Originally the plan was to run the 2012 Berlin Marathon with my sister, but plans fell through and Chicago seemed to be the next logical choice. I’ve always wanted to run Chicago ever since I started running marathons, because it’s a super fast course, weather permitted, with zero hills. It’s also my first world marathon major, so it’s a big, high profile race that brings with it a certain buzz and excitement that I couldn’t experience in a smaller race. Plus, who wouldn’t want an excuse to travel to Chicago??
Overall, it was positive. All things considered, I felt it was easier building up to sub-3 fitness (and beyond) a second time around rather than the first. And my fitness definitely improved since the last training cycle. I followed a slightly modified 12/70+ Pfitz training schedule and, although I reduced some of the mileage here and there, I did my best to keep up with the schedule (so did Uma, my Rhodesian Ridgeback, who accompanied me on many of the runs). I also had a great Sunday morning running group (5:00AM Paki Crew!) that got me up and through many of those long runs.
Coming off of the “CIM high” of breaking 3 hours for the first time this past December, I took several months off to just relax and spend time with family/friends and focus on my work. I was also dealing with a nagging IT band issue that flared up post-CIM (running four marathons in one year probably had something to do with it). So, the mileage dropped down to 20 – 30 mpw. I started rebuilding my base at the end of April with only slow, easy miles, and got up to around 70 – 80 mpw by June. I maintained that mileage until mid-July, threw in a few tempos here and there, and then jumped headstrong into the 12-week program.
I ran two tune-up races pre-Chicago: a 15k nine weeks out at 57:04 (6:07/mile average pace), and a 20k five weeks out at 1:16:47 (6:10/mile average pace). Additionally, there were two, confidence-boosting workouts worth noting: a 12m LT (tempo) workout with 7m @ 6:30/mile pace (7 weeks out). And a 6 x 1,600m track workout I ran at around 5:35/mile pace (3 weeks out). I used the results from these runs, particularly the 20k result though, to decide on the following goals for Chicago:
1) Sub-2:50 (this was my don’t-tell-anyone stretch goal)
I used my miles to get a free trip, so I didn’t have the opportunity to fly in two nights prior to the race (definitely preferred/recommended). I caught a red eye from Honolulu Friday evening, with a layover in Dallas before finally arriving in Chicago the morning before. It was also a busy week in the office, so by the time I checked into Hotel 71 I was exhausted, hungry, and anxious (not to mention freezing my butt off in 30 degree weather!).
I did manage to get down to the expo for a bit, picked up my bib, and walked around. The highlight had to be meeting Hal Higdon, who had a booth and was selling his books while greeting his fans. I followed his training schedules for my first two marathons and still read his book, so it was quite exciting for me to shake his hand and thank him for all of his guidance.
I picked up some chicken noodle soup with a loaf of bread, and with Gatorade sucked it all down. Copying Hal’s night-before routine, I laid out all of my gear for the morning, soaked in the bath and stretched a bit. Weather forecast was 40 (at the start – 7:30AM) and sunny – as good as it gets for the Chicago Marathon. Two Advil PMs knocked me out at around 8:00PM and kept me sound asleep until the alarm went off at 4:30AM.
Race strategy – after much deliberation I decided on chasing goal #1 (sub-2:50), running the first half at around 1:25:00 to 1:25:30, and hoping for a negative split in the second half. I knew it would be a stretch, but I figured I might not get a better chance in Chicago to do something special. I was also anxious to push myself a bit and see how far I could take it. And if I blew up, no sweat, because Boston would be right around the corner.
The last meal 3 hours prior to the race: (1) 8oz apple juice, (1) applesauce, (1) bagel with honey, (2) cups of coffee, and (1) banana. Also worth noting: I did keep up a carb-loading diet (approx. 90% carb intake) for the past 3 days leading into the race. I was out the door by 6:15AM and walked/slow jogged to Grant Park with everyone else.
Very well organized start I must add – gear check was easy and fast, porter potties were everywhere (so waiting time was minimal), clear communication was provided to runners. I was given a seeded Corral A start and waited until the very last minute – 7:20AM – before being forced into the shoot. I peeled off two long sleeve throwaway layers moments prior to the start (checked in my Nike sweatpants) and raced in: singlet, split shorts, arm warmers, throwaway gloves and beanie hat (purchased at expo). I had a gel flask holder in one hand (four GU gels squeezed in) and a small bottle of water in the other. I took two gels prior to the race starting – one 45 minutes out, then another 15 minutes prior. The race started exactly at 7:30AM and it didn’t take me longer than a minute to cross the chip mat. Weather was 39 at the start (46 at finish).
Note regarding mile splits below: because of the tunnels and inner city swerving, my Garmin was wacky from early in the race. I really stopped referencing the Garmin, aside from the total time, after mile 10 or so (and no, I did not run sub-6:00/minute miles!). Even my total time was not reliable after my first restroom break, because I forgot to remove the auto-pause feature (doh). My official splits are pasted at the bottom of this race report for reference.
Miles 1-3 (6:51, 6:15, 6:32)
Wow – with all of Chicago wrapped around you for your viewing pleasure, I felt like I was on a running/sightseeing tour and high! It was definitely a little tight for the first two to three miles (and cold, brrr); that and me being conservative attributed to a slow first mile and a fast second. By mile 3, I get back to where I want to be, right around 6:30 (goal pace = 6:29).
Miles 4-6 (6:27, 6:26, 6:23)
Spectator support is unbelievable – they’re everywhere and it’s really loud. Pace feels very comfortable and steady. Runners are still everywhere, but there’s a little more room to move around. I make a conscious effort to take in water every 15 minutes. We’re heading into the Chicago suburbs now. 30 minutes into my race I take my first swig of gel and notice that it’s difficult to get out of the flask because of the cold.
Miles 7-9 (6:27, 6:28, 6:28)
All I can remember about these miles were that they were consistent; I’m concentrating pretty hard on hitting my splits and staying focused on a 1:25ish half. No cramping felt, legs feel good.
Miles 10-12 (6:27, 6:27, 6:26)
Another great stretch of cool, comfortable running. The changing of seasons is in full effect and it’s so beautiful! I am cold and thinking I am yet again under-dressed for the marathon. Around mile 12 is when my stomach starts to turn for the worse. I’m having a lot of difficulty getting the gel out of the flask and the small amount I managed to get in my mouth is very thick and solid. Washing that down in my stomach, coupled with the cold, most probably upset my stomach. Either way, shortly after the half way mark I am starting to realize I’ll have to pull aside and use the restroom to avoid disaster!
Miles 13-15 (5:53, 5:57, 6:28)
I hit the half way mark at 1:25:34, just slightly behind my target. I’m quite discouraged at this point about having to use the restroom, because I know I’m going to lose valuable time. I find and use a porter potty between mile 13 and 14 (hence the reason for the crazy split time). I bolt out of the bathroom anxious, yet suddenly feeling really, really good. The discomfort I was feeling was entirely gone, and now I feel I can easily make up the 60 seconds or so I lost squatting.
Miles 16-18 (6:19, 6:18, 6:20)
These miles were strong, and too fast, because I was rushing to try to gain ground. Legs felt strong, and there were small peaks of sun streaking on to the course, which felt really good as well. I think I tried to take a small swig of gel here as well, but gave up after taking a small amount in.
Miles 19-21 (6:25, 6:26, 6:23)
Between mile 19 and 20 out of nowhere my stomach started hurting again. I curse my luck and use the bathroom for a second time. At this point I’m really upset at the whole situation knowing that sub-2:50 is gone, and I’m disappointed that I couldn’t have better anticipated these issues in advance. After sprinting out of the restroom, I chucked the gel flask to the curb and threw my throwaway beanie hat on the ground. I push for the good part of mile 21 with what I didn’t know then was the remaining energy I had.
Miles 22-24 (6:29, 6:39, 6:35)
Between mile 22 and 23 is when I felt that tragic feeling of “hitting the wall”. I knew it immediately when it snuck up on me, but it was far too late to prevent it at this point. Things started getting slower and heavier for me; I was running less efficiently because of the glycogen depletion, and less oxygen was making its way to my head. I was pushing as hard as I could and felt completely spent when I passed the mile 23 marker. 3 more miles to go felt like another 26.2m marathon distance to me. At some point during this struggle, another Runner’s World runner, Ivy, passes me looking really strong and confident. I muster up as much energy I have to wish him luck. The sun is gone, it’s looking cloudy, and the head winds start to pick up. I’m delusional and freezing and praying that this discomfort ends really soon.
Miles 25-26.2 (6:49, 7:00, 6:41)
These last two miles’ splits speak for themselves and probably illustrate how poorly I was feeling. Couldn’t be anymore different from the way I felt when I ran the last 2 miles at CIM, where my legs felt heavy but my mind was fresh and alive. I just wanted out at this point. All of my friends and supporters cheering me through my training really helped me get through this final stretch. I thought of them, I thought of all of the hard work I put into this training cycle, and kept pushing.
I’m very light headed and cold after I cross the finish line. A medical personnel comes right up to me and advises me to keep my arms above my head to avoid passing out. I slowly walk it off and start to feel less dizzy and nauseous. I skip all of the post-race picture taking and socializing and limp over to the gear check to get in some warm clothes.
Finish time – 2:52:22 (6:38/mile pace)
- 6 minute PR
- 10+ minute 2014 BQ time
- 7th marathon complete
Under the circumstances I’m thrilled and feel very lucky to be walking away with a 2:52 finish. It sets me up really nicely for a sub-2:50 chance at Boston in April. I also felt much more in control, calm, and relaxed racing in a big goal marathon. I know this experience will be invaluable to me as I continue to try and improve.
Additionally, I now think I know (ha!) the ideal mileage range for peak marathon training – it’s between 80 – 90 mpw for me. I don’t think I need more than that. Qualitatively, I will need to dial it up a couple notches for Boston – probably earlier in the 12 week program, in order to make strong enough gains in time.
Lastly, it’s a great feeling to know I am steadily improving and still have room to improve in my marathon time. I feel like I’m walking away from this marathon with a renewed love and respect for this sport, which is very gratifying.
I think I had the ability to go 2:50:xx or 2:51:xx in Chicago if my stomach cooperated, I got my gels in me, and probably drank a little more water. Clearly before Boston I really need to re-think my fueling strategy as well as identify the variables that upset my stomach (FYI – I did take one Imodium capsule 30 minutes prior to the start).
Also, even before hitting the wall my body also felt heavy at times. I think more rest and better hydration during marathon week would go a long way as well.
I don’t know what I was thinking, but I was way under dressed for my comfort. I should have raced in a short sleeve shirt and probably added on compression socks to protect my calves. I would’ve been less cold, my muscles would’ve been more reactive, and I would’ve been more comfortable in the race.
Thank you so much for reading! I would love to hear your thoughts – particularly if you have any recommendations, suggestions, feedback, etc. on possibly how I might be able to better prepare and race a marathon.
Official race pictures from Chicago