Running the Chicago Marathon: Weekend & Race Recap

My legs are finally totally recovered! For the first 2 days after the marathon I’d been hobbling around like a grandma – which I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised about after running 26.2 miles. But still. Now that the rush and buzz of last weekend is dying down, I can take a deep breath, chill out, and relish in the memories of one of the best race weekends I’ve ever had in my life.

Wednesday, Pre-Marathon

It started with a low-key Pho night at my friend’s apartment in downtown San Diego. My friend Jo gave me a pre-marathon gift with a Lululemon headback, socks, and a motivating card to “Marathoner Gardner.” Running a marathon is such an internal, personal thing, but when you know other people are thinking of you and celebrating the large endeavor with you, it gives you the warm and fuzzies.

chicago-marathon-send-off-meal

Thursday, Pre-Marathon

Thursday afternoon I flew out to Chicago and met my folks at the Embassy Suites on Columbus Street. If you’re ever going to run the Chicago Marathon, take note: It was a perfect hotel to stay at before the marathon because it has a fridge & microwave in the room which is perfect since marathoners have to be particular about & plan their food, a huge breakfast buffet, and is exactly 1 mile from the start line.

Friday & Saturday, Pre-Marathon

I started Friday morning with a slow and easy 2 mile jog at the hotel gym. It didn’t feel good! I hate tapering. (For those non-runners out there, tapering is generally a 2 -week period of time before a big race in which you really tone down your workouts and your mileage.) The 2 weeks before this race I felt sluggish and icky, which I know is typical of the tapering period since your body is so used to moving A LOT and now your slowing down to let it repair. (And, it probably didn’t help that the first week of taper I was in Portugal enjoying too much cheese and wine, and the second week I was back in the states trying to get caught up from vacation while reeling from some serious jetlag!) Everything about my body just feels OFF during this period. But I had to remind myself that in September I went on runs as long as 9, 10, 18 and 20 miles. I was ready. 

Friday morning we went to the Expo – I wanted to get there early before crowds were huge, and it was already packed!

chicago-marathon-expo

chicago-marathon-expo-crowd

chicago-marathon-life-size-map

I got my bib and was able to change my start corral. (Luckily!) For some reason, they listed me in one of the last start corrals despite my anticipated finish time. This meant that I would have to spend the entire first hour of my race just trying to pass people, which is exhausting. I didn’t want to waste precious energy on that! The race website said no corral changes were allowed, but they let me. YIPEE!! I was able to get bumped up 6 corrals to the 3:55 pace group. Such a sigh of relief.

getting-my-bib-at-chicago-marathon

The rest of Friday and Saturday we did some sight seeing – which I’ll mention in another blog post. But I have to say, this city is BEAUTIFUL. I expected to be cool, because I always hear such good things but I was absolutely blown away. The buildings are gorgeous, the city is clean and had way more green than I expected, the layout is great, the people were nice, and on and on 🙂 Maybe I could move here if it weren’t for the winters…

chicago-skyline-john-hancock-building

From the John Hancock building we could scout out the race course. See that second “peninsula” ish thing in the picture below? It was cool knowing I was going to be running alllllll the way out there (and back, and around much more)!

chicago-skyline-marathon-route

Anyway, back to it.

Saturday I aimed to rest my legs, hydrate, and eat well with carbs, carbs, carbs! We had dinner at Harry Caray’s, an Italian Food/Steakhouse and I got a good ol’ boring dish of plain pasta with veggies and chicken. While you may be jealous that I ate carbs galore, one of the downsides of eating before a marathon is it’s very boring, bland carbs 🙁 Some family drove in from Detroit to have dinner with us for the night. It was special to see them, and for them, it was a hour drive just for dinner. We felt flattered!

harry-carays-dinner

pre-marathon-pasta-dinner

I got home that night, laid out all my running gear, double checked my playlist, triple checked my alarm clock, and got in bed by 9:30pm for a 4:30am wake up call.

goodnight

Sunday, Race Day!

I popped out of bed at 4:30 and the first thing I always do on race day is eat. I’m not even the least bit hungry, and eating sounds horrible with all the butterflies in my stomach, but I know I have to get the carbs and protein in me. So bread, peanut butter and coffee it is!

pre-marathon-breakfast

At 5:30, my sister was kind enough to walk me to Grant Park where the start line was. After bag check, I went straight to the bathroom lines, did a few running drills and some stretching, went to the bathroom lines again, and soon enough it was already time to get into my corral.

arriving-at-the-chicago-marathon

chicago-marathon-start-line

I love the vibe when you line up in the corral. It’s this feeling buzzing around of so much excitement and nerves. Everyone is about to go head off into an adventure for the next several hours; you’re all together but all very much alone, and you’re not exactly sure how you’re going to fare. Some people around you are going to do great, some people might drop back, some might actually give up and not finish. It’s a very weird but super cool feeling, that anticipation. I hear people asking strangers next to them if they’ve done this race before, what it’s like, if they have any tips, etc. The coolest thing I heard was someone say, “Just get ready for it – this crowd will ROCK you.” I felt my pulse quicken and couldn’t wait!!!

As soon as my corral closed, I knew I should have gone to the bathroom ooooone more time. Sometimes I can’t tell if it’s just anxiousness that will wear off, or if I actually have to go. This time – I actually had to go 🙁 I’m learning that I need to stop hydrating a full hour before I get in the corrals.

At 7:30, the race started. I heard over the announcements that the elites were off – and everyone started cheering and clapping even though it would be another 12 minutes before my corral crossed the start line. I can only imagine what it must be like to watch those pro runners take off from the start line. Knowing that they were already starting their adventure, and that the course was open was exhilarating.

I fidgeted with my phone (gotta have my playlist start at the exact right time!), started my Tom Tom watch, and crossed the start line. The first mile felt like I was floating on air, and as if it only took me one minute. This must be what drugs feel like!! My mom, dad and sister were waiting for me at Mile 1 – I ran right past them with some high fives and kept running on the clouds for a few more miles. (However, I did have to make a porta potty break at about mile 1.75! Frustrating.)

By miles 8 or 9 I finally felt like I was running and no longer on clouds. Mile 10 is usually around when my feet start feeling a little tired. But the veteran runners were right – this crowd rocks you. At some points the crowd was 4-5 rows deep. You almost didn’t need music, just the signs, faces and cheers were enough to keep you going. My husband, who couldn’t make it (he has a totally legit excuse don’t worry 😉 ), sent me sound clips to add into my playlist ever 5 miles or so. Hearing his funny jokes or words of encouragement throughout the race lifted my spirits.

My family met me again at Mile 17 – My mom gave me a high five while all of them held up funny signs for me. This is one of my favorite pictures EVER.

Me running past my family at mile 17 in the Chicago Marathon

They were traveling all around the city, navigating via public transportation. How cute are they?

parents-on-the-metro

Around mile 18 I was tired, and by mile 24 was verrry tired. Even though I knew better, I  made the mistake of not following my exact nutrition plan that I did while training. And I paid for it. My stomach was in knots from too much sugar that couldn’t be processed quickly enough. I accepted too many Gatorades and ate some Gatorade chews that they handed out rather than my typical Gu gels and water or Nuun hydration. I was thirsty as hell, but felt like there was no room in my stomach that felt like it had hardened into a rock. Note to self: Only eat EXACTLY what I train with while racing. Gu and Nuun. Goodness gracious.

But how pretty is this cute little street/neighborhood? I wish I could have photographed it better. I love those trees!

chicago-marathon-runners

At mile 24 I had to take a short walking break. My quads felt heavy and already sore. Ugh. It was time to remind myself “mind over matter, mind over matter, mind over matter.” But at mile 25 my family saw me again, this time with a sign that said “Run like you just found out there are mimosas at the finish line!” And my sister held up a bottle of champagne. YES. Another sign said “When your legs feel tired, run with your heart.” I needed that. I turned up my tunes, and took off with whatever reserve energy I had left. I jammed out the next 1.2 miles with everything in me, and when that finish line was in sight I locked my eyes on it and propelled myself forward as fast as possible.

3:46:57. DONE.

just-finished-chicago-marathon

I caught my breath, got some water, and made my way to meet up with my family. Who poured me a glass of champagne. Obvi.

post-race-champagne

Oh how I love them.

marathon-posters

It was then time for brunch, which was Chilaquiles and mimosas at The Gage near the park, then a nap.

the-gage-brunch

My race was over. And all my fear of failure was over. I had an EIGHT MINUTE PR over my last race at the Long Beach Marathon. I think this is for a few reasons:

  • I knew more of what to expect this time, so I didn’t hold back out of fear of hitting the wall. I knew when I could push it and when I couldn’t.
  • I was stronger this year. I had even more running foundation under me, and had been doing more HIIT (BBG) workouts as cross training that I think made me more explosive and quicker!
  • I had less injuries. This time, I knew that I can’t train like traditional marathon training plans. I have to do a little less mileage, and spread out my long runs more. See my thoughts on my unconventional marathon training plan. This time, I had a totally healthy training period. No strains, tears, nada.
  • The course is super duper flat. Long Beach was pretty flat too, but Chicago’s is FLAT.

And, to top it off, the weather was great! It was between 55-72 degrees for my whole race, which couldn’t have been better!

I always love to share my favorite signs from the race. This time they were:

“Someday you will no longer be able to do this. Today is not that day.”

And the other one was a woman holding a sign that said, “Remember, you have to pace yourself!” And the man behind her held a sign that said, “That’s what she said!” *Blush*

The signs (and T-shirts!) from my family were:

custom-t-shirts-for-marathon

(“Though she be but little, she is fierce,” “Devon: She Runs Better than the Government, “The Devonator, She Runs This Town”)

marathon-posters-funny-faces

marathon-posters-mimosas

marathon-poster-tired-legs

(Don’t ask why there are so many SUPER flattering pictures of me out there floating around on the internet for my sister to choose from. Ha!)

And that’s it, folks!!! Who has run the Chicago Marathon, or wants to in the future? Would love to hear from you! I already want to do it again some day 🙂

 

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