Friday, November 1, 2019

Chicago Marathon

We drove to Chicago on the Friday before the marathon, me, Lee and our 3 Westies, asleep in the back seat. They are great little travelers. They look around with interest and then sleep most of the time, waking up for an occasional potty break. It takes around 7 hours to get to Chicago, but with stops for dogs and humans and terrible traffic outside Chicago, it took us closer to 9 hours. 

We stayed at the Kimpton Grey Hotel in downtown, about  a mile from the start and finish of the marathon. Kimptons are always nice, and very dog-friendly, and this one was no exception. We had a nice-sized, quiet room at the end of a hall and after some curious sniffing the dogs settled right down. We had the soft sided crate in case Heather was feeling anxious, and a belly band for Cosmo, because he has a tendency to try to claim any new space as his own. We ended up leaving the crate open so Heather could crawl in there to sleep if she wanted to.  Lee took the dogs on a short walk to Millennium park, and then we headed to dinner at The Dearborn. 

It was windy and pretty brisk outside, and we walked the wrong direction for awhile before we got ourselves properly oriented. The Dearborn was actually only a few blocks from our hotel but we added another mile or so of walking in our confusion. Its a good restaurant. I got the chicken and gnocchi and it was great.

Saturday morning I met some of the members of a Facebook group I belong to called Boston Buddies for a shakeout run. I was of two minds about doing this. I enjoy the people in this group. They are all avid runners and have some sort of connection to the Boston Marathon. But since a lot of them are Boston Qualifiers they tend to be pretty speedy and I, of course, am anything but. I was just afraid that I would not be able to keep up with them at all and that I would feel badly being left behind. But it turned out to be great. We met at one of the fountains in Millennium Park. I got to meet a bunch of people that I had become friends with online but had never met in person. Because this was just a short run to keep our legs loose on the day before the marathon nobody was trying to set any speed records, and in fact I wasn’t really that far behind. I only ran with them for a mile because I had already run about a mile just to just get to the park.

Then I jogged back to hotel, took a shower, and went to brunch with Lee at Cochon Volant, the French restaurant connected to the Hyatt, right next to our hotel. I had some very good scrambled eggs and pancakes.  Their food was amazing! 

Then it was time to go to the Expo. To get there I tried taking a shared Lyft. It was cheaper than a regular Lyft, but it was still fairly expensive and it ended taking a long time, with the driver dropping off two people and picking up another before taking me to the expo.

The Expo was pretty good. It was easy to get my bib and T-shirt. Then as usual I wandered up and down the isles looking for free samples and cool stuff. I ended getting new Oofos recovery sandals, a Chicago marathon fleece hoodie from Nike, and a Goose Island Chicago Marathon commemorative pint glass for Lee. I also took a silly picture in front of the Abbott poster with the 6 major marathons displayed. Now that I’ve run all the US majors I have to decide if I’m interested in running the international ones. One thing at a time!

I took  one of the free shuttles back to downtown Chicago from the marathon. It was probably too much walking but then I laid down and put up my legs for the rest of the afternoon.

We went for my pre-marathon traditional pasta dinner to Volare Brasserie. I had very nice handmade pasta with a delicious meat sauce, and a glass of red wine. Sometimes in the past I have avoided alcohol the night before a marathon but it doesn’t seem to make much difference so tonight I didn’t worry about it.

Sometimes before a marathon I have a terrible time sleeping but I didn’t have any trouble this time. I was up at 4:45, however. The hotel had a special early breakfast buffet laid out for runners. It really looked great but as usual my stomach was tied up in knots and I couldn’t eat very much. I had a bagel with some peanut butter, coffee, and part of a banana. Before long it was time to walk to the starting line at Millennium Park. It was still cold and windy but I was prepared. I have on a pair of throwaway pants and a throwaway sweatshirt from Goodwill, and an old heat blanket from a previous marathon. The line to get through security moved slowly but I had plenty of time. I found the gear check, where I stowed a sweatshirt for after the race. I found the shortest Porta pottie lines and used them multiple times, chewing Pepto Bismol tablets all the while, until my stomach settled down and it was time to get into my corral. 

Chicago has 3 waves, with 4 corrals each, about 45,000 people total, so smaller than New York, but bigger than Boston. I was in the very last one, Wave 3, corral L. Corral L was for people that were looking at a time anywhere from 5:15 to 6:30, so I got right in the front of the corral, because I was going for that 5:15!

I stood around talking to the people around me, trying to stay warm. We are such an interesting mix at the back of pack. Older runners like me, first timers of all ages and body types, people just in it for the fun and adventure. Finally it was time to reluctantly get rid of my throwaway clothes, and off we go!

I’d been warned that GPS doesn’t work in parts of the Chicago marathon so I was prepared to use elapsed time instead. Immediately after the start we entered a tunnel and lost our GPS signal. For the first couple of miles my watch had me running through buildings and into the river! I had it on manual laps so I would just look for the mile markers and hit the lap button as we passed. It worked ok but there were still times when it threw me off. 

Once I warmed up the temperatures were perfect, but it was very windy. It was mostly cloudy, but now and then the sun would come out and feel great. The wind is a bitch, very swirly. Sometimes it was in front of me, almost stopping me cold, sometimes it would creep up behind me and push me along, and sometimes it would come at me sideways, almost knocking me off my feet! Then it would calm down for awhile too and I would forget all about it.

I’m wearing running shorts, my Hoka Carbon running shoes, White calf compression sleeves, my Boston Buddies tank top, a sparkly visor, Goodr Chicago sunglasses, lightweight gloves, and white arm sleeves. It takes 3/4s of the race for my hands to warm up. so I can take off my gloves. People see my tank top and yell “Go Boston!” and “Boston Strong!” I love it, its even better than having my name on my shirt. Every time I hear it I smile and wave.

Chicago is a very entertaining marathon. There are so many different neighborhoods, and loads of enthusiastic crowds. I was so focused this time that I only vaguely know where I am now and then. I’m ticking off the miles, sticking to my plan, working my pace, pissed when a mile comes in too slow, fixing it the following mile. I have trained hard for this marathon, and the training has paid off, physically yes, but even more important mentally. I never really get tired, but my hamstrings, glutes and back hurt off and on. 

One drawback to running hard is the marathon becomes a big blur. It was always crowded. I tried not to weave around people too much but sometimes I had no choice. I adhered to the blue line that marks the shortest distance on the course as much as possible but because of the gps issues my watch said I ran 27.4 miles instead of 26.2! 

Some neighborhoods really stand out, especially Pilsen, that comes fairly late in the race. They were incredibly loud and boisterous. I never stopped except at the aid stations for water or Gatorade. I grabbed some pretzels from a spectator but only ate a couple, too dry. I did have a slug of beer but it didn’t taste near as good as the beer at TCM last year! I thought about stopping at one of the biofreeze stations but my pain was in my glutes and I couldn’t figure out how I would get biofreeze on my butt!

I had six gels with me but could only stomach 5. I don’t eat nearly as many gels as you’re supposed to. I just couldn’t tolerate Maurten Gels, which is what a lot of the elites use, although I tried. It makes me poop. Accel Gels are pretty easy on my stomach as long as I take them slowly. I wonder how much I would improve if I could get my nutrition straightened out?

Around mile 18 I was like, I’ve got this, speed up a little. I was excited and emotional. Normally mile 18 would be way too early for me to feel confident that I had a good race on my hands but somehow this time I just knew it was going to be my day. I started thinking “I only have a 10 mile tempo run to go! Now its only a 10k! Only a 5k!” Each time I reached one of those milestones I turned up the gas a little bit more.

With a half a mile to go the race turns right and you hit the only real hill in the entire marathon, the so-called Mount Roosevelt. I said out loud “this is it” and someone next to me said “yes it is” and we were off, charging up that fucking hill! I ran almost all of it and then streamed down to the finish line.  I did it. 5:14:43, a 10 minute pr. My God. 

Suddenly I was in a lot of pain, and in something of a daze. Lee and Paula are texting me excitedly, both amazed and overjoyed at what I had just done. They knew what a big deal it was. I had spent 8 years of marathon running just trying to break 5:30 and now in the past two years I’ve cut 15 minutes off that time. 

Moving slowly, I get my medal, a heat blanket, some food. I wander through the place where you can get your picture taken with your medal, not even registering what it is, darn it! But fortunately a photographer snaps a picture of my smiling face.  I’m so happy I can’t believe it, can’t quite take it all in. 

After I grab my gear bag and throw on my sweatshirt I find Lee and we walk very slowly back to the hotel. I take a very hot shower, read the congratulations on Facebook, and rest until its time to go to dinner. We go back to Chocon Volant, right downstairs and I eat eat eat. Meat! Fries! Dessert! Lee tells me that the best part of the entire weekend for him was seeing my time when I crossed the finish line. Sadly Lee has a business trip to do so he has rented a car and has to leave that night for Indiana. I have to walk the dogs in the morning and then drive home to Minnesota by myself, but that’s ok. The walk is good for me and I stop 3 times on drive home to walk, stretch, and eat a quarter pounder at McDonalds, lol.

No running for me for a couple of weeks but I'm already thinking about which marathon I’m going to run next year. I’m thinking about running San Francisco. Its very hilly, of course, so we’ll see how I do, but I think it will be a fun challenge. I will have to seek out hills this year in my training instead of avoiding them.

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