I loved (almost) every minute of the Chicago Marathon experience. From my last post, you can gather that I was surrounded by wonderful company, enjoyed the expo, and even the pre-race dinner despite being really cold.
Race morning was so easy. Since we ate dinner at 4PM the day before and I was in bed by 10PM, waking up at 5:45AM was not a rude awakening. I had a plan for the morning — make and eat breakfast (bagel with peanut butter) and then start drinking Generation UCAN. I bought three packets of it with me (enough for 3+ hours of energy), figuring I’d rather not take any supplemental energy along the race if I didn’t need to. I had my race outfit all planned out the night before including my throwaway clothes, so when it was time to get dressed, it required no thinking. I was worried about the weather being cold, so I had arm warmers and gloves too.
By 6:45AM, we all went down to the lobby of the hotel to see Julio off. He was starting in the first wave and the rest of the group was in wave 2. Then back in the room, I finished the rest of the UCAN, lathered on vaseline and body glide, and met the group to head over to the start around 7:15. I picked the Palmer House Hilton because of how close it was to the start line and I am so glad I did. There were definitely crowds of people heading towards the start, but how could there not? There was going to be 45,000 runners, one of the largest marathons in the world next to NYC. The flow was easy and laid back though. Within 10 minutes, we made it to our gate to enter Millennium Park. The lines for the port-a-potties were long and seeing that we had only 10-15 minutes before our corrals closed, we had to find plan B. Fortunately, I was with James who fundraised for Ronald McDonald House and they had a huge private tent with port-a-potties and running water to wash your hands. We did our business and made it into the corrals by 7:40. It was the most painless start experience I ever had.
In our corrals, we stretched and even “donated” our throwaway clothes before the start. The sun was coming out and the weather was looking great. James and I were in the first corral (and first unseeded corral) of wave 2. We started a little after 8:00 which made it very easy for Josh and his family to track where I was. Within the first mile, my watch was already off with the GPS signal, tall buildings and underpasses. Garmin thought I ran a 7:00 min first mile and I was annoyed. I tried my best to reset at the mile marker but the distance was already thrown off for the rest of the race (in hindsight, I probably should have turned off automatic laps). Josh and his family were waiting for me right before mile 2 (on State Street, right behind the hotel). By that point, I knew I wanted to shed the arm warmers, so I was very glad they saw me in the beginning of the race. James and I were basically neck and neck through mile 14. We saw everyone again right before the half marathon mark and at that split, we were coming in a little over 1:59. The plan was race the first half conservatively and then speed it up and we knew that even if we kept pace, we would be under 4 hours.
By mile 14 though, I was hurting. My upper back tightened up and I had to stop to stretch. I managed to average sub-10 min miles for the next couple of miles but my back was too tight. After that, I was averaging over 10 – 11 min miles. I watched my ultimate goal of a sub-4 hour marathon slip by, then a goal of under 4:10 run away, and by the end I was settling for a PR. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy with a PR and as everyone has told me all week, a PR is a PR regardless of how the race was, but I was not happy with how I accomplished the PR. I had a really strong training season and I knew that unless something went really wrong, I was going to PR, so even though my official finish time of 4:17:18 was over 5 minutes faster than my original record, I was really gunning for over 22 minutes faster. When you run/walk the last 12 miles of a marathon, it is hard to feel good about your time accomplishment. If I had to dwell on what went wrong and what to change for next time, I wonder if I did too much sightseeing the days before and when I was scrunched up to stay warm on the river cruise and pasta dinner, maybe that caused my back to tense up? Perhaps it was the hotel room bed? Or the massage earlier in the week wasn’t deep tissue enough? It could have been a number of things or just one of them, but all good things to keep in mind for two weeks from now for NYC.
Despite my experience in the last half of the race, I loved the course. It was scenic, relatively flat, and there were spectators everywhere. I had hoped for a surge by mile 21 in Chinatown with the dragon dancers, which I somehow missed, but was happy to see 5 rows deep of people. I was expecting Josh and his family between miles 23-24 so that forced me to run virtually that whole mile because there was no way I wanted them to see me walk. I was happy to be on the last turn onto Michigan Avenue, seeing the tall buildings up ahead and knowing that at the very last 800 meters there was going to be a hill entering the park. I finished unhappy and disappointed in myself and when I finally made it to the post-race party to meet up with everyone, I was annoyed. Annoyed that I didn’t run as well as I would have liked, annoyed that there was so many people (even though the post-race walk was nothing like what I experienced in NYC when it took me over an hour to just get out of the park), and annoyed that I had walked past the Buckingham Fountain which looked so cool.
It is hard to stay upset at yourself for long when you’re surrounded by friends and family. The post-race party at Butler Field in Grant Park was awesome. The weather was great out and we all hung out drinking our free Goose Island beers, well I didn’t drink my beer but I did share it, and waited for our team to come back. We even got our medals engraved and stayed the whole time until they kicked us out at 3PM. Then we went over to Cloud Gate to take a group picture with our medals. It was Toni’s wish to take a picture there and we sure had a lot of fun jumping and posing for the camera. Clearly we all did not run hard enough that we could still jump and move around this much after the race.
We all had an early dinner (since most of us did not eat a real meal since the morning) of burgers and fries, somehow that was what we all craved since we had too much pasta and pizza all week. It was such a great feeling sitting around relaxed and reliving all the memories. Julio even pulled up the picture from the post-NYC Marathon happy hour last year when a couple of us shook on running Chicago. It was the day after the NYC Marathon and we (well, I) was in extreme pain and had no voice, but still brilliantly shook on eventually running all the World Major Marathons, with Chicago being the next. I was definitely not serious last year because I went through a period of debating marathon retirement, before entering the Chicago Marathon lottery a couple of months later not really thinking that I would get accepted. Fast forward almost a year later to celebrating our accomplishments in Chicago.
After dinner, some of us made it to Willis Tower (though it will always be known as Sears Tower for me) sky deck. While it’s not same seeing the city at night, it was really neat to see the lights and other Chicago Marathoners who had the same idea. I don’t know how I managed to make it through the whole day without a nap. I definitely slept well that night and was glad to wake up a little later for breakfast followed by walk around Lake Michigan, Buckingham Fountain (since I was too upset to appreciate it the day before), and watch the crew take down and clean up after the marathon madness. Our flight home was mid-afternoon and as we were walking through the airport being congratulated by TSA folks and random strangers, the experience felt so surreal.
The weekend in Chicago was amazing. It reminds me of how lucky I am to be able to run and finish a marathon and be able to experience the feelings of being upset with myself about my performance. But more importantly, the weekend reminded me of how fortunate I am to have the friends and family who supported me from home through Facebook posts, Instagram messages, tweets, virtually tracking me, texts, and phone calls (when I finished the race, I had almost 50 unread text messages), the best teammates in the whole wide world (some of us have traveled to two marathons together already), the best parent-in-laws who fly to watch me run a marathon and support me in all this craziness, and the best husband ever because he deals with having to listen to me talk about marathons all the time and my alarm set for obscene hours on the weekend. I am so grateful for all the experiences that in my grandma’s memory, I have been able to be a part of and grateful for all the love and support that I have in my life.
Thank you Chicago for such an awesome marathon experience and I will be back to prove that I can do better!