I don't even remember when it started, but I made a mental "bucket list" of races that I wanted to accomplish some day. Some people want to run New York, or maybe L.A., but I wanted to run Chicago. Why? I honestly don't know. Out of the big marathons, I wanted to see this city that I had heard so much about, but had never experienced for myself (unless you count a layover in O'Hare Airport).
In November 2016, the Chicago Marathon lottery opened. One night, I decided that I might as well apply and see what happened. I told my husband (since he would need to be on board if I got in), and waited until the emails were released in December. (It was also an option to run for charity, but knowing that we had just adopted my daughter and asked for financial assistance for that, I did not feel led to sign up for a charity fundraiser so that I could run a marathon.) The day came, and I received my acceptance email...and directions to send money and complete my registration. I was all signed up to run the Chicago Marathon!
After registering, I put everything about the race on the back burner. I was dedicating my spring training cycle to getting prepared for my first ultra marathon: a 50K trail race in Ohio. I also had the Pittsburgh Marathon slated before that, as a "training run." So, not much time to think about Chicago. I completed the spring races and thoroughly enjoyed the accomplishments there, but a spring and summer full of travel delayed my training for a while. I kept thinking I had time to start training, and then all of a sudden, it was July, and I had to get back on the ball!
I started officially marathon training in August 2017. 8 weeks from race day. No, I would not suggest this kind of plan. Since I am an avid runner and cross-trainer, most people said I was in good enough shape to adapt to a shorter training cycle, but I knew I would not have the kind of results I wanted because of the tight schedule. Nevertheless, I dedicated my weekdays and Saturdays (and some back-to-back runs) to getting my mileage up. By the end of August, I ran my 18-mile training run, and then did 20 miles the day of Air Force Half Marathon, though the miles were split up a bit because of that race. And one, broken 20 was not the same as multiple 20+ mile runs I had done for spring ultra training. And I felt it.
Aside from the short training, I still did the best that I could with the time I had. Coming into race day, I was definitely more nervous, but I was trying to give myself grace for the season it was. I had some traveling surrounding this race, as well, and even a last-minute change to my marathon weekend plans. Originally, my husband and children were going to make the 6.5 hour drive with me to the Windy City on Friday, sightseeing scheduled for Saturday, and then the race on Sunday, with hubby helping to drive me home. Due to sickness, my family could not go up with me, and I ended up rooming with friends and going solo.
I left Saturday morning at 5am EST and arrived at 10:30am CST, with plenty of time to go to the expo. I easily got my bib and through the expo center and went to my hotel. My plan was to meet up with a few people I know through Facebook running groups, and run with one friend I had met online, Dana. She messaged me and said that I could change corrals with my proof of time from Pittsburgh, giving us a 30-minute head start from our original corral. With the heat forecasted, that seemed like a good idea, so I tried not to get too lost in finding the shuttle back to the expo, and switching my bib.
The expo was large, but definitely comparable in size to Pittsburgh. The Abbott World Marathon Major Series was the showcase of the entire event. I never really thought about running Chicago because it is one of the world majors, I just wanted to see the city and I knew it was supposed to be one of the best race experiences! The lines were long to get pictures in front of different areas in the expo, and since I was going alone, I had a few pictures taken with the help of strangers, but that was about it. They did have a fantastic video of the course, sped up to show each mile and it was awesome to watch. Everything was high-quality for sure. I was surprised that there were very few interactive booths or samples, mostly just "store" set ups, so you were urged to buy more. Definitely not an expo my family would have enjoyed, so it's a good thing I could just get in and get out!
There was no rest for the weary on Saturday, with going to the expo twice, and then trying to meet up with Dana and her friend, Jennifer that afternoon. We had a little time together before heading to eat dinner, and then I made my way back to my hotel for the night. Thankfully, I was able to get to bed by 9pm and the hotel was very close to the starting corrals!
Dana and I met up at the hotel and walked to the starting area. Security was high, especially due to recent events in Las Vegas, and it took a while to be individually scanned before entering the next area. Our start time was 8:00am and it was already warm. We thought about waiting for a porta-potty near the entrance, but decided to head closer to the huge area of porta-potties, thinking the lines would move faster. Well, they didn't, and 10 minutes before our corral closed, we gave up.
Throughout our training (Dana having 18 weeks and a run coach, and me having 8 weeks and well....me), we had watched each other get faster and we were running similar times. So, it wasn't long before we realized we had the same goal for this race, and it would be fun to run together as long as we could. The great thing about runners is that we get it. We are not offended if we don't stick together. We bless and release if someone needs to go faster or slower. So... our plan was to just run, enjoy, and see what happened.
The first few miles were far less crowded than I anticipated. In Pittsburgh, the half, full, and relay runners are all starting together, making it very difficult to run pace, just because you are afraid to step on someone. In Chicago, it was only the full marathon, and the crowd of runners was more manageable, even though there were more runners all together. I think they just had more corrals and spaced it well. We talked the first few miles and already felt the heat. I LOVED the tour of the city and staying in the downtown area allowed us to be shaded and have a slight breeze for quite a while. I am very grateful we moved up and started when we did. By Mile 5 we were running happy, even on pace for what Dana had wanted. Pace is a funny thing in Chicago because the buildings don't allow for accurate satellite reception, and our Garmins were off the entire time, but she seemed happy, so I just stuck with her.
I hate to keep comparing it to Pittsburgh, but I had trained really well for that race last spring, and I set a hilly PR I was hoping to break at a flat course in Chicago. My game plan for Pittsburgh was a sub-2-hour half marathon (9:09 pace), and then taking the second half at 10-11 min/mile pace, knowing I naturally slow down on the back end. (My plan worked pretty well and I had a PR of 4:22 in my hometown.) Dana trained to hit 10s the whole way, even speeding up her second half. So, different strategies, but I just went with the flow, knowing that a sub-2 half wasn't going to be in the cards for this race.
The water stops were about every mile on the course. Thousands of volunteers made it really well-done. Gatorade and water lined the road on both sides. I had eaten my dried fruit before the race even started, so I didn't have much fuel on me, other than my little bottle of Sword hydration. I kept running through the stops until the end of the water line and would grab a cup of water each time (knowing how the Gatorade hurt my stomach at Air Force Half a few weeks before). Dana had a handheld bottle, she would have the volunteers fill up, so we would eventually catch each other somewhere after each stop. We did a kind of back-and-forth, look-for-each-other dance for quite a while.
Mile 10, 11, 12, 13...we made it half-way. It was HOT. No where near a sub-2, but still pretty close to 10-min/mile. I was trying to keep hydrated. I was getting hungry. I wondered why there were no GU gels or anything at Mile 6 like I envisioned there would be. Didn't they know I had no fuel on me? Somewhere after the half, the volunteers gave out Gatorade Endurance Energy Chews. I was so thankful, and a little nervous about trying something new, but I knew I needed some fuel. I took one and some water, and thanked God that I had pockets in my skirt to keep the rest for later. Around Mile 14 was the last time I saw Dana. We lost each other at a water stop and never found each other until the finish line. It was okay. My stomach was starting to hurt, and I needed to find a porta-potty.
I started praying for a porta-potty area, which it seemed were about every 2-3 miles. At Mile 15, I saw there were signs for some, and I stopped off and texted Dana that I likely wouldn't catch up at that point. I wish I could say that solved all my stomach issues, but they continued until about Mile 19. That's where I stopped AGAIN to use the bathroom! I couldn't believe it! And then, by this point, we were far from shade or breeze, so the sun was beating down. It was miserable. I knew my 4:20 goal was long gone. At one point I thought maybe 4:30...then 4:45 wouldn't be so bad...then, I was just calculating if I could even break 5 hours.
During marathons, things start to "hurt" but you aren't even sure if it's real. You distract your mind to think of something else. I had an issue with my right shoe around Mile 8 or so, and I kept trying to adjust the tongue, my sock, anything to make the rubbing go away (even though I had slathered on Glide before the race). Other times, I thought my hips were bugging me, or my tendonitis, and on and on. The shoe thing lasted a few miles, but I just kept telling myself it was all in my head and I was fine.
Miles 20-26 were tough. That's when you dig deep for sure. I questioned why I do this. Why do I run full marathons? Halfs are way more manageable. They don't hurt like this. The crowd support was totally amazing. I was wondering if I was going crazy, seeing the same signs again, but now I'm sure they were just family/friends moving around the course to cheer on their runner multiple times. But in the moment, I was like, "I saw that sign before...hmmmm..."
There were cheer squads all over the different neighborhoods. My personal favorite was earlier in the race. It was a mob of orange and white shirts for World Vision. They were all standing in a median in the street and I just LOVED their energy! Other favorites were the Mexicans, Japanese, and going through Chinatown. And yes, I have a favoritism towards Asians, since my daughter is Chinese. I can't explain it, but it was just comforting to see them there.
At some point, they started giving small cuts of bananas out around the water stops. At one of them, I saw orange peels on the side of the road and thought about how AMAZING an orange would be. Unfortunately, all the super fast people must have eaten them all, because only bananas were being given. I was CRAVING an orange then. And honestly PRAYING for an orange or watermelon (and I've had both on other courses before...heaven!). Eventually, we came up on the Korean cheer section, and I was pleasantly distracted by a guy dancing in the street to the music (he looked like he was probably a runner himself, but just cheering that day). He was super funny and awesome and it made me smile when I wanted to die a little inside. Out of nowhere, I saw a sweet Korean girl handing out half of a mandarin orange!!!! YES!!! I grabbed it from her and said, "GOD BLESS YOU!" and savored every bite! There was a lady who passed me and said, "You don't know how long I've been waiting for an orange!" and I replied, "Oh, I know! I've been PRAYING for one, too!" So, moral of the story...if you ever cheer a race....bring oranges. We will love you.
Usually by the later miles, I'm trying very poorly to calculate and do mental math. For this race, it was already 77 degrees and full sun, and I was trying to survive. I decided that to be mad about my time was useless. I was in CHICAGO! At a World Major! I was going to ENJOY it. I got the BEST tour of that beautiful city, and I was going to FINISH no matter what. The only thing making me upset was myself. No need for that. Disappointed? Yes, but mad at myself? No.
The crowds got thicker with the last few miles. Everyone seemed to be struggling around me. I asked many people I found hobbling if they were okay, and they all said yes, but didn't want to engage with me, so I kept going. There were medic areas around the course, and the later ones were definitely being used quite a bit. I was focused on finishing, but found out afterwards that there were so many who did not cross that line. I knew the last mile had an uphill and then it would be done. I was determined to muster up everything I had left and run that entire last mile. Even if my run was no faster than a power walk, I was running that last long mile. And I did.
I saw the finish line and it took everything in me not to bust into full-blown tears.
I did it. I ran the Chicago Marathon.
I had no one there to hug me. My time didn't matter. My Garmin said I had run 27 miles. The finishing area was huge and you just had to keep walking to get to the water, medals, pictures, and snack bags. I felt like I was delirious and in a daze to get my medal, but I found some other Sparkle Skirt-wearing ladies and decided to go to them to have my medal put on. Something about having that medal around your neck. Oh, man! It just reminds you that....YOU DID IT!
I texted Dana to find out where she was, and we found each other while in the finishing area. She had finished about 10 minutes before me, and then we found Jennifer, too. Pictures, fake smiles, real smiles, exhaustion, stretching. I had grabbed a couple bags of ice for my knees at the finish area (mostly because I always ice after runs), and carried those bad boys around while we made our way through the shoot. All of us had missed our goals...by a lot... but we all FINISHED. And no one can take that away.
After making our way back to the hotel, we said good-byes, I got slowly got my stuff together, got a shower, and headed out to leave the city. I got back to my car and realized I was finally hungry. I only wanted to do a couple things while in Chicago, one of which was to eat Chicago-style deep dish pizza. So, I called a place that looked closer to the interstate, and ordered myself a personal pie to go. By the time I arrived there and was able to leave the city, it was 4pm CST.
Through many many prayers, phone calls with anyone who would talk to me, and a personal Chicago-style pizza, venti Starbucks coffee, and Jesus, I finally made it home at 1am EST.
The Chicago Marathon is one I will never forget. I can see why it is so highly-rated, and honored. It is a tremendous race with amazing people and a beautiful city. While I think I can say this is a "one and done" race, I hope to return to the Windy City again soon. The midwest hospitality was wonderful, and....well...I'm pretty sure I need more of that pizza in my life.
Wife. Mother. Runner. Coach. Adoption Advocate. I strive to share HOPE through my journey and help others reach their goals.