I was exhausted, mentally there was no way I was giving up, but I was suffering and my head was down. I happened to glance up and saw a person dressed as a T-Rex dancing away with a sign that said ‘Run like a T-Rex is chasing you’, I certainly couldn’t run that fast at that moment but it made me smile and lifted my spirits for the next few minutes. I even managed to give the T-Rex a double thumbs up.
The Chicago Marathon was the sixth and final race in the Abbott World Marathon Majors, and at the end of this race I would get my Six Star medal, assuming I finished – I wasn’t counting my chickens just yet.
My partner-in-crime, Abi, and I flew into Chicago on Thursday lunchtime and it was mid-afternoon when we got to the Swissotel where we would be staying until Monday. We did FaceTime’s with various family members, had a quick change and then headed out along the lakeside path for a run and to scope out the start and finish area. It was after this run we realised that our Garmin’s were going to have us running in all kinds of unexpected places while we were in Chicago due to the tracking issues caused by high buildings.
We found a nice little Italian restaurant off North Michigan Avenue for some team where we both had salad and a gin and tonic. We got a bonus starter when the people on the next table to us very kindly gave us their bread (bing – freebie #1). And that was basically it. Having been up since 4:30 am UK time, it was now nearly 8 pm Chicago time, so we headed for bed.
Friday was a bit more like marathon prep, we met our friends for breakfast and then got the bus to the expo. We picked up our 5k numbers first – sharing out the additional numbers we needed to collect for other friends who were arriving too late in Chicago to get theirs – and then picked up the marathon numbers.
I’m never sure about expos. Part of me wants to delight in all the shiny new stuff, flashy kit and giveaways, but the crowds of people, endless queuing and people walking in random directions according to some kind of chaos theory also makes me want to get out of there as soon as possible.
We split up after getting our numbers and t-shirts, and I headed straight for the Nike stand for some Chicago Marathon branded kit. I have to say it was really disappointing. Aside from the fact that the options all seemed to be a loose fit and therefore felt way too big on me, by 11:40 am on the first day of the expo they had sold out of all the XS sized clothing that I was interested in. Perhaps other people were sizing down because of the fit, or perhaps Nike just didn’t think about the quantities of each size they were ordering. There was obviously an issue because at both the Nike stores on Michigan Drive and in Buckland there were no ladies XS clothing either.
Our group met up by Starbucks but as we had different plans I left the rest of the group to it and went back into the expo to wait for the Abbott panel discussion on Chicago and the World Marathon Majors. As I aimlessly wandered around I picked up some more freebies – keyrings for the girls and I, a reusable water bottle and various samples of things like food and sunscreen (freebies #2 through to about #8), and finally a coffee in Starbucks when they had made an extra americano somehow (freebie #9).
The Abbott panel discussion on Chicago and the World Marathon Majors was interesting with people from other majors, and people who had completed the challenge answer questions from the chairperson. After the discussion, they got everyone who was going to get their 6th star on the stage for a photo, and then they gave us a gift of some running socks with all the marathon majors on them (freebie #10).
I then had to make my way to the Nike store to meet up with the rest of the gang, so I jumped on the Nike bus which dropped us off right outside the store. It might have been cold but I opted to go up top on the open-topped bus where I sat next to a lady called Donna. We chatted about our marathon experiences and laughed about how ridiculous it was that we were sitting on an open-topped bus in freezing, windy weather. In the Nike store we were treated to our next freebie, a Chicago Marathon tote bag (freebie #11) which is perfect as a gym/lunchtime workout bag.
And that is all the interesting stuff for the day, I met up with the gang before heading back to the hotel and then later we went for tea. After all, we had the International 5k to attend early the next morning. And when I say early, I mean early, the race started at 7:30am! We’re more used to 9am starts.
Race day dawned and it was lovely. The rest of the gang were avoiding bag drop so I headed down to the start early be myself. If I’m being honest I find these moments of solitude really refreshing, I struggle with being with a crowd on holiday so being by myself for a couple of hours before the race was perfect.
I bumped into Julie in our pen just before the race started so we started together. She’s faster than me so I let her go, and settled into my own pace. Training and marathon pace tests had convinced me that around 3:41/3:42 for the marathon was realistic, it could even be 3:39 on a really good day. My pacing strategy was to run 8:30 pace for the first few miles and see how I got on. I knew the underpass in the first mile would screw up any pacing on the Garmin so I settled into a pace and didn’t worry about it. I passed the first mile in 8:30, bang on target, but it wasn’t to last.
I’ll let my Instagram post tell the story…
For me, the main thing was not giving up on myself. I raced the whole thing rather than give up and jog it in. This was important to me because the last two marathons had been the really hot London 2018 marathon where I had ran with Julie, and the 2018 Bournemouth marathon where life stress had just got in the way so I ran it for fun and only picked it up in the last five miles. I didn’t want ‘not racing’ to become a habit which is why I slogged my guts out the entire way round.
I was so happy when I crossed the finish line, but I had hit the wall for the first time ever in a marathon. I was so wobbly when I crossed the finish line that a volunteer hooked my arm over their shoulders and partly walked me, partly carried me to where there was food, and then made sure I was actually eating and drinking something before leaving me.
Starting to feel slightly better I collected my foil blanket and Chicago marathon medal. It was only when I got that medal around my neck that I felt that I had done it. I’d completed the Abbott World Marathon Majors. It was now time to get my six-star medal.
After getting the medal, I meandered down the finish area, where someone handed me a plastic cup of something alcoholic and fizzy, like prosecco. I don’t think that was part of the official free post-run alcoholic beverage thing Chicago had going on. I’ve now well and truly lost count of the freebies if you insist on including those I acquired at the aid stations from volunteers.
I remember sitting down and propping myself up against a fence to FaceTime the family back in the UK with a beer in my hand.
Overall the experience of the Chicago marathon was awesome, the crowd support was good and the volunteers were amazing. The only thing that slightly narked me were the spectators weaving across the road during the race, I and several other runners had to come to an abrupt halt at one point when three people wheeling bikes across the course got in our way around the nine-mile mark – apologies for my language at that point but there was an awful lot more going on in my head than just spectators on the course.
And that’s it, I’m done. I’m now looking forward to marathons where I can choose which ones I want to do, and that are in school holidays so I can bring the family along with me.
Thanks to everyone who’s been part of the journey, especially Kev and girls for putting up with me being away. Here’s to the next challenge/daft idea!