Marathon number three is in the books! While it didn’t go how I had wanted, the race itself lived up to the hype and we had a great long weekend in Chicago.
We went to the expo Friday evening and honestly didn’t spend any time there – we got my number and left. I’m not one for expos, and even if I were, I find reading about them on blogs to be very boring so I wouldn’t write about it anyway. I do recommend picking up the free shuttle to/from the expo.
I woke up dark & early Sunday morning to get ready and head down to the start. Hanna and I were in the same corral and we had agreed to meet in front of the Art Institute so we could hang out together until the start of the race. I had an easy walk down to the start and we found each other right away and headed through security. Neither of us checked a bag since it was forecasted to be warm, so getting through took us about a whole minute. We stopped at the porta-potty right in the entrance and then were directed to our corral.
The corral areas were very organized and had porta-potties near each one. The weather was in the high 50s and a little chilly with the wind from the lake, so I wore a throw-away long sleeved shirt over my tank. Hanging out with Hanna helped kill the time. We both did one more bathroom break and then headed into the corral. As soon as the sun came up, the air started to warm. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky which made for a beautiful day – but not a beautiful day for running a marathon!
Before we knew it, we were moving up to the start. Somehow, Hanna and I ended up in the very back and joked that we would be the last to start in our corral. We wished each other luck and the race began!
Despite the call for warmer weather, I still wanted to go after a 3:40-3:45 finish time. It’s something I know I have in me and I didn’t want to give up trying just because it was warm. I wasn’t sure if I was quite in shape for a 3:40, but figured on a good day I could at least hit a 3:45. I knew I could always pull back on pace if I needed. Starting out at an 8:30 pace also relieved any stresses I had over knowing my pace without GPS since it’s easy math for overall time.
We passed under the tunnel and sure enough, my GPS was gone. Also, it was warm under there, whew! But we ran out right into a sea of spectators. As I came upon mile one, I was right on pace. The first few miles flew by. There were so many spectators and we passed by iconic landmarks like the Chicago Theater. By mile four I noticed that I was already warm, but I was hitting my paces and felt good and was enjoying myself.
A little bit before mile five, we headed into Lincoln Park. This part made me laugh because immediately a bunch of male runners headed over to the trees for a bathroom break. Right before the mile five marker, I ran past a woman who was completing the World Marathon Majors that day with Chicago. I congratulated her as I went by and took my first gel as I came upon the mile five sign.
I was feeling good, but it was warm. I noted that I was sweating which was an improvement over Columbus last year and I actually laughed a little at myself because of this realization. I had started Gatorade earlier than usual simply because that was what I happened to grab.
I ran through the neighborhoods enjoying the different sights and spectators. I could feel it getting warmer, but my splits were still on pace. Around the 8-mile mark, I felt like my energy was draining a little and checked my heart rate. No surprise, it was too high. I decided to pull my pace back in hopes I could still hit a 3:45.
The next six-ish miles are a bit of a blur. The spectators were great, the streets were full of runners, but not crowded. The water stops slowed me down just a bit because of a large number of cups all over the ground! It was a bit terrifying and I found myself focused on the ground for these sections. Otherwise, they were really easy to navigate and I wouldn’t recommend carrying a handheld because the cups on the ground would be an issue no matter what. There were a few spots where volunteers were handing out wet sponges and other spots where the fire department set up mist-ers from the fire hydrants, so they were on top of the warm weather.
We headed back into the city and I hit the half. I had slowed down a bit per my decision after mile eight but was still on pace for a solid PR.
And that’s about it for the good part of my race. I don’t remember much between then and when the sun took over because I was simply in the zone ticking off the miles on pace.
I had heard the second half of this race is full sun, but I obviously had hoped for the best. This sentiment of full sun was not exaggerated, though. After mile 14, the sun was out in full force and it was getting HOT. We turned the corner to mile 15 and it was just relentlessly beating down. I came to a stop and decided to take a minute to walk, put my earbuds in, and regroup. I started up running again and decided to just run how my body felt, but the disappointment was already setting in. Fall race day thwarted for the second year in a row by warm weather.
I powered through the next few miles at a 9:00-9:15 pace, taking walk breaks when needed which averaged me around a 9:30 pace. I could still finish under 4-hours, but I was just in a really bad place mentally. The GPS glitches had messed with my overall distance, so I actually had no clue how far I was until the next mile marker. This was really tough, but I knew my husband was trying to get to the mile 19 area so I was looking forward to seeing him there.
I spent a lot of this time fighting back tears of frustration. “I know I’m a better runner than this,” was a thought that crossed my mind more than once in the latter half of the race. South Lawndale lifted my spirits a bit with multiple spectators offering orange slices. I took two from a bowl being held by a small child and thanked him!
I never saw my husband at mile 19 but decided it was good because I knew I would just start crying if I did see him. It turns out the trains were a mess and he ended up missing me by about two minutes. I was actually relieved later to know that I hadn’t just missed seeing him, he wasn’t even there. At some point, I took a wet sponge from a volunteer and decided to just hang onto it. It was a much better way to cool myself down than dumping water on myself. My strategy was to dump water on it at each water stop and then squeeze it on my head and press it to the back of my neck. By the time I got to the next water stop, I was dry again – that’s how bad the sun was for those back miles!
We passed through Chinatown and I knew we were at least getting close. I continued to run/walk as needed and tried to smother the negative emotions. I had so many ups and downs and moments that I just wanted to burst into tears out of pure frustration.
Around mile 23, I looked down at my watch and realized that, if I pushed, I could still squeak in under four hours. But then I thought, why? I decided not to trash my legs in an attempt to finish under four. I know I can do it, I’ve done it before, so to finish under four just to finish under four simply just did not matter to me in that moment. I knew it would be better to just get through it and be able to recover and be ready for Richmond than trash my legs for no real reason.
A few days before the race, I discovered that one of my best friends from high school lives on the course right after the 25.2 mile marker. She promised to be out there, so I was still looking forward to seeing her.
There was a water stop outside of her apartment and I couldn’t find her. She saw me and I realized later on that I did see her, it just didn’t register with me that it was her. It was also around this point that I finally ditched that sponge I had been carrying!
Finally, I reached the 800m sign. I decided to just go and get to the finish. I don’t think I was actually running very fast (and because of the jenky GPS, I still have no clue what I was running), but I was moving as fast as my body would go at that point. I hit the finish in 4:01:03.
Even though the second half of the race was really tough for me mentally and emotionally, the whole thing felt over so quickly.
The finish line area was fantastic. Everyone was really congratulatory, friendly, and attentive to runners needs. I got my medal, a bottle of water, bag of snacks, Gatorade protein shake, cup of beer, and a bag of ice that I promptly put on my head. Getting to the runner reunite area was a bit of a cluster. Like most races, there are always family/friends that feel the need to crowd the runners exit and it’s always overwhelming in a bad way. One volunteer was working really hard to keep the area clear, but most people were ignoring him. At least these spectators were congratulating and cheering for all runners. Once I got out of this little section, Kevin popped up! I hugged him and started to cry, but he quickly stopped me and told me I did a really good job.
We headed to the shade so I could change into a dry shirt that he had brought with him and after taking a sip of beer, I handed it over to Kevin knowing that I couldn’t stomach it.
I know that 4:01:03 isn’t a bad finishing time, but I know I’m capable of more. Having unseasonably warm temperatures for the second fall in a row was really frustrating. After the race, I received some really encouraging texts and other messages from runners that I really appreciated (thank you!). I was surprised (in a good way) to hear from some of the runners that reached out to me.
The Nike store was right near our hotel and I had told Kevin the night before that I wanted to stop by and take advantage of the free medal engraving if it wasn’t crowded. When we walked up, an employee outside the store said “Hey! Come on in, this is for you!” I walked in a group of employees started cheering and had noisemakers. It was so fun and I genuinely smiled for the first time since finishing the race.
This race was hard. It was harder emotionally and mentally more than physically. It felt really discouraging that something so out of my control was throwing off my race again. At the same time, I am proud of myself for going after a hard goal despite imperfect conditions and despite a bumpy training cycle. I know that these faster race times are not going to be easy to achieve.
The volunteers, organization, and spectators were wonderful and I don’t think the possibility of warm weather should discourage any runner from taking on the Chicago Marathon.
A lot of things did not go right during this race, but I did have some small victories. This is the second warm marathon that I did not experience any muscle cramping, thank goodness! I think this is half proper hydration and half just not being prone to cramping. When I finished the race, I had a little twinge in my left calf muscle when I would stop moving, but that quickly subsided. A bad race can be made worse by painful cramps, so I’m thankful this hasn’t been the case for me.
I was also able to take my gels as planned. This was different from last fall, when I couldn’t finish my gel at mile 15 and knew I would pay for it later. I still wasn’t able to stomach a gel at mile 20, but I did snack on some Swedish Fish. Since I wasn’t racing at that point anymore, I don’t think it really mattered.
Looking back, I probably should have started out closer to my 3:45 goal because of the weather. However, that is an adjustment I made right from the start at Columbus last year and I didn’t want to give up my goal so easily again because of warm weather. I’m proud of myself for still going after it knowing that the odds were stacked against me.
I didn’t finish this race with a smile, but I still love marathoning. I’m looking forward to Richmond in a few weeks and then planning for my first spring marathon.