Chicago Marathon Race Report

Unless you just stumbled upon this blog today, you may have noticed I was training for my first marathon ever:  the Chicago Marathon on 10/10/10.  Perfect day for running your first marathon, no?

In fair warning:  this post is super long, because not only it includes a race recap, but also a bunch of sightseeing shots since it was my first time in Chicago!  (And I LOVED it!  I want to go back!)

We arrived in Chicago early on Friday morning, dropped off our bags at the hotel, and off we went to the expo.  I knew the shuttle was by Nike Town, a block from our hotel, and how cool it is that they had this in front of their store?

Oh, that doesn’t sound too exciting?  Look closer…

The shuttle wait was a pain, as we had just missed one, the next one dropped people off and was reassigned to a different location, so he didn’t let us in.  We ended up waiting a while for the next one, and when he arrived not everyone waiting was able to fit.

Despite the number of people at the expo, it was super organized, the place was very spacious, and at no point I felt crowded.  As expos go, it was likely the biggest one I’ve been to in terms of space (the number of vendors, however, is comparable to those at the Marine Corps Marathon, or the Rock n Roll VA Beach Half).  You know you have a problem when in Chicago you recognize a vendor who you bought compression socks from in Virginia Beach.

I gotta say, the whole city is all about the marathon.  I was in NYC before when they had a marathon, way before I even considered going out for my first run, and don’t ever remember the NYC Marathon being that much of a big deal.  It was a day to avoid the city because of traffic.  Maybe that changed, and now it’s different, I don’t know…  Even with the Marine Corps people don’t make much of a big deal about it, unless someone you know is running it.  But in Chicago the whole city was about the marathon.

And what’s up with people wearing their marathon shirt pre-marathon day?  Ack, that was driving me crazy!  You haven’t run it yet, stop wearing it!  I don’t even mind if you wear it for the race, but the days leading up to it?  Just tacky…

The shirt, by the way, is pretty cool, but turns out mine has a snag on it, right under the front part of the neck 😦  Luckily, I spent a fortune at the Nike expo buying a shirt, hat, track jacket, so I have other gear to make up for it (I bought so much crap because I wasn’t sure if I would ever do this again, so might as well get as much as I can out of this one!).

Karl picked up his packet and was bummed that he didn’t get to run.  I was super nervous and excited!

But Karl still managed to fake a smile for the camera!

Going back to Nike Town with the shuttle was frustrating.  We waited over 40 minutes for a shuttle, two of our shuttle numbers unloaded people then left because they were on their break, and many other shuttles came by and waited around at their stops while there were no runners to fill it up.  Our line had over 100 people in it by the time the shuttle finally showed up.  I mean, seriously.  If a shuttle is sitting there empty, while there are dozens of people in line waiting for one, reassign it!  Our shuttle got reassigned on our way to the expo, so we know it can be done!

On Friday night, we met up with Margaret, her parents, Tracey (who we hadn’t seen since she moved back to Minnesota!), Jane and Michelle, and went out to dinner at Sprout, from Chef Dale Levitski from Top Chef (I never watched the show).  The food, though expensive, was INCREDIBLE.  Highly recommend it.  The presentation was also amazing.  This was Karl’s entree:

And this was Margaret’s dessert:

On Saturday, I ended up sleeping way too much, but Karl and I still enjoyed a bit of the city…  Apparently we’re supposed to book things ahead of time, so the architectural boat tour was sold out.  Instead, we took a stroll near Lake Michigan later in the day (I took a nap first.  What?)  The lake is incredible — I know it’s supposed to be big, but not being able to see past the horizon?  Amazing.

We saw the John Hancock building…

Then we went to Navy Pier…

And even rode on the ferris wheel!

I then had my carbo-load at Quartino (DELICIOUS, highly recommend their Orrechiette pasta!)

I went to bed much later than I hoped, woke up tons of times during the night, and had a tough time waking up in the morning, but that’s part of it, no?  I wasn’t nervous at all that morning though, which is good, since I had been a ball of nerves the week leading up to the marathon.

I met up with Tracy early on (finally meeting her in person after reading each others blogs for a while), then with Kim right before the start (I had met Kim once before when she was in DC for work).  It was already hot.  I was wearing a fleece jacket while walking to the race, and was sweating with it on.  Not a good sign…

I was DYING to pee though.  DYING.  I drank a whole bottle of G2 to make sure I was well hydrated on my way to the race, then the lines for the port-a-potties not only were super long, but it just wasn’t moving.  Start time came and went, and I finally gave up.  It was another adventure finding where to go for the start, we had to dodge bushes and tree branches (literally!), because the access from the bag check area, where we were, was blocked off.  It was ridiculous, people pushing all over the place.  I had signed up for the 5 hour Nike pace team at the expo, and we could not get to them no matter how hard we tried to move through the crowd.  Plus, the sign kept disappearing — we could see 4:45, we could see 5:15, but the sign for 5:00 now was there, now it was not.  Once the race started, not once did they put the sign back up, at least not in the first mile, so I never did catch up with the 5 hour pace team.

It took us about a half hour to get to the start line, since there were 45,000 people, but no corrals for us slower (less than 4 hour finishing time) folks.  It was crowded.

Right after the mile 1 marker, we saw port-a-potties, with no lines!  I was afraid of losing Kim and Tracy and being stuck running on my own, but there’s no way I could keep holding it in without peeing all over myself, so I ran to it.  I was relieved to see that Tracy waited for me, so I wouldn’t be stuck running the next 25 miles alone, yay!

Karl bought a humongous #5 balloon so we could spot him.  The plan was to meet at mile 4, 13, 17, 20 and 26.  We checked out the map ahead of time, so I knew he would be on the left side for all those mile markers except for the first one.

So I was able to see him each time!

The weather was getting warmer and warmer.  It topped off at 85 degrees by the end of the race.  I should add that there was no shade, and no cloud cover, so it was even hotter than that under the sun (and I went home with a sunburn — exactly the kind of tan lines you want to get a month and a half from your wedding, when you’ll be wearing a strapless dress…).

I was also hoping for an interesting course with lake view.  Sure, sure, I could check that stuff online and would know that the course is super-boring, but when you don’t know the area, you can’t really tell these things!  There was really nothing to look at the whole way aside from creative spectators.  (And let’s not forget the one runner with a shirt that said “SINGLE.  Looking for a running partner!”  — I wonder if it worked?  Looks like she was still single when I saw her around mile 18…)

Other creative runners, like the Eiffel Tower dude below, also helped distract from the pain.  And yep, he did run like that.

Karl took pictures of me each time he saw me!

Now aren’t those two pictures freaky?  They must be at least 3 miles apart, but my (awful) running form looks exactly the same, as if I was superimposed to the background.

I took some pictures along the route as well, but not as much as I expected.  It just seemed like too much effort, and for the most part, there wasn’t much to take pictures of.  Except, once in a while…  (and I missed out on taking shots of the cheerleaders in Boystown.  They were awesome!)

And can’t you feel the sun and the heat by just looking at the picture below?

No?  How about this one?  (Speedos provided for your entertainment)

The course was not scenic, but the spectators did a good job of cheering for us.  The problem was that when I needed the most, from mile 20-25.5, there was barely anyone there.  It was quiet, people were tired, most had already given up and started walking.  The course was crowded the whole way, and if you weren’t walking, you were dodging walkers the whole time.

I lost Tracy at mile 12, when she had to walk.  A quick pee break on my end meant I caught up with her again right by mile 13, but she was already resigned that she would have to walk most of the rest of the race.  The heat really got to her.  So from mile 12 and on, I was by myself.  Bored out of my mind.  When I reached the half-marathon mark, I realized that my pee break meant I was off by my 5 hour time by 3 minutes.  I knew I couldn’t make up for the time, since I was just too hot and too tired, so I stopped checking my Garmin and just running by feeling.  The whole race, I walked every water stop, but ran in between.

Seems like even running by feeling I had pretty even splits though, and you can tell exactly where my pee break was (13:46 pace) and when I had to start taking longer walk breaks to drink water…

I was feeling tired already at mile 7, but got a second wind at the halfway point.  When I saw Karl on mile 17 (with Pete who had driven up from DC!) I was all animated.  By the time he saw me at mile 20, I had hit my wall badly.  I think I hit it around mile 19.   I saw him and almost in tears, I said “you were supposed to be here with me!  I don’t want to do this anymore!” but he yelled some crap for encouragement and I just accepted my fate and kept on running.

I passed Kim at some point along the course and was SO happy to have company again, but we were running at totally different paces, and it was not at the point where it was right for me to push her, or for her to hold me back.  We were each running our own race, and struggling.

I saw Ben and Amy, who ran a few of my last long runs with me, who had flown from DC to visit their family and stopped by to see the race.  It was such a great surprise to see them, as you can tell by my sudden excitement!

From “get me out of here, this sucks!” face…

To “OMG, hey, how are you!  What a surprise!”

I started walking more and more once the late miles approached.  The heat was really getting to me, and I was just so tired of running and spending all those hours not talking to anyone.  I was just bored. Plus I was soooo thirsty.  I’m glad I made the decision to carry my camelbak, because I definitely needed it, but regardless of how much I drank, I was still thirsty.  I didn’t drink the gatorade they were giving out because I hadn’t trained with it, but I was still taking my endurolytes pills, which I know helped.  I also upped my clif shot blok to one every 12 minutes instead of 15, but I found out that I would forget if I had already had one or not (12 minutes were too short increments).  But at the end, being so thirsty, it was hard to chew (but I don’t think gels would have been any easier to swallow either).

If you get easily offended, skip the next sentence.  At mile 20, this is what I was thinking “I don’t fucking ever want to fucking do this fucking shit ever fucking again.”  I had given up on my time goal, and it was still not fun.  Nothing about it was fun.  It was torture.  TORTURE.  I just wanted to be done with.

I think I took this picture with about 2 miles left to go, and you can see how many people had given up and were walking.  Even towards the finish line, with 10 feet to go, people were walking!  I know from the picture below that the runners look pretty spread out, but this was a wide road.

We didn’t always have this much space to get through for most of the course, and the parts that didn’t have proper volunteers to control the spectators, they were crowding the course making it very narrow and hard to get through.  I almost trampled over a cute little girl who was about 2 feet into the course (I was running on the left most of the time in order to catch Karl, and only went to the middle during water stops so I wouldn’t get pushed).

And in races I get more and more frustrated when runners have no common sense of courtesy.  People would jump in front of you walking to go say hi to their friends, to get a drink, on their way out of grabbing a drink, to get a piece of banana…  One just walked diagonally in front of me and knocked the wind out of me when I bumped into him while running, because he wasn’t looking.  This certainly didn’t help my stamina.

And don’t even get me started on spectators crossing the course, doing that fake run thing you do when a car waves at you at the light.  We shouldn’t have to weave around spectators — do you know how much energy it takes to weave when you’re already running for so long??  I could barely remember what city I was in, and why the heck I signed up for this thing!

Some parts of the course, you had no choice but to walk.  Where they were giving out bananas, it was a mush of paper cups, water and banana peels that even walking it was slippery (I even did a few “skating” motions for a few feet, because my feet were just sliding and that was safer than lifting the foot and putting it back on the slippery surface).

I knew Karl would be waiting for me at mile 26, and at that point everything was bugging me.  My visor, my camelbak, my stupid pink compression socks (which really helped me not cramp up, despite making me look ridiculous, but it didn’t do a thing to help with the heat, it made it worse, since it was like wearing pants!).  I was going to give my camelbak to him, but he was nowhere to be seen at mile 26.  I had promised myself I’d start sprinting right at the 26 mark, and I did, and it was hard.  My sprint was something like 10:30 min/mile pace — it’s all I had left.  My mood sucked since there was no sign of Karl anywhere, and I just felt defeated.

I finally saw Karl a few feet from the finish line, I grunted something because that’s all I had energy for and kept going.  He took my picture… I still don’t know why I put my head sideways like that when I’m sprinting.

That white thing you can barely see, on the left side on top of the baseball caps from the volunteers?  The finish line. (And by the way, this is why running skirts need built in shorts!)

I finally crossed the finish line at 5:07:15, a few minutes off my goal to break the 5 hour mark.  That’s a 11:43 pace — heck, I’ll take it.  That’s faster than my second half marathon 7 months ago, so I did something right.

I grabbed water, some snacks, a wet towel and my medal.  I still don’t care about missing my time goal, since it was just so tough.  I have no doubt I would have done better if the weather was cooler, but it was not meant to be.

I crossed the finish line and my first thought was “THANK GOD THIS IS OVER” — I didn’t get emotional or burst into tears like you hear in so many stories.  I didn’t think of myself any different or more accomplished, or even “oh, wow, now I’m a marathoner”  I keep reading stories of how people cried at the finish line, and not once was I emotional when reaching for it, or when crossing it.  I was glad to be done, just as I am in any other race when crossing that line.  It wasn’t any different.  I guess this goes like the wedding dress — I also didn’t burst into tears when I found “the one.”  The irony?  I’m super emotional in other aspects of my life.  It doesn’t take much to make me cry, make me angry, make me frustrated.  But reaching the finish line was not one of those moments.

Maybe it was just me, but the medal was such a disappointment…  A HUGE Bank of America logo smacked right on it.  It looks like a promotional item for the marathon, something I would get for making a deposit during marathon week, not something I should get after running 26.2 miles.  Why not leave the logo just on the ribbon?  There’s such a thing as too much promotion, and this is definitely it.

Of course, it doesn’t help that Bank of America is my bank and I hate them with passion (but changing my auto debits is way too much work for me to switch…)

I bumped into Erin right after the finish line, and she was tired and just going straight to the hotel.  The rest of us met up and all complained about the heat.  NO ONE made their time goal.  I was off by only a few minutes, and so was Tracey (from Minnesota, not Tracy from NY who ran with me).  Margaret had her quads cramp up, and ended up slowing down a lot on the second half, and she finished just a few minutes in front of me (while her goal was a 4:30 marathon, and she has finished other marathons close to that!).  You can read Kim’s recap here, and Tracy’s recap here.

Jane, however, was the worst story among us all — it really shows that when we’re bitching about the heat, we’re not just being whiny.  Both her legs cramped up at mile 18, she fell on the course, couldn’t move her legs and started crawling out of the way with her arms.  Someone finally picked her up and pulled her off the course before she got trampled.  She sat down while a police officer kept asking her if she needed medics.  She kept refusing, but she was sitting for just so long (she knew she couldn’t stand back up, but didn’t want to admit it), that he finally called over the medics.  She got put on IV, and arrived at the finish line by an ambulance.  She said after the IV she felt perfectly fine, and that’s when she realized that they weren’t going to let her back out.  She says she never wants to do a marathon again.  She has run a couple of marathons before, but never trained.  This was the first time she had properly trained (and she was SO ready!).  She also drank at all water stops, and took endurolytes.  She trained through the same grueling DC summer that I did!  Maybe just not enough hydration pre-race?  Who knows.  But it really really sucked.  She deserved to cross that finish line just as much as I did.  (And for that matter, so did Karl.)

We totally missed getting a post-race picture of all of us though!

Ben did get a butt shot of Pete and Karl on their way to get beer…

And just as they were leaving, Amy took the only post race picture of me and my medal!

Luckily, she even got a close up…

Karl enjoyed a couple of my free beers, but there wasn’t anything else going on in the finish area.  Seriously, it was a bit of a disappointment, but I guess so is the MCM finish line, there’s only so much you can do when there’s all those people around.  So we walked over to the charity village (it must have been a 15 minute walk, that place was FAR), and I got to meet Meg, even if only for a few minutes!

That night, we met up with Pete, Tracey (the MN one!) and Jane to replace our lost calories with this yummyness (I don’t know what calories Pete and Karl replaced, I guess spectating was too much for them):

Everywhere we went people were wearing their marathon shirts, from Friday until Monday.  I even wore mine on Monday (the one I had bought), but it was a bit of a buzz kill, seeing half the people wearing some sort of Chicago marathon shirt.  It doesn’t feel like such an accomplishment when everyone else around you did it too, you know?  And for the people wearing their medals around on Monday, give me a break.  Seriously??  You’re wearing your medal for a boat tour, 24 hours later?  It bugged me.

Though my muscles were super tight on Sunday night, I slept with compression pants and socks, and left them on under my jeans on Monday morning, as we explored the city (it was a HOT combination).  As you can tell, we had way too much fun with the bean (and yes, we are reflected in it each time).

And we also finally got to go to the architectural boat tour, which I highly recommend!  I took great shots of the city…

Then we went back to the Navy Pier, had a really mediocre “Chicago style” hot dog…

And went to the top of the John Hancock building, for the awesome views of the city!

Don’t you want to just jump into that ocean?  Err, I mean, lake?

Unfortunately after coffee it was time to head back to the hotel, pick up our bags and make our way to the airport.  Considering we hopped on a cab to the airport at 2pm that day, we got a lot of things done, and definitely made up for Saturday when I was saving my legs from too much walking.

Now what do I think of the Chicago marathon?  It was my first marathon, but I wasn’t impressed.  I don’t know…  I know it’s one of the BIG FIVE, but it was nothing great.  I loved loved loved the city, and would consider doing the marathon again if it was an excuse to go there.  Otherwise, I probably won’t do it again.  I mean, it’s my only marathon so far, and it’s not even top 3 of my best looking medals!

And on that note, the MCM has a really good looking medal…  And it’s 3 weeks from now, just enough time for taper.  See where this is going…?

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38 Comments

Filed under Chicago Marathon Training, Marathon Training, Pictures, Race, Race Report, Random

38 responses to “Chicago Marathon Race Report

  1. I have always wanted to see Chicago!!! I don’t, however, want to run a Marathon… But I would go and cheer you on if you do it again. Then sight see with you 😀

    Congrats again on finishing! I ran the half alone and thought I would die of boredom at some points, I couldn’t imagine a full! You rock!

    When you sport those tan lines at your wedding at least it is because you accomplished something no one else there (or most people) have not! You rock! Also, self tanning wipes work wonders for awkward tan lines – I know know the name of them but they are in a yellow package!

    • Angela, first maybe you should stop posting directions on how to make oreo cheesecakes on your site, because I click and go “AAAAH, no!!!” And close the window. I need to fit into my dress in a month and a half!

      But yeah, Chicago was awesome! Loved that city!

  2. megabrooke

    first of all, congrats again! hey, we’re marathoners now!

    i just did my recap too! funny how our experiences differed. i absolutely loved the marathon! loved the race, the crowds, the spectators. i thought it was well organized, so much energy. i’d totally do it again. i didn’t mind the medal, but i do see what you’re saying… a bit all about the bank of america. then again, it’s a marathon medal, so ill take it! im not one of those that wore my medal the next day, but i can totally see why some people would! it’s such a huge accomplishment, and i say, milk that baby for everything you got in the days right after the race, why not?!

    so glad we got a quick chance to meet! im still waiting to get that pic from my mom of the four of us- ill send it your way when i do!

    • I know, our experiences were different. Maybe I’m just getting too critical after running so many races!

      I really wish they had more port-a-potties at the start (though they had plenty along the course with no lines, which I appreciated it!) and didn’t block our entrance to the start line, having hundreds of people jumping over bushes and over tree branches is almost like a guaranteed injury pre-race! Oh, and corrals! They really should have corrals for the slow-folks like us. I was dodging way too many people early on.

      The spectators were great and so were the volunteers though!

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  4. I love the pictures! Looks like Chicago agreed with you

  5. Great race report. I wasn’t too far away from you it seems during the marathon. So, the smaller marathons are a lot more enjoyable, and there are a ton of more scenic races than Chicago!!! I agree, the course was pretty boring but great spectators.

    See you at MCM?!

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  7. What a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing. Just looking at those pictures and hearing your story reminds me of that year I ran in the Chicago heat. It is SO hard!

    And you didn’t offend me by your comments at mile 20. I always feel EXACTLY the same way (and I still can’t figure out why I keep signing up for these things. After all, I only had one child!).

  8. Congrats on your first marathon Carla! You did an amazing job!

    I am surprised to hear NYC is not all about the marathon! The Nov issue of RW was all about it 😉

    What gear did you get at the Expo?

    I wonder if you would have liked the course more if you knew more about the city. I am kind of familiar with it so I enjoyed thinking about where we were running (well, until a point!).

    I love all the pics Karl got, and that Ben and Amy came to see you! What a great surprise!

    I was suprised to see people walking through the finish. Even I ran the last mile! I felt sad for a lot of the runners I saw.

    I was suprised how slippery the water stops were too! I was worried I would fall!

    I feel so bad for your friend Jane! And everyone I talk to says how their goals were off. It was just too hot!

    Ha. I would have worn my medal to work on Tuesday if Steven would have let me. I guess I would have been one of those people bugging you! 😉

    Can’t wait to hear about the next one!

    • I don’t know if it has changed, but when I lived in NY, no one really made a big deal about it. I wasn’t a runner then, but it seems that in Chicago even if you’re not a runner, there’s no way you can miss it!

      At the expo I got a track jacket, long sleeve shirt, short sleeve running shirt, bag and hat. All with the marathon logo in it. I think I spent 200 bucks. No kidding. If I never run a marathon again, at least I can show off that at some point I did 🙂

      Wish you could do the MCM with me!!

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  10. AMAZING pics, thanks for sharing.

    and congrats!

  11. Great race report. I wonder if all first time marathoners who have to deal with the heat and a bunch of other stuff hate it so much. I may have hated Chicago ( my first marathon this year) but I was nursing an injury and came in dead last. But I know I still want to do another one. For redemption.

    • Actually one of the bloggers I know LOVED Chicago. And that was her first marathon, and she was still about half an hour behind her goal.

      I definitely want to do another one… Still hoping the MCM next weekend will be it, but I don’t think it’ll be redemption time, despite the cooler weather — too many hills on the first 8 miles!

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  13. Nichelle

    Hi I came across your blog today and I enjoyed reading your race report so much!

    I’ve never run a marathon before, but I’ve done one half marathon (and have another planned in a few weeks), and I just have to say when I was finishing my half, I had the exact same thoughts as you. “Why the F did I do this” lol. My half was super hot along a beach, so the sun was reflecting against the water and made it hotter!

    Anyway, just wanted to write and say Congrats. I also wanted to say, I had many of the same thoughts on my half.

    I am NOT doing a marathon…at least not anytime soon! The half was enough of a mental raping for me!

    • Aw, thanks for the nice words!

      For whatever is worth, I thought the SAME THING the first time I finished my half, and promised to never run a half ever again, and went further “there’s no way I’m turning around and doing this over, so I can tell you right now I’m never running a marathon!” — ha! A year and a month later I was crossing the finish line in Chicago!

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  20. Margaret

    Just came across your blog while looking for info on Chicago Marathon. I’m signed up to run this years and was looking for any and all info on it. Your blog was very informative. Plus, I have felt the exact same way you felt while crossing the finish line for a marathon: I’m so glad this fucking race is over.

    What was to post-race food like? I’ve only run one marathon, The Portland Marathon, and the post-race food was kind of like trick-or-treating. You almost need a bag for all the choices you could fill up with post-race: chocolate milk, string cheese, yogurt, fruit, candy, etc. Kind of worried about Chicago’s weather. I really hope that it is not hot like it was for you.

    • Honestly, I don’t remember any post race food… I remember getting a beer, and that’s all. (Doesn’t mean it wasn’t there, but I remember lots of races post-race food, but don’t remember anything for Chicago.) I think we got a small bag of pretzels? I may be wrong though.

      They did have loads of tents setup so you could buy food, but not much for free…

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