"What is your favorite marathon?" It's a common question I get from fellow runners. My answer is simple. "Chicago."
I have run Chicago twice, but 2009 was my most recent outing. So, in my mind, I was well overdue to return and run in this historic race. Why do I love this marathon so much?...The course is amazing. The volunteers are great. The organization for this massive event is top notch. The residents of Chicago adore this race and come out in large numbers every year to watch and cheer on total strangers. I could go on, but I think you get my point.
After I signed up for Chicago, my goal was clear. I wanted to PR. I was hoping to shave a few minutes off my current PR and break into the sub 3:45 category. My training was going well until I noticed some tightness in my right calf and hamstring in the month leading up to the marathon. No matter what I did, it always seemed to hang around. On some training runs it was very noticeable. On others, it didn't bother me at all.
The week leading up to the marathon, my entire right leg felt like one big knot. The confidence I once had about running a PR was quickly being squashed. The day before the race, it felt like there was a cloud of doubt hanging over me. I felt like I was already one step behind and the race hadn't even started. Long story short, my mental preparation was shit.
The night before the race, I spoke to my girlfriend. She provided me with some much needed (and much appreciated) words of encouragement. She helped calm my nerves and made me feel like all was not lost. After speaking with her, I felt much better and for the first time since the beginning of the week, I felt confident again.
I arrived downtown on race morning with plenty of time to check my bag and get to my corral. As soon as I walked into my corral, I bumped into a friend from my running club. It was great to see him and we chatted until the race started. We were running different paces so we wished each other well at the start and went our separate ways.
I started off at an 8:45 min/mile pace. The first few miles brought me through the heart of downtown Chicago. The cheers from the spectators echoed off the walls of the towering skyscrapers. It was electric!
My goal for the first half of the race was to slowly work my way to an 8:30 pace by the halfway point. My right leg felt fine, but I was continuously monitoring how it felt as well as the rest of my body. Honestly, that's what I do during each marathon. At the end of each mile I assess how I feel..."Okay, pace is good. Maintain this for another mile and then drop it down by 5 seconds. My leg is a little tight. Pay attention to that during the next mile and see if it feels better/worse."
I reached the half marathon mark in 1:55 and I was feeling very strong and fresh. My right leg was an afterthought now. The first half was my warm up and it was now time to start attacking my PR. Going after a PR is always a very exhilarating and slightly scary feeling. You are asking your body to go to a place it's never been before and you can only hope it holds on.
I had dropped my pace down to 8:25 by mile 14. Mile 17, I was running 8:20s. I maintained that pace for the next five miles. I was still feeling good and wanted to go faster, but I knew I needed to save myself for the last few miles. Then, out of the blue at mile 22, I started to get a wicked side stitch. I don't get them often and it really caught me off guard.
At this point, I was on target to PR. I wanted to start walking to help rid the stitch, but I knew doing so might kill any chance I had to PR. So, I kept running and hoped (and prayed to the running gods) that it would go away. As I continued towards mile 23, the pain got less and less, until it went away completely. It was a huge relief.
By the time I hit Michigan Ave at mile 24, I was feeling really good again. When I got to mile 25, I checked my watch and saw that I had 9 minutes to run the last 1.2 miles if I wanted to go sub 3:45. Underlying my goal to PR was my goal to run a sub 3:45. I knew it was going to be close and I would have to push as hard as I could to make it in time. I ran mile 26 in 7:54. But, as I neared the finish line, I could see that it wasn't going to be enough to break 3:45. I crossed the line in 3:45:27, breaking my current PR by over 2 minutes, but just missing out on 3:45.
Crazy to think that after running for 26 miles, if I would have run more or less 1 second faster each mile, I would have gone sub 3:45. Oh well, that's marathon running for ya. Overall, I was very happy with my race performance. I ran a very smooth and consistent race with a 5:30 negative split. To come to Chicago and PR in my favorite race was also a nice feeling.
If you want to run a marathon, run New York. If you want to experience a marathon, run Chicago.