You probably know by now that while this year’s Chicago Marathon didn’t go exactly according to plan, I left the Second City with a shiny new PR and great race day memories. So, let’s get to the recap!
After a short train ride with many fellow runners, I got to Grant Park around 6:45 on Sunday morning, which, thanks to some long lines, didn’t leave much time to check my bag and make a quick bathroom stop before the corrals closed at 7:20. I ended up making a run for my corral just as the national anthem was ending. As the announcer began introducing the elite athletes, I set about stripping down to my shorts and singlet and tossing aside my throwaway layers. Minutes later, the horn sounded and “Born to Run” began blasting from the speakers. TIME TO GO!
Miles 1-3: The Loop
The beginning of the race is definitely the most urban part of the course, and since the morning was off to a cloudy start, I felt like I was running through the city as it was waking up. There was a lot of cool architecture to see as we made our way up State Street and LaSalle Drive. It felt a lot like running through NYC’s Financial District, except, hey, there was actually space for everyone to move and nothing was permanently under construction. At one point we went under an L track as a train was coming through, and it was awesome to look up and see the passengers inside waving and cheering.
I tried to start off comfortably with a pace as close as possible to 9-minute miles, but I knew it would be tough to gauge how fast I was going in the beginning since the tunnel in the first mile immediately threw off the signal on my Garmin. I didn’t really worry about it, though, as I was too distracted by everyone who was out spectating. The crowd support at the Chicago Marathon really is phenomenal, and I’d even say it rivals that of New York, the only other marathon I’ve run. I’m so glad I made the decision to not listen to music until I felt like I really needed it—a moment that didn’t arrive for another 18 miles. I also wore my name on my shirt this year, and it was such a confidence boost whenever anyone cheered specifically for me. I could not stop smiling throughout the race.
Miles 4-11: Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Old Town
The next few miles went through some areas that were more residential, and this part of the course reminded me of 4th Avenue in Brooklyn during the New York City Marathon (except much prettier). For a fairly cold morning, there were so many people out there screaming their faces off! I high-fived tons of cute kids who cheered for me during these miles.
Miles 12-16: West Loop, Greektown, Little Italy
As we looped back toward the downtown area and crossed a fourth bridge over the Chicago River, I was happy to still have the armwarmers I’d fashioned out of an old pair of socks. The temperature stayed in the low 40s throughout the entire race—perfect running conditions, but there was definitely a chill in the air whenever we were close enough to feel the breeze coming in from Lake Michigan.
Up to this point, each 5K split had been approximately 27 minutes. I hit the half-marathon marker in 1:56—a little bit faster than the 1:59 I was shooting for, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to have a few minutes banked. At least I hadn’t done anything crazy like go out at half-marathon goal pace when I was running double the distance.
Miles 17-18: Pilsen
The Mariachi bands and dancers in this predominantly Mexican neighborhood were entertaining, and the spectators were so enthusiastic, especially when they spotted any Mexican runners on the course. I’m glad this part of the race was so lively because the next mile was pretty desolate. It was also the first point where I found myself needing some music to help me to keep moving at a decent clip.
Miles 19-23: The Moment of Truth
I knew this race was going to be a test. I finished some incredible long runs at the start of the summer, but after a leg injury sidelined me for about 6 weeks, I had less than a month to try to get back into shape before tapering. I’m not counting a botched 20-miler, so I really feel like I peaked with 16 miles two weeks out from race day. I ran that at an 8:54 pace and felt fantastic, but I was still nervous about not knowing if I could maintain that pace for another 10 miles during the marathon.
As it turned out, I couldn’t. A few miles past the halfway point, my legs began to feel fatigued, but I tried to keep pushing through it as long as I possibly could. I hit 20 miles in exactly 3 hours and, thanks to the 4-hour pace tattoo on my arm, I was all too aware that the time cushion for a 3:59 finish was slowly slipping away from me. It finally did at mile 23 when I was already heading out of Chinatown and back toward the South Loop. I knew I was almost done, so at that point I willed myself not to think about missing my time goal and to instead take in the experience and remember that I was going to cross that finish line with a giant PR no matter what. It was also right around here that I saw a sign that read “Paul Ryan would swear you finished in 3:00.” (And, hey, if we’re going by Paul Ryan time, I did!)
Miles 24-26: Return to Downtown
By this time I was back on the final stretch along Michigan Avenue. When I reached the sign that read “One mile to go,” I put my iPod away and once again fed off the spectators’ energy. Before I knew it, I was at the only major incline of the course, a hill that feels like a freaking mountain when it comes at mile 26 of a marathon (you read that right).
With A LOT of encouragement from the crowds, I made my way up, up, up Roosevelt Road toward Grant Park, turned the last corner, and when I finally saw the finish line ahead of me, I dug deep to summon one last burst of adrenaline so I could sprint through it. Marathon #3 complete in 4 hours, 5 minutes, and 22 seconds; average pace of 9:21/mile, 22-minute PR, and 28-minute course PR.
I know many of you are wondering if I’m seeking a redemption race after talking about my sub-4 goal all summer. Truthfully, sub-4 dreams aside, this was my redemption race. The last time I ran Chicago was in 2010, and temperatures in the 80s made me miss beating my NYCM PR by 6 minutes. While I knew that I could have performed better under more ideal conditions, I felt such a sense of defeat and burnout, with zero desire for an immediate do-over. After taking two years to focus on improving at shorter distances, I finally felt ready to tackle another marathon and take back Chicago in the process.
Since I’m slated to run the New York City Marathon next fall, it will probably be at least a couple of years before I’m able to run this race again. But rest assured, Chicago, I’ll be back for you.