2017 Chicago Marathon
Melissa and I were excited to do the Chicago Marathon for two reasons. For one, we had recently moved back to the Seattle area after living in Chicago for a year and a half. During our time in Chicago I was training for the 2016 version of the race and had to pull out due to my dad’s passing. Couple those together and it was a long lead up and anticipation for the race.
The Chicago Marathon is one of the World Marathon Majors and was first started in 1977. This is a fun fact for me as I was also born in 1977 so I got a special patch at the race for it being my 40th. The race is a large race, limited to 45,000 runners. The course is flat, as is Chicago, and meanders through 29 diverse neighborhoods within the city. The race starts and finishes in Grant Park, just south of downtown. It heads north from the start and weaves through downtown and the loop before heading north to Lincoln Park. This is the northmost part of the course as the course heads back south to the Loop before heading West for a section. The last section of the race heads south of the city and thus finishes in the south part of Grant Park. There is a lot more to it, so if you want the specifics I suggest going to the Chicago Marathon website.
Leading up, Melissa and I both had a good training season. Apart from some local wildfires in Washington and Canada disrupting the air quality, we were able to stick to our training plans. We also had set up to run in the Cle Elem Ridge 20 & 40k races a couple weeks before as preparation. We did not have any lofty goals for the marathon, but as always were aiming to perform well. I think the Cle Elum race was both good and bad for preparation. Good for Melissa as it gave her a bunch of confidence going into the race and bad for me as some tendonitis flared up on the uneven terrain. When race week arrived, we were excited to head out to Chicago. For one thing, we were excited to visit some of our favorite restaurants in the city and to run the race.
Chicago is a big city, but the Chicago Marathon is a big race and even in a large city you could feel the presence of the up coming race, which is fun for anticipation. We arrived early on Friday and preceded to head to work. Both Melissa and I have work offices in the city, so we limited our vacation days heading into work for the day. This made for a long day as we travelled overnight and with the time difference it made for an early night. Saturday is when the preparation began. We met up with some friends for breakfast at Kanela’s Breakfast Club (highly recommended) and then hopped a shuttle to the race Expo. This must be the largest race expo I have been to yet. So many people and booths made it fun. I like all the hubbub to get me psyched up for a race. Probably the only time I like hubbub. After making rounds we headed back downtown via the shuttle and got some food at Eataly. The prime rib sandwich there is amazing, just saying. Being that it was race night we tried to stay off our feet, but that is harder to do than say. I think our phones said we walked 7 miles on the day, oops.
Waking up early for a race is never a problem it seems. Falling asleep the night before however tends to be a problem. Nonetheless, we managed to get a decent amount of sleep and made our way to the race start in the pre-dawn hours Sunday. We did luck out on the weather for race day. The forecast was for sunny weather and low 70s. It was a bit of a walk from our hotel downtown. Once down at the race start it was packed with people. There are entrance gates to get to the start and that took a little bit of time to navigate through. Once through it was not too bad as we did not have any bags to check in. Just needed to hit the porta potty quick and then to the start line. Fortunately for me, I had an early corral time, so I was not waiting around long. Melissa was a bit after me and had a bit more time just hanging out.
As for the race, there are a lot of people running. I was surprised how many walkers were in front of me since I had an earlier start time due to my qualifying results. Really not sure how this happens, but it made for a lot of dodging of people along the way. This really did not stop until 5+ miles into the race. Apart from this little annoyance, the race started off good. I decided to line up in the back of my corral which made it a little less crowded then I am sure the front was. My goal for the race was to run a 3-hour 40 minute marathon. Not as fast as my best time, but based on my training, this seemed like a good goal. This meant roughly an 8:24 minute per mile pace, something slightly higher than I trained for.
The first miles ticked off rather easily as they always do. Apart from a slower start due to crowds, my splits were all coming in where I hoped. I was exactly on pace at mile 5. One thing that I noticed right away about this race was the number of spectators along the course. It was fantastic. There were very few spots where they were not lining the street, yelling support, and having a good time. I think this is what endears people to this race. This also helps push you along. It is interesting how easy a race pace mile can feel with spectators compared to running it on a local road by yourself.
It was about mile 7 that I remember succinctly from the race. Feeling good, that is the first point where I started feeling the tendonitis in my knee. I mentioned that it flared up in my ultra a couple weeks earlier and I do not think the flat roads were very helpful as it made for a very repetitive motion to an already repetitive sport. Fortunately, the pain was just a dull ache, so I was able to continue on and at mile 10 my splits were pretty much right on. This is about where the course started getting into the unknown. I had lived in Chicago for a year and a half and had been all around the city. However, miles 13-21 were areas I had not been before. I actually like this as I gives me something to take my mind off things. By the halfway mark I was at 1:48:24 and making good time even though the pain was increasing. In fact, my fastest miles were 13 & 14.
About halfway is where I think the race started to change for me. The pain was starting to get bad and even though my pace was good, it was not as fun as before. I also started to try and compensate for the pain a bit, something that I would regret later. Using muscles differently that normal is not a good idea. I kept on plugging along through 18 miles on my goal pace and that is where the proverbial wheels on the bus started to wobble. I was now needing to walk the aid stations a bit more than normal and at this point wondered how much longer I could keep it up. Miles 19 through 24 were rough. I cannot lie that it was a slog, but I pushed on. I realized my goal was not going to happen and was now just trying to do my best. It was about at Comiskey Field or whatever they are calling it now that I started to walk. This is such a psychological bummer. My right knee was now really hurting and due to the slight compensations, I had made, I was really starting to cramp up.
I have had some rough stretches over the years, but the last three miles of the Chicago Marathon will rank up there. My legs were done working, that is pretty much it. I could walk for a bit and then would have to sit down and stretch and recover. I did this for what felt like and eternity. People kept checking on me to see if I was all right and encouraging me. All I could say was, I will make it, just might be a awhile. The last three miles of the race ended up taking me about an hour. So, 3 hours and 20 minutes for the first 23 and an hour to finish up. Brutal! I couldn’t even run across the finish line like I wanted to. So much for finishing strong. I did finish though which I am happy about. My official race time was 4:22:02. What is funny about that is Melissa also had a rough day but managed to come in about 30 seconds faster than me. Darn those bragging rights.
All in all, I am impressed by the Chicago Marathon. Yes, there is a lot of people, but there is also a lot of spectators and support. The organization is top notch and if you can manage the very flat course, it is a terrific way to see Chicago. I would recommend doing the race and taking some extra time while there checking out the city. I will chalk this up as another learning experience. What does not kill you only makes you stronger. If I have one tip for this race, it would be to train for the hard-flat roads. A lot of my training was on softer surfaces and hilly trails. I think hitting the pavement would have been a better way to train for the race, especially if this is your “A” race. As always, “Your Mileage May Vary”.
Gear Used of Note
Mizuno Hitogami Shoes – Nice fit, lightweight, and fast. However, when I started compensating for my knee I think the minimal shoes did not help. Might be better off using these for half distance and shorter.
Garmin Forerunner 35 Watch - I really like this as my running watch. Good size, easy to use. The GPS did have some trouble with the buildings in the city. I think it is not as powerful as some of their other options.