For the past 6 months I have been hard at work training for one thing….The Bank of America Chicago Marathon. I ran this race in 2016 and got a 45 minute PR, but since I was unable to get into NYC Marathon this year, I decided to give Chicago another go. I will say, the city as a whole really embraces this race, plus it is one of the World Majors.
I am a mentor for my area Fleet Feet, so it was cool that 4 other mentors were actually running Chicago as well. Of course I was the only one that decided to fly in on Saturday, when the race was on Sunday. All my other mentor friends flew in on Thursday and Friday, but I stuck with Saturday since I could avoid having to use a vacation day and Monday was a holiday. We flew in early Saturday morning, and hauled a Uber to our hotel. We stayed on the Magnificent Mile in the middle of everything, which was probably one of the best decisions I made. It was about 1.5 miles away from Grant Park and only blocks away from numerous eating establishments. Of course we arrived at the hotel at like 9am, so of course the room wasn’t ready. The bellman was nice enough to secure our luggage, and we decided to go ahead and head over to the expo to pick up my bib/packet. A welcomed change this year was the free shuttles that had leaving every 15 minutes at various points around Chicago, to take the runners to the expo and bring them back. We didn’t have that last year, and I think it caused a big headache with people trying to catch Ubers & Taxis. We arrived and the packet pick-up lines were well organized, I only stood in line maybe 10-15 minutes to get my bib. I walked into the expo and immediately walked up on a long line of people waiting to take a picture in front of the Chicago Marathon sign. I guess these individuals were unaware that the same sign was in 2 other locations within the fair. Nevertheless, I headed to the back to pick up my bag and participant’s shirt. This year’s shirts were blue, compared to last year’s neon yellow. There were so many brands selling Marathon branded gear: Nike, Skeechers,North Face,etc. I got a nice jacket from The North Face last year but this year nothing really stood out. Nike was the official sponsor so of course they had tons, but the amount of people in their area was ridiculous. I was fond of the half zip pullover they had that came in gray or red, but I didn’t want to stand in line. Luckily my hotel was about 2 blocks from the Nike store so I decided to wait and go to the store after we got back. We walked through the expo a little while gathering samples before heading back to the shuttles. We got back and it still was only about 10am, and the desk clerk said they would need at least to 1pm to get the room ready. We were hungry so we walked over to the dunkin donuts to great a breakfast sandwich and kill some time. We finished and it was right around quarter to 12, so we decided we would just go wait in the lobby for the remainder of the time. At about 12:15, I took a chance and walked up and asked if the room happen to be ready. Desk clerk looked at me and said our room wasn’t ready but since we were waiting, he would upgrade our room for free to a junior suite that was available. SCORE!! Thank you Inn of Chicago.
We relaxed in our room for a couple hours before heading out to find some lunch. Decided to hit up the California Pizza kitchen that was like a block away. I had some interesting tequila lime chicken pasta. Afterwards we walked to the Nike store…..AND IT WAS A MADHOUSE. There were so many people in there, they apparently had the same idea I did. They had Djs on several of the floors so the music was blasting everywhere you went, but it was definitely a fun atmosphere. I went up to the running section to find the half zip pullover and they didn’t have my size anywhere. I was told it would be easier to order it online. I did manage to go ahead an purchase my “Finishers” jacket. I have a rule, I purchase the finisher’s stuff, but it stays in the bag until I complete the race. Runner’s Rule! Back to the hotel for a little more relaxing before dinner. We decided to head to Labriola for dinner. Good thing I made a reservation because the line was ridiculous when we arrived. All the runners trying to carb load. I settled on the “Worlds Best Spagetti and Meatballs” entrée. While it was pretty good, I don’t know I would go as far as to say it was the world’s best. Lol, just my opinion. We were back to the hotel by 9:30, I laid out my gear for the morning and was in bed by 10:15. The big day was a few winks a way.
I woke up on race morning around 4:30. I did all my race day routines, including writing all my mile inspirations on my left arm so I could see them each mile I complete. After getting dressed I grabbed by bagel, honey stinger and Gatorade, and headed out. The walk was about 1.5 miles, and it was kinda chilling out. After I was a few blocks in, I started running into more and more runners making the same trek. The starting gates opened up at 6, and I arrived around 6:30am. My corral wasn’t set to start until 8am, so the waiting game began. A lot of people were taking pictures of the sunrise over Lake Michigan or of the buildings that had messages using the office lights. One simply said “26.2”, which I thought was great. Around 7, I decided to go get in line at the bathroom. The lines were CRAZY, and I started hearing the phrase “PR the bathroom” being uttered because the start was approaching fast. I finally got through the line and got into my corral around 7:45, 15 minutes to spare. I started to prepare my running playlist I had coined for the marathon. I specifically chose a 4 hour mix, because I was going to try and finish under 4 hours. So if I was done while the playlist was still playing, I had completed my goal. We just had one problem, THERE WAS ZERO SERVICE IN THE CORRALS! This was not good. I had a few songs in my music folder but definitely not enough to last a full marathon. My hope was that I could start with my music library and hopefully by a mile or 2 the service would be available and I could start my playlist.
8 o’clock rolled up and we were off. I was being really cautious not to start out too fast and burn myself out. My pace seemed to be great but at about half mile in, I hear some familiar come through my Aftershokz. It was a lap indicator, I know we hadn’t traveled a mile. The familiar voice announced to me “Mile 1 5:38”. Oh hell no, that is wrong wrong wrong. So, apparently the service was interring with the garmin watches as well. From that point I knew I had to ignore the mile marks from my watch and only look at the time elapsed to gauge my pace. We reached the first water stop around 1.5 in and I pulled out my phone to try and fiddle with it to see if I could get my playlist up mid-run. Service was back and I ran on. I was doing super, hitting all my mile marks at desired pace or under. I was passing runners that were in corrals ahead of me and was passing several 3:55 and 4:00 pacers from other corrals. I was feeling great and was moving great with no issues. Around 11 oclock and I would say mile 18, the sun started to creep out. We knew it was supposed to warm up, but everyone’s hope was to get close enough to the end before the sun could take it’s toll. I started to hit every water stop and alternate between Gatorade and water to try and stay hydrated, I also was downing gels and energy blocks. Around mile 24, I began to feel something funny in my left calf. It felt like the beginning of a cramp but I wanted to fight through and hopefully keep it at bay. I couldn’t stop, I was still on great pace to finish under 4 hours and moving wonderfully. The heat had picked up quit a bit at this point and everyone began to slow down a bit. You could see it on all the runners faces, the sun was taking its toll. At mile 25, it happened. I got a cramp! The first time I have caught one in the middle of a race before. I tried to gingerly run through it, I went as long as I could before I had to stop and try to work it out. After a couple of minutes, it felt like it had passed so I started to run again. After another half mile it came back, and I was forced to stop again. I was beginning to get worried at this point because I was watching the time elapse creep up on my watch. I had about another mile and half to go, and about 17 minutes to do it. It was just not meant to be. I still had a chance up until the last 200m of the race, before I caught another cramp and had to stop. I hobbled across the finish line devastated, with a time of 4:01:13. Although it was a 16 minute PR, all I could think about was how close I was to breaking 4 hours. 1 minute and 13 seconds! The force all the runners through the finishers areas, they don’t want anyone to stop. I got my medal, some water and a couple snacks. I was almost to the end of the finishers area when I just had to sit for a minute, I had no choice. As soon as I sat down, I got another cramp in my calf. As I was trying to work that one out, my other calf got a cramp too. So I am sitting there in serious pain, and another runner tells one of the volunteers I need help. Someone comes over to help stretch me out, but the problem was I was laying directly under the sun, no shade in sight. He gets cramps out and I attempt to stand again, both cramps came right back and back down I went. I had not choice, they ended up bringing over a wheelchair and loaded me up to take me to the medical tent. First time being in there, but I immediately noticed it was much cooler in there. They put me on a cot and checked my vitals, everything was good. They asked me a bunch of questions I guess to make sure I was in the right frame of mind, and I got everything correct. I got loaded up with Gatorade, water and bananas while I laid there. They even massaged out my calves for me. After about 20 minutes I thought I was well enough to make another go at getting out of there. Walked super slow another mile to get to the runner’s meetup and finish line festivities. I was in no mood to celebrate so I hobbled on out the gate and caught a ride back to the hotel.
I showered and gave myself a little while to be disappointed over missing my sub 4, then I headed out. I limped to the Nike store, where they were doing free medal engraving. The line was long, but it moved relatively fast and only took about 10 minutes for the engraving after you gave it to them. After getting my medal done, it was off to a post-race party with my Bibrave pro family. It was a great event, and was nice to meet a lot of fellow pros in person. We had food and drinks, and took lots of pictures. Absolutely love my bibrave family. Couldn’t leave Chicago without getting some deep dish pizza so on the way back to the hotel, we stopped and got some Lou’s to-go.
The next morning’s trip to the airport went well, and we got there in plenty of time. Turns out 4 of my fellow mentors were on the same flight, along with some other runners. Everyone was wearing the medals proudly. We all talked about our marathon experience on the way back, and before we knew it, we were landing back at home. As a whole, my experience at the Chicago marathon was unbelievable! While I am disappointed I missed my sub 4, I am grateful for the experience and being able to experience it with lots of my running friends. If you haven’t done Chicago yet, you is most definitely a MUST. It is flat for the most part with a few small hills sprinkled throughout. 40,000 runners and over 1 million spectators, the love & support is everywhere.