Chicago Marathon Race Report

The race is finally over. As usual, some things went well, some not as well. But overall, I’m happy.

Two days before leaving for Chicago, I got a cold. Seriously?! Luckily, it passed quickly. But then the first night in town catching up with friends, I had drank too much and didn’t sleep well. The day after was rough. I tried to catch up on my sleep by going to bed earlier, and that helped.

When I went for a run the next day, I’d developed some weird foot pain on the top of my right foot. I’d never had this pain before and it just appeared out of nowhere. It would go away a little as I ran,, but it was definitely still there. Brand new mystery pain days before the race – AYFKM?

The next day I went to the expo. It was huge, loud, and crowded. I bought a few things, looked around briefly and left. The whole atmosphere was just too much for me. The day before the race, we went… apple picking. I thought I was going to run while my friends picked apples, but it was more fun than I thought it would be. Especially considering I’d never seen a real apple tree with apples ready to be picked. One word: Honeycrisp!!

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The night before, I got my gear all set up. As I attempted to pin my bib on my shirt, I wished someone would create an adhesive backed bib so we can put an end to this safety pin business. (Hmm… Business idea! No, wait. They already exist. And yet we still pin…) I applied my race tat, which was a new thing for me. I had a cup of decaf tea and went to bed around 10:30. I expected to be unable to sleep, but actually had a decent night’s sleep.

I got downtown early and had to wait a good hour+ before the start. It was a bit cool, but not bad. Lots of people were wearing just the outfit they’d be running in. Some smartly had throwaway garments to keep them warm. I had just my hoodie which I hadn’t planned on tossing, but was going to. I was glad to have brought a cheap pair of cotton gloves to keep my hands warm. That helped out a lot.

I tried to eat some Belvita crackers for breakfast. I’ve eaten them before and they are edible. They have like 35 grams of complex carbohydrates, and would definitely be better than eating nothing. I tried to make some #2 business happen before the lines started forming. I’m glad I did, because once the people started showing up, the lines were 10 people deep in no time.

As it got closer to the start time, I got into the corral. I found the 3:10 pace group and listened to the pace leader make jokes. I’m not sure why, maybe it was the corny jokes, but I scooted up further into the crowd. The corral slowly filled with more and more people until we were elbow to elbow, all breathing down each other’s necks. And then it was time. The race started!

I’m not even sure if they did a countdown or not, but next thing you know, there’s a river of people in front of me, and I’m happily riding along. When you realize the thing you’ve been waiting and training for has finally begun – I love that feeling.

The crowds along the first few miles were massive and quite vocal. For the first few miles, I felt like I was being powered along just by the cheering. I was running smoothly and feeling great. My mystery pain was not bothering me at all. I tried to keep track of my pacing with my pace tat, but I found it very hard to read while running. Consequently, I never looked at it again. I decided I would just run, pace be damned.

As planned, I took my first Vanilla gel about 5 or 6 miles in. I had 3 gels on me and had planned to pick up a fourth at the aid station. I’m not sure what I was thinking, I realize now this was not nearly enough nutrition. But for the majority of the race, I was fine.

Mainly I was feeding off the crowd, watching the pavement ahead of me, trying to navigate the throngs of runners. The course was packed with people for a good portion of the race. I’d say it wasn’t until maybe the halfway point did it thin out enough to have some decent breathing room.

Early in the race, I saw a runner fall and skid on his belly because some jackass spectator tried to cross the street. Runner skids across the street and I hear “YOU MOTHERF***ER!!” I felt really bad for that guy, and was paranoid whenever I saw someone trying to cross the street.

I don’t even remember much about the course. I didn’t look around that much, all my attention was focused 10 feet in front of me. I used to live in Chicago too, so there wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before. I didn’t talk to anyone during the race. One guy asked me if I was the 3:10 pacer, and said he was going to stick with me even though I told him I wasn’t. And then weirdly, he must have peeled off within a few minutes. Which was fine, I wasn’t feeling conversant and don’t think I could have held a conversation if I’d wanted to.

I took another gel around mile 10 and then mile 15. I was alternating between water and Gatorade. Late in the race, the sweetness of the gels and Gatorade had overwhelmed me and I didn’t want to eat another one. And I thought I was doing fine anyway.

Then the wheels fell off. Up to Mile 23, I was averaging about 7 min miles. Mile 23, my pace dropped to 7:30, Mile 24 saw 8:09, Mile 25 8:56, and finally by Mile 26 I was crawling at 9:08. At no point during the last few miles did I look at my watch. I just tried to run. And then I’d stop. And then try to run. My hamstrings were cramping. The last mile I kept hearing spectators yelling, “It’s only one more mile!!”

Perhaps one of the worst parts was losing the pace group. Running ahead of them, then they’d catch up, and slowly pull away. I thought I’d catch a second wind, but the pacer kept getting smaller and smaller until they were gone.

I took some solace in seeing other runners stopped and walking. But that small relief was quickly displaced by the huge number of people that ran past me as I walked. And they all looked strong.  There was the slightest of hills on the stretch before the last turn. I had to walk it. Then around the corner, I saw the finish. Normally, the sight of the finish is energizing enough for a short sprint, but all I could muster was a weak jog. I crossed the finish in 3:10:39.

I missed a BQ by 39 seconds. Kind of a bummer, but I know damn well that I can do it next time.

There’s several lessons I learned.

No alcohol before a race. Save it for after the race.

Going to another city to race can be stressful in regards to availability of food. You need to be able to easily obtain and prepare the right kind of food prior to the race. I think my carbo loading was lacking in the days prior to the race.

Plan your nutrition. I think maybe I’ve been spoiled by trail aid stations that just have lots of different foods available, but Gatorade, gels and a banana don’t cut it.

Save the music for the end of the race. That’s when you need the boost that music can provide, not at the beginning.

Give your race the proper respect / Don’t overestimate your abilities. I thought I could run 26.2 miles easily. I forgot that trail running is much slower and incorporates more walking. Road running is pretty much running non-stop at a much faster pace. And that is really hard.

Final thought: Originally, I had thought about running the Wild Hare  50 Miler in November, but I may end up doing the San Antonio Marathon instead. I think alternating between road and trail races will be a good thing. And in 10 days, I have my 50 mile trail race! Time to start planning!

10 thoughts on “Chicago Marathon Race Report”

  1. Great read and great JOB!!!! Not that I know from personal experience, having never run a marathon, but I’ve read how unpredictable things can get physically. Sounds like the weather cooperated at least. Now you can check Chicago off your list!

    1. Thanks, Nick! The bonk is actually very predictable, I thought I was going to be able to avoid it, but I was wrong. I would like to go back next year and redeem myself.

  2. I think it’s great you’ve made a list of things to improve on already. I do that too and I learn so much from it. And it’s crazy you mention an adhesive bib…a friend and I were discussing the same idea the other day.

    1. Gee whiz, my list of things that I need to work on gets longer every day! But it’s good because it gives me direction. I Googled “adhesive bibs” and there is at least one company that sells adhesive backed race bibs. But I’ve never seen them used in any race I’ve ever been in. Maybe the safety pin manufacturers have something to do with it…

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