Back in my post about the Big Sur Marathon in California, I mentioned that when I was looking to start this 50 states journey, I had researched all the must do marathons in the US. The Chicago Marathon was another on that list but again it had to come in the form of some “luck” with a lottery entry. In 2015, my good friend Mike (who you may remember from Georgia Marathon) had a guaranteed entry into Chicago from a previous BQ time that he completed in 2014. He had offered to let me have his bib, but I decided that I rather just have my name show in the results especially with this goal of all 50 states. I was not selected in 2015, but I didn’t have to wait to much longer as just a day before heading to California I received the “entry approved” email. I was heading to Chicago in October!
Race: Bank of America Chicago Marathon
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Date: October 9, 2016
Finishing Time: 4:31:26
My initial goals when I broke them out throughout the year was to try and race Chicago because it was a faster course and gave me a good possibility of capturing a new PR at the marathon. However, after all my training for the North Country 50 miler, my body was in a bit of a funk and decided that I would just use Chicago as an enjoyable race capping off an amazing year of running. With that thought I just keep training to manageable levels not over doing it and risking injury for 2017.
Mike actually lives in Chicago and he was using this race to once again go for Boston. In 2014, he ran an impressive 3:04, but it ended up being less than a minute off of the weighted time qualification needed for the Boston Marathon. This did not sit well with him and he was determined to run a 2:55 this year. With that being said, I decided that since he gave me motivation leading up to and before the race when he paced me I would do the same for him. Few weeks before I kept following up with him, getting his mind right, keeping him focused, grounded and not to anxious.
The Friday before the race, I left work early for Kaela, Bella, and I to drive the 5 1/2 hours up to Chicago. Mike was actually flying in from D.C. for work, so our plan was to arrive at similar times into Chicago and either pick him up from the airport or just meet directly at the Expo. We ended up hitting some pretty bad traffic just outside of Chicago on this “shortcut” I thought I had found (I was wrong) so we ended up arriving about 90 minutes later than anticipated. I decided that it would be better to just met Mike directly at his condo, dropped off our things and then Mike and I headed off to the expo.
Now this was my first experience at a World Marathon Major, and what a difference it is with the overall race organization, especially with the Expo. After walking for what seemed like forever through the convention center, got checked in and picked up our participant bags. We spent some time walking around the vendors trying some samples and picking up some free swag. We made a stop at the pace group area to “register” for a pace group. They had pace band tattoos with to keep on track with splits so I grabbed a few in different time goals to use for this race and a few future races (hey they were free). Before leaving Mike suggested that I try to get moved up in the corrals to prevent having to stand even longer waiting for the start. All it took was a quick ask to a nice gentlemen and like that I moved up into the first wave! We left the expo and made a quick stop by the grocery store, picked up some food from Flo and Santos before heading back to his condo to eat and calling it a night.
The next morning Mike and I went on a typical “day prior” loosen up run to let it all out before spending the day carb loading. He took me over by Grant park where the Start/Finish would be set up. They had the area blocked off already as they prepared to set it all up, but we found a back way and actually made it to the finish line area. Since we “crossed” a barrier (that we probably shouldn’t have) we were having an issue trying to find a way out of the fenced in area. As we approached a side street, a security guard motioned to us and said that we shouldn’t be in there and nicely pointed us out. We wrapped back around to Mikes condo before doing the final part of the day before run, sprints!
Now Mike showed me this technique when prepping for Atlanta where we do a series of sprints at full effort to break down our bodies prior to carb loading. Since this was more of a time goal for Mike than myself I only did a few, and spent the rest of them pushing and firing up Mike. I wanted to give back to him all that he did for me in Georgia with encouragement and confirmation of his hard work up until this point. After the sprints, we made our back to the condo where Mike made us some delicious banana pancakes to start of the day of eating.
Since Mike set up my prep plan for Georgia marathon, I have used the same plan for every race since. I spend the day eating bagels with jelly, cheerios, and cranberry juice. Let me tell you how much I love eating that all day. We took a quick walk to Fleet Feet and pet store to get Kaela and Bella out the condo for some fresh air. Mike wanted to save his legs so he rode his bike slowly next to us. Kaela and I then extended our walk to show her the lake and the areas around Solider Field. I thought I knew of a “shortcut” to make it back to Mikes condo since I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on my feet, but that ended up turning into almost 4 miles of walking after my morning run. I was more upset with myself and already making excuses before the race had even started. We made it back to the condo and spent the evening relaxing and catching up before enjoying dinner with one of Mike’s friends that was also running the race. After some stretching and final prep of gear, it was time to get some sleep!
Well the plan was to get some sleep. Kaela, Bella, and I slept on an air mattress that did not equate to a very satisfying nights sleep. Feeling tired, I forced myself up and to work on consuming the 300g + of carbs I needed in the morning, then moving along to getting dressed. The weather was looking great for the day with a cool start and just starting to warm up towards the finish. Mike was able to snag some throwaway scrubs that made us look like marshmallow men but they sure were going to keep us toasty as we waited for the race start. I made sure Kaela knew the “spectator plan” for the day before gathering my items and heading out the door. In order to not lose our precious free parking spot (parking in Chicago is a nightmare) we opted to taking an Uber just 1.5 miles to the start. Bag drop, loosen up sprints, quick stretching, and it was time to line up in the corrals. I told Mike to focus on his goal and run his race before letting him head to where all the fast people start and staying back with “my people”.
It was unlike any race I had ever done before. All around me in all directions there were tens of thousands of runners preparing to take on Chicago. In the middle of it all, I actually ran into a fellow Possum from home that was in my corral. We chatted for a little bit but I soon found out that he had a faster goal than me (he was shooting for sub 4 and me just sub 4:30) so I let him know not to try and wait for me if we get separated heading to starting line. A few minutes before the start, I said a quick prayer for protection and endurance, sheding my extra layer of clothes, had my starting gel and waiting for the starting gun to go off.
Now I don’t know why I didn’t think about it before shedding clothes, but with this many runners it was going to take a good little bit for me to even arrive at the starting line even with being in the earlier wave. I started to get a little cold in just my tank but bounced around a good bit to keep the blood flowing. It took about 16 minutes but I finally made it to the start…
LETS DO THIS!
It was so strange because with how many people were around me in the corral, when the race started we split into what I think was 6 total lanes of road and it felt like I was running a small town race with how little people were close by. I had the worry initially that I was going to be on top of people for at least the first few miles but it thinned out quickly due to the size of the roads that were on the course.
The course instantly starts down hill heading down the road and underground under the river. It was funny seeing the amount of guys that must not have been able to get a porta-potty before the start, just peeing along the walls. One thing that wasn’t funny was the smell of a few hundred people doing the same thing. Coming out of the tunnel we took a left through some downtown street when we hit the 1 mile marker. Now because of heading under the road and then being around tall buildings my watch was all over the place saying at some points I was running mid 5 min miles (which no way that’s true). Good thing I picked up those tattoos because I was able to compare my overall watch time to each mile marker and take a look to see where I stood on my pace goal.
We made our way through some downtown streets crossing the Chicago River for the second of four total times. Kaela was to set up to see us just after the 2 mile marker and then head over to the half marathon mark. As I turned the corner of where I thought she would be I didn’t see her but rather the hundreds of other spectators lining the streets. There were areas that went 3-4 people deep. At that point I knew it would be a long shot to see her while during while running but hopefully she has the opportunity to see me.
|Kaela and Bella soaking up the sun
The next 5 miles were spent heading North through various neighborhoods. This is where to me the race really opened up as people had gotten into their grove and were focused running their race. The only time it seemed a little congested were at the aid stations as we had to dodge the cups on the ground to prevent slipping and causing a pile up. I spent these miles just taking in the areas and just enjoying a beautiful day to run. There is something about running in a new place and rather than picking out all the little familiar points, just taking each step and glance for what it is, a new experience.
Two left turns and we were headed back towards downtown. Around mile 9, I felt this smack on my ass. My buddy Chad had caught up to me after starting in a corral behind me. He said he was having some watch issues so had no idea how fast he was going and after some quick math in my head, I told him it was too fast. He laughed it off and just kept on his pace and before I knew it he was out of sight. Me on the other hand, I knew exactly where I was standing (thanks to my handy pace tattoos) and was sitting around 10 minutes ahead of pace which was comfortable cushion for me.
I was feeling great as the miles were just clicking by. I just took in the environment block and after block heading through Lincoln Park and Old Town. As we made in back downtown, I was approaching the next stop that Kaela was set up taking photos. I was able to spot her this time standing on a raised curb, but she instead of using my camera, she was using her phone to capture pictures. Come to find out after the race, the camera got set to manual focus and she could not figure out how to change the setting back. Just after seeing her, I hit the 13.1 mark and did a quick overview of how my body was holding up. The temperature started to warm up but overall everything was working smooth and I felt like I was still moving at a comfortable pace.
|Mike cruising through miles early on
The next few miles were covered in spectators and helped me keep my focus off of the running and just enjoying all that was around. One thing that I clearly remember from this stretch was the quality of the aid stations and the volunteers running them. Everyone was on point handing out fluid and keeping the trash off the street as much as possible. They were cheering and motivating everyone as they went through which definitely made the run that much more enjoyable. Just before mile 18, there was a PowerBar aid station so I grabbed a few additional gels in case I needed them later on (which I would).
|Chad rocking the same Possum tank as me
The temperatures slowly started to creep warmer and warmer, and I could tell that my body was feeling it as I was dropping pace with each passing mile. After clearing through Chinatown (another spot that I missed seeing Kaela), my left quad started to tighten up. I told myself that it was in my head and that 22 miles in its supposed to hurt, but my leg had other plans as it went into almost a complete lock. I instantly took a gel in hopes to have some sugars loosen it all up. I took a look at my watch and decided to give myself a 2.5 minute walk break before starting back up. Once my time was up, I went into what seemed like a slo-mo pace that brought lots of discomfort. I ran up the overpass crossing the expressway and down State street before walking again on 35th heading to Michigan Ave.
At this point I knew that I was losing a lot of time from getting off pace, but my leg was not wanting to play along with the whole “running” thing. I would take off feeling strong and just a few minutes in would have to battle to walk with out a limp with my quad locking up. Looking at everyone around me, I could tell that it was a common theme, the heat was getting to people and caused this final stretch up Michigan to be more difficult than anticipated. I kept moving forward as fast as I can, telling myself that once I get to the mile 25 marker, that I would push hard for the last 1.2.
Right as I started up again, I spotted Kaela on the side cheering me on and that was all the motivation I needed to push through the pain. As I made it closer to the finish, you could hear the roars from the crowds that were gathered in the last half a mile. I needed that encouragement because as Mike had told me before, the “climb” to the finish is not something to take lightly. I turned off Michigan, avoiding race officials that were in middle of road kicking off people without bibs, and headed straight up hill for what seemed like forever. I shortened my stride and just powered through, picking off runners one by one. One last left turn and I coasted downhill all the way through the finish!
The feeling when I crossed the finish line was one of pure satisfaction. Sure, I didn’t hit the 4:30 goal for the day, but it just summed up an amazing year of running and I was able to do it healthy. I made my way through the every long finishers area, getting my medal, some fruit and carb snacks, and of course finishing it off with a wonderful beer from Goose Island. I continued toward the “family reunion” area to meet up with Mike and check to see how he did. When I saw him I instantly knew that something must have happened because he didn’t look happy. He said he started to get into some cramping issues around mile 14 and decided that wasn’t worth injuring himself and backed off his goal pace. He still finished in an amazing 3:15:37. So he had made decision that he would just try again a few weeks later in Indianapolis to get his BQ (which he did!).
We had a slow walk the 1.5 miles back to his condo, and just talked about the race and ways to improve and how to prepare him for Indy a few weeks later. It was a great talk that helped keep my mind off my pain, and before I knew it we were back at the condo. We cleaned up, packed up, and made our way out to get a nice burger and beer for lunch. The three of us chatted about the race bringing up our highs and lows, and also talked about future race plans. After lunch, we dropped Mike off at the train station so he could get to an event he had that evening, and we made the 6 hour journey back to Ohio.
The Chicago marathon wrapped up an amazing 2016 for me in running. On the drive home Kaela and I discussed plans for a tough 2017 but would result in putting a nice dent in my list of states and maybe even another country ;)! Just want to say a quick thanks to Mike for letting us stay with him and I look forward to our next race together.
Next stop was supposed to be in Jackson, Mississippi but due to crazy weather and a cancelled race, we will see you in Myrtle Beach!