Chicago Marathon Recap

If you follow me on social media, you already know the outcome. I ran my personal best marathon time on Sunday at the Chicago Marathon! It’s my first race of this distance since giving birth to Clara in January, and my first time training for and running a full while still pumping/nursing. I ran Grandma’s Half Marathon in June while doing the same, but decided to keep going and take it up a notch with this full 26.2 mile undertaking. Also, a fun side-note: I haven’t trained for a race alone in 4.5 years. Yep! Thanks to the amazing community of women I found when we moved to Maryland, I haven’t had to run alone (unless intentionally) in over four years!

Saturday, October 12, 2019Travel, Expo, and Dinner

It was an emotional start to the day. I was leaving my family and this would be the first time leaving Clara for an extended period of time. I was so nervous about the race, but definitely more nervous about leaving her and traveling. Chad is a champ and is so supportive, so I never have any doubts about his ability to make awesome happen with or without me. The issue is more the burden and inconvenience I’m imparting on them by doing races like this.

My flight left Asheville around 10am and I landed at O’Hare at 11:30. My friends from Minnesota, Stef and Erik, picked me up from the airport as they had driven down the day before. Stef was running Chicago as well and Erik had plans to bee-bop around town and find her along the way. We headed straight to the expo and you could definitely feel the energy and excitement! Plus, I haven’t seen them in 4 months so we had plenty to catch up on!

The expo was “MEH.” to me. It wasn’t as crowded as I expected, but I was really only there to get by bib, race bag, and visit the official merch area. Oh, and of course the selfies. The finisher shirts were pretty, but the fit was so tiny and though they offered shirt exchanges, basically everyone had beat me to the punch. The only sizes left were XS, so I decided the medium should be fine. I’ve had worse.

The Nike merch store was CRAWLING but the way they had it set up was like organized Armageddon. It felt like a race to get the shirt and size you wanted, and you weren’t quite sure if everyone was after the same style so you had to grab what you could while it was there. I knew the merch was going to be a little more pricey than I would like to spend, but I budgeted for months and set aside for one nice item. I mean, this is a World’s Major race, it’s kind of a big deal. I had originally settled on a pretty blue quarter zip pull-over, but when I turned around Stef was wearing the black finisher jacket and as much as I didn’t like it in the pictures online, it looked REALLY NICE on. So I found my size, tried it on, and fell in love. Oh man, yea I will definitely wear this a ton! That settled it, and we both left with the jacket and headed to lunch.

We met up with April, at lunch and Stef and Erik offered to drop us off at the hotel. April had already checked in, so I unloaded and organized my stuff . We planned to meet Stef and Erik at The Bean for some selfies and photo ops before heading to dinner together. It was crawling with people, but we did our best and caught some great photos. It was also a nice way for April and I to time out how long it took to walk from the hotel to the start area and we were both pretty pleased that it was a short hike! Perfect amount for a shake out in the morning…

We headed to a restaurant near our hotel called Hoyts. I don’t think they get “rave reviews” online, but they were close, they had pasta, and there wasn’t a line. I ordered a simple vegetarian pasta dish with red sauce and stuck to water. That’s proven to be the easiest dish, and I can almost always find it anywhere I go. After dinner, we parted ways and headed back to the hotel to get organized for the morning.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

I woke up around 5:15am to get the morning going. I needed time to eat and relax with a nice cup of coffee and pump. Since my daughter is still (kind of) breastfeeding, I needed to be “empty” for the run. Breakfast was a Panera cinnamon crunch bagel, plain, with coffee. I had water and Gatorade to sip on throughout the morning, but wasn’t chugging anything. I never want to start with an over-full bladder, but I knew I was going into the race well hydrated. I had cut out alcohol 2 weeks prior, and was drinking upwards of a gallon of water everyday for the last 3 weeks. I had debated for a couple of days whether to wear long sleeves or short with arm sleeves and based on the temps when we were walking around Chicago on Saturday, I opted for long sleeves with a mesh vent panel on the back. It’s one of my favorite UA running shirts! I wore Senita high waisted Rios (the 7″ inseams with a pocket on each side… omg these shorts are to die for!), and of course my ProCompression Chicago socks! The races doesn’t allow hydration packs, but I was pretty confident that 20 aid stations over the course of 26 miles would be sufficient. I did pack nutrition: Huma gels, and Clif Shot blocks – saving the ones with caffeine for the half and 20+ miles.

The hotel was kind enough to have bananas and granola bars set out for runners, which was a blessing because I do love a banana before my long runs but all the stores we stopped at on Saturday were out! The morning was brisk, but it felt good and April and I both had saved mylar thermal blankets from a previous race to keep us warm and discard before the run. The streets were already buzzing with runners making their way to the start and the energy was electric!

Pre-race

We got down to Michigan Avenue and you could see the sun starting to peek through. Right about the time we got to the Bean, we realized it was basically empty so we ran back up for a few more photo ops. This was awesome because the skyline was perfect, and we really were able to capture the exact Bean opportunity we had hoped for. We snapped a few pics and then headed over to our corrals.

I’ve had a couple of friends run Chicago and just the organization of the pre-race runner’s area, plus the number of people always make the bathrooms a bit of a conundrum. I was expecting this so April and I headed to our gear check first and then immediately got in line for the portos. They have a TON of bathroom options, but there’s just no way to accommodate 45,000 runners before the race. We picked a line and waited. And waited. and waited… I spent the time sipping my Gatorade and munched on my banana and it ended up being just about perfect timing for us! I think we finished up at about 7:55am and our corral gates were closing at 8:10am – #nailedit!

Watching the elite runners, who were already almost half way before I started the race!

I was Wave 3, corral J, which is the first corral of that wave. The energy was nice and high and the pre-race temps were slightly breezy and cool. I made my way near the 4:30 pacers and thought this would probably be a great place to start. If you read my training blogs, I had an A goal of 4:30 finish, but after my last long run I thought that was probably still slightly out of reach. Nevertheless, it would help me pace my first 3 miles or so and avoid starting out too fast before settling into a rhythm. I certainly didn’t want to start out much slower than that, as I was trying to hit my B goal of sub 4:41 (my PR from Rehoboth). As the runners in our corral started shuffling forward, we were able to track the lead elites on jumbo screens all around us. I thought this was SO cool! They started running about an hour prior to our start, so it was really inspiring seeing them thrive and feeding off their energy as we waited to follow in their footsteps. The DJ was playing fun music and playing hype videos in between elite updates.

The Race

The gun went off announcing the start of wave 3 and we all shuffled forward to cross the start line. I felt good and well prepared, but nervous and excited as well. Running a marathon is hard. Running a marathon 8 months after giving birth is a different kind of hard. Add “nursing/pumping while being away from your 8-month old”, and that’s just insane. But here I was!

I spent the first 3 miles trying to find the right pace. It obviously felt good. Probably too good – it’s supposed to! I had a friend run Chicago last year and she mentioned that because she knew her Garmin/GPS was going to be all over the place with the buildings obstructing the signal, she turned her auto lap on her watch off and switched completely to manual lap. I heeded this advice and did the same, so regardless of what my GPS said, I pressed the lap key at each mile-marker and ignored the distance. Sometimes I would look down and see 5:30 for my pace, then two minutes later it would read 14:13 per mile. This made it really challenging to find the right pace if you weren’t prepared, so I made sure to try and stay close to the 4:30 pacers, especially at the beginning of the race. Once the energy and excitement settles down, I didn’t expect to have an issue finding my pace in a balance of pushing hard enough to obtain my goal, but not too hard that I bonk early. (this is why you run goal marathon pace runs during training!) My splits were 10:22, 9:54, and 10:09, with a goal pace of 10:15-10:30 per mile.

OMG I LOVE RACE PHOTOS! (said no one ever)

I don’t remember specific mile markers along the way, but I do have specific memories along the way. I stayed as present as possible, running each mile I was in. I typically have to build in bathroom breaks for a full marathon, and this is usually what ends up derailing my goals and adding time to my pace. It’s never been something I’ve been able to completely diagnose during my training, just something I’m aware of and plan for. I took my first nutrition at mile 3, some Honey Stinger chews that I slowly munched on over the course of a mile or more. I knew I had to pee, but it wasn’t urgent so I kept waiting for the right stop with the least amount of wait. Just after mile 5 looked good, with ample portos and not a big line, so I pulled over and unfortunately the wait was longer than I hoped. Mile 4 and mile 5 were 10:03 pace, but mile 6 with the bathroom break was 12:10. Oh well, I don’t panic and try to make up ground right away… at mile 6, there’s still plenty of time to adjust and make smart choices along the way.

As I mentioned before, with 20 aid stations on the course, I felt really comfortable with the amount of water and Gatorade that would be available. I took nutrition at mile 3-4, 6, 10, 13-ish, 16-17, and 21 and this is pretty identical to how I fueled for my longer training runs. My next few splits were (7) 10:16, (8) 10:27, (9) 10:25, (10) 10:28, (11) 10:31, (12) 10:34, (13) 10:35, and (14) 10:44. Jesus, I’ve never been so consistent before! Feeling great, I stopped for another quick bathroom break at 15, which cost me an 11:46 mile – still not bad! The downside was, as soon as I left that porto I knew I needed to go again.

Most of the race I kept my phone on airplane mode to conserve battery. I didn’t take pictures along the way, just focused on the run, my body, and the gorgeous course! I loved running through Boystown at mile 8. Boystown is the first officially recognized gay village in the US and home to one of the largest LGBTQ+ communities in the midwest. I freaking LOVE a good drag queen show, and have been a strong supporter of the Pride community so having stages set up along the course with drag queens performing and cheering me on was like something out of a dream! It took me back to my days as a lifeguard at an amusement park, going out to the Gay 90’s with my roommates and cheering for my friends who mustered up the courage to do Fishbowl. It was a really energetic mile and moment in the marathon for me!

Mile 16 was 10:36 and at mile 17, I finally found another porto without a line and stopped to “do business,” making it a longer stop. I never saw the mile 17 sign to lap my watch so my mile 17 and 18 combined time was 22:36.

During my quick bathroom break at 17, I happened to look at my phone. I had sent a couple of updates to my hubby and son and used my bathroom breaks to get inspiration from any pictures or messages he sent from the kids. I also had a message from Bethany, who helped write my training plan for this race. It’s the first time I have used a resource other than Pinterest, Runner’s World, and past experience to write a plan. Bethany’s message read “GOOOO AMY GOOOOOOO!!!” Yahooo! I could feel her energy! I wrote back “Just stopped for a quick bathroom! Feeling good!!!” Well, Bethany is much better at math than I am and she must have known how close I was to making or breaking my goal because her response was “THEN GET RUNNING!” Just the kick in the ass I needed to get on my way!

Chomping on my chews: Caffeinated Clif Shot Blocks

Still feeling good, I kept an eye on my pace the next few miles:I loved striding through Little Italy at mile 18, and turning the corner into Chinatown at mile 21.5-ish, and I will never ever forget the stretch of a couple of blocks with a huge latin community waiving the Mexican flag with pride. That two block section cheered so loud and so hard, I thought they were going to blow me over! I’ve never heard cheering that loud before! (19) 10:23, (20) 10:54, and (21) 10:50.

A pretty accurate representation – don’t think, just run!

I saw an article posted on IG before the race from the @run4pr account that said the last 10k of a marathon isn’t a time to look at your pace or focus on it at all. The last 10k is a time to just go and leave it all on the course! I kept repeating “don’t look, just go!” in my head as my mantra. I pulled my sleeve over to cover my watch and blindly hit the lap key at each mile marker. (22) 10:33, (23) 10:52, (24) 10:13, (25) 11:07. I could not believe how good I felt with every step and just kept my proverbial “gas pedal” down, getting energy from every person I passed, from every spectator that cheered me along. Mile (26): 10:12. I turned the corner for that final darned uphill that everyone warned me about and felt like I was sprinting! One last turn and it was a downhill finish watching the clock. I still hadn’t looked at my watch, I just kept pushing until I crossed the timing mat and blindly ended my Garmin. I knew I didn’t have the 4:30 A goal, but did I have my B goal and PR?

When I stopped running after crossing the finish line, I immediately felt every step of the previous 26.2 miles. My hips aches, my IT bands were on fire, my hamstrings were “singing” (to put it lightly). My heart was in my throat from the uphill push and the downhill “sprint.” And I really, really just wanted to sit down. I slowly kept moving forward and worked up the courage to check my time on my watch.

4:39:02. Fuck yes.

A 2 minute and 14 second personal record for the marathon distance.

Post-Race

Immediately post-race, the pain started to set it. I pushed so hard and that adrenaline made it feel okay to do so, but as soon as I stopped there was just a rush of “oof.” It was never a bad pain, but definitely a “you worked hard” pain. I hobbled through the finisher’s area, collecting my medal, space blanket, food and goodies, and beer. Good lord the beer. As someone who works in the craft beer industry and is aware of AB/InBev buying out small craft brewers for years, I knew Goose Island had a different budget with their funding opportunities, but I have never seen a finish line so loose with their beer! No complaints, though! As they handed me my finisher beer I went to give the woman my beer ticket and she said “that’s for the after party… this is just your finisher beer.” Uhhh, can I have two then? Yep, sure can! Wow!

I waddled around, hobbling to find where I could get my gear bag and then needed to meet Stef and Erik. She had finished well before me (not only much faster than I am, but also started running like 30 minutes before I did!). They were already at the BioFreeze Mile 27 after party. I stopped for a quick finisher picture before I found my gear, and thank goodness I had packed an external battery for my cell phone because it was at 4% (this is ALWAYS a gear-bag must!). Instead of sitting down to enjoy my brews and soak it in, I decided that I would rather keep moving and not sit down until I planned to stay there for a while.

I did find this part probably the most unorganized part of the whole race. For the amount of people, there’s just not enough signage for where to find things, especially when you combine the amount of people there with the “post-marathon-brained” airheadedness most of us experience. I ended up leaving the runner’s village (and dumping my beer) because I thought the party was somewhere else. I was a little bummed when I figured out the runner entry for the finisher party and realized I could have brought my beer with me! Oh well, I was lucky enough to find a few extra beer tickets on the ground throughout the race so I had plenty.

LIFESAVER! Erik got my beers for me so I didn’t have to walk xoxoxo!

I met up with Stef and Erik, and Erik was so kind enough to get my beers for me (I bribed him with one of my extra found tickets!). April finished strong and made her way over to us as well. The weather was really gorgeous and I was on such a high from my best and strongest race yet! April had a good time, and while Stef PR’d as well, she definitely didn’t have a great race. Her spirits were high and I loved talking about what everyone’s perspective of the race was.

After a bit we gathered our things and decided we needed a shower and some food. We had all signed up for this “Poster Stamping Event” with TrackSmith that I had heard about in my ProCompression Ambassador Facebook group, but none of us really knew what it was. We were inclined to skip it, expecting a mile-long line or a dreadful wait, but since it was on the way back to the hotel we thought it would be worth it to at least pop in. I’m SO GLAD WE DID! They had these incredible Chicago Marathon Posters and a gentleman was hand-stamping our finishing times on the bottom! It was in the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel on Michigan, which felt way too swanky for some sweaty, post-marathon gimpy runners, but they never made us feel that way. They were so excited for us, they fed off our energy with total midwestern hospitality and were so kind to stamp our posters and congratulate us. It’s actually probably my favorite souvenir from the weekend. They even gave us a cardboard tube to transport it home without wrecking it!

After the poster stamping event, Stef and Erik caught the train back to their hotel, and April and I headed back to ours. I needed to pump (yep, still nursing), and we both needed a hot shower. We found a couple of options and settled on a walkable distance pub with burgers where we would meet back up with Stef and Erik. I had other friends running Chicago and tried a couple of times to reach them and meet up with them, but it never panned out. Regardless, I’m grateful for the time I was able to spend with April, Stef, and Erik.

April and I popped over to the river for some selfies with our medals, and then whisked the night away with burgers and beer (and diet coke, since April doesn’t drink!). I realized after the fact that I probably talked way too much, but I really only get to see these friends once in a blue moon now, so I think I was just really excited and trying to cram conversation in. Looking back, I wish I would have just listened more (that’s my New Year’s Resolution next year, but I’m trying to practice it now).

The next thing I knew, my alarm was going off at 4:30am to begin my trek home. A little over a half-mile walk to the metro station and a 50-minute ride to O’Hare and I was on my way. Of course security was no joke and by the time I made it through I had to RUN to my gate (which was hilarious I’m sure… to see a broken marathon runner “running” to her gate 15 hours after completing the race). I got to the gate in time for the attendant to tell me she just gave my seat away, though she was “kind enough” to give it back to me. *eye roll*

I got home to a clean house and excited kids. My whirlwind weekend was exactly that: a whirlwind.

Here’s a fun little nugget: The image on the left is Stef and I (and my sister) after I ran my FIRST marathon ever! Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota, June 2008. I ran a 5:42:58 for my first marathon.

Then on the right, after we both PR’d in Chicago in 2019 (she’s a hell of a lot faster than me!) where she crushed 4:06:00 and I have managed to shave over an hour off my original time with a 4:39:02.

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