On Sunday October 9th, 2016 I ran the 39th Chicago Marathon. It was marathon number 10 for me and my second time running Chicago. Last year I had such FOMOM (Fear of missing out on marathons…) as a spectator that I decided to run it this year, even though it meant repeating the state of Illinois.
Chicago Marathon Training Plan
I followed an 18 week plan. I’ve started experimenting with writing my own plans since I want to become a running coach one day. When putting together my Chicago Marathon training plan, I used the speed workouts that Bob sent through Clocktower Runners, plus the long run structure from Fleet Feet’s Boston training program. The rest I filled in on my own, aiming to run 50-65 miles per week, six days a week. I had a really solid base from my spring marathon season which enabled me to get up to high mileage relatively quickly.
This marathon cycle, I also focused a lot on strength and recovery. Strength and cross-training workouts happened 3 times a week: Wednesday strength class at the EDGE Athletic Lounge, Thursday hot yoga and not running, and Friday was November Project. For recovery, I joined the EDGE and utilized their ice baths and compression boots about once a week. Post-workout recovery nutrition also became a priority.
The Chicago Marathon course goes through 29 different neighborhoods in the city. It truly is a fabulous way to tour the area and see the mixture of Chicago’s cultures.
Runners start and end in Grant Park. After weaving through the Loop, runners take Lasalle drive north, passing through 8 different neighborhoods. The course reaches its northernmost point at mile 7.5 when runners turn onto Addison St. From there, the course weaves its way back south, connecting with Wells St. to bring runners back downtown.
At mile 13, runners turn and begin heading west along Adams St. and get explore some of the western neighborhoods. The course makes an “S” pattern, looping further south past UIC and into Pilsen, eventually reaching its southernmost point at 35th street at mile 23.5. From there, runners head north along Michigan Ave back towards the start line. With just .2 miles to go, runners must conquer “Mount Roosevelt” before reaching the finish line. (Nicknamed Mount Roosevelt because the slight uphill at the very end of the race feels like climbing a mountain!)
Overall the course for the Chicago Marathon is flat, fast, and packed with people. The spectators in each neighborhood come out in droves to support the runners and to display the uniqueness of their block. From the dancers in Boystown, to the mariachi bands in Pilsen, to the dragons in Chinatown, each mile of the course has something new to entertain the runners. I absolutely LOVE the energy out on course! It’s definitely a good option for those looking to BQ!
The Chicago Marathon expo is one of my favorites. Being surrounded by thousands of people who love running just as much as I do makes me so happy! There are hundreds of vendors at McCormick Place, plus tens of thousands of people. Free shuttle buses run from various downtown locations, and the Red Line is within walking distance. However, the expo can also be overwhelming. I recommend going as early in the day as you can, and try to go the first day it opens too, in order to avoid the crowds and to guarantee the merchandise is still in stock.
Packet-Pickup is a cinch. Prior to race weekend, the organizers send an email as well as a snail mail packet containing your confirmation code. Upon arrival to the expo, you scan your code at a booth. The attendant then directs you to a second booth where you pick up your bib. After that, you walk to the other end of he expo hall to get your t-shirt and bag. But the bag is packed with lots of goodies and coupons.
Starting 5 days out from the race, I added more carbs into my diet to build up my reserves. My carbs of choice were sweet potatoes, quinoa and tart cherry juice… not all at once, don’t worry. On Friday, I went to the expo after work and made sure to get to bed early. The sleep two nights before the race is more important than the sleep the night before.
On Saturday, I went to the Edge for a pre-covery session of contrast bath, compression boots, and some laser stim. I tried to stay off my feet as much as possible, and I ate my bigger meal for lunch. After laying out my race day outfit and making sure my gear check back was ready, I tried to get into bed by 8, but my nerves and excitement kept me tossing and turning.
My must-haves for racing: CEP compression calf sleeves, Lululemon Stuff Your Bra (it has pockets!), Mizuno shoes, Nuun tablets, Huma gel, NP Buff, and of course my watch. But I never take that off so it’s not pictured. Ha.
Chicago Marathon Race Strategy
My racing plan for Chicago was to NOT run with a pace group. I HATED the experience in Detroit and I did not want to risk repeating it. I had a three goals in mind: My A goal was 3:10-3:12, my B goal was just get a PR, my C goal was “Well, if shit hits the fan then just get high fives each mile.”
3:12 was my goal for about 80% of my training, and the last few weeks after running the half marathon and after training a few times with Annabelle, I thought, “Hey, maybe I could do a 3:10?” Instead of running with the 3:10 pace group, I would keep them in my sights, making sure to stay at their pace but at a safe enough distance where I wouldn’t have to deal with the group.
My mental strategy was to chunk the race into my spectator sections. My mom and my brother were going to be at mile 4 and 11, my dad was going to be at mile 12ish and 23.5, the EDGE was going to be at mile 17, and November Project was going to be at mile 22. It was easy for me to just think, “All you have to do is run to ___.” Community and family support during a marathon is a game changer.
My nutrition strategy was to take a Huma Gel at miles 6, 12, 18, 24 and to take half of a Nuun tablet at the water station after. I made sure to pre-package all my tablets in tinfoil the night before.
Race Day Morning
4:30 am my alarm went off and I awoke feeling very bloated and leaden. I had no appetite so I packed my peanut butter fruit toast to go After grabbing my bag, changing into my race day outfit and making myself a cup of black tea, I headed to catch the bus.
On the bus I met Susana, who was heading to the CARA suite at the Palmer Hotel. I walked there with her and then sat in the hotel’s lobby for a while, used the nice bathroom, and then headed over through security at about 6:40am. The weather was absolutely PERFECT!
After checking my bag, I jogged over to Corral B to make it in there by 7:10am. It was already packed, but I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon some other friends. Annabelle and I had made tentative plans to meet in the corral and run together but that didn’t happen. Promptly at 7:30am the race began!
Start – mile 4: Run to Mom and Jon
I felt slow and not warmed up through most of these early miles. My GPS kept showing sub 7-minute miles! I panicked a bit, but I kept the 3:10 pace group in my sight. If I was staying near them then I knew I was ok and the GPS was just building interference.
At mile 4 I saw my mom and brother. They were both holding up signs and yelling, “Go, Becca!” but it was obvious they were just scanning the crowd and didn’t actually see me. It took waving in my mom’s face and shouting for her to actually see me (she later said “You scared the SHIT outta me!”). I didn’t get a good look at their signs, but seeing them there put a huge smile on my face and gave me a boost. I also collected my high fives.
Miles 4-11: Run back to Mom and Jon
The crowd was roaring the whole way through this portion. It was very easy to get a high five (and then some) at each mile. So far, my race goals were on track!
As for my nutrition strategy, at mile 6 I didn’t feel like eating my gel because I still felt so bloated. However, I knew I had to if I wanted things to go well in the back half. Instead of eating it at once, I sipped it throughout the mile. Water and Nuun tablets also sounded unappealing in those early miles; at one point I ate the Nuun tablet without water. Not sure if that is a good thing to do.
This time when I passed my mom and brother the signs were clearer to me. Jon was holding a giant picture of an old Snapchat I had sent him which made me burst out laughing. I couldn’t wait to see it up close after the race!
Miles 11-17: Run to the EDGE Cheer Station
Around mile 12 another runner and I began going stride for stride. We would weave around other runners and then come back together. After exiting aid stations, we would glance around to see where the other was and slowly migrate to running next to each other. Who was this mystery man?
The EDGE had posted up at the corner of Taylor and Halstead. They were armed with cowbells, a megaphone and the songs that we had requested as pump-up tunes. As I approached, I heard snippets of my song “Magic” and saw everyone ringing cowbells. I loved passing by them and getting all those cheers. The mystery man laughed and waved to them too.
Miles 17-22: Run to November Project
Around mile 20, he finally spoke. “Hey, I’m Chris.”
“Hey, I’m Becca.”
Back to radio silence.
This portion of the course, miles 19-20.5, is less populated with fans. The wind picked up, so Chris ran in front of me for a while trying to block it. How sweet!
I had followed my nutrition strategy according to plan so far, just slowly eating my gels over the course of a mile instead of taking it all at once. However, I felt my pace begin to slow by a few seconds starting around mile 20. Nothing major like in previous races, but I knew I was getting sore and slowing down a bit. However, once we entered Chinatown I found my pace began to quicken. It was the pre-adrenaline rush I had from knowing what was to come at mile 22: A GIANT November Project cheer station.
I could hear them from three blocks away and I burst into a giant smile. A spectator on the side of the road shouted, “Look, she’s smiling! Honey, you’re feeling way to good for a marathon to be smiling now!” I wanted to yell back that it was because I was about to see my family, but that’s when I actually saw them up ahead. They began shouting my name and yelling for me; I flew through that group gathering as many high fives as I could.
Miles 22-23.5: Run to Dad
Chris caught back up with me after the NP cheer station. Annabelle also materialized about 50 yards in front of me but I had no idea if she had always been ahead of me or had passed me somewhere. It was clear though that I was not going to catch up. Soon we passed my dad. I was so happy to actually see him this time since I had missed him at the other points. Now it was just time to finish!
Miles 23.5-end: JUST FUCKING FINISH
Shortly after passing my dad, I realized that my legs were a lot more tired than I thought. The adrenaline of always looking forward to a spectator to see on the course had kept my mind off the pain, but by mile 24 I began to slow. Chris saw me lagging and waved “catch up” to me. I motioned for him to go on but instead he dropped his pace to run with me.
“We have less than a 5k left, come on!”
I was so touched by his support and I tried my hardest to pick up the pace. It was a losing battle and soon he was in front of me again, but he kept waving for me to catch up. At each kilometer mark, he would hold up his fingers to show how many more we had. Soon I was finally cresting Mount Roosevelt and “sprinting” for the finish. Official finish time of 3:11:43, a 6 minute PR and within my A goal range. I was ecstatic!
Immediately after crossing the finish line I looked for Chris who had finished a few seconds before me. I gave him the biggest hug and we actually had a full conversation! Then, I met up with my parents and finally got to see the signs up close.
Kaitlyn, Matt and Dallas went to the PAWS room after finishing. I met up with them there and then Kaitlyn and I made our way to the Weathermark Tavern to meet with Bootleggers. Among everyone there I saw Annabelle who beat her goal time of 3:10. Pickleback shots for everyone! On Monday I went to the EDGE for ice bath and compression boots since I was not able to make it after the marathon.
This Chicago Marathon was even better than my first time around. While in part it’s due to my PR, it’s mostly because of the strong sense of community I had throughout the entire race. Knowing that my family was out there- both my actual family as well as my EDGE and November Project family- made the marathon seems like a walk in the park. Encountering community in the middle of the race with a complete stranger was incredible. Knowing dozens of other friends competing in the same race, following their training journeys, and getting a chance to celebrate their successes also makes this race special. If you live in Chicago and want to experience a deep sense of community and support then you should definitely run the Chicago Marathon.
Who else ran the Chicago Marathon? What was your experience like? Leave your thoughts below!