Better Late Than Never: A Chicago Marathon Recap

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Photo by Karen Mitchell

I believe the amount of time that passes between racing and writing a race recap is an indication of how many emotions you have about said race. Which is why it has taken me just over a month to write my Chicago Marathon recap. Admittedly, I was busy playing Trivia and drinking Bell’s Two Hearted Ale in Ohio with my siblings the following two weeks after the marathon, but I digress. I was attempting to sort out my emotions post Chicago.

I am pleased with a nice new personal best of 2:40:56. I am bummed I didn’t execute my race goal(s). Which leaves me feeling all sorts of incongruity.

My training indicated I could run in the 2:39:00 ball park, and I was feeling buoyant about my chances of doing so. Chicago was set up perfectly, and the entire weekend was first class. The elite athlete staff know how to put on an awe-inspiring weekend, and I cannot recommend running the Chicago Marathon enough. Carey Pinkowski and his staff were incredibly welcoming, helpful, and kind.  I definitely will keep Chicago on my race schedule in the future. If you’re wanting a fast course and lots of people to race with: Chicago is a fantastic option.

When I woke up race morning, I felt surprisingly good for the lack of (typical pre-race) sleep. I climbed out of bed, and immediately started hydrating. I had looked at the weather forecast the night before, and mid 50s were predicted. Not that mid 50s are hot, but with little sun cover on the Chicago course, I didn’t want to take any chances. I ate a pumpernickel bagel with peanut butter and banana, and downed ~12 oz of coffee. I started to wake up. I headed down to the hotel lobby to board the bus that would be transporting myself and the other elites to the start line.

After an incredibly short bus ride, I dropped my bag off in the elite tent, and set out to slowly jog a warm up. Everyone’s warm ups are different for marathons, but mine has been a standard 10:00 minute mile and some drills. I tell myself I’m just saving all my energy for the race. I nervously pinned my bib on, and rubbed Vaseline on my bra-line. With 20 minutes before the start, we were lined up and escorted out to the start line. This is where my nerves really started to set in.

After the quickest 20 minutes of my life, they began the countdown to the race. I took a few deep breaths, told myself that for today pain and consistency were my friends, and we were off. The first 10k flew by, and I spent the majority of miles 3-5 looking for where my parents were standing. Anything to distract yourself, right? I clipped off 6:01, 6:09, 6:05, and 6:00, and felt I had found my groove. I was able to get every fluid bottle, and forced myself to drink ~12oz of electrolyte and carb mix despite my lack of thirst. I would thank myself later for this. I came through 13.1 in 1:19:38, and thought, “perfect, this is going to set me up well for a negative split.”

I felt strong, and through 15 miles I ran steadily on my prescribed pace, and then I made a rookie mistake. Instead of being patient, I decided I felt so robust, that I could start to squeeze the pace down, and bring it home from there. At mile 18. Mile 18. Let me repeat, mile 18. I am probably groaning enough for the both of us right now. Call it adrenaline, call it seeing my parents and friends, or call it what I call it: lack of foresight.

I dropped a very quick 5k between 25 and 30k, and after seeing my splits, decided to back off around mile 21. I thought, “no big deal, back off for two miles, then close it down the last 5k.” I backed off to 6:15 pace, and upon approaching the last 5k, my legs felt like dead weight. I watched my watch slowly creep into the 6:20 range, and I went into survival mode. I was incredibly worried I would start to completely tank, so I thought of every single motivational speech, song, and phrase I could, which included but was not limited to, “Move your legs!” Pro-Tip: It’s not negative self-talk when you’re positive splitting. I managed to salvage an okay last 5k, and still ended up running a new personal best.

So why the tumultuous feelings? I made a tactical error that cost me my “A” goal, but admittedly I am proud for not letting the race completely go into the gutter, and grinding out a new personal best by over a minute. After the race, on the train ride to Ohio, I was chit chatting with my mom about my race. My feelings were still raw, and I was still processing whether or not I should be stoked, or slightly disappointed. In true maternal fashion, she told me she was proud of me and in the most caring way, admonished me for “occasionally” being too hard on myself, and I should celebrate my new personal best.

Sibling time.
Sibling time.

She was right. So then I ordered champagne for our entire train car, and we celebrated all the way to Ohio. Just kidding. I did that when I got to my parents’ house in Ohio.

My mom had a point.  I should celebrate my new personal best, because those only come every so often. I do think that being hard on myself has actually propelled me to my current level of fitness, and in some ways I think it’s important to expect greatness and discipline from yourself. How else are you supposed to push past your limitations and find out what they truly are? So after a couple weeks of reflection, I’ve internalized the lessons I learned in Chicago, and will be taking them with me to my next starting line. I will continue to be a student of the sport, and am always learning more about myself and my craft the longer I am in it.

I’m just starting to get back into the swing of mileage, and starting to get the itch to put down some workouts. So much so, I voluntarily did 8×20 second baby pick-ups on my run today. This is huge. Strides and I have never really gotten along, and I wish I could pin point why. I used to tell him, “it’s you, not me” but as I’ve gotten older and we’ve grown closer I think it was my tentativeness to commit to work on our relationship that drove a wedge between us. But as I’ve continually given Strides chance after chance, he’s slowly being more incorporated into my weekly life, and I think we may have a fighting chance.

So what’s next? The world famous Toledo, Ohio Turkey Trot! Then, the lesser known Houston Armaco 1/2 Marathon. I’m obviously joking, both races are world famous.

I'm running as fast as I can so I can continue to put off law school. I was 39th at the US Olympic Marathon Trials in February, and now am focused on running some road personal bests. Further in the future, I’m looking forward to running a quick fall marathon. I mainly write about the physical and mental aspects of racing at an elite level, trying to navigate the post collegiate running world, and setting aside other life goals for one; running fast.

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5 comments

  1. It is definitely tough to sort through the emotions when you’ve had a race that you should be happy about, but you’re not. You should be proud of your time and your finish, but even more so, your ability to know mid-race that you had pushed too soon and be able to adjust and fight for it.

    I just watched Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” filmed in Houston and now I want to run the race! Such an amazingly diverse community.

  2. Yes, you’re smarter than that. You also went faster than you’ve ever gone before.
    Isn’t it nice to know there’s something in your performance you can readily improve? Leaves a bigger margin for next time. 😉

    Congratulations on your new PR!

  3. Awww! You’re the best! I’m proud of you for sticking with it even when you felt like you were tanking. You have so many sub-2:40s in those legs and so many amazing performances left to give and I’ll be rooting for you every time! Congrats and kick ass at the Turkey Trot 🙂

  4. Congrats on a new PR! I am personally super impressed with your time. But I totally agree with how you have to mull through feelings and emotions after a race; I am a roller coaster of emotion after marathons. I think it’s a great idea to let things sink in before you really establish how you feel about your race. Congrats again!