I know. I know. It’s been MONTHS since the Chicago Marathon.
I’ve run four races since then…
We’re in a new freaking YEAR…
But honestly, I would be remiss if I didn’t recap the darn thing. After all, it was my goal race for the fall.
Short story: I LOVED IT. I loved every moment of the race, even the moments when I was in pain – and there was pain thanks to the leg injury that had been plaguing me since June. I can see exactly where the problem started, too. My mileage in 2014 went like this:
- January 54 miles (ran the Goofy and the Minnie 10K in January)
- February 52 miles (trained for and ran the Glass Slipper Challenge)
- March 5 miles
- April 11 miles
- May 13 miles
- June 48 miles
- July 58 miles
- August 80 miles
- September 82 miles (and I was taking it easy)
- October 36 miles (STOPPED running after Chicago)
- November 20 miles
- December 50 miles
See the problem area there? In the words of Costa, my physiotherapist with magic in his blood, “our goal is to get you to the starting line as pain free as possible”.
So let’s get to that starting line, shall we?
I convinced Greg to join me in the trip to Chicago – thanks to our work with The Second City on ships, we have a lot of friends in Chicago and any excuse to visit is a welcome one. Plus, there was a good deal on airfare!
We flew down on a beautiful Saturday afternoon and took the EL into the city.
Once we were checked into our hotel (The beautiful Hotel Allegro) we made our way to a shuttle pick up spot to take the bus to the expo. It was mid-afternoon, and so I wondered how long the bus trip would take from the Loop all the way down to McCormick Place. I shouldn’t have worried. Did you know that there’s a super-secret, uber-efficient “bus only” route from downtown Chicago to the Convention Centre? I sure didn’t and IT BLEW MY MIND! I didn’t think I could love Chicago more, but now I do. Way to go, Chicago.
Once we got down to McCormick Place, I got in line to pick up my bib and Hospitality Tent access sticker. Once that was accomplished, I made my way to T-shirt pick up only to discover that they were out of women’s shirts. That’s right. OUT. Not impressed. I settled for a men’s medium, grumpily and started looking for the KT Tape booth. Greg stood in line for me while I looked around. It was a good sized expo, but frankly I wasn’t in the market for anything, my leg was a bit sore, and I was suffering from pre-marathon moodiness.
Still, we managed to have some fun – and I was delighted to see that the EAS Alert level was LOW. I’ve never run a race where it’s been low. What a treat!
Greg got an even better shot of the glowing route map on the Nike booth. That thing was freaking cool – does anyone else see the Death Star?
I also had a look in the Nike Booth for a pace group. Before my injury, my goal for this race was 5:45 – 5:50, but based on my reduced training and the fact that I was still in some pain, I adjusted to 6:00 and hoped it was realistic. Unfortunately, despite what the marathon website said, there was no 6:00 pace group, so I knew I was on my own.
We went shopping for a ‘throw-away” layer for me, then back to the hotel. Greg packed up a few things and I gave him the items I would want at the 10 mile mark of the race (extra hydration bottles, my visor and my coffee order – iced latte). Our good pal had invited him to go do a show, and then spend the night at her place so that he wouldn’t come back to the hotel at 1AM and wake me. They had a fun night, and Greg spent a comfy night on a futon:
I spent the evening laying out my clothes and deciding what shirt to wear in the less-than-warm conditions ahead of me, then I double-checked that my baggies of ENERGYbits were packed in my FuelBelt. I also created a pace band using a tool on the Running Room website which I copied to the notes App on my phone, then took a screen shot so I could zoom into the small print. The pace band was for 5:57, but anything in the 6 hour neighbourhood was ok with me. That done, I climbed into bed and hoped for sleep.
Morning brought a bit of an unwelcome surprise and a trip down to the front desk to ask for tampons. (sorry, gents) I grabbed a coffee from the lobby and headed up to my room to eat something before heading out.
I didn’t really know how long it would take to get to the hospitality tent, so I gave myself plenty of time to walk over. It was a good thing, since it was much farther than I anticipated! Since I was so far back in the corrals (and the tent was near the back of the corrals, too) it worked out pretty well for me. I watched the earlier waves start via the TVs in the tent, relaxed, used the bag check and the facilities and just generally tried not to freak out.
This, in my mind, was my first real marathon. Sure, I’d done the Space Coast Marathon the previous December, but I was woefully undertrained. Same for the Goofy Challenge I’d done in January, just a month later. What those two races did give me, however, was the knowledge that no matter what… I could cover the miles. Not prettily, but I could grind them out if needed. In Chicago I was better trained, in better shape… I was just… injured.
Like all my races, my strategy for this race was to run 2/1 run/walk intervals – I’ve been using this Galloway Running interval structure from day one, and I couldn’t imagine myself ever even starting to run without it.
I smiled for the cameras in the corral.
But how I really felt is best summed up by this candid shot:
I surprised myself with my emotional state. I saw a pair, likely mother and son, preparing to run together. Her shirt declaring that it was her first marathon, her leg held fast with a huge knee brace. I saw a man with a photo of his late wife on his shirt – running in her memory. I cried in the corral. In retrospect, knowing that my hormones were facing an all out assault on top of the stress, I’m not surprised, but all I could think was “I can’t keep crying, I’ll never be able to breathe properly.” Also… why the hell was I crying?? I’m not the type who cries. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Before we knew it, it was our corral’s turn (the last corral). “Born to Run blared over the loudspeakers and off we headed towards the river. Within the first of mile, I saw a runner take a header, but bounce right back up while crossing one of the bridges. Duly noted, watch the footing on the bridges. Good information, considering we’d cross the river a total of 6 times that day. I kept my eyes forward and stuck as close to the blue tangent line as possible as we wove through River North and back down to the Loop before hooking back North up LaSalle.
5K – 00:41:45
I was cruising. I felt good and I hoped I could keep up this pace. It was pretty much exactly where I wanted to be. I was a little concerned, since I seemed to be pacing along pretty close to the 5:45 Nike Pace Team. Either they were starting really slow, or I was starting really fast. In retrospect, it had to be the former. As I ran, I appreciated how many people were still out watching the runners – it was a welcome sight, considering how long ago the actual race started. We veered right into Lincoln Park and I spotted some portopotties with a shortish line. I hopped in the line and hoped the wait wouldn’t cost me too much time. A panicked girl approached me and asked if I was the Nike pacer for 5:45 – my shirt was similar to theirs in colour – I told her they couldn’t be that far ahead since I’d just seen them before joining the line and I wished her luck. I loved running through the park. I’ve run there before, so it was a nice visit.
10K – 01:25:46 (Diff 44:10)
The bathroom break cost me, but I didn’t care. I started to get texts from Greg letting me know that they were almost at the corner of North and Wells where I’d asked them to meet me with my coffee and an Uncrustable sandwich. Before I realized it, I was up at Addison making the turn back south. I couldn’t believe it. It had seemed so far on the map (and in our other visits to Chicago), but here I was, heading back south with a huge grin on my face. I felt GOOD! As I ran through Boystown and waved at the Drag Queens performing and soaked in the cheering patio patrons, I felt like I would burst with happiness.
15K – 02:07:18 (Diff 41:32)
As I ran down Sedgwick, I looked around at the beautiful homes, the gorgeous fall foliage and straight ahead at the Brown Line train that kept getting closer and closer with each passing step. Around the corner, I knew I’d find Greg and my friends, and I was excited to see them. They took this adorable selfie while they were waiting – they told me to look for them “by Elvis”.
Sure enough, there they were, by the Fleet Feet stage. I ran up to them giving sweaty hugs and they were like a NASCAR pit crew. “What do you need?” I thew my hands in the air, and they swapped out my hydration bottles for full ones (including one containing my much anticipated iced latte) I handed over my hat and gloves and got my visor, and I started running away again.
MY UNCRUSTABLE!! I quickly doubled back and got my sandwich and bid them a fond farewell Seeing them gave me such a boost of energy.
20K – 02:49:41 (Diff 42:23)
I drank my coffee and munched on my sandwich as I made my way down Wells, passing the Cobbler Lofts, which feel like a home away from home for us since we always stay in corporate housing there when we’re in Chicago for rehearsals. I felt great. I fist bumped a cop. My pace and my intervals seemed to be doing right by me. I had been worried about being ‘alone’ on the course, but it turns out there were a lot of people running at my pace, and I never felt “less-than” during the race at all.
There was a big screen and a cheering zone at the halfway point – that was cool…
HALF – 02:58:45 (Diff 09:04)
It turns out my own support squad had tried to meet me closer to the half, but they couldn’t catch me, so they enjoyed some food in Greektown instead, while I ran through it. Just past Mile 14, there was a “Charity Block Party”, which was really cool. All the affiliated charities had little tents set up, and the runners could go and get support from their group (a lot of it was in the form of candies and stuff). That was really fun to see…
I also feel like my pit crew met me in here somewheres, but I can’t for the life of me remember where. Marathon brain. I feel like it was around Mile 16.
25K – 03:31:53 (Diff 33:08)
I was still feeling surprisingly good. My injury wasn’t any more sore than usual, so I took that as a good sign. I was feeling the miles, but not overwhelmingly so. Someone near me remarked that we were down to single digits, and I realized that we’d passed Mile 17. That made me feel even better! There was, however, a small problem brewing.
I’d started to slow a little bit due to a pain across the top of my left foot, just across the arch. I tried to ignore it, popping a couple of Tylenol and focussing on the people around me. I was also getting word from Greg that it didn’t look like they’d be able to make the 20 Mile spot where I’d been hoping to see them. I texted back not to worry, that I’d slowed down and that I’d see them at the finish line.
To be honest, I was sad about not seeing them at Mile 20, but I totally understood the challenges facing them trying to get around the city that day.
30K – 04:15:16 (Diff 43:23)
Pain Town USA. I considered walking more due to the pain in my foot and I bargained with myself to walk an extra set of intervals, just till I got to Mile 20 My hammies, never having given me a lick of trouble before, started feeling crampy. I stopped on the curb and tried a stretch which seemed to make things worse so I figured I might as well keep going. My foot hurt as badly walking as it did running, so I figured I might as well keep up with my intervals, as well. I dazed older gentleman asked if we’d passed 20 yet, and giving him the good news that we had just passed it a hundred yards back cheered me up. Only 10K to go!
We were also coming up on the first food stop. I got about an inch and a half worth of banana. Stop. I’ll get fat. (It’s ok, the banana-bits got progressively bigger).
35K – 05:01:06 (Diff 45:50)
Next up: China Town!
You’ll notice, I’m practically right ON TOP of that blue line.
We carried on south before hooking left, crossing over-top of the Dan Ryan Expressway and reaching a beautiful sight. I’d already put my phone away after telling Greg I’d see him at the finish, so imagine my surprise when this happened:
That’s Greg in the red hoodie ducking back off the course after giving me a quick kiss. After I’d told him about slowing down and being in pain, he and my friends busted ass to get to me at Mile 23 to give me one last push for that last 5K.
They cut a corner and met me again, a little bit farther along, so of course I had to photobomb:
Caroline ran with me for a little bit, giving me a last-minute pep talk that cheered me up and gave me energy for the last few miles. My joy was back!
I also got a chance to get this photo taken:
Let’s try again with our eyes open, shall we?
By the way – look at how many people are around me. My goal in this last 5K was to try and pass as many people as I could.
40K – 05:44:16 (Diff 43:10)
In my final stretch, I reflected back on my journey and thought once again of all the people who had “bought” one of the miles I ran on this day – I’d been mentally acknowledging them as each mile marker clicked away – but in the final two, unsponsored miles, I thought about myself. I thought about how proud I was of what I was about to do.
I also thought about how my friend Mollie had pledged some money if I was able to run the last mile of the marathon at a faster pace than any of the others, so I gave it a shot, pushing harder than I thought I could (I will admit to walking up the last ramp/hill that lead to the finish line, though). Guess what? I did it. My last mile was my fastest mile.
FINISH – 06:01:57 (Diff 17:41)
Look at that SMILE!
There were no real tears after this marathon, although I will admit to misting up when I how I’d done. Happy misting, of course. I felt so strong and the pain was still manageable.
I grabbed my medal and got to texting Greg to see where they’d ended up. They couldn’t reach the finish-line viewing without a pass for the Hospitality tent, so they were up in the runner’s village, which apparently was pretty much clearing out and shutting down. They opted to head back to the hotel and meet me there.
I almost passed by the post-race beer from Goose Island, but I turned around on my heel and grabbed one happily before heading over to get my photo taken.
I went to the Hospitality Tent and grabbed a sandwich and another beer before they closed up (boy, EVERYTHING was shutting down). Meanwhile, Greg, Caroline and Carley saw the true aftermath of a marathon on their way out of the runner’s village.
I bundled up a bit in the warm clothes I’d put through bag check (I was SO grateful for those extra layers) and started hoofing my way back to the hotel slowly. On my way out of the Hospitality Tent, I asked who had won and was glad to hear that Rita Jeptoo had come out on top for the women (only to be stripped of the title later for doping).
The sidewalks were jam packed with people who’d also just finished (as well as those who’d finished long ago, had already showered and were back out on the street again). I saw some ladies heading away with beautiful flower arrangements, and I congratulated them and complimented them on their flowers – I remembered seeing that you could order arrangements for runners on the marathon website, and they looked like they were really worth the effort. So pretty.
I finally made it back to the hotel where Greg and my friends cheered when I came through the door. It meant a lot that they’d spent their whole day following me around the city, and that they were as excited for me as if I’d beat that cheater Rita across the finish line! Here’s a look at the signs they carried – they made me laugh.
We hung out for a bit before the gals had to take off and I had a shower and took a nap.
The next day we went for a fantastic brunch at one of our favourite spots, Little Goat Diner – SO YUM and so well deserved.
Then we stopped by the nearest Fleet Feet to drop off my medal for engraving:
Holy Lineup!! We left the medal there and opted to come back later to pick it up – we did, however, grab a free beer while we were there.
Then we sped over to the Nike Store on Michigan Avenue where Greg insisted I get a Finisher jacket – all that was left for women was a bright coral-pink, which I’m totally not into, so I grabbed a men’s 3/4 zip in black instead. While we were wandering around, I noticed that a generous soul in the Magic Milers group I’m a part of was offering a pair of Bulls pre-season game tickets for that night to any Miler who’d run the Chicago marathon that day. Of course I jumped on that offer!
From there, we met our friends for drinks at Old Town Ale House which I’d run by the day before, and Greg picked up some Ibuprofen for the pain in my foot now that I was in the clear to take it. I was feeling pretty good aside from that foot.
It was a whirlwind trip full of fun, friends and running. I couldn’t believe how much I’d enjoyed running the Chicago Marathon, and I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d be able to improve on my time if I tried it again.
I’m still not sure I’ve fallen in love with the marathon distance, or if I have many more of them in me, but with the Goofy Challenge looming in the distance, I knew I had at least one more to go.
Once those injuries healed, that is.
Did you run the Chicago Marathon? How did you like it?