Chicago Marathon 2019

Chicago Marathon 2019 tick. I made it pretty obvious prior to this race I wasn’t feeling all that confident about running the Chicago Marathon. My running training hadn’t been bad, but mentally I wasn’t in the right place. My long runs hadn’t quite gone as well as I would have liked them too but I just thought this was the joy of marathon training! But after my 5k run on Saturday morning, I felt really comfortable and started to look forward to the race.

Runner at start of Chicago Marathon
When it’s too cold to take your jumper off, but they need to see your number!!!

Due to the time difference (Chicago is 6 hours behind) the early start wasn’t a problem. The previous day had been REALLY cold, so I was unsure how early to get to the start, but headed out of the hotel room around 6:30 am.

As I walked to the lift, another girl was waiting to get in the lift and we started chatting. Other runners got in the lift as we went down and a few of us left the hotel at the same time. I had planned my route to the start and checked it lots. Out of the hotel, turn right, then turn right down Michigan Avenue. When some of the runners turned left, I turned to Amy (the girl from the lift) and said “well that concerns me”. She told me she was sticking with me so we walked and talked all the way down to the start.

It was so nice to have someone to share the start with and Amy was super friendly, she made me feel like we had been friends for a long time. We headed for the correct gate entry, but a marshal told us to go in a different one as it was really busy where we were heading. Our bags were searched and our bodies were scanned and then we were in. The sunrise was amazing and the starting corrals (as the Americans call them) were all set up around Buckingham Fountain.

Buckingham Fountain, Grant Park, Chicago.
Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park

We tried to locate the baggage drop, but the signage was not that great and we went to the wrong place. As we headed back to find our drop, we saw the length of the line for the toilets, so decided to start queuing. We were still in the queue when the National Anthem was played and the Elite men started. It was super cold and I was really worried that I may have had the wrong kit on! After the baggage drop ( which was really easy, once found, and no queues) I braved taking my throw away bottoms off but didn’t dare remove my jumper.

Amy was in the wave before me, but tried to move back to mine so we could run together as both of use were aiming to run around the 4:30 time. The security was tight and they wouldn’t let Amy in, so we said our goodbyes wished each other luck. I moved my way down towards the front on my Corral so that I was near the 4:30 pacer. All I needed to do now was keep warm. I was shivering SO much. We had a good 30 minute wait, but inched forward, bit by bit, until I could see the start line.

Start of Chicago Marathon
All smiles before the race.

I listened to the music, I took in the atmosphere and felt quite relaxed. The announcer made a joke about how good we were as we’d given everyone a head start and then the countdown happened. As we approached the line, the announcer shouted “I see you Ruth, you go girl” so I crossed the line with a huge smile on my face, thinking that maybe this was going to be a good day.

The first part of the course went under a tunnel and there were supporters there shouting and cheering. I had my name on my vest so my name was shouted so many times and this happened for most of the race; the Americans love cheering. I remember reading lots of signs which made me smile, but annoyingly I can’t recall any of them now.

In the early section, we had to cross the river a few times and I was surprised to see that the bridges were metal and not solid, so not the easiest to run over. I spotted my mum in the crowd on the left, but typically I was on the right side of the course! I cut across, going slightly backwards and got to the middle to shout. It was noisy so it took a few shouts to get her attention but I did, I waved and continued on with a big smile.

My GPS was so off and clicked 1 mile in 8 minutes something and way before the 1st-mile marker. I knew it was supposed to be bad so I had turned my watch to just time, so I had no idea of pace. I took notice of the main clock so I could keep a check at each mile marker. It felt like I was really holding back and from my calculations, I was running around 10:10 pace. This felt ok, so I just tried to stick to this pace.

Marathon runner
Concentration!

We were heading out of town to the north of Chicago and the streets were lined with people shouting my name. My legs did not feel as fresh as I would have liked but I just went with it. I remember that around mile 6/7 we could see the lake and there were parks around us. It was really pretty, the sun was beaming down, yet there were lots of gusts of wind too. We then turned and headed back to town.

I can not recall at what point it went wrong, but I know around mile 13, we cross a bridge again, which was just down the road from my hotel. I thought if I was to see my mum again, this was likely to be the place. I then worried that if I did see her, I might cry as I wasn’t sure I wanted to carry and run that distance again. It just felt a LONG way.

I went through halfway in about 2:07. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this, was it too fast? I did think if I can keep this up that would be a huge PB! (So that probably indicates that it was too fast!) My fuel belt was old and I wear it for every run. It’s always been ok but one of my gels slipped out in the early miles and I was constantly having to adjust them as they felt like they were sliding down, so I carried three in my hand. I then noticed I had lost another one, so had to adjust my fuelling plan.

Chicago Marathon runner
Smiling for the camera, not sure I was feeling like smiling.

The water stations were very efficient and long. They handed out Gatorade for the first section of the station and then water at the end. I had taken water at miles 3, 6, and 9 miles. I decided to stop and walk through the water station around mile 14 so that I could make sure I actually took on water, as trying to drink from a cup and run isn’t always that good, even with me pinching the cup together.

I knew as I walked through the drinks station, there was no way I was going to be running a PB, so I set myself a plan. I needed to take a gel at mile 18 and 22 so if I concentrated on running in blocks of 4 miles at a time I could walk the drinks stations at those miles. Three blocks of 4 miles felt achieveable.

I don’t really remember much about this section, apart from thinking it was quiet on support and the sun was bright. That may not have been the case, it’s just that I was concentrating so hard on putting one foot in front of another. Around mile 17, I spotted Amy stopped on the side of the road stretching. I stopped to her to check she was ok. It was so good to see a friendly face. Her knees were starting to hurt, so I told her my plan of walking drinks stations and we decided to run together.

Chicago Marathon runner.

After stopping to walk the drinks station at mile 18, my legs were really stiff and it took time for me to get going again. The plan was to run to 22 miles, but Bio freeze had a station at mile 21, where they were spraying legs with bio freeze and they had fans to dry it quickly. I don’t know if it was psychological, but it did help my legs for a bit.

Miles 22 to 25 seem like a blur. I know we ran as much as we could, we walked a lot of the drinks station as I was really thirsty. I ran past someone that had beer and it smelt so good. I just wanted the race to be over so I could have a beer. Then there was a beer station. They were serving it in shot cups, so we took one. Amy downed hers and even though it was me that wanted the beer, I had two sips and couldn’t stomach anymore!

Chicago Marathon runner.

The last few miles were one long straight road, the crowds were getting deeper and the noise was insane. The road was very wide but the gusts of wind were head-on at times. At one point a gust came from the side blowing my leg onto my other leg, nearly tripping me up. They don’t call it the windy city for nothing!

Amy thought she may see her family again at mile 25, so I think we ran in silence trying to spot them. Then she saw then just about 600m before mile 26. She waved and I could see that she was overcome with emotion. We just ran (probably more like a shuffle side by side in silence). I didn’t have any idea where the finish line was, but Amy told me there was a hill just before the end.

We turned right and there was the hill. Well, it was an incline, but not too bad. Even after getting to the top, I couldn’t see the finish line, then there was a left turn and I saw it. There was no sprint finish. A gentleman tripped in front of us, about 200m from the finish line, so we slowed to check he was ok.

Finishing the Chicago Marathon.
Hands up if you are glad it’s over!

As I crossed the line, I felt pure relief. I didn’t care about the time I was just glad it was over. We hugged and congratulated each other. I got my phone out just as a text came through from my sister. That was it, I started to cry. I’m not sure why but the emotions were raw. We took our finish line selfie and went to collect our medal. A FaceTime from my daughter congratulating me was pretty special too!

Finish line selfies.
All smiles now that we are finished.

Chicago Marathon provided us with another beer at the end, which I enjoyed! Not long after finishing Amy said, I would do another marathon, my reply was NEVER again! I’m not sure I meant this, but???

Beer to celebrate

We saw the six-star finishers area and I told Amy all about it and we looked at the medal. I’m now not sure if this will ever happen – the expense alone scares me. Three stars gained, three more to get. Tokyo, Berlin, and Boston – who knows???

We were lucky that our baggage pick up was a short walk as it turned cold again pretty quickly.

Chicago Marathon finisher.

Now that I am home and I have had time to reflect, I am very proud of my run. To complete another marathon is an accomplishment. To get through the 16 weeks training prior to this marathon is tough in itself.

This marathon wasn’t just about my finishing time. I visited a lovely city and found myself a new friend in Amy. Running is such a special gift that allows me to travel, meet amazing people and challenge myself. I have already looked at the Berlin Marathon ballot and if I had the money I think I would have entered. For now, I may just have to wait and get back to enjoying my running more.

Chicago by night.
Chicago, you were amazing – Thank you

I’m sure I have so much more to write about this experience so please add questions below if you want to know anything else and if you want to read all about my training here.

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