I decided to do Chicago Marathon as my next big Major Marathon race-cation. This might be a huge understatement, but after completing this race I can see why this was such a popular race! The race was huge (45K participants) and the race logistics was very organized. Over 2 million came to cheer from all over the course. A true rockstar experience.
The race started early at 7:30am, and we could see the pink skies and sun rising from the lake. Considering this is the first major marathon in the US since Boston 2013, luckily security was hidden and I didn't really notice much different other than checking in clear bags and requiring a soft manual hand search of personal items before walking into the park which was fenced off with many entry gates.
The race had 3 pacers for every 5 minutes intervals starting from 3 hours and then onwards. They had a stick with a sign that read the times. What was super neat was that these official pacers provided commentary throughout the race to keep you in best shape to achieve your best result!
It didn't take long to get into Grant Park, but there were insanely a lot of runners. Bryan and I dropped off the bags and then slowly navigated through a maze of people to eventually reach corral A. I decided to start with the 3:05 group considering my pb at the time was 3:07ish achieved a few years ago before I started working, but my recent times has been dipping into the 3:15ish.
I remember one of the 3:05 pacers said in a loud broad voice,
"Okay so here's the plan. It gets pretty chaotic for the first little bit. The plan is to re-group at mile 4 and then run steady. Normally out of the three paces for 3:05 group, one will run high 3:05, another low 3:05 and the third pacer would be somewhere in the middle."
I thought to myself, awesome.
The race started. Oh my goodness I had to contain my giddy emotions because it was too early and easy to overcook it. I had a sore throat throughout the week and it was about 85% healed, which was a blessing in disguised. My mantra that I kept telling myself was..."okay just 3 hours of suffering, just 3 hours and I'll be done. The hard part of registering for the event was already completed" The recovering sore throat helped kept me going steady and conservative.
I started going a bit faster than the 3:05 with the full intention of the group would reel in a some point after 4 miles and we would run steady for an amazing PB. It was hard to gauge the initial few miles because we ran underneath some large overpass and I didn't trust Garmin. Eventually I noticed the distance were matching up for the most part and there were pace clocks at each mile marker. Also being a metric SI kind of person, I had to become familiar with my imperial pace times. My pace was easy to calculate because I needed to go just over 7 minute miles and each marker was a multiple of 7. I was holding strong at 6:40ish miles for the first 5-10km when I caught the 3:00 pace group. I was nervous being around this group because I had in my mind that 3:05 was my group.
I decided to stay with the 3:00 group as long as possible. It was amazing running with few hundred people next to you for a good chunk of the race. The pacers basically neutralized the pace like how they do it bike racing.
Turning along the course was highly technical. The race started with 6 lanes in the downtown core and because the 42.2km is measured from the tightest radius along the course, I had to run a bit extra one way or another. Taking the tightest turn was not ideal because you would actually get elbowed like in open water swimming. I took the midland area just so that I didn't have to run on the slanting part of the roads on the side and it was the quickest way to turn in both directions. Running wide on a turn in a 6 lane intersection would had meant I needed to run at least an extra 10 metres!
There were 6 draw bridges to run across in total and 5 of them were in the first half. As I approached the half way marker with the 3:00 group, I was thinking okay less than 2 hours of suffering! And I was thinking how long can I stay with this group?
One of the draw bridges near the half way point had the slightest downhill with a dangerous "Cheer Zone". It was only natural that the pace went up during this km split. Holy smokes 3:40 minutes/km.
At mile 17, one of the 3:00 group pacers said "There is a gel station in 2.7 miles ahead. Don't worry they will have all the flavours spread out so you would have plenty of room." Sure enough, the commentary was amazing and the gel station operation was flawless.
General aid stations were spaced along the course every 2 miles approximately. About 50 metres on both sides of the road for sports drink and then a short gap with another 50 metres of water. If I was running on the side of the road, I probably could had grab like 10 cups. But also with the large crowds if I was in the centreline of the road, it takes about 50 metres to slowly merge to the side to pickup the drink without letting down on my pace.
As I reached 2 hours of running, I was thinking man this final hour of running was going to be brutal! I just wanted to crawl into bed in the cradle position and rest my recovering sore throat. Then with appropriate timing, one of the pacers said, "Remember to stand up tall to keep good form". I was very grateful for the tip and took the advice.
At around 36k, I was starting to slip slowly. My calfs were twitching and the 3:00 pace bus started to drop me. I was hoping to make it to the 42.2 bus stop, but ended up running slightly over 3 hours.
Official time 3h1m54s (and squeaked into the top 1000).
Not bad at all, with this time now I can say all my shorter distances can go (or suppose to be) faster according to the MacMillian Calculator!
As I ran near the finish line, I was filled with emotions and double fist pumped. Shattered my recent marathon times by nearly 15 minutes!
The finish greeted us with one cup of official beer, and then we had a ticket to claim another one inside! Amazing.
We enjoyed other great delights throughout the trip as well.
A flight of beers later that day too.
A Canadian Thanksgiving dinner
Chicago-Style Hot Dog
And of course Chicago's famous deep-dish pizza