State #26: Illinois Bank of America Chicago Marathon 2014
The week before the race was the longest week of my life. I was flying out with Mark H., Ashley and Kathy and meeting up with Mark A. when we got there, who was driving. Our flights were scheduled to take off at 8:30 pm out of Philadelphia on Friday night. Around 2:30 on Friday afternoon, I got an email saying our flight had been cancelled and we were all re-booked on separate flights the next morning. I have THE WORST luck with flight delays and cancellations! However, we all got there. Mark H. and Kathy got switched to a flight out of Newark, Ashley and I got brand new flights on a Southwest flight to Midway (instead of O’Hare, since that O’Hare was the issue) for a small fortune. At that point, the only thing that mattered is that we all were snug in our beds at the Intercontinental on Michigan Avenue before midnight on Friday.
A few blocks from our hotel was a shuttle that would take us to the expo. If I could say one thing about the whole weekend, it would be that it was extremely well organized and very easy to navigate. We took the shuttle over to the expo center and spend a few hours milling around and visiting vendors. It was a pretty big ordeal, and we quickly found our way to the Runner’s World table to stop and chat with Bart, since we’d missed his run. Nike was the official sponsor and had a large display in the center of the expo with all of their official gear.
I feel badly for anyone who rooms with me, because I get up obscenely early before a race. I need time to drink a strong cup of coffee, start hydrating, and get food in my system. So at 4am, I was brewing coffee (in a coffee pot that I brought from home and carried on the plane – yes, I realize I have a serious caffeine addiction) and waking up.
When I registered for Chicago, I submitted a qualifying time. But at the time, I only had a 3:18 marathon PR. Once I ran my 3:06:56, I was unaware that I could update my qualifying time to get in a faster corral. So, I was in corral B but could have been in corral A. The 3 hour and 3:05 pacers were in corral A. I’m not one to use pacers, but in this marathon it would have been helpful – and I will get into why later. So once I was at the start, I pushed my way all the way to the front of corral B, since that was the best I could do.
The start of the race was crazy and exciting. It was a little crowded in the first mile, so I already anticipated a slower start and didn’t let that bother me. I did my best to stay consistent and weave through the crowds, but within the first half mile the course went under a large overpass. I immediately lost satellite reception on my watch. When we emerged, we were in the city surrounded by all of the skyscrapers and it continued to mess with my watch. When I hit the first mile, I hit the lap button to try to at least be able to have some sort of indication of what my pace was from that point on. Unfortunately, I spent the entire race not really knowing if I was running a 5 minute mile or a 9 minute mile – my watch was tripping out on me the whole time. I hit lap often and seemed to be on pace, but I wasn’t really sure. From what I could see on the results page, my splits were consistent (all averaging around a 7 minute pace) through somewhere in the 35-40K point. At that point, I slowed down a little. My “splits” on my Garmin (for whatever they are worth) show my slowest miles to be somewhere from miles 21-26ish.
Anyway, enough about race times – back to the actual experience. I could see how this course could absolutely suck if you get bad weather – but we got extremely lucky. Perfect temperatures and almost no wind, which shocked me because our walk to the start had me thinking we were in for a long day.Though the watch ordeal made it tough to figure out what I was doing, I loved the course. Among the group of friends I traveled with, none of us thought it was the fastest course we’d ever run. It’s a fun course, and it certainly is fast – but it was harder than anticipated because it is SO flat. Then again, I can’t think of one time that I’ve run 26.2 miles and thought it felt “easy”. I’m still waiting for that day.
Let’s get the negatives out of the way first. Three things come to mind: the streets were definitely in rough shape in some areas (not the race director’s fault by any means), and there are lots of tight turns. Also, the whole watch constantly losing reception is a drawback for someone like me. I should run on effort more often, but the truth is – I’m often a slave to my Garmin. Most times, I use so I actually go slow enough – as I so gracefully demonstrated at Clarence DeMar, it is so easy to fly out of the gates and ruin your whole race. Everyone usually feels good in mile one. If you run by effort and go with how you feel, you could run the risk of overdoing it in the early miles. That’s just my own personal take on it. Maybe the same doesn’t hold true for you and you do better running sans GPS, but I don’t.
Miles 1 - 13.1
My plan was to go out at a 7 minute mile pace and sustain it through the half marathon point. If I was feeling good, I was going to pick it up and try to hold on to a 6:55 pace for as long as I could. If I wasn’t feeling it, I’d just keep ticking off 7 minute miles for as long as possible. From what I could see on my Garmin and the results on the site, I did just that for the first half. The first four-ish miles give you a great tour of downtown Chicago and it’s full of enthusiastic spectators (well, really the entire course is full of those). Miles 5-8 were not as interesting to me but I was still trying to figure out what the heck was going on with my Garmin, so that was a good distraction. Once you hit mile 8, it’s pretty exciting right through the half marathon point. There’s Boystown with a crazy huge crowd, Old Town, and finally the bridge on Adams Street that marks the half marathon point. There were several bridges to run over and they had mats on parts of them to make it easier on your feet but it was still easy to lose your footing and you had to watch your step.
As I ran, I didn’t feel awesome during the first half – not terrible, but not great. My legs just felt okay, and I felt tired in general. I think it was still from the crazy stress of traveling and delayed flights coupled with a poor night’s sleep. Regardless, as I approached the half marathon point, I had a decision to make regarding my pace. I could still PR if I stuck with seven minute miles, but the problem was, I wasn’t sure if I was even really running sevens. I had a feeling I was close based on hitting lap and really watching my Garmin, but I wasn’t completely sure.
Half Marathon - 26.2
I don’t remember much from miles 14-20. I do remember that the course was still pretty cool, but not as cool as some of the earlier moments. Actually, I take that back. I remember a mom and pop beer stop somewhere around mile 19, and I gladly took a beer and received a big reaction from the crowd. I guess they hadn’t had too many customers up through that point. Either way, the reaction from the crowd put a smile on my face and helped me get through the next few miles. Once you hit mile 21, you start nearing Chinatown – what an incredible neighborhood. It’s super exciting, with tons of spectators and lots to look at. As you get closer to the finish, you turn on Michigan Ave and are reminded that this race is not, in fact, the flattest race in the world. The last quarter is an uphill grade! Not like the steepest hill ever, but you see it and think, “Seriously?”
I felt just okay at the half marathon point so I stuck with the seven minute miles (or whatever it was I was running that looked like a seven minute mile on my watch). Somewhere around mile 17 I started to feel a little better and picked it up. One of my laps on my Garmin registered a 6:41 mile, and I remember listening to Eminem’s “Rap God” on repeat a few times and cruising at one point so I would believe I ran something close to that. I was able to maintain a relatively decent pace through 21, and then started to feel a little fatigued. Not the worst fatigue I’d ever felt in a marathon, but at that point I didn’t know how close I was. I started to do some math and was coming up with a 3:10 finish time, so I started thinking that maybe I never really was running a 7 minute pace. I wasn’t upset about it, and just wanted to take in as much of the race as I could at that point.
By that time, the crowds were back in full force and I was enjoying sightseeing as I ran through Chicago. My new game at this point was to pass as many women as possible. There weren’t too many around me, but I’d see them in the distance and just pick them off as I passed. Although it didn’t help me PR, it kept my pace more aggressive. I realized around mile 24 that I’d probably be finishing in more like 3:08-ish. I was so confused, and knew if I wanted to PR I’d probably need to lay down a little over a six minute mile. Even that wouldn’t ensure I’d run my way to a PR. So I stuck with picking off as many girls as I could and just kept moving. I was pretty happy with the end result, considering I was basing my pace on effort.
The last quarter mile is the hardest. You’ve been running on flats for so long that when you hit the final quarter mile and find that it is, in fact, an incline, the only thing you can think is “WTF”. However, that feeling of “EFF YOU CHICAGO” is short lived, because before you know it you are crossing the finish line, claiming your hard earned medal, and drinking the 312 Urban Wheat Ale you are handed as you walk through the chute. I kid you not. After the medals, mylar blankets and post race foods, Goose Island Brewery set up shop and hands out full beers. It was glorious.
I was pretty well hydrated and carbed up from the days before, so all I had left to do was choke down some GU, Gatorade and water throughout the race. Which I ended up not having to choke down this time, everything went down just fine. I ate a Chocolate Raspberry Gu before the start, and alternated between all my fun new GU flavors during the race. I think there was a Chocolate Peanut Butter around mile 5, another Chocolate Raspberry around mile 10, a Salted Watermelon at Mile 15, and a Caramel Macchiato (my new favorite) at mile 20. I even considered taking another one at 23 and didn’t feel any gag reflexes at the thought of it, but I really just wanted to sit down and drink a beer (the little bit I had at mile 19 was such a tease), so no amount of GU could solve that. I drank mostly Gatorade at the water stops but would make sure to grab water after taking GU.
As I walked through the finish line, I actually ran into Mark H.! He ran 3:06 and change and I immediately started kicking myself for not trying harder to find him at the start. I think if I were running along side of him, I could have done that. I spent more time worrying about going too fast and not knowing what I was actually running and I probably would have just relaxed if I were running with him. I still had a blast and I’m thrilled to get that close to my PR, especially considering the summer I had with my calf and the race I had two weeks prior. We made our way to the post race party and found that we could get free massages. There were NO LINES and we could just walk right in. WHAT? I gladly hopped up on the table of the willing volunteer massage therapist. Anyone who volunteers to massage runners immediately after 26.2 miles deserves to go straight to heaven. You know none of us had the opportunity to shower yet.
Once we were all gathered in the family reunion area, we headed over to the Goose Island tent to redeem yet another free beer with the beer tickets on our bib. Maybe it was just the post marathon delirium, but I’m pretty sure that their 312 Urban Wheat Ale is about the best beer I’ve ever had. Maybe I should try it sometime when I haven’t just finished a marathon to see.
Would I run Chicago again? Probably not, but not because I didn’t like the race. I really did love it. It was a stressful traveling situation, and a pretty pricey event which makes me hesitant to go back. If I’m looking for a PR, the Garmin trouble I had would also deter me from toeing the line of this race again because I really race better knowing what pace I’m running. With that being said, I wouldn’t pick another race for Illinois -and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. It was such an incredible weekend, and so much fun to share such an amazing experience with great friends! 26 states down, 24 to go!