Background: I’d been trying to qualify for Boston since 2012. I ran the 2012 race but had failed to get a qualifier. I was always within 5-15 minutes of my time. I had a couple races where the training was so far off the paces I needed, I scraped the idea of even trying. My frustration peaked last year when I gave it all I had, qualified but not by enough to get in. I examined why I wanted to do it and it was really the big city marathon atmosphere, not so much the prestige. So I picked another big city. Enter Chicago. I got in on the lottery back in December, so this race does require planning your life out a year in advance.
After getting in, we booked a hotel right away, and most stuff was already booked, 10 months in advance, so a pro tip here, if you go, do book lodging immediately. And book downtown where all hotels are walking distance from the start/ finish.
Training went well. Long runs were hot and difficult, but I got through them. Working with Team Apex still, we did lots of speed work which I think made my race. My schedule was track work/ tempo run/ long run/ easy days, rest day. I lifted weights at Body Pump once a week and started pilates once a week (love it) I had to give up my favorite yoga class as there are only so many hours in a week, but the Pilates is a miracle for keeping the body injury free.
Tapered and ready, I forgot one thing: to taper the rest of my life. Two weeks prior to the race were really hectic for me with 3 days in a row of 3:30 wake ups for work. I was a little cooked and got sick the week of my race. I was pretty bummed. It was just a hard cold but I really had wanted to go into this 100%.
Fun part: My family came with me, which was really nice. We went Fri-Mon. Friday was the peak day of my head cold, so by the time we got there, I was feeling rough. We checked into our hotel early and went to Maggie Daley park (which we found by accident). It was the best playground I’ve ever been to. Jasper agreed. Our hotel also had a nice indoor pool, so Mike and Jasper headed to that while I headed to the Expo.
My cold peaked here. I was running a slight fever and felt terrible. Maybe this was good, as I just didn’t have it in me to wait in the lines for the super cool merchandise. The expo had shuttle buses to get you there and this was the first hint of the fantastic organization. It was a flawless operation. The expo had a lot less of the trinkety, junk booths, and the big running gear vendors were all there with really nice mini- shops with lots of custom gear. Nike basically created a village. It was more like a Tokyo night club. There was a Dj, a gazillion super cool selfie stations, and so much custom gear, all lovely with big price tags. But the line. OMG, it was huge. I would have passed out waiting in it, so now I’m stalking the Nike website for a sale, but the custom gear (Chicago skyline leggings!) sadly won’t be on it. The bib and shirt pick up was another flawless operation, and all runners got really nice Nike shirts and a race poster.
Back at the hotel, I remained in the fetal position, after getting winded walking a flight of stairs. Not good. Pizza and beer sounded awful so we found a healthy noodle place near the hotel, and Mike went to watch a Cubs play offs game at a bar and I slept 10 hours.
Saturday was much better. I was stuffy as heck but had my energy back. We tackled the Field Museum. Swoon. I need more places in my life with both expansive collections of South Pacific masks and stuffed Narwhals. And, Sue the famous T Rex has her own craft beer.
Pre race dinner at the Berghoff. I now will require hand made spatzle in an old German restaurant for all my races. It was the perfect carb loading meal. Spatzle, a little pork, and a giant pretzel. A second pretzel came back to the hotel for a pre race breakfast. It was the perfect meal. Apparently the Berghoff is a Chicago institution and I cannot recommend it enough. Such a cool atmosphere.
Ok, race morning is here! I was the first corral of wave 2 and an 8:00 start. Here is one of the huge selling points of Chicago. If you stay downtown, and there are a gazillion hotel options there, you have no race day logistics. There is a short walk to the start and a short, but painful walk back. No buses, no getting there 5 hours before your race, it’s very simple. It was recommended in the race booklet I arrive at 6:00. I left my hotel then and got to the start in no time. There are security checkpoints to enter the start, but once again, the organization is flawless. You are assigned a gate to enter and I sped through. It felt like Disneyland with a recording explaining where to proceed, and the quick moving lines.
When I registered I splurged on $100 for the hospitality tent. This is an add on where the funds raised go to local charities and you get a heated tent, your own portapotties and hand washing stations, a full breakfast and lunch buffet, your own gear check and the biggie for me, a post race massage. I am not a huge eater pre-race, so there was no food for me, and the weather was mild, so I wondered if I had wasted money on this. The race was so well done that gear check and bathroom lines looked pretty smooth. But after the race, I can say this was money well spent. I had zero lines for bathrooms, I had a post race massage with zero wait, by two therapists, and I was escorted to and from the start/ finish. If I had been with a group of friends, I would have stayed for the post race buffet too.
We had to get to our corrals 300 minutes prior to the start. That part kinda sucked as you were stuck there. I small talked with a couple runners to pass the time, but everyone was just itching to go. Once we started, I was only a minute or so back from the front since I was the beginning of wave 2 (perfect spot), it was pretty quiet and we exited Grant park and headed into a tunnel under Lake Shore drive. As I had been told, my watch went nuts with the long tunnel and said my first mile was 6:48. My goal pace was 8:30ish, but with no gps for a bit, I ran the opening bit on feel
We emerge from the tunnel and that’s when you hit a wall of sound and people. The crowds what make this race. I was really congested with a ton of pressure in my ears, but my body felt ok. My watch was still all over, giving me a 6:50 pace. From here we weave through downtown and insane amount of spectators. There are a lot of bridge crossings in this race, and the bridges are grated, but they laid carpeting down over them for smooth footing. The attention to details is just out of control. The water stops were so easy. They went on for so long and were all water first then gatorade either side of the street. I never had an issue grabbing water and never had to stop.
The course runs in and out of different neighborhoods. I didn’t always know which one I was in, but there were some highlights. Boystown was around mile 8 and huge crowds with two stages of drag queens. One thing I really loved about Chicago was the race itself doesn’t put out one bit of course entertainment. Every single thing going on are people from the neighborhoods getting together and doing something. I have no idea how the marathon convinced the city to buy into it so much. It closes a ton of streets and locks up the whole day with runners coming through, but the residents seem to completely embrace and celebrate it like crazy.
The Willis tower was always a landmark on the course for me. It sticks out above the other buildings and its at mile 13. Apparently Mike and Jasper saw me and I missed them, as I was on the other side of the street scanning the crowds. Dang. My body check in at 13 miles was ears need to pop, but my body is ok. My watch had normalized and I was cranking consistent 8:30ish miles. Quads were feeling tight.
I sorta don’t remember what we went through until we hit Pilsen. This is the Little Mexico neighborhood and was the best crowds in my opinion. It was endless Mexican flags, DJs everywhere, and absolute insane crowds. I was totally lifted up here. I think it was around mile 18ish and maybe my ears finally popped here. Quads are definitely tight.
It started to hurt about this point. As it should. I was keeping pace though. At mile 20 my watch died. Maybe this was good, as I couldn’t stress about pace. Mile 22-23 is Chinatown and it’s about as crowded as Pilsen. I remember a spectator screaming “you’re going to turn that corner and hit the most fans on the whole course, all cheering for you, use that energy!” He was right. It was nuts. There were a bunch of lion dancers but they were on a break when I came through. A huge Korean drum troupe blasting “Gangam Style” and drumming along made up for it. After Chinatown it was just a couple more miles. I guess I have failed to mention to was up to about 75 degrees, not brutal, but too hot for a marathon, and people were cramping or walking everywhere. “Keep it together” was what I told myself over and over.
Mile freakin’ 25! Here’s where I told myself take it all in. With my dead watch, I was taking off about half an hour of what was on the clocks (I started 30 minutes after gun time) and if guesstimated if I kept it together I’d qualify for Boston. After FIVE years of failed attempts. Also, I had this race on my calendar for 10 months, I had lots of 3:30 am workouts in those months to get it in before a 6:00 work day, I had lots of track workouts in 90% humidity. I needed to soak in every minute.
There is a wonderful count down of signs starting at 800 meters to go. When I hit 400, I thought just a 400 repeat left. Run this like a repeat (we did those suckers all summer). The finish was in sight sprinting towards it,my quads totally seized. I crossed the line completely spent, as I should be.
There were hospitality tent volunteers that help me over to it and right away ushered me in for the massage. I don’t think I could have walked back to my room otherwise. My quads were totally locked up. I still wasn’t 100% sure if got my BQ. The volunteers looked up my results for me, and there it was, FINALLY!!! in by 8 minutes. that should do it.
This was the best of all my marathons. It’s really a toss up between this and Boston. Chicago’s course is better, logistics are waaaaaaay better, and travel is better. This race totally won me over, and I will do it again. I almost cried when we had to leave.
The pain the last two days was pretty intense. We did an architecture river tour post race (I got to sit and sip a coke and see beautiful buildings, it was a perfect activity) and I attempted to eat deep dish pizza but the combo of having a cold and destroying my body made food consumption a challenge.
Chicago marathon tidbits:
Best sign: Life size cutout of the Night King with him holding a sign that said “Run fast, winter is coming.”
Best neighborhood: Pilsen. The crowds were unreal.
Best food: pre race giant home made soft pretzel. I’ll never eat a bagel again
Best Expo item purchased: insulated Goose Island Brewery marathon pint glass
Best body part post race: feet. No blisters
Worst Body part post race and for the next few days: Quads. Painful to even touch.
Best feeling: getting that stupid Boston Qualifier. Finally putting it all together on one day for a 3:47.
Signing off, feeling tired (still) and thankful. My heart is full.