the expo, someone told my husband that the Pilsen area of the course (just after the 19 mile mark) was a great place to spectate. So he had planned to catch the L (pink line) to watch for me there. Given that we missed each other the other two planned locations, I wasn’t terribly optimistic about seeing him at this one, either. However, I came around a turn, saw the incredible crowd, and started scanning for his pink shirt. Rather quickly, I saw him on the right side of the course! He was videoing, and I think we saw each other at the same time. We both waved, and I ran over to him, gave him a kiss and continued on. He got up at 5:45am and spent almost four hours of his day trekking across Chicago and back to see me for a whole 10 seconds on the course. I love this man so much. Seeing him was the boost I needed right then, and I headed towards that 20 mile mark with a huge smile on my face.
I got to 20 miles, and I so desperately wanted to walk, but I kept pushing forward, trying to get the best time I possibly could in this race. As I told another runner, it’s a party at mile 20 because you only have a 10K to go. For me, this mile marker is always a celebration because it’s when I finally recognize that I will be finishing a marathon. Finally, there was real food (bananas) at an aid station just past the 20 mile sign (I fuel with bananas, so I was extremely disappointed in the lack of food at aid stations. These races seem to want to pump you full of artificial gels and energy chews – which make me nauseated). Luckily, I found a kind soul around the 17 mile mark who was handing out bananas, and I gratefully took one there, and continued to eat bananas at each of the four stations between miles 20 and 24. I definitely feel my performance would have been better if I had been able to eat something earlier in the race. Oh well! Maybe next time I will run with a banana in my pouch.
We headed through Chinatown between miles 21 and 22, and this may have been my favourite neighborhood to go through. The decorations, the crowd, the cheers and even the traditional Chinese dragons that were dancing along the parade route. This boost helped me continue on without giving into the desire to walk.
Somewhere after Chinatown I was in a groove, albeit a slower paced groove, running along and reading signs, trying to remember that it would all be over in a short while – which is a happy and a sad thought all at the same time. One sign I saw said ‘Free tequilla shots!’ and I started laughing. The woman holding the sign – and a flask – saw me and held up her flask with a questioning gaze and a smile. I declined with a ‘thank you’ as a shook my head and gave her the thumbs up to let her know I appreciated the thought. For the first time in a marathon, I did not have any alcohol along the course. There was another spot around mile 24 I believe, where a group had beer they were handing out to the runners. I actively tried to move from my position on the right side of the road over to where they were standing on the left to get a cup with beer, but by the time I made it over to the other side of the road, I was too late! I missed all the beer! And at this point, I wasn’t going to go back for PBR or whatever beer they were serving. Instead, if I kept moving forward, I knew had a nice cold Goose Island beer waiting for me just beyond the finish! So continue I did.
The course made that final right turn to head toward Grant Park, and the unpleasant surprise of an incline met all the runners. I saw a few folks around me slow to a walk at this point. But signs proclaiming ‘400 metres’, ‘300 metres’, etc reminded me that the light at the end of the tunnel was just ahead. I kept running toward the finish, where I crossed the final timing mat with about 15 other people at the same time. My official time was 4:13:59, which is now my second fastest marathon time.
Finishers were funneled down the chute, receiving water, bananas, our medal, medical attention, a bag of snacks (the pretzels were a life saver for me, by the way), heat shield, power bars and a beer (not necessarily in that order). Sadly, I didn’t get any photos of me standing with my medal immediately after the race, so all the great pictures I have been seeing of finishers still in their kits, proudly holding their medal in front of the iconic Chicago skyline, Buckingham fountain or the Bean make me a bit jealous that I missed this opportunity. With such a large finishing area and so many people, Chris was waiting for me to call him for our meet up; he wanted to avoid all the crowds and instead meet me back at GOTR headquarters where it would be much easier to reunite.
I rather slowly walked the three blocks to the Jones Prep location to get my clothes and my husband. While the temps were fantastic for running, the coolness and the wind of Chicago was not so great for those standing around in sweaty running clothes. I was ready to be in clean, dry clothes at this point. I got there, walked into the room, and I was greeted with a cheer from all those working at the headquarters and the other runners who had finished ahead of me. There were a couple times in the race when I felt tears welling up in my eyes – realizing the enormity of what I was doing, the pride of being part of a charity group, knowing that I was running with a purpose – and these tears found me again as I heard the cheers and the claps for me. I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I was disappointed in my race; I hurt. But these folks, they knew how to welcome back their runners. And after I blinked the tears away and thanked everyone for the welcome, I grabbed my clothes and went to change, trying to stay upright in spite of feeling trashed.
By the time I finished washing up a bit and changing into dry clothes, Chris was waiting for me, gave me a hug and a kiss to congratulate me and then suggested that I go over to the physical therapists they had at the location. This was a great touch! I had a 10 minute session of stretching with Paul, who helped me get rid of some of the tightness I was feeling in my glutes and legs. After my session, I grabbed a bite of pizza (they also had a lot of other snacks, including cupcakes, chocolates, pretzels and more!), we thanked everyone and headed back to the finisher’s festival to get another beer and race results. The rest of the day was spent sleeping, if you can believe it. I was that tired!
Overall, I had a respectable marathon. However, I do still feel a bit of a let down that I couldn’t make it all ‘work’ to get me closer to the 4-hour run I had dreamed about and trained for over the summer. My husband made it all ok when that night as I was heading to bed, kissed me and told me ‘I’m so proud of you.’ He knows what I deal with to accomplish this distance. He knows that I was disappointed with my run overall. He understands far more about me than even I realize. Until he says just the right thing. I’m so grateful for a partner who is supportive and helps me to be the best me I possibly can. And when I fall short of the goal, he reminds me that he is proud of me for the effort I’ve put in to get there. He also knows that this isn’t the last marathon (it’s not even the last this year!), and that I will continue to try for that 4-hour run until I get it.
Not sure if I’ll do this one again, as there are so many others out there and I prefer the smaller races (2000-3000 participants). But certainly I would recommend it to anyone wanting to experience a large field with incredible spectator support. Thanks for a great weekend, Chicago! Lots of great memories from the race and from the rest of our time in town!
- incredibly organised
- fun course that takes you through 29 different neighborhoods of Chicago
- huge post-race party at the park
- lots of food as you come down the finisher’s chute – which I desperately needed to get some salts in my body at the end
- aid stations were plentiful along the course
- gorgeous weather than was perfect for running
- roads were very wide, which made it not feel as congested as it would have with so many runners
- 40,000+ runners (I don’t like crowds that much)
- lack of ‘real food’ on the course (bananas, pretzels, etc) – I didn’t see a banana until mile 20, which is ridiculous. And then there were only 3 or 4 aid stations that had them. This is a common ‘con’ of American races that I have done. Take a note from European races: provide REAL FOOD for runners often in the race instead of gels and other ‘fake foods’
- terrible participant shirt. I’ve seen a lot of speculation that they do a bad shirt as your participant shirt to encourage you to buy the high-priced Nike shirts with the marathon logo
medal that was questionable. I know it was the Picasso sculpture in Daley plaza (the original start line of the Chicago Marathon), but it looked a lot like an image of ‘lady parts’. I was NOT the only one who thought that right from the start.