Let me just say off the bat, I have weird mixed feelings about this race. It’s hard to complain about a 3:32 finish and a BQ, but I’m not exactly thrilled with how I got there.
But before I get into the race itself…
Danielle and I got to Chicago in the early afternoon on Thursday and, for the most part, I didn’t want to spend too much time on my feet, but Thursday and Friday ended up being bit more walking around than planned.
We went to the expo late morning on Friday after a short three-mile run around Grant Park and the Lakefront Trail (side note: on this run, we passed Matt Centrowitz, Paula Radcliffe, and Noah Droddy). The expo was busy and crowded already, but nothing like what I’m sure it became later on. Expos for big races are always hell for people like us who don’t like crowds…or even other people.
After getting my bib and shirt, we did a lap around the whole thing, took a couple pictures, met up with my friend Heather, had a sample of Goose Island Old Man Grumpy—which was delicious—and got the heck outta there. Dinner that night was a big messy burger from RJ Grunts with the always wonderful Parker Molloy and Kayla Pekkala. Sadly, I still have not met Meatball.
Saturday was a really easy and relaxed day. I did a two-mile shakeout run and not much else. Dinner was the standard never-ending bowl of spaghetti at Dolce Italian. Yum!
Typically, in the week before a non-Disney World marathon, I don’t drink any alcohol, but this time around I had a beer Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I mean…whatever. Beer is good. And carbs.
I woke at around 5:15am for the 7:30 start. This gave me plenty of time to get ready and eat something—a crappy bagel from Starbucks and half an apple—without being rushed. Our hotel was in the Central Loop so we were close to the start which made for a nice quick walk over. I think I headed out around 6:15 and was through security by 6:30. Because I was a bit early, I had a short porta potty line. I was in the corral by 7, I think.
Once things started filling up, I looked for the 3:30 pacers so I could start with them. I didn’t necessarily plan on staying with them, but I wanted to start with them. Because my goal was a 3:35 for the day, based on my training, I would have preferred to start with that group, but they were in the D corral, one behind me. The 3:30 pacers wanted to try to wait for the D corral’s 3:30 group so they could run together; they set up shop in the very back of the C corral and I figured I’d hang back there with them.
When the race started, however, things got a little busy and I went without them. Off on my own! Considering my best races recently have been run without any time with pacers, it wasn’t a big deal to me. I was just afraid of starting out too fast.
The first half
Right from the start, I took off too fast and I knew it. I could feel myself running faster than I should have been, but it was a comfortable rhythm and I just couldn’t get myself out of it. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep it, but my legs weren’t slowing down. In hindsight, I should have tried harder to slow down. Mistakes were being made and I knew it. My first mile was a 7:52, which was at least 10 seconds faster than I should have been.
Had my training been faster, this is about where I would have wanted to be. 16 weeks ago, my goal was to be able to average a 7:50-7:45, but my training didn’t end up being for that. Miles two and three were 7:52 and 7:51 so I was really locked in at exactly that pace.
Around the second mile marker, I took off my tank top to run in just my sports bra. It wasn’t super warm yet, but I was already sweating a lot and I knew the temperature would be going up into the mid 70s. I also knew I’d be seeing Danielle around the next turn and I wanted to be able to toss my shirt to her without having to hold it until the next time I saw her at 20k.
Around mile four, I heard a voice screaming over all the others in the crowd, but it took me a few seconds to realize it was my name being yelled. Before I even turned my heard, I knew that loud and obnoxious voice was none other than Lauren Bailey.
As the course continued up into Lincoln Park, I was contemplating what my legs might have for the rest of the day. I knew I wasn’t slowing down so I decided to just embrace the race I started and see what happened. I was lapping my watch manually at each mile marker so I knew my exact pace. Though, I somehow missed the 9th marker which meant I had to wait until 11 for an exact split.
My main concern in the first 10k was that I couldn’t get my glutes or hamstrings to activate. I’ve always been a completely quad-dominant runner, but this was something I’ve been working on all year and was a big focus in my physical therapy sessions. I actually had a lot of success in improving this and, honestly, credit learning to activate my glutes and hamstrings for much of my solid racing through spring and summer. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t do it this day.
My 5k paces through the first half were 7:52, 7:49, 7:51, and 7:51 with a half time of 1:42:50 (7:56 average). How’s that for consistent? Running an even effort is rarely a problem for me in the marathon and with Chicago being so flat that meant even splits as well.
I was taking water at about two-thirds of the water stops and only had one of my gels. I’ve been taking fewer gels during marathons recently than I used to and it seems to work out for me so I just took this one around mile six.
The second half
As we came around Willis Tower and crossed the halfway point, I was still feeling okay physically, but I could tell my body was going to be fatiguing faster than I hoped. Over the next few miles, I passed a few people cheering who yelled my name, but I couldn’t catch who they were. I later found out one of them was my coworker Malicia who was out there to support her fiancé.
By 15 or 16, some fatigue was starting to set in, but I hadn’t slowed yet. I wasn’t feeling a lack of energy, just my legs starting to tire. I popped my second gel and started with the mental tricks to try to preemptively keep myself strong. I focused on getting to Cowbell Corner at mile 17 and then the 30k mark.
30k was right on the money at 7:51 average, again. I was actually impressed with myself that I was running this consistent.
Unfortunately, that’s when the wheels started to fall off. I wasn’t surprised it happened, but I thought I’d have until at least 20 miles before I started falling apart. When it happens at 18.5 miles, it’s a long way to go until that finish line. I’ve done enough marathons now to know how to fight through to the finish, but I also knew to kiss that three-minute PR I was on track for goodbye.
I haven’t really mentioned much about the weather yet, but it was a warm day—low of 57, high in the mid-70s—and sunny with a ~10mph breeze. The breeze felt great in those temps. I’d like to blame the heat for my bonking, but I can’t. It was a non-issue for me. I was taking water and staying hydrated and, for someone who runs about my time, you can find a lot of shade on the course. I spent very little time having to run in the sun. I was worried about the temperature before the race, but it just wasn’t a problem for me. Unfortunately, I don’t think this was the case for a lot of other runners.
My 35k split was an average of 8:20. I had slowed a lot. By mile 20, I was walking through water stops. And once I start having to take walk breaks, I’m screwed. I never recover from that.
I started making deals with myself, “okay, no more walk breaks until the next mile” and things like that. I was struggling. My quads where shot. I still hadn’t been able to activate my glutes or hamstrings and I was paying for it now. At 40k, my splits had slowed to a 9:21 average. I was taking a lot of walk breaks.
It sucked. But I still had a smile on my face. Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I love the marathon. I think having races that are tough makes me love it even more.
Knowing the course, I knew what was left and just kept focusing on getting to the finish line. For the last 2.2k, I was able to do fewer walk breaks and pick my pace up a bit from where it was the previous few miles, but I was really ready to be done.
I looked out for the 800m to go sign and felt a little relief when I knew I was in the last half mile. As I climbed that stupid hill just as you’re hitting mile 26, I was so thankful the finish line was around the next turn.
I crossed with a 3:32:28 and was thrilled to be done and ready for my post-race beers.
While I was nearly four minutes from my PR, I ran a little faster overall than expected. I’m happy with my time—you really can’t complain about a 3:32 and a BQ. But I’m not happy with how I got there. Mistakes were made from the start and I paid for them. I knew I was making them and I’m disappointed in myself for making them anyway. I haven’t made this mistake in a marathon in a long time. I know better than this. And, to be honest, it was only my quads that bonked. My lungs, energy level, hydration, GI, and the rest of my legs were all fine.
Not only did the second half of this race suck, but it breaks a streak of five straight marathon negative splits. That’s probably one of my proudest things about my running, is having negative split five marathons in a row…until this race. But…it happens. I knew I had a decent streak of good marathons and was due for a rough one. They can’t all be winners.
Despite not being happy with my execution, I wasn’t really the least bit disappointed after the race. I love the marathon and I love this city and Chicago Marathon and I still had a good time (both in terms of finish time and having fun!). I had a smile on my face at the finish and all day after.
Races like this remind me how much I love the marathon.