You could say that running the Chicago Marathon was a spur of the moment decision. Shortly after my finish at Berlin, my runner’s high made me commit to running another major. The easy choice was Chicago since I have family there I could visit, it’s not too far, and it’s a flat course. Getting in wasn’t so easy since it’s a lottery. Or so I thought. I signed up for two lotteries this year, Sun Mountain was the other. It was either one or none. I ended up getting both LOL.
Not Your Usual Training Plan
Most of my races in 2018 were trail races. I did one road half marathon this year and everything else was in the woods or short road races. Due to that, I had more time-on-the-legs training rather than mileage. The good news was, I built up strength thanks to climbing all those hills.. something that would help me in the long run. After the Squamish 50 23k, I took a short break and then had to ramp it up fairly quickly. As you can see below, I jumped up to 25k for my long run 2 weeks after Squamish. I kept my 2 longest runs at 30k. Both of them included a race which I obviously didn’t push at. Unfortunately, I was only able to do 2 longer runs as I had to taper fairly quickly. You gotta do what you gotta do, but thankfully I came out of this injury-free. The transition from trail to road was hard though. I really missed being out in the woods but I knew I needed to train on the terrain I’m racing on. I should also note that most (if not all) of my long runs were on very rainy days.
We arrived in Chicago on the Friday so Saturday was the only time we could go to the expo. I was very nervous about it because I saw photos online that showed massive crowds and lineups. My family took us there first thing in the morning. It timed out perfectly since the 5k just ended and there were no lineups at all. I think we were in and out in about 30-45 minutes and that included walking around (really quickly) and waiting for 1 photo opp.
I loved looking through the “What’s Your Crazy Dream?” wall and picking out some really funny answers. There’s also a treadmill simulation thingy that allowed you to see how long you can sustain Eliud Kipchoge’s world record marathon pace. I didn’t try it. An injury before race day was something I could do without. This guy did well though.
As for swag, there were a few highlights. The shirt, for one, isn’t bad. I am not crazy about the colour but it’s a comfortable running shirt and the design was decent. The Sahale tangerine cashew and macadamia nut packages were addicting. If only someone could bring them to Canada, I’d be so happy. The Dude Shower packets are great as a “quick wash” after a lunch run. As seen on Shark Tank.
Getting to the Start
We stayed with family in the suburbs so they drove us to the start line. My only advice is, get there before they start closing roads because they are prompt. Or if you’re staying downtown, find a hotel along Michigan Avenue or near a Metra station. You will thank me later. Security is paramount for this event. We noticed so many trucks blocking intersections, police on the ground and in the air. Friends and family cannot accompany you into the start zone so you’ll have to say goodbye on the sidewalk before you head into the long security lineup.
No vests allowed?
Upon reading the Chicago Marathon rules, I noticed that hydration vests and backpacks are not allowed. From their website:
Additional prohibited items on the course route include, but are not limited to: large bags (backpacks, suitcases and rolling bags), hard-sided coolers, costumes covering the face, any non-forming bulky outfits extending beyond the perimeter of the body, props and non-running equipment, pets/animals (except service animals that are trained to perform specific work or tasks for a person with a disability), alcoholic beverages, illegal substances, chairs, weapons, remote controlled aircrafts and drones, Camelbaks® and any type of hydration backpack. For the avoidance of doubt, fuel belts and hand-held water bottles are allowed.
I was in a predicament since I wanted to use my own hydration and gels during the race. My backup plan was the Salomon Pulse Belt. I heard rave reviews about this belt so I bought it. The thing is, it does fit a 500 ml soft flask, but make sure it’s only about half full; otherwise, you will spill all over yourself. The front zippered pocket fit my phone and 1 Endurance Tap gel. Thankfully, one of my Lululemon bras has a chest pocket so I managed to stow the other two gels in there. As for hydration, I just had some Nuun Energy in my bottle and made sure I only drank from it every 5 km or so. After all this preparation, I get to the start line and I see some people with hydration packs and vests. What gives? Is the event not as strict as I thought? Or did they just let them through out of pity? I guess I’ll never know but I’m glad I didn’t have that extra layer of vest on me as I ran.
My Chicago Marathon Strategy
The plan was simple: do my best, try to maintain an even pace for as long as I can, drink Nuun every 5K, consume a gel every 10K, and grab water from the aid stations as often as I needed. The course was fairly flat but there were many turns. If you’re not paying attention, it’s easy to lose your sense of direction and forget where you are on the map. The only thing I worried about was that “hill” in the last 400 meters of the race that everybody complained about. Mostly, I just wanted to have fun (and get a PB of course).
My Chicago Marathon Experience
So here’s what really happened…
As opposed to previous hot years, this year was damp and warm. It was raining for the first 12 km of the race and sprinkling here and there afterwards. I started off with arm warmers but after a kilometer, I found myself taking them off and tying them around my belt. It was a good thing that all my long training runs were in downpours. The rain barely affected me.
This marathon is so flat to the point that I got bored and missed the hills. The Chicago Marathon course passes through 29 neighbourhoods so there’s no shortage of things to see. I kept myself occupied by taking all the sights and sounds in. There were so many spectators cheering for us, maybe 90 percent of the course had some people cheering. There were some metal bridges you had to cross, which they laid some kind of flooring for so it’s easier to run on. My advice, go for the covered area so you don’t lose your footing. I didn’t realize how massive Chicago is until after running the marathon. It definitely is a great way to see parts of the city you wouldn’t even think of going to. Aid stations were plentiful, that is definitely something you don’t need to worry about. There was also the Biofreeze station towards the last quarter of the course where you can get sprayed to numb the pain. I decided to pass on it but lots of people stopped.
Hitting the Wall at 35 km
I felt that I did pretty well at the halfway point. My nutrition plan was on point and I had lots of energy. At 30 km, I looked at my watch and I was well ahead of my usual pace. That energized me even more and I got to 35 km feeling good. Unfortunately, I thought to myself, “hey I haven’t hit my wall yet!” Right then and there, I felt I slammed into it. My 5:15 goal, which was once possible, slowly faded away. Eating bananas at aid stations didn’t help. I had to give myself several pep talks to snap out of my mental state. During my inner turmoil, I got a text from Shannon saying she just PB’d her half marathon in Victoria. I thought, I want one too! So I booked it, but wow that was a tough last chunk of the race. There was a lot of pressure.
The Last “Hill”
Upon reading reviews, I found out about this infamous hill close to the finish. Okay people. That wasn’t a hill. It was about 200 meters long. I agree it sucks to have that bit of incline so late in the race but you have to get back into the park right? I passed people on this section because so many walked it. You could literally see the finish line on the other side. I just let that propel myself forward and then enjoyed a nice downhill cruise to the finish. So… for future reference, it’s not that bad (if you come from a city with lots of hills and run them regularly). For other folks, maybe I do feel for you a little but still. It’s not that long. Thanks to this burst of speed, I managed to finish in 5:25:51, approximately a 3 and a half minute PB. Fall marathons are definitely my jam.
Almost immediately after I got my medal, I got a free beer (not the one that comes with a bib). It was a larger can, which I unfortunately couldn’t finish. Cuski met me outside the security area so I wasn’t able to explore the post-race party after. I just wanted to go and grab a shower at our friend’s place. Pro tip: we tried to pay with our Canadian credit cards at the Metra station machines and it won’t accept it, nor do the machines give change. So bring exact change if you’re taking the Metra. Thanks again Cuski for following me around the world as I run.
The medal is really nice and matches the shirt. You can order the iTab so your finish time is engraved and added to your medal. Looks pretty nice next to my Berlin medal, doesn’t it? 😛
To celebrate, we met some friends and headed to Roister. It is another of Grant Achatz’s (of Alinea fame) restaurants and it’s fantastic. It’s an open-concept restaurant so you can see the entire kitchen. We recommend the foie gras toast, hush puppies, smoked oysters, maple poached salmon and the pork butt. Better reserve a table if you plan to go. It was really busy.
Thanks for joining me in my Chicago Marathon journey. Are you planning to do this race one day? Have you done it already? Tell me what you think in the comments below.