Race Report: Chicago Marathon

Chicago Marathon

26.2 Mile Run

October 8, 2017

The Chicago Marathon!

Before the Race

The Chicago Marathon is one of the 6 Abbott’s World Major Marathons, and includes upwards of 40,000 runners.  To get into a race of this magnitude, there are 4 ways…  be a super fast runner (like win a marathon and be invited), be a local resident, raise money for a charity, or win a lottery. Since I’m not local, not an elite runner (yet), and don’t live in Chicago, I had to go with the lottery option. Of course, luck would have it that I won on my first try. When I found out, I literally was jumping up and down…  Chicago, Here I come!

A World Major, one of my favorite cities,  plus it’s the home to a lot of my family, so I can celebrate with them after! Excitement wasn’t even the word! Chi-town would become Run-town on October 8th, and I was going to be a part of it!


Training for Chicago was relatively straight forward, in that the course is flat, and fast.. so there is less emphasis on hill repeats and elevation during training runs. Of course, I would still do hill repeats and include climbing, but it wouldn’t be a measured priority like it was while training for hillier courses. I began my training cycle in great shape, having built up to a 20 mile run in July, and ran the marathon leg of Ironman LP the same month.. Having trained for and ran 3 marathons already, I decided to leverage my experience to make some adjustments this time around:

  1. Focus on pace during the run – Typically, my long runs have felt more like survival. Long runs were done at near 10 minute pace (2 min below race pace). This was way too slow for my target times. It’s not uncommon to run a minute slower than race pace, but I was lagging too far behind that. I read up a lot on what a good training pace is, and the best answer I got was to use a Heart Rate Monitor. Using the HRM, I could see what Zone I was in; and when I’m in Zone 4, I would stick to that pace. For me, this was between 8:30 and 9:00 miles; depending on how much volume I’ve done to that point.
  2. Increase recovery run mileage – Common marathon plans involve gradually increasing mileage every other week, with the week between running 10 miles as a kind of break. I decided to switch this up to 12 miles. After talking to some runners while volunteering, there was some new plans out there that encourage increasing this to 12 miles. The general idea was that 10 miles was too much of a break, and 12 is a better work-out, and still plenty of recovery left. I always felt that 10 miles was too short, so I was all for this new approach.
  3. Interval Repeats and SpeedRuns – Long runs are vital, but a lot of gain can be made doing interval repeats. There is no better way to get fast, than to practice running fast.. Doing these will be a good change of pace, and help my running be more well balanced.. There were plenty of 2 mile sprint repeats, 400 meter repeats, 800 meter repeats, and 4 mile sprint drills. It helped that my Crossfit clases included some every week as well.
  4. Diet – While there is more to be said about this that any bullet point can say; the general idea is that I wanted to be more calculated with what I ate. I started to count my macros (Protein, Fat, Carbs), and make sure I hit my target goals (not over or under, but hit them exactly). The result was that I was down 9lbs from the beginning of my training to the end for this race. Running lighter can’t hurt!

Those were my 4 major points of emphasis for my training. Following that, I mapped out my training; which include 1 long run every week (which I will list below), and 2 other runs (1 speed run, and 1 6 or 8 miler).


Long Runs:

  • 10 miles (August 6th)
  • 15 miles
  • 12 miles
  • 18 miles
  • 12 miles
  • 20 miles
  • 13.1 (Atlantic City 70.3 Ironman)
  • 10 miles (Bronx 10miler)
  • 8.5 miles
  • 26.2 miles (October 8th)

Without too much drama, I completed my plan as scheduled; and felt great going into the race.  On some weeks I was only able to get in just the long run, but I made sure that I made every single long run.  After my last run, I knew I was really for the big dance…

Race Day – Before the Race

After getting my bib at the expo the day before, it was time to race.

When I woke up at 4AM; I had my favorite cereal, a banana, a Gatorage endurance bottle, and 20 ounces of water. These are the exact same things that I had before each of my long runs. (Remember, nothing new on race day!). Upon arrival, I had my second gatorade and banana; and drank water until I needed the restroom.  I arrived at 5:30AM; 2 hours before race time, and set out for the day.

Getting to the start corrals  was straight forward and easy. The amenities (Gatorade, Bananas, water) were ok, but I wished they had some bagels there (inside joke for anyone that read my Lake Placid Report). At the expo, they kept repeating how hot the day would be and to be prepared for a very hot day.. However, that did not apply to before the race. It was definitely cold before the race. Remember, bring layers; even when its going to be a hot day.. Before the race, it’s always cold!

At 7AM after making final preparations (more Gatorade, bathroom break, pre-race photos), I was off to the start corrals to make sure I got a good spot. In New York, they have port-a-Johns in the race corrals, but no such luck here.. which was unfortunate as I needed to use one before the race started. Anyway, as the time grew near I shed my sweater and threw it to the side. Naturally the sweater landed right on the head of a runner.. and everyone around me saw it! It was pretty funny, and helped to loosen the crowd up, and I was only slightly embarrassed. I told them all that’s why I’m running a marathon, and not playing for the Cubs…

Eventually my corral started moving towards the start line; I saw some Port-A-Johns.. and I jumped at the chance! After a quick visit, I was on my way to start the race!

It begins..

And at 7:44:12, I run through the start line! It’s an epic start line (check the photo!)! People are on both sides of the street cheering us on; as we head underneath an overpass. I mention this because;  I lost my GPS for the first 2 miles! I rely on my GPS to keep track my pace, specifically to hold myself back.. With the crowds cheering you on, it’s so easy to get excited and run hard, but I did my best to resist. I thought I was holding back, but when I got to Mile 1, it was 7:28… way too fast! When I got to Mile 2, 7:33… still way too fast. At mile 3 my GPS was working again finally, and was able to settle into my pace of 8 minute miles…

The Plan

The plan was simple, stay at a constant pace the entire race until mile 20. Then at mile 20, it would be time to let it rip and see if I can get that PR.  There would be 2 short hills at mile 20 and 26, but nothing crazy. The course officials were warning everyone about the heat, but I felt I had a good amount of experience running in the heat from training. I would be fine as long as I could keep my core temperature down by pouring ice cold water on my head and body at every hydration stop..  Sure the first 2 miles were fast, but I didn’t think that would hurt me in the end as long as I was able to calm down and recover over the next few miles… which is exactly what I did.

17 miles in, I was averaging well under 8:00 miles.. things were going perfect according to my plan. Although I started to feel a little fatigued and my pace was slowed a little, I was still maintaining my goal pace. If I could hold an 8:20 split for the last 9 miles, I would get that sub 3:35 time that I so desperately wanted in this race…

A las, at mile 18 the race turned in an instant. What no one prepared me for, was that the last 9 miles were all in the sun. It was a hot day, but staying in the shade and throwing ice on my head every mile was enough to keep my core temperature down.. In the sun however, that strategy did not work. Somewhere in Mile 20, I knew that if I didn’t slow down, I may not be able to finish the race.. I want to say this was a choice, but in truth I couldn’t help it.. the sun was too much. From 8:18 in mile 17, my pace just started dropping… I went to 8:37 to 8:56 to 9:16 to 9:22 to 9:45 to 9:52 to 10:23 to 9:27 the rest of the way.  At mile 20, I wanted to push my pace like my plan; but my body was just too hot and I was slowing down. Race day temperature would peak at 73 degrees, and when you are running you feel like it’s 20 degrees warmer; when running a marathon it’s probably more like 30 degrees warmer…

Still, when I realized I wouldn’t get 3:30 or even close to that.. I refused to be deferred. I knew that I was going to get a PR as long as I didn’t collapse. The only question was by how much. I saw the 3:40 pacer come by, and I knew he started ahead of me; so keeping up with that group would get me a 3:40… Of course, at that point, even keeping up with them was too much of a struggle, so I had to let him go.. It’s easy to be let down when you see your splits go down, but you need to stay mentally tough and keep track of the bigger picture. In this case, yes I was close to a 3:30, and now would lose a 3:40.. but it was important to just do my best.  I don’t know when or if I will ever run Chicago again, so I had to do my best here and not mail it in.

In the last mile,  I tried once more to pick it up; and this time my body responded, and pushed through the hill at mile 26. I would finish with my head held high, smiling, and giddy that the race was finally over!

Finishing and Take Aways

In the end, I finished in 3:41:34. 8:27 per mile.. It’s an over 10 Minute improvement from my last personal best 3:51:55; I have to be thrilled with the result! 10:21 is an entire mile faster!This is much flatter than the New York City Marathon, so a PR was expected; but it wasn’t expected to be that big; since the consensus is that Chicago is 3 minutes faster than NYC.

I guess some of the training adjustments that I did actually worked! I think making my short run 12 miles, was a big hit and I would repeat that.  Just the mental game alone, where 12 miles is a short run helps me a lot. Training intensity was also something I will keep doing, and I’m mad that I didn’t do this from the beginning.

The only adjustment, would be to try to start out a bit slower, and see if by  postponing pushing of the pace; I’ll be able to finish much stronger on the back end. Race day pacing is hard, precisely because you can only practice it on Race Day.. so I will get better at it, with the more races that I do.

All in all, it was a great day. Great job Chicago. . The weekend would be capped off by watching my favorite sports team the next day, and they even showed the world premiere of the Star Wars trailer at the game!  It was perfect!

That’s 2 majors down… 3 to go! London, Tokyo, Boston, and Berlin are on the list!

3:41:34.. 6352 out of 44,508 finishers.

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