« Back from Chicago | Main | Hiatus / What's Next »

Race Report: 2006 Chicago Marathon

I wrote this the week following the race.

37F pre-race with 15-25mph wind resulting in wind chills in the 20's

I've had a real hard time coming up with a real race report for Chicago because the race was such a blur for me. Left right repeat sums up a large part of the race. But if y'all will indulge me, I want to try and write something up before it really does all blur together.

Like a lot of marathon stories, mine starts well before the actual race. 2006 has been a good year for me. I decided to run Chicago and go for my BQ; I started following Pfitzinger's 55 mpw/18 week schedule in June, based partly on Jonguy's recommendation 2 years ago. Race season starts here in April with a 20K and I was really surprised when I PR'd by close to 90 seconds (1:36:12). My PR streak continued - mile (6:19), 3 mile (20:22) and 5 mile (35:30) races about 25 minutes apart, 4 miles (27:37; beating my high school PR by 59 seconds), and 5K (20:42, taking 1 second off of the one high school PR I thought untouchable). I'd been thinking about 3:30-3:35 for my marathon goal, but after running a half-marathon in August in 1:36:12 (I laughed for awhile when I saw that) I started to think I was aiming too low. 10Ks two weeks apart in 43:29 and 43:27 gave me confidence that I could run in the 3:20s and I settled on 7:45/mi (about 3:23, but 3:25 would be good).

Then disaster struck. Running that last 10K, I aggravated something and started having a horrible, sharp stabbing pain in my left glute. I took a few days off, but it returned after a 5 mile run. So I didn't run for a few more days and went to see the Mayo sports medicine and PT people. They gave me some stretches, exercises and shoe inserts. I was able to run pain-free that week, and got in my last 20 before tapering. Although my confidence was definitely shaken by the interruption, I decided to still stick with my 7:45/mi plan.

Onto Chicago! My parents live in Gurnee (far north suburb - about halfway between Milwaukee and Chicago on 94), so the Engineer and I drove in on Thursday night after work. We met Dan, Marty, Greg and Tommy at Fast Track on Friday and then tagged along with Dan and Marty to the expo. Funny thing: one of the very first people I saw at the expo was from my track club! I was a little underwhelmed by the expo, and didn't find many things I wanted to buy. Somehow we still managed to spend 2 hours there, and left with a couple bags of shirts. On the way back to my parents, we stopped at Giordano's for real Chicago pizza. (You just can't get good pizza in this part of Minnesota).

Chicago Mural Chicago Mural
The LaSalle Bank mural

Expo Loot
My expo loot

Saturday, we ran a few errands - getting bagels for me, trying to find Bears merchandise, a jacket and bag for the Engineer. (We have to take advantage of our limited opportunities to buy Bears/Illini stuff since - big surprise - they don't sell a lot of that in MN). After eating my big pasta meal for the day, we headed downtown. I'd booked a room at the Congress, and after we checked in I decided to walk down the start just so I'd know how long it would take. I also wanted to see exactly where my corral was. Being downtown and at the start line was exciting. I went to bed early, but didn't sleep very well.

Congress Plaza Hotel></a>          <a href=Open Start Area
The Congress, Open Start

Gear Check
Gear Check, Grant Park

Preferred II Start Start Area
Preferred II Start entrance sign, start area

My stickers. Name went on front, Ugly Toes on the back. I thought there might be a small chance another blogger would see it

Race day! I woke up at 5 for my traditional pre-race bowl of oatmeal. I had decided the night before that I was going to go and check my bag early; since I was going to be up so early anyway it would kill some time and it would give me a chance to check out the weather. I walked down to gear check at 5:20 in a sweatshirt and sweatpants and felt so comfortable that I decided I'd wear shorts and a short sleeve shirt for the race. When I got back to the hotel and saw the weather reports with gusts up to 30 MPH, I decided to wear my long sleeve shirt, too.

We ended up getting off the elevator about the same time as Marty, Dan and Tommy were walking down the hall so we followed them to meet the group for Pappy's ceremony. After that, it was off to the starting area. I stopped a few times on my way to the corral to fix my shoelaces, before deciding they were the right tightness. I was starting to get nervous/anxious. I showed my bib to get into Pref II, and kind of skipped my way down to the front since there weren't a lot of people there yet. I probably wasted some energy while waiting, as I did a lot of jumping to stay warm (and work out nerves). I'd carried in a water bottle with a gel and at about 20 minutes to go, I ate half of the gel as per my usual long run routine. Then the corral people started telling us to walk calmly when they moved the barricades because if we rushed, everyone would and they'd get trampled. We slowly walked up to meet Pref I, and then I weaved my way through and settled about halfway between the 3:20 and 3:30 pace groups. A girl turned to me and asked "why are we doing this again" and I replied "because it's going to be fun?"

Preferred II Start. I was 1-2 people back from the front.

All of a sudden a horn blasted and people started to move. It took me about 1:30 to get across the line, and it was a little congested until that point. "Right Now" was playing on the PA, and I'm sad that I missed "Born to Run" because that's a better starting song (to me). Once past the line, I was able to get out pretty well. I was way too excited, though, and had to force myself to calm down. I was surprised at my first mile split (7:59) because I'd expected it to be faster with the excitement.

The next couple of miles just ticked by very consistently about 7:37-8. I wondered for a bit if I shouldn't have tried to run with the 3:20 group. Around mile 7, a guy running next to me asked how things were going. I said things were good, that I couldn't believe almost an hour had gone by!

I amused myself by noting that I crossed 15K at 1:11:50 and 20K at 1:36:10; my PRs for those distances are 1:11:24 and 1:36:12, a little soft obviously. I had slowed a little, but wasn't concerned since I was running close to the 7:45s I'd planned. My feet were starting to hurt, especially running over the bridges.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Around halfway

I crossed the halfway point at 1:41:29, exactly on target for 3:23. Then ... I don't know. Mile 15 happened. The wind seemed to pick up here, and there were not only no spectators, but people were really spread out. I tried to find someone to "draft" off of, but it didn't help. (I never really had a problem with crowding, I think I could've spent most of the race swinging my arms around without hitting people). Things just started getting ugly, as my legs tightened up pretty badly and I started really slowing.

I think mile 20 is where I first stopped to try and stretch. It didn't help, though. I hit 20 miles at 2:39 and realized I HAD to run that last 10K in less than an hour or I wouldn't get my BQ. I had said months ago that if I left Chicago without my BQ (or I ended up crying in the medical tent like my last 2) that was IT - no more marathons.

I had been feeling kind of "icky" stomach-wise before my 15-mile gel, and I really didn't want my 20-mile gel. (I do gels every 5 miles). Most of the aid stations had been shortly after the mile marks, but it seemed like I was running forever with my gel in hand after 20.

The last 10K is really confusing to me, because I don't remember what happened where. I think I stopped again in mile 21 to stretch, and it still didn't help. I think that's also when I got passed 3 TIMES by the 3:30 group. (By that 3rd time, I was like, "ok, I get it! I'm not going to hit my 3:30 B goal").

At some point I started walking through the water stops. I think now that I just kind of gave up; I was worried at the time about butting up against 3:40 and getting frustrated about the slowdown, but I think I knew I'd still come in under it and didn't want to exert any additional effort that could cause additional injury. Having just had an injury, I was worried about the possibility of things getting worse and maybe that made me more cautious. Or maybe I'm making excuses.

I thought the "Final 5" was supposed to feature live music and stuff, but I don't remember much of that. I just remember seeing those stupid signs and being mad for not being able to move faster. But I kept looking at my watch and thinking "only xx" more minutes of running, and that got me through.

Putting my name on my shirt was fun, even though the majority of people did pronounce it wrong. But I knew they were cheering for me. I was surprised by the number of water station volunteers that encouraged me by name, and really appreciated that. I only got a few comments from people about "ugly toes," mostly amusing. "Is that what your husband calls you?" "Oh no, you can't run with ugly toes."

One of the most beautiful things I saw during the race was the mile 25 sign, which I hit at 3:25. At that point, I knew I was going to get my BQ. I'm pretty sure I skipped the water station, and tried to move a little faster since I was finally almost done.

Awhile back I started doing some "visualization" while running up hills on training runs. I practiced running strongly up the hill while thinking about coming up that hill right before the finish (sometimes imagining that I was chasing down 3:40). When I hit the hill right before the 26 mile mark, I FLEW up it. (Awesome).

The best thing I saw all day was the finish line clock with 3:3x on it. I had to work hard to run in hard while fighting off the urge to cry. I crossed at 3:36:10, 13 minutes off my original goal but getting my long awaited BQ. As I stood in line for my space blanket, I hyperventilated trying not to cry (I didn't want an ugly, red-eyed, snotty finisher picture). A few tears did leak out, though.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

It's so easy to second guess your effort, especially the longer you think about it. But while getting my chip removed, my entire leg started shaking/spasming. I found it really hard to wait in line for my picture, and had to sit down. I briefly scanned the food area, but everything looked terrible to me, so I just grabbed a banana. Walking over to gear check was hard, and I found it awesome to just sit there for awhile. It also gave me time to calm down; I know if I'd seen the Engineer right then I would have just bawled. I dug out my cell phone and updated my blog after cleaning up a little. (Smart decision: pack face wipes in the gear check bag to get rid of salt). I got rid of my damp shirts and put on dry clothes and chatted with a guy next to me.

I called the Engineer and changed our rendezvous place to the massage tent line. I've never done the post-race massage thing because the lines are usually too long, but my legs hurt so bad. While waiting, I saw 2 girls from the track club; they'd run 3:25 and 3:26. The massage was awesome, and I was able to walk back to the Congress a little less painfully. By the time I'd showered, I felt much better.

Some lessons learned:
1) Vanity and pride have no place in a marathon. With that wind, I should've worn my tights. And I know better, because this was in my wrap-up from Chicago '02:
"But it was a good learning experience- if it's ever cold like that again, I'll make sure to pack my tights and wear them. I think having my legs wrapped would've helped."
And I didn't even get any official pictures where you can see my legs!
2) Trust your training. On almost every long run I did, I started slow and picked it up. I'm beginning to think it's not a coincidence that the best feeling marathon I've had is the one in which I started out slower than my goal. I think it might be time to forget "go big or go home" and leave that for 1/2s and under.
3) Buy throwaway or tearaway pants for the start if wearing shorts.
4) It really is time to investigate nutrition, as I'm not sure that gel every 5 miles is enough. My stomach just felt off the last half. I didn't even want to eat after the race (I only had 2 bananas and a few hershey kisses until we went to dinner around 5). Maybe I do need sports drinks (I only drank water except for one station at the end).

Mile splits:
1 | 7:59
2 | 7:38 | 15:37
3 | 7:37 | 23:14
4 | 7:37 | 30:52
5 | 7:38 | 38:30
6 | 7:54 | 46:25
7 | 7:34 | 53:59
8 | 7:43 | 1:01:43
9 | 7:43 | 1:09:26
10 | 7:41 | 1:17:08
11 | 7:43 | 1:24:51
12 | 7:55 | 1:32:47
13 | 7:54 | 1:40:42 (13.1 miles 1:41:29)
14 | 7:45 | 1:48:28
15 | 8:03 | 1:56:31
16 | 8:05 | 2:04:37
17 | 8:12 | 2:12:50
18 | 8:20 | 2:21:10
19 | 8:56 | 2:30:07
20 | 9:07 | 2:39:14
21 | 9:07 | 2:48:22
22 | 8:43 | 2:57:05
23 | 9:11 | 3:06:16
24 | 9:39 | 3:15:55
25 | 9:47 | 3:25:43
26 | 8:57 | 3:34:40
.2 | 1:29 (7:25/mi)
26.2 miles | 3:36:10 | 8:15/mi.

total time avg. pace 5K split 5K pace
0:23:59 7:43 23:59 7:43
0:48:03 7:45 24:04 7:44
1:11:50 7:42 23:47 7:39
1:36:10 7:45 24:20 7:49
2:00:47 7:48 24:37 7:55
2:26:46 7:53 25:59 8:21
2:54:50 8:03 28:04 9:01
3:24:19 08:14 29:29 9:29


I LOVED buying the $7 throwaway shirt at Phoenix. WHAT a lifesaver! I wish I could click on your pictures and see them up close. My eyes are SO bad.

You know the marathon well enough to know that so much can go wrong. It seems to me that, despite how icky miles 20+ were (and they always are), this race went fairly well.

Congrats on being well prepared, and on running an outstanding race. Good luck in Boston, whenever you get there.

Congrats on the BQ and the tough finish. You look so happy in your finishers photo!

Very well run race! Congrats on Boston! My brother will be there too, he qualed at Huntington on the 5th of Nov. You didn't mention the glute pain during the race, did it flare up? Again, Well Done! Run Good!