So many people, so many great signage but my favourite was RUN, there are bears in Chicago!
Marathon 4 is done. Sorry this is long but so is a marathon…
(Photo by race photographer about one minute after the finish)
I am going to write all about the fabulous city of Chicago in another post but today it’s all about the run. The training seemed a little off all summer; I never had a fist-pump-that-was-awesome long run and felt like everything was a struggle compared to last year. As the tapering approached I had these knee and ankle pains that I hoped were just phantom problems but part of me was worried. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t go into this race with big expectations and just wanted to have fun and enjoy the craziness of the event. After all, 45,000 runners and +2 million spectators is something to get excited about.
My goal was to finish with a negative split. Ha, that didn’t happen but to be fair, it was a hot day and with the promise of sun and temperatures reaching +24 by noon, I decided it was better to run faster before the heat kicked in.
We arrived in the city on Wednesday, giving me many opportunities to see parts of the course. There was definitely hype building and a lot of fit tourists roaming around. The energy was awesome (probably because the Cubs are HOT right now and the city is going nuts) #gocubsgo. After a great 8 km run around Oak Park on Thursday morning and a ton of sightseeing, I decided to skip my last 5 km run on Friday. I was nervous I was putting in too many steps and not resting enough. On Friday, mom and I went to the expo. It blows my mind how well-organized such a big event can be. We caught a free shuttle and the ease of picking up my kit was great. Although it wasn’t that busy when we were there, we didn’t stay too long. I bought a visor because I was worried about the sun when they sent out a weather warning.
(iPhone photos: Subway ticket, weather alert, race expo)
Fast forward to Saturday night – one of the perks to staying at an airbnb is homemade food. My mom made spaghetti and I tried to go to bed early. My alarm was set for 5:00 am and we were out the door by 5:40 am. I have never mastered eating a lot before or during a run – gels and power bars are not my friends and I can only drink a little bit of water and Gatorade so had a piece of toast and peanut butter plus a swig of coffee before I left and sipped on water. I went into the city with my Mom and it was great to see more and more runners boarding the subway at each stop. It was a beautiful morning and not too cold but I layered up and decided to check a race bag for the fist time ever. My mom got off before me and made her was to our first planned spot on the course where she was meeting Mike, David and Dad and I went to the start.
Once I got off the subway I quickly saw what 45,000 people looks and feels like. There was a mob of people flowing through security and I had a quick moment of panic when I realized it was 6:30 and I only had 50 minutes to get through security, check my bag, line up for a porta potty and get to my corral before 7:20. However, what amazed me was how smooth everything went and I was standing in Corral D with 10 minutes to spare. I wasn’t too cold and only wore my arm-warmers but what concerned me was my stomach was growling… I was hungry and knew it’d be a long time before I’d be eating again! After the American anthem and wheelchair start, the race started at 7:30 and we herded our way to the start. I passed though at 7:41 and quickly thought, this is it, go time!
(Photos by race photographer)
(Photo by my mom of the leaders)
We started inside the park, where there were no spectators allowed, and flew through a tunnel. It was filled with echoes of cheering and men pulling over to pee then we funnelled out on to the street and the crowd erupted. I couldn’t hear my music and thought this is insane! What surprised me more was it stayed like this the whole way through the race. It honestly felt like you were at a finish line every 5 km and the signs, high-fives, music, dancing, and noise can really move you along. I saw my mom at 4 miles and was feeling great.
(Photo by my mom near mile 4 – I pulled one of my arm warmers (aka cut up nylons) down and kept it to wipe my face)
(Photo by Mike about 4.5 miles into the race, I didn’t see them but they saw me)
At 10 km, I began to question a slight pain in my left knee and right ankle and decided to only think about one at a time to distract each part from bothering me. At 16 km I started looking for my family and sure enough, there they were. A high-five from David pushed me on and before I knew it, I was back downtown and approaching the half-way mark (still feeling pretty good). We passed over timing mats a lot and knowing I was being tracked by my family and friends near and far kept me motivated.
(Photo by Mike near 16 km – I was very excited to spot them)
The second half – this is when I always slow down and struggle. I stopped for my first sip of gatorade and water at 23 km and was feeling weak (remember how hungry I was at the start). The 3:50 pacers passed me and I was mildly discouraged but I focused on PILSEN knowing my family would be near the 30 km cheer zone. Sure enough, there they were. I stopped and popped one energy bean in my mouth and said I was okay… which was mostly true. I felt weak and was hurting but at this point, I thought 12 km… no biggie and kept going.
I stopped at almost every gatorade stop and started drinking gulps and pouring water over my head. The 3:55 pacers passed me and I was very discouraged but decided to keep them on my radar. The last of major turn onto Michigan ave. was tough – I could see the city in the distance and knew the end was close but those 4 kilometres dragged on… my watch was reading more distance than the course markers were and I tried to pick up my pace a bit. I couldn’t see my family at the last turn but knew they were there so gathered the last bit of strength and pulled myself up the (only) hill and through to the finish. Official time: 3:56:20 and my watch read 42.9 km! My first thought was damn I could of had 3:55 had I made the 30+ turns more efficiently but then I smiled because it was so much fun.
(Photos by race photographer not sure when but at least after 25 km because my sunglasses are on)(Photos by race photographer near 35 km – I think the jazz hands are my attempt at looking happy and positive…) (Photo by race photographer at the finish – my first ever fist pump finish)
What amazes me is how fast this race flew by. Sure, there were hard and painful parts but overall, it never felt like I hit a wall! I had a lot of fun and smiled more than I ever have during a race. The crowds and volunteers were amazing and I can’t say enough about how beautiful Chicago is.
My only criticism would be the finish. We finsihed back in the park and unless you pay big bucks, spectators were not allowed. It is a bit of a let down for family and friends to not see the finish. I walked for what felt like 100 metres before finding water and I really wished there was chocolate milk. As I kept walking and gathered more and more loot (a bag of food, my race blanket, a banana, a cup of Gatorade… it was getting to be a handful but then there was beer. Free cold beer. Sure, chocolate milk is awesome but a cold beer… I think I said I love you to the beer lady. With all of my stuff I kept walking to bag check and then on to the family reunite area. Although it was incredibly organized, it felt like I walked another few miles. I finally got to the “R” sign where I found my family right away. We stayed for a bit longer and then made our way to Cloud Gate (da bean).
Looking back, I am thrilled – I got a personal best by 2 minutes despite some pain, hunger and weakness. The flat course is fast but not as easy as I expected. I can’t believe I am saying this but I think I missed the hills – there was never a point in the race when you could climb then fly down an I think 42 km of the same gradation is hard on your body because every step you pound down feels the same. Even though there were 45,000 runners, it was never too crowded – very little congestion and unlike PEI, I never felt lonely. Chicago, thank you – it was such a great experience!
I’ll be back to write about everything not-running we did in the city.
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