A month after running a half marathon in Virginia Beach, I was signed up to run the Chicago Marathon. I had been looking forward to this race since I ran my first marathon. I love big city races because of the crowd support, awesome expos, and the great places to eat and explore.
I was hoping to train hard for this race and run a new PR. Fall training didn’t go as planned. This is largely in part because of coaching cross country and working to finish the last class I planned to take for a while. I had changed my mind on a PR a few weeks before the race because I was fairly certain it would no longer be possible.
Before I knew it race weekend was here. I was sooo excited and STRESSED! Friday night Ryan had a football game and I had to pack and work on finishing my class. I had to mail it out no later than Monday. I always seem to find myself in these situations. I got up Saturday morning and was again working away on my class. Ryan and I left Saturday around noon. The expo was open until 6:00. We would have six hours to make a four and a half hour trip. I brought the laptop along and was busy typing away at my final paper. This was not how I had envisioned the start of this weekend.
We got to Chicago just before 5:00, not the time you usually want to get to Chicago. Traffic was terrible. It took us a thirty minutes to go a few miles. Then traffic opened up and we were rolling again…for a few miles. When we were three miles from the expo and sitting in unmoving traffic, I started to panic. We had 30 minutes to get to the expo. Then twenty…then ten…then it was 6:00 and we were still sitting in traffic. I was near tears. If I didn’t have my race bib, I wouldn’t be able to race. I was looking forward to this race so much.
Finally over five minutes late, I arrived at a very empty expo. I was not allowed in. I was scared and in total panic mode, while trying to keep my cool. I saw others waiting near me, so I guess I wasn’t the only one. A friendly gentleman did escort us about fifteen minutes later to get our packets. I was relieved to get my packet and so lucky. I never thought it would take an hour and 15 minutes to go less than ten miles. EEKK! Lesson learned. Leave earlier! So much for getting to walk around and take in the excitement of the expo.
Next it was time to check into our hotel, get something to eat, and find me some GU. It was the first race I didn’t bring GU with expecting to buy some at the expo. At least we were in a big city! We were staying at the Hotel Sax. I loved this hotel! The decor was so my style and I didn’t mind the valet parking either!
We went out for a carb loading meal at Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse. We splurged on an expensive meal after a stressful afternoon and evening. It was delicious and wonderful to catch up with the husband I don’t see so much because of school and coaching.
With running late, having to get GU, and a late dinner it was close to ten when we got to our hotel. I went to bed around midnight, which was much later than I’d hope to get to bed, but what could I do? Race morning arrived and I was on my own with thousands of strangers walking to the start. I was so excited to see what the course had in store for me. The weather was perfect; 40’s and no wind. The sun was going to shine! I found my corral and anxiously began the waiting game.
The first few miles started like many races-filled with heart pounding, adrenaline flowing, jump up and down excitement. It is so hard to keep miles on pace and not take off on a sprint. I got my pace under wraps and just enjoyed the crowds, buildings, and perfect weather. We started next to the Magnificent Mile and Millenium Park, ran through the loop, past River North on La Salle Drive, and into Old Town. Around mile three I saw Ryan and stopped for a minute to take off a layer and hand it off to him.
The course continued through Lake View East, where we turned South, running through Park West, Lincoln Park, and back through Old Town and River North. Then the course took us west through Greek Town and the West Loop (the half way point). At the half way point I was feeling great, but like I maybe was going out too fast. I had not been training for this pace, but I could not slow myself down. It was in Greek Town that I found the 3:50 pace group. I decided to stay with them for a while. The pace leader was hilarious. I was laughing out loud listening to him. At one water stop Gangham Style was playing and the pace leader was dancing with his pace stick and doing the dance with it. The whole group was having a blast.
From the West Loop we turned east and then west through Little Italy. Near the University Village we turned south to Pilsen, and northeast into Chinatown. The changing neighborhoods and the pace leader’s stories where race savers since my iPhone i.e. music and GPS died around mile 17 in Little Italy. I chose to stay positive and enjoy the unique race atmosphere instead of panicking that I no longer had tunes or any idea my pace.
It was in Chinatown I decided it was balls to the walls time. I felt too good to not pick up the pace and I ventured ahead of the pace group. When we reached Park Boulevard we were in the final miles. I knew I could make it! The homestretch was down Michigan Avenue with a finish in Grant Park. As we turned onto Michigan Avenue I started running as fast as I thought I could maintain. I was in so much pain, but my heart told me to keep going. I saw Ryan during this final stretch and he later said I looked not so good. On the final turn, I saw the time and thought I might be able to get a PR. I ran with everything I had. I could not have ran any faster or for any longer than I did. At one point everything went black, and I thought I’m going down before I get to the finish line. I made it, but had never experienced that feeling before. I can’t say it is one I want to repeat.
There were so many things I loved about this race. The course was really a tour of the city, taking runners through 29 neighborhoods. I loved seeing the changing neighborhoods, the millions of crowd supporters shouting and with signs, the music throughout the course, and a flash mob near mile ten. Running through parks, seeing Chicago walk ups like on the Cosby’s, and seeing my supportive husband three times made this race great. I suppose a new PR had something to do with it, too. The PR was only by seconds, but considering I hadn’t trained fully for it, I was happy.
After the race I grabbed food goodies and the complimentary beer, which actually hit the spot. I had to wait for a while in Grant Park for Ryan. Next we walked back to our hotel, grabbed some lunch, napped, and then we were ready for some exploring. We spent time in Millenium Park and walked the Magnificent Mile.