It’s been a week now and I still am so excited about how the Chicago Marathon went! I know I posted a short update last week after the race, but I wanted to spend some time recapping the race in a bit more detail. One thing that made this a unique race for me was that I successfully trained for it on the Hansons Marathon Method. This was my first time using that plan, and I will write a separate post about my experience on it in the coming week. I have a LOT to say about it, both good and bad But here I’ll just focus on the race itself.
Days Leading Up to the Race
We decided to make a four day weekend out of the race, so we headed up to Chicago on Friday morning and hit the MASSIVE expo. I forgot how crazy this race expo is. The highlights were meeting Dean Karnazes and seeing my dad try on and actually buy a pair of Hoka’s! Also we hadn’t eaten anything all morning so I pretty much ate my way through the expo, devouring all the samples they had. Yep, I know that’s a major ‘no no’ but at least it was two days before the race so I figured if I ate anything that didn’t agree with me I’d still be OK.
They were giving out these “Chicago Runs for Boston” bracelets at the expo for runners to wear during the race. I thought that was pretty neat and ended up wearing mine during the race.
Friday night was Parth’s birthday dinner. His birthday was actually Saturday, but I let him pick the restaurant for Friday night since Saturday night was all about preparing for the race We went to a fantastic restaurant called The Publican that’s designed to feel like a European beer hall. If you’re a meat and beer lover I definitely recommend checking this place out next time you’re in Chicago. Then it was early to bed, as of course I knew I would barely sleep Saturday night.
Saturday we had a great breakfast at Yolk, and then spent the day doing some shopping around Chicago before a great Italian carb-loading dinner at Siena Tavern. I had to go to this place b/c of my obsession with the guy who owns it – Fabio from Top Chef. Remember him? Now that is a good looking Italian man!
After dinner I got everything laid out for Sunday, watched some tv, and and then got to bed early.
Morning of the Race
I set my alarm for 4:45 to allow enough time to eat some breakfast, use the bathroom, etc. I had my normal race day breakfast of a wheat bagel with almond butter and a banana. Around 6:00 I left the hotel and followed the massive crowd of runners to the start area. It was about a mile walk from the Marriott we stayed at so it was a nice little warm up to get the legs moving. The main difference this year from 2011 is there was definitely more security around the start. They only allowed runners to carry the clear plastic bags provided at the expo into the start area, and they had people checking them at the entrance. Obviously this was all to be expected after what happened in Boston.
I was lucky enough to be in the C start corral for the race. Chicago has start corrals A – M. Corrals A – E are reserved for runners who submit qualifying times. For the C corral you had to submit either a < 1:48:59 half time or a < 3:50:59 marathon time. I used my time from one of my half marathons earlier this year to qualify. It’s nice because each corral has their own little waiting area and bathrooms and the lines really weren’t bad at all. I got into the corral around 6:15 or so, found my friend who I’d done some of my training with, and killed some time talking to him and one of his friends – a good distraction since I was FREAKING OUT inside : )
Before the national anthem the race announcer had everyone observe a moment of silence in remembrance of the Boston Marathon bombings. I thought it was really neat that they did that, and I’m sure every runner, like me, was just excited to be there running in honor of those impacted by those events. When the national anthem was being sung the speakers were cutting in and out so all the runners started singing where it left off…that was a pretty cool moment as well.
As I was standing there at the start I turned to my friend and explained my plan for the race. Given the issues with my shin, I had decided not to go out at our goal pace of 8:20. My plan, as I explained it, was to start out at 8:40, then if I was feeling good at the half to drop it down to 8:30 or so, then if I had anything left the last six miles to just go for it.
Did I stick to that plan? Not really. Are you surprised? Probably not
I did follow my plan for a few miles. Oddly though it was hard to know if I was. My Garmin was completely all over the place for the first 5-6 miles. We ran under some tunnels, and I think that combined with all the sky scrapers just confused the hell out of that thing. So it was kind of hard to know what pace I was actually going for awhile. If you’ve ever run Chicago I’m sure you experienced this as well. My first 5K split ended up being 27:19, an 8:48 pace. When I hit that mark I said to myself, “Your shin is feeling really good, so what do you have to lose?” Well, long story short I decided to abandon my plan and lower my pace.
My first half ended up being a 8:29 average pace as a result. Overall everything just felt really good. There really weren’t any low points in that first half. This race is all about soaking it in. For example, I loved laughing at all the crazy signs people had. I was probably laughing out loud most of the first half of the race. I always think to myself it would be fun to take pictures of all the funny signs, but I obviously wasn’t going to do that as I had a goal to hit! Here are some of my favorites I can remember:
- It’s not going to feel easy (like your mama was last night)”
- “Worst Parade Ever” (held by a little kid who couldn’t have been older than 3)
- A few “that’s what she said” signs that almost made me fall over laughing yet of course I can’t remember what they said now.
- “Don’t Poop (out)”
- “You’ve got great stamina! Call me…”
- “Our government can’t run but you can!”
- “This isn’t your practice life”
- “I’m proud of you, perfect stranger”
I also loved how many people had huge cutouts of their runner’s face on a stick. This is obviously smart because then the runner can spot you in the crowd of spectators, and it’s also just pretty darn hilarious. I am SO doing this next time I go cheer a friend on at a marathon!
I saw my family at the start of the second half, which was definitely motivating! They were pretty easy to spot as I knew the exact intersection where my cousin Meg lived, and she had this bright yellow sign:
From there the rest of the race went pretty smooth until about mile 20. I bumped in to my friend I’d been chatting with at the start around that point, which was great timing because I was definitely feeling wiped out and it was nice to have a quick conversation with someone. Those last six miles hurt like hell. I’m convinced that the last six miles of a marathon will never feel great, no matter what you do. If you don’t have to dig really deep inside and push your hardest to get through it then you’re very lucky. Despite how hard those last six miles were though, it was by far the best last six miles I’ve had in a marathon. Last time I ran Chicago (2011) I had awful calf cramps starting at mile 18 and they never went away, causing me to hardly be able to run the last eight miles. This time that never happened. I have to give the Hansons plan a lot of credit for this (more on that in another post). That plan is designed to train you for the last part of the race, and I really feel like it did. I was shocked I was able to hold my pace those last miles.
During the race I consumed four peanut butter Gu’s, three salt tablets, Skratch labs electrolyte drink (in my handheld bottle), and water and gatorade from the aid stations. Originally I planned to carry real food, specifically sticky bites from the Feed Zone Portables cookbook, but I just didn’t have my act together the week before and never made them. Of course then I got home on Monday and realized I had some in the freezer – Doh! It’s ok though, the plan worked out well. I had never done salt tablets before during a race but decided to do it given all the cramping I had last time I ran a marathon. I really do think they helped.
A word to the wise if you ever do this race – the last quarter mile of this thing is the hardest. Chicago is a flat course overall but there is a hill leading right up to the finish and god is it painful after running 26 miles!
I came in at 3:43:27 – under my B goal! Would I have like to hit my A goal of 3:40? Of course. Given all the issues I had the last few weeks am I happy with my time? Absolutely. And I know I’ll hit that A goal next time. Here are my splits. I didn’t negative split but I was really close to being right at about the same time for both the first half and the second half!
The other cool thing is that this means I’m 8 minutes away from a Boston Qualifying time. It feels a lot more attainable than it did before this race. I think if I can go into a race healthy, I can do it sometime in the near future.
Oh, and one cool thing about finishing the Chicago marathon? 312 Urban Wheat Ale at the end
Overall thoughts on this marathon
I would highly recommend this marathon to both newbie and veteran marathoners. The course is fast, the spectators are great, and it’s a great event to be a part of. It attracts a ton of international runners which is really cool. Lots of runners from Mexico especially – I must have heard people screaming “Viva Mexico” about a 100 times during this race. It’s also one of the six marathon majors (others are New York, Boston, London, Berlin, and Tokyo) so you can check one of those off your list! If you do want to run this marathon I would recommend registering immediately when it opens. This year it sold out in record time and the site actually crashed, leading them to have to use a lottery system for the last chunk of spots.
The schwag from the race is pretty cool. I always love a race that does womens specific shirts – someday all races will realize that women are not built like men Here’s a shot of the race shirt and medal:
I also picked up this Finisher’s shirt at Niketown the day after the race. I’m sure you’re not surprised, after all I sweat pink! While at Niketown I also got my medal engraved. This is the first time I’ve actually bothered to engrave a medal. I did it b/c (1) I wanted to remember my marathon PR! and (2) it was free, so why not
That’s about it! It was a long, long road to get to this race, and I’m excited to share my reflections on the Hansons Marathon Method with you very soon. This is definitely one I’ll remember for awhile.
Have you ever run the Chicago marathon? Are any of the marathon majors on your bucket list?
- Welcome to my blog! I’m Gina, an avid runner living in St. Louis, MO. Check out my blog for tips on running, swimming, race recaps, book reviews, and recipes! Follow me on twitter at @ginabhawalkar, or feel free to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading!
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