My Chicago Marathon Experience

It’s the Chicago Marathon race morning! I was in bed at 9pm but was awakened by a dream around 1:30am and was in and out of sleep until 5am. It is true that no matter what, the day before a race you don’t get enough sleep!

The hotel we stayed in, Sofitel at Magnificent Mile had an awesome complimentary buffet of ‘runner’s food’ available. I packed my usual breakfast of toast, PB and banana but didn’t even need it since they had all of it there plus coffee 😊

I’ve checked the weather days before but it’s changed several times already. What I didn’t expect was clear, crisp weather early morning. Glad I brought a long sleeve shirt to cover up! But by midday it was supposed to warm up to the high 60s. Not too bad, I thought.

Here I am waiting for the train to take me to the start line at Grant Park. It was already crowded and I missed the first train because it was full.   I wasn’t worried since I had plenty of time.  A shuttle was available from the hotel but for an additional $15! We purchased a Ventra card good for the weekend so I took advantage of it. The girls really loved the train rides!

Butterflies in my belly

I am nervous as heck! This is the shortest training period (12 weeks) I’ve done for a marathon. With only one 20miler two weeks ago and a peak mileage of less than 40 miles!  So I tried to convince myself that I’m doing another training run with an additional 10K tacked on to it. As far as goals, I just wanted to cross the finish line but in the back of my

As far as goals, I just wanted to cross the finish line but in the back of my mind I also wanted to run a sub-4. Based on the pace of several training runs, I thought it was achievable but I really didn’t want to focus on a time goal. I want my run to be dictated by feel, not by time. I decided to wear my heart rate monitor although I haven’t worn it at all during my training. So instead of focusing on pace, I can gauge how I was doing by heart rate.

Due to recent events in Vegas, I couldn’t help but feel a bit paranoid standing in a crowded line to enter the security checkpoint. I actually looked at the buildings adjacent to the park. Rest assured though, the police have already done a sweep and they had eyes on every window of those buildings.

Walking to the gear drop-off area

Before Race Start

I was through the checkpoint in less than 5 minutes and first order of business was to stand at the porta potty line. Compared to the other Marathon Majors in the US (ran Boston in 2009 and NYC in 2014), Chicago start line was the easiest and quickest to access. Our hotel was a two block walk to the station and only a few stops away from Grant Park. It didn’t feel congested to me at all. There were assigned gates for the different corrals so the checkpoints went very smoothly.

As I headed to the gear drop-off area, I unexpectedly saw a fellow San Diego runner, Mai who I met at Movin Shoes group runs. Of the 40,000+ participants, what were the chances of us seeing each other and being in the same corral?! We decided to line up early and tried to stay as warm as possible tucked in the crowd. And after 10min of standing in the corral, I was ready to take off my old long sleeve cover up.

Hanging out in our corral

Mai noticed this 26.2 image on one of the buildings! I wonder who orchestrated the window blinds to create the image and how long it took them to do it.

The start time was at 8am for Wave 2.  I couldn’t even see the start line from Corral G. Slowly we inched our way towards it which took around 17 minutes. Mai and I exchanged ‘Goodluck and Have Fun’ and we were off!

First 10K

Minutes before crossing the start line, I quickly posted on Facebook that I was carrying my phone and asked my friends to send me motivational texts. It was probably one of the best things I did as I had a flow of messages coming in with every mile. I told myself to enjoy the city, the spectators and the runners surrounding me.

The first mile clocked in at 9:27/mi. I looked at my watch after I spotted the 1-mile marker. My heart rate was in the comfortable low 150s and I felt good. I sorta expected to see my family around mile 4 because it was the closest route to where we were staying in the Magnificent Mile. The streets were crowded with spectators and I forgot to tell my husband which side of the street to be on. I stayed on the right-hand side just in case but unfortunately, I didn’t see them.

The follow-on miles, I picked up my pace a little and hovered in the high 150s heart rate. I also checked my watch at the mile marker and noticed the distance on my watch was off a quarter mile, then close to a half mile during the latter miles. This is when I realize I may have started in the wrong corral because I couldn’t get into the right groove of a steady pace. It felt as if I slowed down frequently and had to pass many people at every mile. But then I thought it might be a good thing I was being slowed down so I’d have energy left when I approach the final 10K.

Crossing Clark St bridge – I love the red carpet placed on the grates. It made it a lot easier to run on it!

Water on my Head

I was impressed at the availability of aid stations! Originally I planned to wear my hydration backpack but since I didn’t have room for it in my luggage, I decided to leave it home. I figured if it was a warm day, it would help me if I walked through every water stop. It’s exactly what I did! I alternated between Gatorade and water but made sure to pour water on my head at every stop. I think it’s what made me stay comfortable throughout the entire run even when it got warm at the end.

Approaching the halfway point

At 11 miles, I set my eyes on the sidewalks again because this was another spot I expected my family to show up. Totally didn’t communicate clearly the spectator plan so I had no idea where my family would be.

I also looked at the marquee to see if the messages my daughter’s typed in would show up as I ran past it. Nope! Too many people running by for the messages to appear that quickly.

At 13.1mi, my watch was at 1:59! I am on a good pace to finish a sub-4, I said to myself. But I knew the next half, I’d have to work harder.

Philippians 4:13

“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” When the going gets tough, turn inward to your spirit and God to give you strength along the way. Raised as a Catholic, I always believed in the power of prayer. I stopped attending Catholic mass years ago but this past May, my daughter led us to discover a church that focuses on the teachings of the Scripture. It struck a chord within me and I knew this was the right church for our family.

So the second half of the race, I repeated the verse “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me”. As the temps soared, my heart rate also climbed to the mid 160s.

Even after the halfway point, the course was still crowded. I started to observe many people slowing down so I was again dodging runners left and right.

Mile 20

After passing what seemed to be the craziest and loudest mile of all, at mile 19, I knew I really had to let my mind take control through prayer and positive affirmations. I calculated in my head that a 9min pace would put me at 3hrs on the 20mi mark. I crossed it two minutes under. Still on track for a sub-4 finish with plenty of time to spare.

At this point, my breathing was steady, heart rate hovering around 170s and with a slight ache in my left lower back with sore quads.

I thought about the elites – Meb was the first to come to mind. How the last miles of a marathon is when the body starts to hurt and this is when you either allow the pain defeat you or you rise above it by completely accepting it and knowing this is part of being a marathoner. So I acknowledged the pain and continued to run the pace I knew I could handle.

The Final 10K

You know when everything seems to become a blur during the final miles of the race? That’s what it was for me but I did remember two things. Heading into Chinatown and thinking about how my husband would probably like to check it out. (Little did I know my family was standing near the Chinatown arch cheering for me! It was loud – all I could hear was unrecognizable noise in my ears)

One of my good friends sent me text updates of my time as I passed the significant mile markers. At 40K, she sent me an update I crossed it at 3:43:14.

Aaaah – only another 2K to go!  I can totally make it under 4 hours!! My family was at mile 25 and once again I had no clue. They had a hard time seeing me as well because I was in the middle of a ton of runners.

With only a mile to go, I started to get emotional. Tears welled up in my eyes. I was so happy to run another good race despite my injury and the shortage of miles going into the race. I firmly believe much of my performance was because I allowed my mind and spirit to be in control.

At the 800m mark, I saw the runners ahead of me climbing. What? A hill?! It wasn’t much of a hill but I had enough power in my arms to pump my body through it.

Around the corner and the Finish Line was in sight. 6th Marathon in the books!!!  Official finish time:  3:54:27


Always a joyous moment to cross the finish line. It’s an indescribable, unmatched feeling you have after accomplishing such a big feat. Marathons are challenging. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the first or last to finish. You learn so much about yourself in the hours you spend pounding on that road. And the payoff, in the end, is infinitely rewarding!

Thank you Chicago for a wonderfully orchestrated race!!!