Three weeks after the marathon, I am finally getting around to posting about it! I remember looking at my calendar about 6 weeks ago and realizing that once my Chicago trip hit, my schedule was going to be non-stop for the rest of the year. That has certainly been the case. I had post-work activities every night last week except for Thursday. But I digress.
My friend Kimberly and I flew into Chicago on Thursday afternoon, October 4. I don't fly often, so I forgot about the general maladies that come with it. Aside from my flight anxiety, the pressure changes did a number on my sinuses, which remained clogged from the time we landed in Chi-Town to the time we got home, as well as my belly, which bloated to the size it was at about 4 months pregnant & stayed that way the entire trip. The belly bloating was particularly disappointing because Chicago had SO MUCH wonderful food to try, and I could only consume very small portions. We had dinner twice on Thursday -- an early meal at Kuma's Korner (where I ate about a quarter of the best burger I've had in years) and later at Balena's, a new Italian place in Lincoln Park that had ridiculously good pork ragu and several delicious gelato concoctions.
We went to the Expo on Friday morning. I've run Disney and Rock & Roll races before, so I've been to some pretty impressive expos, but this one took the cake. We were there for several hours and definitely didn't see everything. I met Deena Kastor, one of my favorite elite marathoners, and I finally got to try on a pair of Altra zero-drop shoes. I'd been eyeing those shoes online for several months, but I felt much better having a chance to get fitted and to discuss them with a knowledgeable rep. First non-food purchase of the trip, but certainly not the last. We followed the expo with shopping at consignment stores in Wicker Park. $18 cashmere sweater, $20 velvet blazer - score! Folks in Chicago get rid of much better clothes than folks in my hometown. Lou Malnati's pizza for dinner was a must.
On Saturday when my sinuses and belly were still acting up, I started to worry. I spent most of the day resting while Kimberly and her friends shopped some more. They cooked us a big pasta dinner (still couldn't eat very much) and we hit the sack at a reasonable time.
Conditions: It was chilly. Much chillier than predicted. About a week before the race, they were predicting mid-50's to 60 degrees. Every day the forecast got chillier and chillier. We woke up to temps in the upper 30's. By the time the race started, it was 42 degrees, and was in the upper 40's or maybe 50-ish when we finished. But it was perfectly overcast -- no need for sunglasses. And it wasn't all that windy. We did fine in throwaway sweatshirts and gloves.
Organization: I have no idea how they managed to keep nearly 40,000 runners so organized. There were three separate entrances to the park, each with its own gear check, water station, and portalets. We had to show our race bibs to get into our starting corral -- best organizational tactic EVER and one that RnR should start utilizing. The corrals kept the race flowing very well. We had no problem staying at our goal pace in the crowds, until we took a bathroom break midway through the course and re-entered into a slower group of runners. Finishers chute was brilliantly organized as well. It was a long chute & it was well-staffed. There was never any need to actually stop and wait for anything. Just keep moving, & grab as you go. Gear check was also well-organized. I picked up my stuff and was on my way within a minute or two.
My Goal: It was Kimberly's first marathon, and I told her I'd stick with her the whole way, so I didn't really have a time goal going into the race. However, Kimberly said she'd like to finish around 4:30 and we were on pace for most of the first half. Then she had some hip cramps starting around mile 11 and had to take several stops to stretch. When we hit the halfway at 2:18, that crazy competitive voice in my head started shouting, and I started worrying about our finishing time. It was really a mental struggle for me to stop focusing on the pace and just enjoy the race, because it WAS a very fun race and worth enjoying. Somewhere around mile 16 or 18, I had the "a-ha!" moment where I realized that we were well over halfway finished and I didn't hurt at all. Ultimately, we got separated at mile 22, and when I realized that there was no way to find my running buddy, I picked up the pace. I ended up finishing in 4:44 and change -- about 20 seconds off my PR. Kimberly wasn't far behind me. It turns out she stopped to stretch and thought I was right behind her back at mile 22. She finished strong as well and was happy with her time. :)
Overall: Best thing about the Chicago Marathon? The spectators. They were amazing. I don't recall a time on the course where there weren't people cheering with signs and balloons. Next best thing? The city itself. The course took us through so many different neighborhoods , with so many different personalities. It's a beautiful way to discover the city, and the course is famously flat and fast. This race was eye-opening for me, because I am always competing with myself and trying to get a PR. I didn't PR this race, but I had a much better marathon than my first time, because I was better prepared physically and I wasn't constantly checking my watch & worrying about my pace (partly because my watch battery died at mile 21). I ran for fun and I enjoyed soaking up the city. Best of all, I was able to walk afterward, which was very good because we stayed in a 3rd-floor walkup. I would love to run this one again someday.
Next on the agenda is the Pensacola Marathon on November 11. During Chicago, I kept thinking "this is the fun marathon, Pensacola is where I'll prove myself". Despite not being very sore after the race, recovery has taken awhile & I'm still not fully there. I plan to run faster in Pensacola, but I don't have the same time goals that I originally had. My husband and kids will be there (which I wasn't originally expecting), and that will make it a very special race in a different way.