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.

22 thoughts on “Race Recap: Chicago Marathon

  1. I appreciate this raw and honest recap. I ran my very first marathon three weeks ago. I was feeling good until mile 18ish. Three weeks later, I’m contemplating a second chance! I too, learned some valuable lessons from my first marathon.

    • Thank you so much for your words! Congrats on finishing your first marathon, that’s an incredible accomplishment. You really learn so much at each marathon. I hope you decide to run one again!

  2. Girl- definitely be proud of pushing through and finishing. While no one can say a PR wouldn’t have been better- you took what you had to work with that day and did the best you could. For that, it’s a success. You have trained well, and like you said have nailed down a lot of the things you CAN control (diet, shoes, etc.). Go get the next one, make it yours! :)

  3. I love what your dad said about the race. I’ve been thinking about that lately. That the race medal is not always an award for time but an award for overcoming obstacles. Thanks for heads up on big race issues. It will be really good to know before Marine Corps.

  4. The marathon is such a different race, and my daughter and I like to call it a beast. There are so many highs and lows and all credit to you for completing a tough race. I’m running MCM next weekend and will be anxious due to the size of the race. I know it will be fabulous and a really moving experience with all the soldiers running. You will get your sub 4 and congrats on your race.

  5. Girl you are AMAZING. I know you were aiming high and were motivated to get a PR, but just finishing a marathon is a great accomplishment!! Congrats!! :)

  6. You still ran a marathon and that is awesome. Your dad is definitely right- it would have been much easier to quit but you didn’t!!
    Hopefully I will see you around this weekend at Runner’s world! :)

  7. So sorry to hear this. It’s hard to not have high expectations and when they come tumbling down it’s hard to take. But you are right, you could kill your training and you just NEVER know what is going to happen race day and you can’t predict it either, the most frustrating part! And your dad is so right. I’m running my second marathon next week and I have my goals that are probably unreachable, it will definitely be hard to come to terms with them if I don’t meet them. Why are we so hard on ourselves? Glad I found your blog!

  8. Great work on completing the Marathon, unfortunately sometimes it can come down to what happens on the day, no matter how well you prepare for it. Everyones race is different but at least you know the things that were in your control you did right and you can take this to your next Marathon and smash it! Good luck with chasing the PB

  9. Good for you for still finishing! I totally relate!! I just did the Twin Cities Marathon and was aiming for a 4:00 time. The first half I felt great and I was right on pace; then mile 15 hit. I immediately got cramps in my legs and could barely put one foot in front of the other. I ended up with a 4:27 time but I felt so defeated. Looking for redemption next year!

  10. Thanks for this and for all the comments. I ran my third marathon in Portland this month and it did not go well. I decided before I finished I was done with 26.2 but like you, weeks later I’m finding myself aiming to sign up to do another one next year. I think that’s why I love the marathon–because anything can happen–it’s scary, it’s invigorating, it can be magical.

  11. New follower! Congrats on the race! I love what your dad said and he’s so right (he obviously a runner, right?!) – I always remind myself and others that there are so many things you can control on race day, but there are also so many things you can’t control and you just have to run as smart and hard as you can with what you have that day. I ran Chicago too and I personally loved it (my race didn’t go quite as planned either). Pushing through the end of the race makes you mentally stronger and will help you in your next race :)

  12. First of all, congrats on another marathon finish! Awesome job. I completely agree with your dad. The races we push through and never quit even though that would be the reasonable thing to do are amazing. You have a victory to be proud of! I was in corral B up at the front and the porta potty lines were too long to make it into the corral in time. So we all popped a squat right there. No bushes, everyone could see. We just did what needed to be done in an open, grassy area. I saw lots of butts and other unpleasant things :) It was embarrassing in the moment, but everyone was doing it so it felt ok. I also just pee on myself during races if I have to go to avoid having to stop. Like you, once I stop, I can’t get going again. The fatigue just takes over. Next time, I know you’ll have a PEE-R. xoxo

  13. I loved this post! I’m sorry your marathon didn’t go as planned :( I too had a race (half marathon) where I felt prepared and ready and then it just all fell apart on race day. I love your dad’s words of wisdom though, and I hope you get to redeem yourself soon!

  14. I had this same experience this past Sunday at my first marathon in harrisburg pa. I’ve never really had cramps before but I was sick for several days leading up to the race. At mile 12 out of nowhere, both legs cramped severely. I had to mostly walk the rest but I finished. So humbling. My fueling strategy was consistent with my long training runs so maybe the sickness had my body run down. I’ll never know for sure. After a few days, I’m ready to sign up for a spring marathon! So much risk and a lot of work for one day. Such is the marathon. An addiction.
    What do you think caused your cramps? Have you had them before? Did you try stopping and stretching? I’m just looking for a way to get out of that impossible situation should it happen again. Thanks. I’m a new follower of yours on Twitter. Brandon

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