Illinois Marathon Race Report

Illinois Marathon Race Report

It has been a long time coming, but alas, Illinois Marathon weekend has finally come–and gone.

I’ve already posted my pre- and post-race ruminations here and here on YouTube, in addition to sending out a quick little post-race blurb to immediate family and friends, so here I’ll dive in much further detail about my race and my experiences.  That said, if you want to Reader’s Digest (or Listener’s Digest, I guess…?) versions, check out the YT vids whose links are above.  If you want the play-by-play version, read on!

I wanted to run the IL Marathon on April 28 for a few reasons:

a) the fam was initially moving to California, and so I wanted to run in a part of IL I hadn’t yet seen,

b) it was economical, as far as marathons go (about $80 when I registered),

c) it had super-favorable reviews on marathonguide.com,

d) it was supposed to be pretty flat and fast, thus good for BQs and PRs, and

e) perhaps most significantly, A was due on 4/28/11, so it would be special for me to run my first full marathon post-pregnancy on my due date a year later (got that?).

Well, things changed, and even though the fam and I were no longer moving to CA, I had still committed to the race, and as far as my coach was concerned (Jack, my training partner and actual former running coach from Team in Training), my training and racing times from the winter indicated that I should have been able to hit a 3:35 or sub pretty handily.  Hell, he even surmised that I could do a 3:30.

The short version?  “Always trust your coach,” as he told me after the race.

3:34:05, not only a BQ under the new standards, but a PR by over three minutes.

YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

The long version is that the Illinois Marathon is a runner’s race.  You don’t go to Urbana and Champaign, IL, to run the race for the throngs of fans, to take in the breathtaking architecture and cool neighborhoods of the cities, or to attend a kickin’ expo with a thousand vendors.  The race is primarily residential–meaning that about 95% of it is weaves through people’s neighborhoods–and while there are fans on the streets, it’s mostly the college kids and townspeople.  There were definitely areas in the second half of the race (in Champaign, I think) where there were few, if any, folks on the streets.  Despite that though, the fans and volunteers alike were great.  They all did a wonderful job of coordinating the aid stations that were typically pretty well-stocked with gatorade, water, and at some stations, gel, oranges, and bananas.  There really isn’t a whole lot to see in the towns except the college, and most of the race isn’t run at or near the college, anyway.  It’s like you’re running through your hometown.

The IL Marathon is a runner’s race because you go there to run and to see what your body will let you do on the relatively flat course.  Finishing on the 50-yard line of the stadium is pretty sweet, too; seeing yourself on the jumbotron never gets old, right?? 🙂

I drove down from Chicago mid-day on Friday and hit up the expo, talked with Rich, the 3:35 pacer, and picked up a pair of armwarmers (at Rich’s suggestion) since I was planning to run in a singlet and shorts on race day and the weather was calling for temps in the 40s with some rain and wind.  The expo was pretty nice, about the size of a high school gym, and it had the standard expo vendors, like other races, some charity teams, some local organizations, and of course, the official marathon gear.  Once I got my stuff, I went to my hotel (which was a bit on the dingy side… I haven’t stayed in a hotel where the hallways are on the outside of the building in a loooooooooooong time, but hey, that’s what I got for booking only four months ahead of time, I guess) and hung out for a bit before hitting up a local Italian place for the obligatory pre-marathon pasta dinner.  All was well, and before I went to bed, I did that pre-race YT vid and watched some bad TV (Friends re-runs, P90X infomercials, some crap on HBO) and talked to my mom and C before calling it a night.

The sign greeting us outside the starting area
Welcoming everyone to the expo at the ARC

In terms of pre-race sleep, I actually did pretty well and got almost eight hours of almost uninterrupted sleep.  Once I awoke at 4:30 though, thunderstorms greeted me, which made me very nervous.  Just as I had done for the entire week and days leading up to the race, I checked my weather app religiously (stalkingly?) to see what was supposed to happen from 7am on, and I was pretty sure that my first hour of the race I’d get soaked.

Wonderful.

After I pumped, had most of my pre-race meal (a bagel and a banana in my hotel, followed by another banana at the starting area, along with some water and gatorade), I grabbed my stuff, checked out of my hotel, and schlepped my personal effects down to the race starting area.  The time was inching nearer!

The morning of the race, my awesome runner buddies and I were texting and emailing back and forth, reminiscing on the funny happenings we all shared before our races together–like when Margaret almost forgot to cross Erin’s “E” on her arm, making her arm spell out “CRIN” instead of “ERIN” in permanent marker.  After about an hour of just sitting around, going to the bathroom a couple times, and finally deciding that it was time to go outside, I checked my bags, put on my armwarmers, my longsleeve T I was going to donate, and a utility-size trashbag I got from the hotel that I was wearing to stay warm, and proceeded to corral B, where I’d meet up with Pacer Rich and my new best friends in the 3:35 pace group.

As was to be expected, the 3:35 group was pretty large and almost exclusively female, thanks to that time being the new qualifying standard for Boston for women aged 18-34.  There were some halfers in the mix, but most of the folks in the group were women who were vying for their first BQs.  I kept mum mostly about my Boston experiences and told everyone that I was going for my PR today, and once the race began, the 50+ us in the throng all kept in tight with Pacer Rich, sharing stories about our marathoning experiences, travels, families, pretty much everything to pass the time.  Pacer Rich was a ton of fun–probably to be expected from a high school physics teacher, right?–and it was awesome to have him guiding us and constantly reminding us that we were all going to hit our BQs that day.

The weather ended up cooperating for us for the run, which was a huge bonus; by the time we began to run, the temps stayed pretty close to the mid-to-upper 40s, and the winds were around 15mph, mostly as headwinds, but manageable (and surely not much different than what you’d get from running on the lakefront).  By about seven miles into the run, I tucked my armwarmers into my shorts and ran the rest of the race in my singlet and shorts and felt totally comfortable.

About 13 miles in, I decided to move up from Pacer Rich because I was beginning to feel a bit claustrophobic and cramped with how many runners were right by him, and I figured as long as I was in his vicinity (or could at least hear him) that I was doing alright.  Once I broke free from him, I ran with a college student named Brooke from about mile 13-18, and along the way we picked up Matt, a Master’s student in Enviro Science.  The three of us were together for a long time and hooked up with Heather, Amanda, and another Brooke who had all also broken away from Pacer Rich (and who were all also vying for their first BQs), but we eventually passed them by about mile 16 or 17.

While the course is fast because of its relative lack of hills (or significant hills, anyway), it is definitely full of turns.  I remember looking at the map and thinking about how many turns we’d be cutting (which can sometimes make for a slower course), but I’m glad we had as many as we did because it kept things interesting.  There were a few places on the course where we’d run in and out of housing subdivisions or parks, so we’d see folks who were in front of or behind us (which can be discouraging or encouraging), but for the most part the curviness of the course prohibited knowing exactly where we stood in relation to everyone else.

In the days leading up to the race, I had been reading a ton of running articles, many about nutrition, and one in particular that I had read focused on carbo-loading and race-day nutrition.  It made me think of my Boston #2 experience, where I BQed for the fourth time and improved my previous Boston time by 7 minutes, because I felt like I was constantly eating during the race–gels, oranges, gatorade, pretty much anything people on the street gave me.  I credit my time that day due to how much food (read: calories, carbohydrates, sugar) I had consumed while running, which allowed me to stay a couple steps ahead of myself and of bonking.  For this race, I had brought six gels with me (though I knew that I would probably not use all of them), and by the time things were done, I had gone through close to four of them, had eaten part of 1 orange, part of 1 banana, and had drunk water and/or gatorade at almost every aid station.  I’m thrilled to say that I didn’t even really begin to feel tired until around mile 22, which was also when I started to post a couple 8:30s, but by then Matt (who was now my exclusive buddy, as we had lost Brooke somewhere around mile 20 or 21) and I were pretty much pulling each other along to “finish this thing.”

The IL Marathon also posted a vid online of their course, and I remembered the guy from the vid saying that the only significant hill of the course was at mile 24.  For the most part, he was right.  There was a smallish hill between miles 23-24, but the most significant for sure was right at mile 24, which was exactly where Pacer Rich caught up with Matt and me–great timing, to be sure.  Once we got to the top of mile 24 though, we were rewarded with a great flat strip, followed by a great downhill, which we were able to use to plow through from miles 25 onto home.  (To give you an idea, my penultimate mile was about a 7:50.  Just a couple miles before, I had posted a couple 8:30s.  Thank god for downhills).  Matt and I were trying for a 3:30, but once we had Pacer Rich catch up to us, we knew that we’d be closer to a 3:34/3:35, which was still good in my book.  Ultimately, Matt pulled just a few steps ahead of me, and he finished a few seconds before I posted my 3:34:05.

I still can’t believe it.

I keep checking active.com because I’m certain that there has been a mistake or something.

A 3:34 is chump change to some people, but to me, that’s practically a pipe dream.  My all-time marathon goal was a 3:33, and now I’m thinking that if I train well, I could post a 3:30 at NYC in November or at Houston in January.

After the race, of course my mommy hormones couldn’t keep me from crying because I was so happy–not only for myself but also for the other women in my group who also BQed for the first time, who hit PRs, or for people like Matt who had just completed their first marathon and totally OWNED it.

It’s crazy how emotional running can make me–thank you, endocannibinoids–but man, it was pretty fucking special.

It was a good day for a PR, a great day for  BQ, and all the high-fives and hugs and fistbumps afterward indicated as much.

A medal engraving vendor was at the finish line activities, so I opted to get my medal engraved in honor of Alice, since I was running on her due date.  If you watch my post-race vid, at the end you can see what it says (I won’t give it away here! 🙂 ).

About a day has passed now, and I’m feeling well.  My quads are a bit sore, but that’s kinda it.  Maybe my hip flexors a little, too, but not too bad.  I start my foundations class at CrossFit this week, so I’ll just do some really light running this week just to shake things out, in addition to some chiropractic and massage work later this week.  I have to look at my training to see when I want to officially start training for NYC, but I imagine that it probably won’t be until June or July.  Until NYC, I’ll be doing a Madison-Chicago Ragnar relay, along with some summer races that are as yet to be determined.

Marathon #17?  Check and check. 🙂

Hanging out after the marathon... after I had just cried, haha. Total loser!!

Onward and upward!