Race weekend has come and gone, but the memories will live on forever! Once again, the Chicago Marathon did not disappoint. Considering this is the only marathon I’ve ever run, I really don’t have a frame of reference, but as a World Marathon Major, it has the reputation of being one of the best. The 2017 Chicago Marathon was special for me not just because it was the 40th anniversary year, but also because it was my fifth consecutive year running it, making me a legacy finisher. Moving forward, as long as I finish five in a ten year period, I will have guaranteed entry to the race, rather than relying on a lottery spot. Approximately half of those seeking a spot via lottery get in, which are not bad odds compared to most of the other majors, but it’s good to know from here on out I am in like Flynn.
Leading up to the race, my training was okay, but not great. I started out strong, but after the first several weeks I fizzled out, and then tried to play catch-up near the end. This has been my M.O. for each of my marathons, and with the ongoing mentality of just wanting to finish, I’m am A-okay with my middle-of-the-road training. Finishing is winning, right?
Rain was predicted for most of the day on Saturday, so I went for my two-mile shakeout run at home before heading to the city. I ran faster than goal pace just to see what I could do. Easy to do when there are only two miles, of course! Procrastinating as usual, I got a last-minute reservation at The Blackstone Hotel, immediately across the street from the race venue. Each of the previous four years we stayed at the Chicago Hilton, which is the official headquarter hotel of the Chicago Marathon. That would have been my preferred plan this year. However, in the two to three weeks before the marathon, an online chat and a phone call directly to the hotel, along with three unanswered e-mails via the ‘Contact Us’ tab on the Hilton Honors website did not land us a room at the Hilton. They did have vacancies, but I had some specific questions that went unanswered, if not completely ignored. How ironic they would call their rewards program ‘Hilton Honors’. I did not feel special or honored in any way #fail. I’ve shredded my Hilton Honors card and will be staying elsewhere in the future, thank you very much. And in the end, our room at the Blackstone was absolutely beautiful–probably one of the nicest hotel rooms I’ve stayed in–and I will be staying there for all future races.
Our eldest son met up with us when we got to the city and we took the shuttle to the expo for packet pick-up and needless spending. I ran into my son’s friend’s mom at the expo. I swear, we run into each other at almost every race. Why don’t we ever think to car pool???
Packet pick-up went smoothly as usual, and we headed over to pick up our race tees. I love that they have the option to exchange shirt sizes at the expo, as each year I order the same size, but it fits me differently each time. This year was a go, so no need for an exchange. We headed over to the North Face and Nike booths to pick up some gear, then over to the Nike Pace Teams booth to figure out a final plan.
I decided to start with the 5:00 pace group, which I knew I would not be able to keep up with, but I thought if I can run the first several miles with them, I would be a little ahead of the game.
Next, we headed to the Blackstone to check in. The lobby was absolutely gorgeous. As we checked in, I joked at the desk, asking if we would be upgraded to the Presidential Suite. The guy at the desk said ‘no, but I put you next to it’. Ha! We arrived at our room on the 23rd floor and we were, indeed, right next to the Presidential Suite. Almost famous!
We were in a King Suite with a pull-out sofa, which worked out perfectly for my husband, me, and our son. Of course our son got the pull-out, so he may have a different opinion. The room was extravagant, with cathedral ceilings and skylights to boot. We paid a pretty price for it, but it was well worth the splurge, especially given the crappy customer service we received from the Hilton.
By about 4:00 p.m. it started to pour, but I wanted to go to Macy’s to check out their marathon gear. My husband and son took a pass so I headed out on my own. Although it was pouring and Macy’s was about a mile away, I decided to walk. I put on my flip flops and rolled up my jeans and away I went. Within two blocks the toe separators on my soaking-wet flip flops were irritating the skin between my toes, so I took them off and walked barefoot the rest of the way. Brilliant move the day before running a marathon, don’t you think?
I finally arrived at Macy’s only to find that for the first time since I’ve been doing the Chicago Marathon, they had no marathon gear whatsoever. UGH! I’ve always purchased my Nike long-sleeved Dri-fit there, but for some reason I decided to pick it up at the expo earlier that day, just in case. I’m so happy I did that because I would have been so disappointed not to get one this year.
I was to meet my husband and two of my sons for dinner at Il Porcellino about 3/4 miles away from Macy’s, so hillbilly me decided to walk, barefoot again, in the pouring rain! I arrived at the restaurant just as my middle son was getting out of his Uber. Good to know I raised my children to have more sense than I do. I went up to the reservation desk only to find our 5:30 p.m. reservation did not exist, and the earliest they could get us in was 9:30 p.m. Yikes! The restaurant was massively crowded, as were most in the area–especially the ones offering pasta-loads for marathoners. It turned out there was some miscommunication about our reservation, and with three sister-restaurants in the same area, the managers made it right, comping us pre-dinner drinks at Ramen-San next door. We were quickly seated at Il Porcellino and after an absolutely uh-mazing dinner, we headed over to the third sister-restaurant Bub City for after-dinner drinks (water for the marathoners, of course!)
We had the best server ever…her name is Holly; ask for her if you are ever in town! Full disclosure, she just happened to marry my son 3 weeks ago 😉 After dinner we took an Uber back to our hotel and were surprised by room service with some sweet and salty treats! It was early to bed for all of us, but I lay awake for over two hours, too excited about the race to sleep. I finally dozed off at around 11:30 p.m., and felt nice and refreshed when my alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. My son’s wave started an hour before mine, so we headed down to the lobby with him for some obligatory pre-race pictures, then wished him well and sent him on his way.
An hour later I headed to my race corral and wandered around for a good half hour looking for my friend Diane. She was apparently doing the same, and as we both walked in circles, we never found each other. I found my 5:00 hour pacer and chatted it up with him for a while, then wandered a little more looking for Diane, only to bump into my original pacer from my first Chicago Marathon in 2013.
I chatted with him and told him what an amazing job he did that year. With no running experience at all, he brought me in just two seconds under goal pace of 5:25, which remains my PR after five Chicago Marathons. He was pacing 5:10 this year. I debated pacing with him…maybe that would have been a better idea. The 5:00 pacer was phenomenal; it was just too fast for me. 5:10 might have been a little more realistic. But…you never know unless you try!
Our wave was scheduled to start at 8:35 a.m. We officially crossed the start line at 8:48 a.m., and we were off! I felt amazing for the first two to three miles and kept up easily with the pace group. As we turned off of Grand Avenue onto State Street, I heard my name and turned to see Holly waving at me, giving me my first boost of energy. I saw my husband Bob at Mile 2, but could barely manage a wave as I kept up with the pace group. It was getting hotter and sunnier and by Mile 3 I was really starting to sweat. When we hit Mile 4 we moved to the right to hit the water station, only to find there was only one on the left. We lost a few seconds as we rerouted to the left side, and by Mile 5 I really had to pee! By this time I was starting to have a little trouble keeping pace with the group, so I figured now was the time to break away. I headed to the porta-potties where the lines were very short, quickly peed and was on my way. I was carrying a 1-liter bottle of water mixed with Tailwind that I was alternating with plain water at the water stations, and by Mile 8 I needed a refill. That took another minute or so off of my time. My son and his friends were supposed to be at Mile 10 for a watch party, and by Mile 9 I was so looking forward to seeing them because I really needed another boost. Mile 10 came and went with no Michael and friends in sight. Da hell. I had another boost of energy as I approached Mile 13, hoping to see the bloggers who were spectating, but alas they were long gone by the time I got there. Still, I did pretty well between the 12-1/2 and 13-1/2 mile marks just thinking about all of those great ladies!
I hit the half-marathon point at just under 2:45, which would put me at my ‘usual’ marathon finish time of around 5:30. I was really hoping for a PR this year, but with the heat getting to me I knew it was not in the cards. Without a pace team to guide me, I was making up run-walk intervals as I went along. As long as I stayed under an average pace less than 15 minutes/mile I was happy. My friend Diane and her friends started some time behind me with an anticipated finish time of less than 5:30, so I kept expecting them to catch up with me at some point, and maybe I would finish the race with them. That never happened, and I assumed they must have passed me by and I missed them. I found out after the race that Diane started having knee problems at around Mile 16 and wound up walking the remainder of the race. It was definitely a tough one out there, and everyone I know who ran finished slower than anticipated.
At Mile 17 I saw Michael’s friend Billy, with Michael and Bob behind him. I was so excited to see them that I stopped to give them each a sweaty hug. Michael took a couple of great pictures–I actually didn’t look that bad at that point!
Bob offered me his water, but I had just refilled my bottle with Tailwind about a mile earlier, so I was good to go. My hips were getting a little achy at around Mile 18. I looked down at my watch and I was exactly at 4:00. For some reason I got it in my head that I only had 6 miles to go, and I just couldn’t believe it. I kept calculating in my head that I could easily do 6 miles in an hour and 15 minutes and would easily PR this race. How could that have happened, given the fact that I fell away from my pace group? I decided to walk the next mile since I (supposedly) had such a cushion in my time, and would then run the final five miles of the race. It wasn’t until I hit Mile 19 that I realized I still had another seven miles to go and at that point would be approaching a 6:00 finish time. Again…da hell!!
I started to run again but at Mile 20 my stomach started feeling queasy. I had never had this happen to me in a race. Was it the heat, the confusion over the time, or maybe the Tailwind? I had trained with Tailwind all summer, but I just wasn’t sure at that point. I grabbed a chunk of banana from a volunteer. Usually welcome at this point, I could barely get it down. At Mile 21 I took a couple of bites of a Cliff Bar I brought with me, but that didn’t go down easily either. At Mile 22 my Tailwind started to taste sickeningly sweet so I tossed the bottle altogether. I slowed to a walk and texted Bob to let him know I wasn’t feeling great and would be walking for the remainder of the race, and to expect to see me at the finish in about an hour. After all the poop talk on the blogs in the past couple of weeks, there was no way I was going to be involved in a Code Brown! I plugged along and grabbed a water bottle from a gracious spectator. It is just amazing how many people are out there handing out drinks, treats, and even ice to the runners. It is truly these people that help us make it to the end.
Approaching Mile 23, I ditched the water bottle to ‘pose’ for the cameras. This is the point in the race where there are cameras positioned on scaffolding above the street, taking pictures of the runners as they cross two patches of street decorated with the Chicago Marathon logo and race year. At Mile 24 I was overwhelmed with emotion and realized that I have had the same exact reaction every time I have run this race. 2.2 miles to go? That is just a half hour walk to the finish! The spectators are so amazing at this point. So many people are struggling–especially us middle- and back-of-the-pack runners. I walked to Mile 25 then ran for about 1/3 of a mile. I wanted to save my energy for the end. Then came the
expected dreaded turn onto Mount Roosevelt for the final 0.2 miles of the race. Such a cruel, cruel, twist at the end of such a long endeavor! At least I know to anticipate it. I ran halfway up the hill mountain, then walked to the final peak before kicking it into gear. I ran with such a big smile on my face as I crossed the finish line to complete my fifth Chicago Marathon! The low battery message had popped up on my Garmin at around Mile 22, so I really had no clue what my finish time was. I was sure I was under 6:00, and that was good enough for me. Official time: 05:52:55. Once again, happy as a clam!
As with every year, I absolutely loved this race. It is perfectly planned and has run smoothly each year. I felt safe and secure the entire time, though for the first time ever, at dinner the night before my family and I made a plan for where to meet should there be any issue. It’s sad that we have come to that point, but it’s best to be prepared. Pilsen was once again my favorite neighborhood to run through, but I sincerely love every inch of this race. This is my city, and I will always love being able to run through 26.2 of its miles.
Who all ran the Chicago Marathon this weekend? I am so excited to read everyone else’s take on the race. Did anyone run a different race? What else do you have on your running docket for the remainder of 2017?