Before I dive in to the recap I have to say, the city of Chicago and Chicago Marathon race director, Carey Pinkowski, really know how to put on a marathon! They hosted 37,000 runners and 1.7 million spectators with seamless execution and kindness by everyone we came across. When we first arrived in Chicago we were trying to find the right elevator to get down to the El platform and were about to go in to one. A guy who worked for the CTA started shouting up at us to direct us to the right one, since this one apparently would have brought us out to the street. We made our way over to the correct elevator and he wished us a loud “Welcome to Chicago!” When we boarded the bus to the Zoo, people got out of the front seats and told us how to lift them up so we could fit our stroller. The manager at the Jewel-Osco walked us around the store helping us find the things we were looking for and blew up 3 different balloons for me when I was trying to figure out which one would be the easiest to spot. When we had everything we needed he opened up a new register for us and checked us out so we didn’t have to wait in the long lines. On our way out of the city, we weren’t sure which way the subway was and a man noticed, asked which airport we were going to, and directed us how to get there. Everywhere we went people went out of their way to help us and were so friendly. So thank you, Chicagoans!
Our alarms were set for 5am on Sunday morning and I thought I would hop out of bed with anticipation, but I felt so tired and just wanted to lay there when the alarm rang. After a few minutes I forced myself to get up and get going. The weather was forecasted to be a little warm for me for a marathon – sunny with a low of 58 and high of 77 – so I made sure to take in some Gatorade as we were getting ready. I choked down half of a kid’s Cliff Bar, but I have a really hard time eating that early in the morning on a normal day and it was only exacerbated by race nerves. Our hotel was about 2 blocks from the El red line and we rode it 3 stops to Jackson, which was right near the security gates to get in. Since we arrived so early (about 6:15am) and it was still cool, we waited in the lobby of a building where some other runners had already gathered. We took pictures for a group of friends that were running and chatted a bit. One thing I love about marathons is the group feel of it. It doesn’t matter how many you’ve done or how fast you’re planning to go, everyone is in it together looking to complete 26.2 miles.
After about half an hour of waiting, we made our way over to the start area. There were 5 gates to go through security to get into the park and the 1st gate had an insane line, while we could see that the 2nd gate was empty. We walked the short distance to Gate 2 and were through security in no time. Since we were still early there was no one at the port-o-potties so we made a quick stop there then found a place to hang out. I wore just a zip-up hoodie over my tank and shorts and was freezing! Between the cold weather and feeling unbelievably nervous, I was shivering and had my jaw clenched until the start. There were tons of people dancing and singing, getting pumped up for the race, but I felt nothing but nerves at this point. We happened to find 3 other people from Massachusetts and chatted with them for a bit while we waited. Around 7:15 we made our way to the corrals and got into ours right away. People had already started ditching their throw away clothes so I grabbed someone’s pants that had been left and draped them over my legs to help keep warm. Much better! I couldn’t hear much when Wave 1 started, but soon we were pushing forward for our 8am start. Even in the front 1/3 of the first corral in Wave 2 it took us 6 minutes to get across the start line. This race is huge! And then we were off!
Within the first mile I already had a side stitch. Most likely caused by my crazy case of nerves, I did have a moment of panic that it wouldn’t go away, but luckily by the time we reached mile 1 it was gone. I’d been warned that the tunnel you go through in the first mile and the tall buildings would mess up my GPS watch so I was prepared when my watch started ticking off miles about a half mile before we reached them. My plan was to try to keep a comfortable pace without looking too much at my watch, so for the most part I didn’t mind my GPS being way off. Our hotel was 2 blocks in either direction from the 1 mile & 3 mile marker so my family had planned to meet us there. We’d picked out the corners & building they would be waiting at the day before, but the best thing we had was a HUGE ice cream sundae balloon we’d bought the night before at a nearby Jewel-Osco. When people tell you the Chicago Marathon has unbelievable spectators they are right. The sides of the roads were packed, and even with knowing where to spot them, it would have been hard to find them in the crowds. Just after mile 1 we spotted them and stopped for a quick hello and hug to our girls. They immediately turned and headed to mile 3 where we’d see them next. I tried to read as many signs as I could as we made our way through the city. I love seeing families and friends out to cheer, so obviously eager to spot their runner. Soon we crossed back over the river and spotted the balloon and then my family at mile 3. Another quick hug and hello and then we were back to running.
Miles 4-12: The first few miles I was focused on making sure we spotted my family. I knew they would be looking for us and didn’t want them to be disappointed if we couldn’t find them, so after we passed mile 3 I relaxed and settled into running. My side stitch was gone, but unfortunately I had an awful crick in my neck. I tried to shake it out and stretch a little, but it wasn’t going anywhere and accompanied me for the rest of the race. Of all muscles to have pain in during a marathon, this was definitely the best, but it still would have been nice to not have it. It was a gorgeous day out and the run along Lincoln Park Zoo was beautiful. My plan was to fuel every 5 miles – taking my fuel little bits at a time during that whole mile. I started with some chews at mile 4 and finished them by mile 5. I also was alternating taking Gatorade and water at every aid station. At some point along the course – maybe around mile 5 – there is a senior citizen home and if you look up you’ll see a lot of residents sitting at the window waving and cheering. That was definitely a highlight for me and made me tear up. Boystown had a ton of energy, music, and Drag Queens as promised and the crowds through these miles were some of the best. At mile 10 I switched from chews to GU which went down easily. I have a sweet tooth so I actually enjoy the GUs, they remind me of frosting 🙂
As we headed back toward the city and mile 12 I started looking for the big ice cream balloon again. Our hotel was just a few blocks from mile 12, but I knew our youngest was due for a nap, so I had told my mom not to worry about trying to meet us there. I’d look for the balloon in case they were, but no big deal if they weren’t. Well as soon as I saw her face when I told her that we’d be running past the hotel at mile 12 I knew that at least she and our oldest would be out there. At this point the roads were even more crowded than when we first made our way out of the city. I passed by where I thought they would be and didn’t spot the balloon and was a little disappointed, but then sure enough I could see that huge ice cream sundae above the crowds and the highlighter yellow shirts my mom and her husband had on. We made our way over to them for the last of the hugs for the race. It was so awesome to see them and I so appreciate my mom and her husband for driving in, bringing tons of snacks and items for us with them, and carting the girls all around that morning. The girls did awesome and they all had fun hanging out and spectating. My favorite sign of the race came along this part as we crossed a bridge over the river. A 20-something year old guy had a sign that said “Hey Mom slow down, you’re going to beat MY time” I loved seeing him out there cheering for his mom and thinking of this woman running a marathon.
We were heading back into the Loop at this point and I felt so much energy. It was about the half way point during my Smuttynose marathon where I started to lose energy and thought “Oh my God, I have to do that all again.” This time I still felt good and thought “I can definitely do that again.” We headed out towards the West Loop and from what I had read it sounded like the back half of the marathon was full sun and very little crowds. While it definitely wasn’t as shaded and didn’t have the same number of spectators as the first half, it had WAY more shade and crowds than I’d expected. I felt like there was only a mile after leaving the festivities in Greektown where it seemed really quiet. The spectators that were out around mile 16 were fantastic though. All along the course people had set up their own little aid stations and it was around here that my husband grabbed a banana from a family that was handing them out. It was also around here that I heard my favorite spectator (other than my family.) I had my name on my shirt and a lady yelled out to me, then added “You’re looking gooood girl.” The way she said it made me laugh and gave me a little boost.
I took another GU around this point and we kept chugging on. The next few miles ticked by and my husband and I kept commenting on how fast the marathon was going. The Chicago Marathon paints a blue dotted line along the roads that shows the shortest distance through the course. We were able to stay pretty close to it and it’s funny how comforting following that blue dotted line was. We spent a lot of time focusing on following that blue dotted line and it really gave us something to think about other than just thinking about actually running. As we made our way to mile 20 it was beginning to feel warm and I was starting to get tired. The crowds in Pilsen may have been my favorite though. It was such a lively area and a well needed pick me up at that point of the race.
Fatigue was starting to set in so I decided to put in one earbud and listen to some music. I couldn’t hear much of the music over the crowds, especially through Chinatown, but it was another thing to focus on and think about as my body started to get tired. A lot of people were walking by this point and it felt like we were passing people left and right. My husband and I had managed to stay together the whole race and had been chatting for most of it. He’d occasionally ask me how I as doing and around mile 22 is when I asked him to please stop asking me 🙂 I tried to take in some of the energy from the crowd to keep me going, but it was sensory overload for me at that point so I focused on that little blue line and my shadow. I was able take in another GU around this point and was still taking Gatorade and water from the aid stations. I was really happy about this since I wasn’t able to stomach anything after mile 18 in my last marathon. I was really tired and wanted to walk, but since I knew this wouldn’t be a PR from a time perspective I wanted to run further without walking than I had during Smuttynose. Then I wanted to make it without walking at all. Mainly because when I thought about walking I thought I’d never be able to start running again. The thought of how it would take me longer to finish if I walked kept me moving too, because I just wanted to be D-O-N-E. I’d love to say I thought of some mantra or other motivational tool to get me focused, but in the interest of keeping it real I’ll say that I spent a good part of these miles thinking about how I never wanted to run another marathon again. Ever.
The positive side of me started to think about how I was at mile 22 and hadn’t hit the wall. I started to think about the remaining distance in terms of routes I’d run from my house. With 4 miles to go I thought about a 4 mile out-and-back from my house that seems like nothing – 2 miles out, 2 miles back – and kept thinking of that. I just have to make it to X-street. Ok now just Y-street. Now turn around and head home, that’s it. Then the countdown signs began. Instead of mile markers telling you how far you’d come we started to see “1 Mile to go”, “800m to go” and it was an awesome sight. We turned right to cross Roosevelt bridge and I braced myself after having run a pancake flat 26 miles for how hard this incline would feel. Turns out it actually felt good to go up that bridge and use different muscles than the ones that had been non-stop in use for 26 miles. With an end in sight I was able to pick it up a little bit and my husband and I crossed the finish line holding hands with a time of 4:17:23 for an overall pace of 9:49/mile.
To be able to stop running felt ahhh-mazing! We collected our medals, heat blankets, goody bag with granola bars, and shared a Goose Island beer they were handing out. My goal of completing marathon #2 after our second child was complete! And I felt oddly blah about it. I’d been on such a high after finishing my Smuttynose marathon and just felt . . . blah at the end of this. Looking back now I feel more excited and proud than I did in the moment, so maybe it was just being exhausted at the end of 26.2 miles.
The ONE negative from the race – When we checked out the pictures taken that day on MarathonFoto, a guy who was definitely not my husband popped up under his bib number. He wore his bib, same number as my husband’s, from last year’s race. He’s in the race photos giving a big thumbs up to course photographers and posing with his medal at the end! Jerk. Here is a good article from Runner’s World explaining Why Banditing is Wrong.
On to the positive.
Highlights of the race for me:
- The course support – both official and unofficial – was INCREDIBLE. Every aid station was so well organized with gatorade first, water second, each clearly designated. The volunteers were unbelievable and happy and cheered us all on. Beyond the typical gatorade and water, their were stations with Energy Chews, Gels, bananas, vaseline, tissues, wet wipes, and my favorite – SOAKED wet sponges. The first sponge station was about mile 8 and I held onto mine through the whole race, grabbing an extra water at other stations to soak it and then cool myself down. The volunteers also had jugs of water that the were using to refill people’s cups and bottles, and the bridges were lined with red carpet to keep it from being slippery. Beyond the support from the Chicago Marathon were people out with their own bottles of water, bananas, jolly ranchers, pretzel sticks, Twizzlers and more. The course is lined with people from start to finish and it’s an amazing atmosphere.
- There was a little Dunkin Donuts station with iced coffee samples (or maybe it was chocolate milk) at mile 14. I was sooo tempted to stop for one, but would have had to cut a few people off & backtrack to do so.
- Having my husband run with me. I could have and would have run the marathon by myself, but looking back I can’t imagine not having had my husband with me heading over to the start line in the dark or in the late miles when I really wanted to stop. Even though he trained about half the amount I did, my pace is much slower than he typically runs so even in the late miles he was feeling fine and would ask what I needed from aid stations and grab it for me. He was always encouraging, and also knew when to just be quietly by my side.
- Seeing our kids and my family. Our oldest’s face when she would see us come up was so incredibly sweet. Our little one didn’t know what to make of all the commotion, but she seemed entertained by it all.
- Seeing other kids and families out on the course waiting for their mom or dad to come through. Not surprisingly, the families with kids were some of my favorite to see and I loved giving out high fives. Knowing how happy that runner would be to see their kid and vice versa made me smile each time we passed one.
- Signs: The adult son with his sign for his mom mentioned in the Miles 4-12 part of the recap and another that a dad with 3 kids had that said something along the lines of “Watching 3 kids for 4+ hours is the equivalent of running 27.3 miles!” My husband and I laughed, because we agreed that running the marathon was the easiest part of our trip at that point.
- Not walking at all during the race and feeling good for nearly all of it. I felt so much better, so much later in this race than I did during Smuttynose. In Smuttynose I started walking a portion of each mile from 21 on, while on Sunday I turned to my husband at mile 22 to say that this was the furthest I’d ever run without stopping.
- Running really consistent splits the whole way through. Towards the end it felt like I had slowed down, but I was really happy to see that they really didn’t veer way off at the end. I ran the second half just 1 minute 24 seconds slower than the first half. A huge improvement over Smuttynose where I was 7 minutes slower on the last half.
Thank you, Chicago, for a fantastic race!