Race Recap: Chicago Marathon

What happened?

That’s the text I got from my family and friends who were tracking me at Sunday’s Chicago Marathon. It was my third marathon and I had trained to run a sub-4:00. Through the half, I was on pace to run a sub-3:55 which would have been a 12-minute PR. I was feeling great, strong, confident, until everything fell apart at mile 15.

So, what happened? Let’s start from the beginning with what went right pre-race.

Our flight was super easy and we lucked out by getting extra leg space!

Jackpot! So. Much. Room.

Jackpot! So. Much. Room.

I had a nice shakeout run with my boyfriend and his friend who was in town for the race too. We ran fast but it felt easy.

Striking a pose at the end of the Navy Pier.

Striking a pose at the end of the Navy Pier.

We took a free shuttle to the expo and spent about an hour there in an attempt to not walk around too much.


We rested during most of the afternoon before going over to a friend’s apartment to cook our own, homemade pre-race pasta dinner.

Our beautiful view while cooking dinner at a friend's apartment.

Our beautiful view while cooking dinner at a friend’s apartment.

I got about 8+ hours of restful sleep and awoke on race morning feeling refreshed and ready to go.

We got to the race with plenty of time to spare, however, we didn’t realize how long it would take for 45,000 runners to get through security. By the time I checked my bag at gear check and got in the porta potty line (to pee!) I had about 10 minutes until the corrals closed. The lines weren’t moving at all so I decided it was probably just nervous pee and I could hold it, so I left the line and headed for my corral to find the 4:00 pacer.

Our throwaway game was on point.

Our throwaway game was on point.

I found the pacer but I didn’t get to line up as close to them as I would have liked. Then, they dropped their pacing signs and were nowhere to be seen for the rest of the race. That was frustrating because I’m used to pacers holding the sign for the whole race so they can be seen. That wasn’t the case in Chicago.

Chicago is a crowded race so I spent the first few miles trying to get around people to find some open space, but there really wasn’t any. Going into Sunday my plan was to run with the 4:00 pacer through the half and then, depending on how I felt, step it up a bit. Since I couldn’t find the pacer after the gun went off, that plan went out the window. Instead I tried to just run based on feel.

This worked but I was nervous when I kept seeing my miles click off at 8:35-8:54/mile. I thought this was too fast but I was really feeling good so I just decided to go with it.

Then I started to get excited. I knew a 3:55 marathon was a 8:58/mile pace so I knew I was well under that. I told myself to just keep running at a comfortable place, no speeding up, but no slowing down.

Still feeling good, and smiling, at this point.

Still feeling good, and smiling, at this point.

After hitting mile 10, the pee that didn’t happen at the start, began to make it’s presence known. I tried to ward it off but by the half I knew I was going to have to stop at the nearest porta potty to avoid cramping later on.

I didn’t see a porta potty until mile 15 and by that time I had to pee so bad I thought I was going to explode. I lost a whole two minutes just peeing (sorry for the TMI) and because porta potties are disgusting, I had to squat. The second I started running again I knew my race was gone, my legs immediately cramped up and remained cramped for the final 11.2 miles.

Pain. Face.

Pain. Face.

My left calf and hamstring felt like they had rolled up into a ball. It totally threw off my form and I felt so horrible the rest of the race. I don’t remember a lot from the last 11 miles. There was a lot of walking. Plenty of self-pity. I even thought about dropping out.

Somehow I managed to stick it out and by the time I crossed the finish I just wanted to sit down on the ground and cry. I felt so defeated.

When I talked to my dad after the race he was very congratulatory and told me, sometimes the marathons to be most proud of are not the PRs but the ones you finished, despite the conditions. He’s right. There’s only so much you can train for and prepare for when it comes to running marathons. Leading up to Chicago, I was in the best shape I’ve been in for a race. I trained in all conditions, mastered my nutrition, tested my gear, found the perfect shoes – I was as prepared as I could have been.

We all made it.

We all made it.

So what happened? I think I learned majorly big city races are not for me. Or, at least they’re not conducive to a PR for me. Had it not been so crowded at the start, I might have been able to use the bathroom before and instead of writing about what went wrong right now, I’d be writing about how I set a 12-minute PR.

But there are so many things that can happen in a marathon. Things that we can do wrong as runners and things that are completely out of our control. Each mile teaches us something and we can use those lessons for future marathons. Had you asked me at the finish if I’d ever run another marathon, I would have scoffed in your face. But today, four days after the race, I found myself Googling fall 2015 marathons.

Motivation for Chicago Marathoners

Here we are, week 16 of training for the Chicago Marathon. In less than a week 45,000 runners will toe that starting line of a 26.2 mile journey through the Windy City. We’ve all been checking the weather reports religiously (obsessively) for the past week and it seems as though the weather keeps changing as much as our emotions. We’re nervous, excited, anxious, determined, but most of all we’re ready. Ready to tackle those dream-big goals. Ready to see what these 16 weeks have made us become. Ready to see how strong we are. Ready to see how brave we are.

I know I won’t be the only one standing on that starting line with sweaty palms, forcing the self-doubt out of my mind – I know I’ll be joined by 44,999 other runners battling the same doubts. But we’ve done the training. The 5 a.m. wake-ups. The 90 degree training runs. The endless 800m repeats, long runs, and easy recovery runs. The work is done, now it’s time to see what we’re made of.