Chicago Marathon Recap
Thanks be to the running Gods! I have finished a marathon. But seriously, it feels pretty darn good to finally check off another 26.2 after going almost four years without completing a marathon! Crossing the Chicago finish line was a huge weight off my shoulders. It was the feeling of turning in your last final exam before summer break. It was happiness in its purest form.
So, would you believe me if I told you I was walking around in a boot just days out from the Chicago Marathon? Well, it’s true. And since I’ve learned that it’s a common practice of Tom Brady, it seems totally normal. But why was I wearing a boot a few days out from my big race? Unfortunately, with a combo of tight calves and dancing barefoot with my dog (and you thought the boot thing was weird), I flared up something in my foot. Typical me. I knew my foot was really unhappy when I had to cut short my sorta long run the Sunday before the race. Fortunately, I wore my boot like a football champ and popped who knows how many vitamin I (let’s just say a lot!!!), and my foot was 100% fine on race day.
The foot situation definitely caused some stress before the race, but, let’s be honest, if it hadn’t been the foot, I would have been obsessing over something else. Would the heat take me out during the race? Would I go out too fast and crash and burn? Was I in good enough shape? Did I run enough miles?
I spent a lot of time in the final weeks before the race trying to determine my race day plan. While I went into training shooting for a goal of sub-2:45, which would qualify me for the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials, I just didn’t feel like I was in sub-2:45 shape. My biggest problem and what hurt my confidence the most was the lack of mileage due to a few minor injuries during training. Here are my weekly mileage totals for the 18 weeks leading up to Chicago.
Week 1 (Week of 5/29): 0
Week 2: 13
Week 3: 1
Week 4: 31
Week 5: 49
Week 6: 61
Week 7: 63
Week 8: 69
Week 9: 70
Week 10: 75
Week 11: 63
Week 12: 62
Week 13: 23
Week 14: 11
Week 15: 43
Week 16: 57
Week 17: 60
Week 18 (Week of 9/25): 39
Even though I’ve been fairly healthy the past year, I didn’t think there was enough consistency in my marathon buildup to attempt a sub-2:45. I was also a little worried about the heat. And, in general, I was very worried about blowing up. Even the best and most prepared marathon runners have been crippled by the distance. I certainly didn’t want to go out at a 2:45 pace, hit the wall, and then finish with a disappointing time, knowing that I could have run faster. Because, at the end of the day, there’s still a big difference between knowing you could have run a sub-2:50 marathon and actually having done it. Thus, after much internal debate, I decided to go out conservative on race day and shoot to run somewhere between a 2:45 and 2:50. I wanted to have a solid, positive race-day experience and not stress too much about the pace.
One piece of advice that I read repeatedly was to be conservative in the first few miles of the Chicago Marathon. It seems as if everyone goes out too fast. Thus, when the gun went off I did not allow myself to be swept up in the runners that were surging quickly ahead. Instead, I focused on trying to stay cool and slowly ease into marathon pace. However, the problem was that I really had no idea how fast I was running! I couldn’t trust my watch because I knew it would be off with all the tall buildings and the early tunnel. I also couldn’t trust my internal pacing because it was so thrown by the other runners and adrenaline of the race start. When Adam, a fellow Charlotte runner who I trained some with during my marathon buildup, pulled up beside me, my first words were “I have no idea how fast I’m running.”
Turns out, I may have been the first runner to go out too slowly in the Chicago Marathon. My first 5K was run at 6:35 pace. I would not run a 5K slower the rest of the race. However, I can’t really beat myself up about it too much…Maybe I should have run a bit quicker or maybe it was perfect…We did pass a building in the first few miles that displayed a temperature that was already in the low 60s – a conservative start may have been smart. Some of the slowdown, however, was probably due to the congestion, especially around some of the early turns. But maybe I would have had more room to run if I had gone out quicker? Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. Perfect pacing is difficult to achieve and you don’t always know when you’ve achieved it.
Anyways, due to our slower start, Adam and I had to work our way from the back. And I was so grateful to have him to run with…Adam helped me push from one pack to another as we moved up the rankings.
I had a GU Roctane Sea Salt Chocolate at the start of the race and at miles 5.5 and 11.5. I would take two more later in the race at miles 17 and 22. Most aid stations, I would take in water, especially if I had just had a GU, but I did have several sips of Gatorade throughout the course.
We crossed that halfway mark in 1:24:13, which was honestly a bit of a disappointment for probably both Adam and me. We were hoping to have come through 13.1 a bit quicker. Thus, not surprisingly, we picked up the pace a bit and hit the next 5K at 6:18 pace, our fastest 5K of the race.
During this time, I felt eager to get to mile 20. I wanted to get to the “real race” hopefully still feeling good with the majority of the miles under my belt. However, I knew I needed to be careful and not let my pace get too quick because I was antsy to get inside the last 10K.
Around mile 17 or 18, I lost my running buddy. Throughout the whole race, we had been passing one group after another. I could be wrong, but I don’t think Adam and I ever got passed once after the first couple of miles! It was during one of these moves, when I felt like Adam wasn’t following. I was moving from one pack to the next when I sensed that he was no longer right behind me. However, at that point, the finish line was starting to pull me forward.
I went through mile 20 still feeling decent and grateful to be in final stretch. Pilsen and Chinatown, both neighborhoods with amazing crowd support, gave me boosts of energy late in the race.
Once I started getting into miles 23 and 24, many of my fellow marathoners were starting to look rough! We’ve definitely all been there (I can still remember obsessively telling everyone “I can’t run! I can’t run!” late in the 2013 Marine Corps Marathon when my sorta sprained ankle turned into a really sprained ankle and my mental state wasn’t in much better shape!), but it was a little scary seeing how bad some people looked. And you know that they are very good runners to have run that fast for that long! Anyways, I guess you can say that things had gotten real by mile 23. I probably wasn’t looking that terrific myself, but I was able to continue to push by both packs of runners and road kill.
From 35K to 40K, I clocked a 6:35 split, the exact same pace that I ran in the first 5K of the race. I don’t think I realized how much I had slowed during that period. Earlier on in the race, I tried to pace myself with the intention that I’d really pick it up those last miles – Well, I knew that didn’t happen! But I thought I did a better job of maintaining pace. When I look back at my mile splits from that 5K, I have mile 21: 6:30, mile 22: 6:27, mile 23: 6:26, mile 24: 6:33. I had clearly drifted a bit, but in reality it may have been more than my watch indicated. I do remember feeling like my calves were so tight! I don’t believe my brain fully registered all the pain that my body was in, but I could tell that even if the adrenaline was numbing the pain, my body was still in a great amount of distress.
Once I hit the 40K mark, I knew I had to start pushing. I’m not sure if I didn’t pick it up sooner because I was afraid that I’d blow up before the finish or if I just settled. And even though I ran hard the last nine minutes of my race (averaging a 6:14 pace), I distinctly remember seeing a girl ahead of me on the last “hill” before the finish line and having zero desire to pass her. I just didn’t really care enough. I believe I still ended up finishing ahead of her but only because my desire to cross the finish line was stronger. I guess I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t put up more of a fight. I’d love to have the feeling that I really put it all out there, sunk my teeth into the marathon, and clawed my way, Amy-Hastings-style, to the highest ranking I could physically achieve. It’s something I think about…Being stronger and more of a fighter in the marathon, especially near the end when the strongest desire is really to just get across the finish line so that I can stop running.
But fighter or not, I still crossed the finish line with a time of 2:48:20, a six-second negative split and an eight-minute PR! Almost immediately, I ran into Joey, another runner from Charlotte who I also did some training with, and unlike MCM where I kept repeating “I can’t run. I can’t run.” to everyone, I think I told Joey about five times, “I’m so happy right now.” And I was.