Author’s Note: This marathon recap was started in Oct. 2017 and finished in Jan. 2018 which is amazing because the experience of the race still feels like yesterday.
The 2017 Chicago Marathon was marathon #12 for me. I’ve not trained for any marathon the same way twice but I have combined the best parts of my past experiences and having just achieved my best personal record yet, I may be a tad closer to a formula for marathon success. From my first marathon eight years ago with a 4:11 finish to my Chicago finish in 3:29, there are a lot of little things that add up to successful marathons. But there are two constants – one is all mental, the other is putting in the work.
The work I chose to do for Chicago was largely based on the sub-3:30 plan by ASICS (for which I cannot find a link to share but it’s out there somewhere). I also blended in a Runner’s World Intermediate 26.2 plan and used the training paces out of the Nike marathon training plan. Knowing that Chicago would be a flat course I focused mostly on speedwork and ran between 5-6 times a week. The plan was a 16-week timeline though I probably started in at about week 14 or 13. The first half I included cross-training on one of those days and as happens to me with literally every single marathon training program, I also did strength work for the first half but it waned off with the second half. I just cannot get up any earlier and when weekday long runs are between 8-10 miles I don’t have time in the morning to continue on with strength work and by the time I’m home from work, been through “mom mode,” and a little more work mode, evening work-outs do not happen.
The short story of what worked for me out of this training plan really was the emphasis on speedwork with close attention to the warm-ups and cooldowns. I didn’t always hit the pace ranges but I did always come very, very close. I worked hard. I ate pretty healthfully. For the last month I significantly reduced alcohol. I got mostly good sleep. And I stayed injury free. I also talked to a lot of people who had run Chicago before. This was a very subtle but very rewarding way to mentally prepare. It helped excite me about Chicago as a host city, about the race itself, and because I have extremely supportive runner friends, they lit up my confidence telling me they knew I would PR. And they were right. 🙂
Marathon Race Weekend
With any race, I tend to obsess about the weather well in advance. For some reason, the one thing I really truly cannot control is the thing that gets me most anxious. Mostly because the more I know about the weather, the better I can mentally prepare for how to power through, plus make sure all the right gear options are packed. Going into Chicago the weather was anything but uplifting. There was a ton of rain in the forecast. It rained hard Friday night, was gorgeous for a shake-out run Saturday and just long enough to enjoy rooftop seating on the architecture river cruise (a must do!!), and then poured Saturday night. Then Mother Nature fully cooperated on race morning. In runner’s terms it was freezing and I wished I’d kept more throw away clothes at the start line. Instead I shivered in my corral with my shorts and only a throw away top covering a tank. I had given myself a good chunk of time to walk/jog from the hotel to the start area but in hindsight another 30 minutes would’ve been better simply to have had time to go to the porta pot one more time.
I lined up at the very front of my corral right next to the 3:30 pacers and their groupies. I tend to hover and not decide until the last minute if I want to vocalize my commitment to joining the pace group. As we moved toward the start line I had decided I’d try to stick with them. They were planning to run even splits – something I have achieved only one other time which happened to be with a pacer at the St. Michael’s Half Marathon that spring. The first few miles were literally elbow to elbow. By mile 3 I made the call no runner likes to make. Pit stop. I had to. I knew if I didn’t stop then, I’d definitely have to stop later and my legs would not be as forgiving. I think I was in and out in 45 seconds and caught back up to the pacers, then passed them.
I was ahead of the pacers until I think mile 23. I saw my husband at least 6 times. I even saw my friend around mile 10 who was also running and that was a real treat considering we started in separate corrals. It was still packed on the course through at least mile 16. As we’d say in sailing, “rubbin’s racin’.” Except in running, rubbing usually causes tripping. Which is exactly what happened to me at mile 20. I was taking a right hand turn tight and somehow another runner doing the same came over me and we sort of bounced off each other but she also crushed my foot and I thought for sure some toenails ripped off. (They didn’t.)
In general the course was great. It was indeed flat as a pancake with the slight exception of the little bridges. The race crew puts down mats over what are rather large spacing grids on the bridges but I still found myself taking it a little more cautiously while crossing. The crowds, and the music along the course were AMAZING. I told more than one local Chicagoan post-race that I thought they may have NYC when it came to crowd support. There was one stretch so deafening that I felt bad for the water table volunteers.
By mile 15 it had warmed up significantly and the effects of my pace and the miles were settling in. It was all mental. I was fixated on running a 3:30 and for once, my mind and my body were working together to gut it out. And then all of a sudden the 3:30 pacers came up from behind me around mile 23-24. There were 3-4 of them I’d started with and stayed ahead of through all the previous miles. I was in “one mile at a time” mode and I think it was around mile 24 that doubt started to set in. And one of the pacers told me – I could do it. I literally don’t know what it was at the time. In hindsight I could say I dug deep. Or maybe it was a “now or never” reaction. Or maybe it was all the work, all the training coming together. I do remember thinking that this moment was the entire point of speedwork. The last interval, the fastest pace. The set that seems the hardest. Running on tired legs. I thought about form, I thought about my breathing. I looked ahead, toward the finish. All that work is so that when doubt creeps in at the very end, you know you have one more gear. Whatever it was, I managed to find a little more to break 3:30 at the finish line.
My finish time was 3:29:14. A HUGE PR taking 3+ minutes off from my NYC time in 2016.
I high fived and thanked all the pacers. I had a huge, stupid grin on my face, then happy tears, then disbelief, then more smiles and delirious giggles. I settled into the shuffle in search of the gear check trucks, water (which was oddly hard to find and I ended up just accepting bags of ice and waited for it to melt to drink), and my mile walk back to the hotel in order to shower up and check-out somewhat on time.
At our post-race brunch, it was typical mile by mile replays. My goofy PR grin was stuck to my face the whole time. I told my husband and friend I felt like 3:29 was really good. I can be really happy with that. Four hours later on the plane ride home I said to my husband, “but why wouldn’t I try for a 3:25?”
Chicago Marathon Cliff Notes
Realizing the above is super long, here’s the short and sweet version:
- Loved Chicago as a city and a race host
- Weather was perfect but a little hot by race end
- 3:30 pacers were awesome
- ASICS sub-3:30 training plan worked as advertised
- Finished super happy with a new PR