Chicago Marathon 2013 race recap, part 1

I’ve been thinking about the best way to write my 2013 Bank of America Chicago Marathon race recap over the past 24 hours, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s gotta be a recap in two parts (at least): the actual race, itself, and the experience.

If you’re interested in the quick and dirty (or the quicker and dirtier, I guess, because this will still be long…), this is for you. I’ll try in this post to stick to talking about the tactical parts of my CM, the how-and-why I decided to run it, and talk strictly about the race, itself, and nothing preceding or afterward. If you want to know about the actual experience, though, give me a few more days.

So, here we go. Let’s begin at the end.

The stats behind my performance are a 3:20:06 go at the race, a 35-second PR, my 2nd  3:20 marathon in one calendar year, my 8th Boston Qualifying race (and, trivia: my 1st BQ in the autumn), and my 20th lifetime marathon, six years nearly to the day that I did my 1st marathon–also in Chicago–in 2007. And, this is my fourth consecutive marathon PR, all of which have occurred since having A in May ’11 (Champaign ’12: 3:34; Houston ’13: 3:31, Eugene ’13: 3:20).

I continue to shake my head in disbelief as I re-read what I just typed.

Anyway, minimally, I wanted a sub-4 Chicago–since I didn’t hit that mark in my previous 3 attempts here, thanks to conditions mostly beyond my control (hello, hot weather and pregnancy, sometimes both)–and specifically, I wanted to substantially PR and go sub-3:20.

I’m satisfied with how the race went, have some lessons in my back pocket for next time, and have a heightened hunger to really go sub-3:20 in the future. For perspective, though, I think the second place men’s finisher missed first by 7 seconds, and that difference is one worth thousands upon thousands of dollars.

Probably a good thing that I only had my own ego on the line and not a paycheck. Holy moly.

My race plan was to do the first 13.1 in a solid 1:40–on a 3:20 flat pace–and then make a move at 20 or maybe 18, whenever I was ready to go. I wasn’t going to allow myself to go faster than 7:37s for the first half because I didn’t want to blow up later, and after doing this course thrice, I knew the back half was a decidedly different race than the front half.

I had a very specific fueling strategy, and I planned to stick to my schedule of consuming about 6 AccelGels (at 5, 9.3, 12.5, 16.4, 20.2, and 24.2) during my 26.2 mile jaunt, in addition to basically any fruit–bananas or orange slices, anyway–that I could get my paws on during the race. Ever since Boston ‘10, I’m convinced that I need to eat basically as much as humanly possible during a marathon. I’ll still use AccelGels, but if real [vegetarian] food is an option, I always take it.

This time around, much like Eugene, I wore my Garmin and a pace bracelet I printed from Fellrnr’s wiki, which, if you haven’t used, is pretty awesome. I was also that crazy runner who ran with two watches on, in the unlikely event that my Garmin blew up (learned from Tim’s Eugene experience), so I had my Ironman going the entire time as well. I had originally set my Garmin to not autolap, since the Randolph/Columbus St. area usually interferes with my satellite reception, and planned to manually lap each mile or two. I’d never done the non-autolap before, but it seemed manageable.

Miles 1-4

Even in the B group, starting pretty far back (pretty near the 3:30 or 3:35 pace group), I managed to get pretty comfortable pretty early in my first mile. I didn’t feel like I was tripping over people, and I tried my hardest not to get carried away in the absolute mayhem that can be the first mile of any marathon. I looked for my gal, Amy, around Grand and State, but didn’t see her. When we got to the first mile marker, my Garmin had said it was something like 1.1x miles, and at one point it told me I was clocking a 6:xx mile (highly unlikely… hiiiiiiiighly), so I had a feeling that wearing two watches, while making me look a little strange, might not have been a bad idea after all.

Going south on State Street, turning at DePaul, and going north on LaSalle came and went pretty quickly. Just as I missed Amy early, so, too, did I miss C not once but twice. I tend to **never** see him during marathons, yet I insist on still trying. For a long time, as we headed through State, LaSalle, and got closer to North Avenue, I was running behind “the joggler,” which made for some interesting fanfare from the spectators, but it also annoyed me enough –and quite frankly, terrified me–that I wanted to peace the fuck out and get away from him.

It’s nothing personal, joggler; I just don’t want to be potentially tripping over your balls mid-marathon. Also, c’mon. Pride.

It was also within these first four miles that I decided that manually lapping my Garmin was going to be annoying, and that having the mileage markings not line up was going to throw me off mentally–even though Garmin distances rarely match up with course signage–so mid-run, I somehow managed to change my watch back to the original autolap settings.

This is nothing short of remarkable only because I am **that** woman who never programs workouts into my watch and would rather just wear two watches (again, the Ironman is my sidekick) because I just find the process too tedious.

miles 1-4: 6:59 (1.12 miles), 7:42 (1.96 miles), 7:19 (1.06 miles), 7:32 (1.00 miles- this is where things finally started to line up)

Miles 5-10

Running through my old stomping grounds, near the zoo in Lincoln Park, is always a treat. I took my first gel either right before or right after mile 5, and I had a rush of memories come to me as we ran through the Nature Museum, as I recalled working that aid station at Chicago ‘09, when it was miraculously freezing (excellent for runners, painful for volunteers). It was also in this stretch on Sunday, right as I neared the 10k mark, that I noticed a woman running just a few steps ahead of me, wearing an Evanston Running Club singlet, whom I thought I knew. Turns out I was right, so I had the pleasure of briefly chatting with the one and only, super-sweet Nancy Rollins for a few strides as we talked about our goals for the day and our desire to get ahead of the 3:25 pace herd just a few more feet in front of us. (She later won her age group).

As we continued north onto Sheridan and inched our way closer to the Addison turnaround, I was so looking forward to seeing Mort and Lin at Wellington/Sheridan, on the northwest corner of the street, and they didn’t disappoint. Spotting them–good friends, of course, but also my first spectators whom I was actually able to find that morning–was a rush. I’m pretty sure I picked up an irresponsible amount of speed just so I could give Mort a raging high-5. I quickly tried to calm down and settle back into the pace I should be running (7:37) and concentrate on each mile.

Just a few miles later, on the other side of the course, I again got to see Mort and Lin at Wellington/Broadway (which I wasn’t expecting), so again, more peps in my step. I was having a blast, and the memories I had of the north side of the CM were exactly what I remembered: throngs of humanity, color, and a party, basically. Being in another former neighborhood of mine, when I lived on the north end of Lakeview, also brought the memories a-floodin’.

As we ventured south on Broadway, and then Clark Street, and returned to my old ‘hood, I began to look forward to seeing another friend, Erin, at the Fleet Feet aid station around 10.5. While we ran down N. Sedgwick (literally behind where we used to live, at Clark/Dickens), I obnoxiously Cheshired for the photographers, chatted up a Team in Training coach from Portland, and just waited to see Erin. I was feeling well, reigning myself in some and staying within my target-safety pace, and was just soaking up the experience. I was a little ahead of schedule, but not by much, maybe about 40-50 seconds–still within the safe zone. The crowds were nothing short of remarkable by now, and I’m pretty sure I got a bit startled by some type of bar pep band that seemed to come OUT OF NOWHERE south of Armitage.

Seriously, so loud.

Once we hit the Old Town gate, my eyes began scanning fast and furious for Erin. Fortunately, we locked eyes within half a second of each other, which, of course, meant that I damn near barreled into her because I was so excited to see her **and** get water from her. Nothing like seeing your friends on the course, especially when they’re specifically there to keep you goin’ strong.

splits for 5-10: 7:33, 7:27, 7:39, 7:27, 7:35, 7:32

Miles 11-15

Making our way back downtown by now, heading south on Wells and then Franklin, I was feeling great, still. Nothing hurt, I knew I was going to be somewhere between the slow end of my “too fast” zone but pretty close to where I should be, so I just soaked up everything. Some stupidly-ballsy spectators dashed across Wells a few time, right as I was approaching, and it was but for the grace of god that I didn’t decide to take a half-step faster than I was.

I began looking for C again just shy of 12.5–miss, again… we’re consistent–and then John, Stacey, and Blake. More Evanston Running Club members, Ron and Luni, were out spectating, and a quick yell to them brought another surge of energy just before 20k. Seeing John, Stacey, and Blake also gave me another spike, especially since I saw them before they saw me, and I started reassessing my pace and realized that I needed to slow things down a bit, that I was getting too fast–even though it was comfortable–for where I should have been in the course. I wasn’t irresponsibly faster than I needed to be, but I knew, after doing 19 of these things, that there was still a fair amount of business to attend to on this course.

By this point in my previous CM experiences, the race has basically gone to shit. By now, things are hot, we’re in the back half of the course, the unadulterated sun part, the part where you’re looping around and through neighborhoods that have spectators but far fewer than those you’ve had in the previous 13 miles. I can’t tell you how awesome it felt to be zipping through these ‘hoods, with the memory of how shitty I’ve felt by now in previous CMs, and to just truck right along, enjoying the day, smiling and giving a “heyooooooo!” when people yelled my name, which was often.

Night and day difference, people. Night and freakin’ day.

I’m rarely in the west side of Chicago, so as we made our way west, out toward the United Center, I just soaked up the change of scenery and the look of a neighborhood that I don’t really know. It was somewhere in this stretch, around mile 14, that I felt my left ankle suddenly stiffen, which naturally, mid-marathon, made me question my ability to run, my ability to put one leg in front of the other, my worth as a human, ya know, the usual mid-PR marathon doubt. It wasn’t a pain or a cramp, but it was just like suddenly, my body decided that I needed to give some mindful focus to my left ankle just for the hell of it, just to fuck with me. That was enough of a jolt to make me want to slow things down for a hot minute, which was good anyway, because I needed to.

I felt in control, and so relieved at how I felt in the moment versus how I had felt here in ‘07, ‘08, and ‘10, but by mile 15 in a marathon, the fun is really just beginning. Double digit mileage was still waiting to be run.

splits for 11-15: 7:37, 7:23, 7:29, 7:44, 7:35

Miles 16-20

Making our way east on Jackson, as we went through what I thought was the sparsest area of crowd support of the entire race (outside Malcolm X College), somewhere around mile 16 or 16.5 out of nowhere, and probably in my peripheral vision, I saw a guy who looked a lot like Kevin Granato, of Granato Racing fame, on the sideline. I saw half of a Oiselle hoody and thought that had to be him, and a shout in his direction confirmed it; nice pick-me-up again.

Interesting posture, Erin...

Interesting posture, Erin…Also, quads. Calves.

Somewhere around mile 16. Thanks, Kevin! @kgranato

Somewhere around mile 16. Thanks, Kevin! @kgranato

By now, about four AccelGels into the race, my body was feeling good; my stomach wasn’t giving me any distress signals, so I was a pretty happy camper. I was a bit ahead of my pace but still in the safety zone, about 45 seconds ahead of my goal (3:19:59), so I just concentrated on running steadily and smoothly.

Running south on Halsted, right through the UIC campus and over the expressway, I was jolted when I heard an “ERRRRRRRRIN!!!!!” yell from my right side; I quickly realized it was Chanthana, Corey, Tim, and Jenny. I had also missed seeing them at least three times earlier on the course. Shortly thereafter, Coach Rob from Team in Training, one of my coaches when I last ran with them in 2008, was hanging out, so he jumped in and chatted with me for about a half mile. I had seen Rob throughout the summer on the lakefront, so it was cool to connect with him again and just not think for a couple minutes.

Things were clicking, phantom ankle stiffness disappeared, I was smiling a ton when I got shouts from the spectators (seriously, permanent marker to the arms–it’s mostly gone by the time the race is over, but it’s a great boost), and I began to think about when I should start upping my speed. I originally wanted to go at mile 20, or maybe 18 if things felt good, and things were feeling good.

Really good.

I saw a 30k sign, did some quick math, and thought what the hell. 18.6? 26.2? 7.6 miles to pick things up?

Reasonable.

By now, we were approaching and making our way through Pilsen, which was a total blast. The strong food smells emanating from all the Mexican restaurants actually didn’t bother me too much, and I saw the second unofficial food table on the course, some oranges. I had grabbed a banana earlier from some lady around 18 and change, and I thought the oranges would be a welcome break from the AccelGels. I darted from the right side of the course to the left, tried to pick up a few oranges from a table that was lower than my hips, and would you know, I dropped the damn things.

Motherfucker.

Things felt fine though, and I knew the official marathon stations would have bananas from 20.2-24.2. I was pissed I probably spent a couple seconds needlessly running from one side of the course to the other, but all wasn’t lost.

I was still where I needed to be in terms of my pace, with about a 40 second margin under a 3:19:59, so it was just a matter of concentrating from here on out and staying ahead of bonking. I knew my training was strong, I knew I had put in nearly 1,800 miles (thank you, DailyMile) this year before 10/13/13 to be able to race today’s 26.2 fast and intelligently, so it was just a matter of doing it.

splits for 16-20: 7:16, 7:37, 7:31, 7:36, 7:38

Miles 21-26.2

The only thing I can really remember about this part is that as we were going south on Halsted and then northeast on Cermak, as we approached Chinatown, I recalled thinking about how shitty I felt during this stretch in previous CMs. Have you picked up on this pattern yet?  Fortunately, I was still feeling well, but my paces now tell me that I slowed down a bit during this little stretch. I can remember that I was eating a lot through this section–a lot–so much so that at one point, in my left hand I was carrying two banana halves, while in my right, I had no fewer than 4 or 5 orange slices. I’m pretty sure I didn’t take my AccelGels right at 20.2 or 24.2 because I had been eating the real food on the course, but I know I still ended up taking 5 or 6 gels overall. I took the food because even if I didn’t eat it at that very second, I knew I probably would later (or I’d give it to someone else running near me).

I knew that I was slowing down some, but I remember telling myself that I wasn’t bonking, that nutritionally, calorically, whatever, I had been giving myself a near-constant stream of calories over the miles, and that even if I did slow some, the 3:19:59 was still feasible. As my pace hit into the 7:40s though–which still put my cumulative time in the safe zone–I knew things were going tighter.

Chinatown at mile 21 came and went without consequence; in previous years, there were tons of spectators, a dragon performance (like what we have in my ‘hood for Lunar New Year), but it wasn’t the same this year. [Note: not sure if this is actually true or if it’s my distorted memory].

Right as we exited Chinatown and started south on Wentworth, I realized that this stretch of the race, from about the 35k mark to the finish line, was what I had run for kicks on Monday afternoon, after teaching. I remembered that it didn’t really take all that longto run it, so I knew that, barring catastrophe, this whole experience would come to a close soon, even though it felt like the race was flying by. I was beginning to get tired and I knew it, but, like any bull-headed Type A who doesn’t want to give up, I didn’t want to admit it.

As I approached the 23-mile mark, in the heart of the IIT campus, the memories flooded back from spectating here last year. I missed all my friends on the north side but managed to catch a few down there last year. I also remembered my Monday run and realized HOW EFFIN CLOSE I was to finishing the race, and that I just had a few more turns before 26.2. A couple quick turns later, I was at 35th/S. Michigan, the southern most part of the course, around mile 23.25, and became determined to do whatever it took to get to 26.2 under a 3:20. I felt fine–I told myself repeatedly I was fine, there was nothing wrong, I was safe (ha, basically, the same things I tell A during a meltdown)–but I still had some work to do, I still had to get from 3500 south to 1200 south, and this was what Pfitzinger and the MLRs and the 3am wake-ups all summer had trained me for all year long.

I didn’t clock-watch for most of the race. I’d check in periodically, especially if things felt a little off, but for the most part, I ran almost exclusively by feel. Honestly, I was a bit afraid and discouraged to look at my splits on each buzz because I was pissed that I was fading some and especially so toward the end. I knew I was strong, I knew my training was there, and I knew I had run a pretty smart race. Sounds stupid to say out loud, but I didn’t want to be one of the thousands of marathon finishers who had an amazing 30 or 35k and a shitty last stretch.

I’m so over that nonsense. At the risk of sounding like an ass, I know I can run a smarter marathon than that.

That last <3 miles on S. Michigan went by really quickly. I kept thinking (again) of how shitty I had felt on this stretch in years previous, of how by now, I had resorted to walking the water stops, but this time, I tried to fish and see how many people I could pass, even if it never happened (I honestly don’t remember). I also knew that Meredith and the BRC gang who weren’t running on Sunday would be at the 25 mile mark, on my right hand side, and I wanted to see her desperately if for no other reason than I knew once I saw Meredith, I was **this close** to being done. And, of course, I wanted to see a bright, sunshiney and familiar face :)

(For the record, she didn’t disappoint. I saw her right away, and at a distance, with a sign that I thought said something about AB liking shorts and chits, which made NO SENSE whatsoever to me. Turns out, Meredith’s sign actually said something about potato chips, not chits. And she had a sign for me, about my sexy shorts and awesomely lame sunglasses, but she had held up the wrong sign at the wrong time.) :)

Those last 1.2 miles felt like the fastest finishing miles (or mile and change, anyway) of any marathon I’ve done. Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t. I managed to not actually stop my watch when I finished the race. It felt like almost immediately after I saw Meredith at 25, I saw a sign that said it was only 1000m to go, then 800, then suddenly, I saw myself on the jumbotron.  I scaled Mt. Roosevelt, trying to pass as many people as possible, saw the “300m to go” sign, and turned left onto Columbus. By then, as I eclipsed the mini-mountain and saw the finish line, a quick look at my watch said something around 3:19:high-40s/low-50s (I think), and I knew that things would be crazy tight.

I had come to this realization when I was still on S. Michigan, when my 40-second pad went to 30s, and then 20s, and I told myself that I wouldn’t be upset if I didn’t squeak through in a sub-3:20 because I was still pretty confident I could PR. I knew it would be close, super close, but I also knew that I had finally run a strong CM, better than any of the other three times I had run it, and really, that my whole CM experience before I even began today’s race was nothing short of amazing.

I hauled as much ass as one can haul after running for 26.19 miles, and at 26.2, it was over.

Done.

3:20:06.

Missing the sub-3:20 by 6 seconds initially pissed me off–pretty sure I dropped a “motherfucker” under my breath once I finished–but I immediately replaced that ridiculousness with a huge sense of accomplishment and pride. I went into crazy runner, hippie dippie endocannibinoid overdrive, and I’m pretty sure I thanked every. single. volunteer. at the finish line–the medics, the students giving out food, the beer people (which I stupidly took… what the hell?), everyone. If I made eye contact with you, I said thank you, and chances are, I probably somewhat awkwardly tried to give you a hug or a fistbump or something.

I didn’t want to be that annoying runner, whining about missing her arbitrary-to-everyone-but-herself goal to the world, when the fact that I HAD JUST RUN MY 20TH MARATHON was mind-blowing. And the fact that this is my first marathon that never saw a mile higher than a 7:46 pace.

That right there, my friends, is cool shit.

I honestly thought I’d never see the day.

splits for 21-26.2: 7:44, 7:45, 7:46, 7:46, 7:32, ?.

I noticed I didn’t feel especially stiff afterward, though my legs were happy to begin to move in a different plane of motion for the first time in hours, and I quickly reunited with my BRC teammates, C, and spectating buddies before bookending the rest of my CM experience.

That I had an amazing CM race and got to PR just rocks. It really does.

However, for as amazing as my race was, even with my mistakes of maybe being just a tiny bit aggressive on the front half, possibly screwing up my fueling on the back half, and maybe beginning my kick too early, at 30k instead of 35k (or some other distance), my PR race absolutely, wholeheartedly, 110% pales in comparison to the weekend (or the days, weeks, and months, really) leading up to it.

This marathon was about so much more than me, and my performance, and what I wanted to accomplish here. That’s part two of this though, the journey.

Forthcoming.

Official stats:

Split

Time

Diff

min/mile

miles/h

05K

00:23:39

23:39

07:37

7.89

10K

00:47:27

23:48

07:40

7.83

15K

01:10:58

23:31

07:35

7.93

20K

01:34:32

23:34

07:35

7.91

HALF

01:39:41

05:09

07:35

7.93

25K

01:58:20

18:39

07:42

7.81

30K

02:21:40

23:20

07:31

7.99

35K

02:45:36

23:56

07:43

7.79

40K

03:09:50

24:14

07:48

7.69

Finish

03:20:06

10:16

07:32

7.97

Top 200 IL women marathon finishers- 335 place women – 93rd AG – 2629 (heyooo!) overall

 

10 thoughts on “Chicago Marathon 2013 race recap, part 1”

  1. How you manage to have such a recollection of the miles, the locations, the people, the experience is amazing! It boggles my mind, you have to be doing running brain training throughout the day!
    Was I even at the same race??

    I love the posture! just say it is going up a slight incline!

    I’ll save more for the part 2!

    Congrats on the PR! Sub 3:20 is so there.. a couple shorter weaves through people and tighter tangents and you have it!

    Super proud of you Erin :)

    1. Thanks, Declan! Pretty sure that posture’s gotta be carry-over from stroller running… can’t think of why else I’d ever run like that… :) and yes. I take serious notes during the run and try to write them down quickly afterwards; otherwise, my mental recall is worthless.

  2. Funny I think we must all think the same things during these silly races. I guess we are human. Hilarious and fun and awesomely consistent splits if you consider the whole thing start to finish. Still so happy and excited you got through this with a smile and a PR and had some fun along the way. Great job E, great job!

  3. Great race. Missed the A – goal, but what an accomplishment!

    I hear you on the fueling, I feel like I’m so fuel inefficient and basically have to eat the whole time. Sometimes that feels harder than the running.

    With the Garmin, I do a manual lap, but I don’t even show the distance on the display. I just have overall time, overall pace, and current lap pace. I figure at any point during a marathon I know what distance I’m at, because there are signs everywhere. Then I don’t have to worry about the distance/manual laps matching up. I’m also totally wear two watches on Sunday. Need redundancies.

    1. Thanks, Jeff. :) Your idea with changing up the Garmin screen is a good one (though sometimes, I forget where I am in a race…) and yea. fueling is tricky and can be a total pain in the ass. I’ve learned the hard way how important it is though. Congrats on your GRM from a few days ago!

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