The 2014 Bank of America Chicago Marathon – one of the six major world marathons, over 40,000 finishers, 1.2 million spectators – I couldn’t have asked for a better day or a better city to run my first marathon. From beginning to end the energy was electrifying.
My only goals for the day were to enjoy the experience and finish. I did not want to put any pressure on myself to finish with a certain time – I had no idea how my body would react to running 26.2 miles – anything could happen. That being said, I did want to run under 5 hours and get as close to 4:30 as I could.
I chose to stay at home the night before the race so I could have the comfort of my own bed and access to my regular pre race breakfast. I didn’t have to wake up too early, 4:45AM. I was actually a mess…I was not hungry at all and I was running around trying to get everything together and I still wasn’t sure what I was going to wear (debating between short sleeves or long sleeves and compression socks or no compression socks). You would think I would have this down, but running a marathon is a whole other ball game.
Whitney and Lynn picked me up at 5:30AM. We drove down to Wrigleyville to Matt’s, their brother/son’s place. We changed, dropped our stuff off, I ate my pb and sprouted grain wraps plus a banana, then we walked over to the red line and took that down to Harrison, only a couple blocks away from gear check and the starting line. I also had a small bag of cereal on the train, but my stomach felt off.
We quickly shuffled over to gear check and then made a stop at the bathrooms. At this point our corral (G) was about to close so there wasn’t a long wait for the port-os and by the time we got to our corral we began the walk to the start. Perfect timing! I was all kinds of excited, but not really nervous! The sun was shining and I knew it would be a good day.
Miles 1-4: The first few miles I made sure to take very conservatively. We weaved our way through much of the downtown area. The streets were lined with spectators, holding signs, cheering loudly. I was feeling good, just going with the massive amount of runners.
Miles 5-11: Heading north I picked up the pace a little bit, but not too much. I ran with the 4:30 pace group for a while, but as we headed into the Lincoln Park zoo it became very crowded. The street was much narrower and there were two aid stations during this stretch. Oh my gosh, seriously, people do not know how to run through aid stations. There were just so many people running, my pace slowed every time I had to run through one.
A little bit after mile 7 we hit Addison, the most north we would travel. My parents were also on Addison and I almost missed them! It was so good seeing them; I ran over and gave them hugs. Matt offered me a water bottle, which I gladly took. Off I went with a little more pep in my step. I took my first GU here, but as my stomach was still feeling funny I was sticking only to water at aid stations.
As you run back toward the Sears Tower the course takes you through Boys Town…picture men in drag standing on platforms cheering you on. Then through Lincoln Park, bands playing on street corners, and then you hit Old Town where Elvis is out belting out one of his hits. It was awesome. This is my favorite part of Chicago and where I usually hang out if I am ever in the city.
Miles 11-14: I stayed at my steady pace as we re-entered the downtown area. The crowds become bigger here as we crossed over the river on Franklin St. There is an aid station right after…it was craziness, my paced slowed down so much. Everyone says that Chicago is a flat and fast course and yes it is. It is very flat, but there are so many runners that it gets pretty crowded, which can really cause you to slow down, not to mention the frustration that goes along with it.
We then turn onto Jackson and pass the Sears Tower. It was at this point, the half way point that I thought to myself, “Ok, go time, now the race starts.” I picked up the pace and ended with my fastest mile, 9:20. Next mile however I was back to 10:30s.
Miles 15-18: This was probably the most boring section of the race. Apparently we passed the United Center (home of the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks), but I completely missed it! I was zoned out and distracted by everything else going on. At times I think I fell into a rhythm and kept the same pace as the miles ticked by.
Miles 19-22: I was feeling fatigued. My left shoulder was hurting, but thank goodness nothing else was hurting too bad. I started to see more and more runners on the side of the road stretching and massaging, walking and limping.
I pushed on, turned the corner into Pilsen (the 19 mile mark) and BOOM! I was hit with a huge crowd and blaring music! It really picked up my spirits. They were all rocking out having such a great time. One guy in a sombrero and decked out in Mexico green, red, and white was out with a big spray gun, dancing and spraying us down. It felt like a party!
We then weaved our way into Chinatown and under the arches. I was tired! It had been 21 miles and my pace was getting slower. I was walking through aid stations drinking lots of water and some Gatorade here and there. I took half of my second GU, but couldn’t stomach the rest. I almost missed my parents in Chinatown, but I spotted my Dad last second and waved and gave a thumbs up to them. My sister and her boyfriend were also with them.
I knew I needed to get more fuel in me so I had a little bit of a banana at the next aid station, which did help, but I knew I needed more.
Miles 23-26.2: At this point my run was more like a shuffle, but I was still moving forward and not walking. It was the home stretch…a long one up Michigan Ave. My eyes were on the prize and I kept my gaze up, ahead and counted down the miles. Although my body ached, it hurt more to stop.
My fan group was somewhere around mile 25, but I did not see them. They commented on how “focused” I was. Looking like a zombie would be more accurate.
I was anticipating the climb up Roosevelt, the only hill worth mentioning, which is right at the end. It gets you every time! I powered up, and made the last turn to the finish line. Seeing that finish line felt so good. I gave it everything I had left, which was surprisingly a lot. I crossed the finish line with my arms in the air and a HUGE grin on my face. I did it. I ran all 26.2 miles.
The finisher chute was never-ending. I stiffened up immediately, so much so that it became difficult to walk. I gathered my medal, food, grabbed a few powerbars. I was extremely depleted of energy. I become lightheaded and sick. Once I finally grabbed my gear at gear check I sat down near the fountain and called my dad, inhaling water, a banana, and a powerbar.
After hobbling around a while I found my group and we walked over to the red line and took that back up to Addison. I had a major running hangover. I have never felt this bad after a race. I was dizzy and nausous. I sipped on some coke, but it didn’t help. When we got back to Matt’s I had pretzel thins and immediately felt 100% better and after a shower (a very painful one – ouch chafing) I was ready for real food.
We went to Vines on Clark for a late lunch (more like dinner) and to watch the Bears game. I ordered a burger with avocado and curly fries. Definitely hit the spot! It was so nice to relax with family and friends and bask in a successful post marathon run.
Positives: I had so much fun. No pressure, the weather was perfect, the spectators were unbelievable. They carried me through the race with their high energy and support. Although I wanted to go under 4:30, I am very happy with my time. Once I got to a certain point in the race I could gauge what I would be capable of running. I gave myself the goal time of under 4:45, which I accomplished! An average pace of 10:40, which is the pace I averaged during my 20 mile training run. After a longgggg season, I am ecstatic with this performance, but I of course now want to run another one so I can improve my time!
Takeaways: First off, I did not fuel properly. I believe I overate the night before. I need to make sure I eat my normal stuff the day before and the morning of. I usually do a good job of this, but I dropped the ball on this one.
Since it was my first time I did not know how I would hold up. I ran conservatively and I never felt like I was working too hard, I was never breathing too hard. I don’t think this was a bad strategy for a first timer, but I also never felt like I was racing or in a race, just a nice training run. Yeah, my body hurt at the end, but it was just a physical hurt. With more running and strength training my body will be able to endure more and be stronger. I really think strength training will help me tremendously. My body was also not 100% going into this race, I had aches and pains, which also played a factor.
Lastly, there was an outrageous amount of people on course. It was awesome to see, but it also posed a difficulty. It became frustrating at many times and my pace would slow down.
What’s Next? I am in off-season. A much needed off-season. I have been recovering, doing light active recovery. Biking, walking, and swimming. I also got a massage the Tuesday following, but I am still not feeling totally back to normal.
I have decided it would be beneficial to take at least a month off of running. I took my body through a lot of stress within this past year. I will continue to workout, but nothing structured. More yoga too! Come January I will start tri training again and in the meantime I need to figure out my schedule of races for next year.
I had a great year of training and racing and this race was just the icing on the cake!