Monday, October 16, 2017

Chicago Marathon Race Recap

Two weekends ago was the Chicago Marathon. It was the race I had been training for since April when I brought on a running coach. I had a few other races in the meantime, but the ultimate goal of this training cycle was an attempt for a big PR {personal record} and BQ {Boston Qualifying marathon time} in Chicago.


If you missed it, I laid out my goals in a prior post. Make sure to read them before continuing with the recap HERE.


I flew into Chicago Friday evening (my flight was delayed and I didn't end up getting into O'Hare until about 10:30pm) and grabbed a Lyft to my friends' house. They were kind enough to open their home (and spare bedroom) to me for the weekend. I am forever grateful because not only was it super comfortable and convenient, but it saved me probably upwards of $900 because hotel prices jump DRASTICALLY when a large race rolls into town. #RunnerProbs

San Diego is pretty awesome... This is the view I had out the plane window when we were leaving.
You can see Point Loma, the kelp in the Pacific Ocean, the naval base, etc. 

Saturday morning was the #WeRunSocial meet-up. It was a little chaotic because we decided The Bean was a centralized location for most folks, but it seemed like everyone and their mama were hanging out in Millennium Park. Thankfully I was still able to chat it up with old and new friends, snap some pictures and have a grand ol' time.

We had quite the turn out but it was difficult to chat with everyone because you didn't know who was who... Maybe we need nametags ;)

Then it was time to go grab my race bib and packet. There were free shuttles located around town to get you to and from the Abbott Health & Fitness Expo, so I jumped on one near the meet-up and made my way to McCormick Place.

They had everything very well organized and I must have gone at a fairly slow time because I was able to walk up, give a volunteer my ticket (you are mailed a packet pick-up ticket on the back of the participant guide which is scanned throughout the Expo so you can be given the correct goodies), get sent to a "window" and immediately given my bib.

I walked through the Expo enough to grab my participant tee at the back of the venue (which was no larger than other major races I've been to), but other than that I was in and out. (Blame it on my frugal-ness or the fact that I know what works for me and am brand loyal, but I normally don't spend much time checking out booths while at race expos.)

I jumped on a shuttle that was "supposed" to be going to Niketown but unfortunately the bus driver got lost and it was quite the cluster. The bus ride included someone at the depot screaming directions over the intercom, a frustrated mom pleading for someone to help the bus driver and 75% of the runners on the bus getting off and taking a cab to where they wanted to go. Those who stayed joked that it was a tour of the city we didn't have to pay for and thanked the driver for showing us parts of Chicago that wouldn't be on the course. It's all just part of the adventure, right?!

Seems as though getting lost would be a theme of the weekend...

Once we finally got to the correct place I was able to catch another bus and meet up with friends. We went to a nearby low-key Italian restaurant for some yummy carb-loading (I had the Wild Mushroom Fettuccine for dinner - DELISH!) and then it was back to their place to get my goodies ready for the following morning. {Tip: If you don't want to be turned away at the door or have to wait till 10pm to eat I'd highly suggest making reservations for the night before the race.}

My #FlatCarlee included: yellow PRO socks, black Handful bra, Nathan handheld,
unicorn and rainbow Sparkle Athletic skirt, Graced by Grit delicious tank,
yellow Road ID, unicorn Sparkly Soul headband, PROBAR Bolt chewsblack
 silicone wedding bands, black and yellow Momentum Jewelry wraps,
my Garmin Forerunner 735XT, and Brooks Levitate with reflective Shwings.

I made sure my alarms were set (yup, I set multiple, especially after Elise texted me a link to this Runner's World article because she knew I was a freak about my alarms) and tried to get a little rest although I knew it'd be a lost cause.

As per usual, I was up way before my alarms started going off. I checked the weather and although the humidity was high, the rain on Saturday did seem to cool things down a bit. (But let's be real... if beggars could be choosers I would have phoned a friend and requested temps about 10* cooler and zero humidity.)

To get to the start of the race, I decided to grab a Lyft. A friend of the friends I was staying with jumped in with me (which I am very thankful for). We should have known we were in for a "treat" when the driver couldn't figure out how to drive up the driveway at the complex, but we brushed it off. I asked the driver if he had been driving runners already and he said he had (which I assumed meant he knew what he was doing and where he was going... but you know what assuming does!). When we got closed to Grant Park he got very flustered. Many of the roads were closed (DUH - there was a 26.2 mile race starting an hour and a half later) and he thought we could cut through the park... Thankfully Jason knew his way around the city and helped get the driver to drop us off somewhere near where we needed to be. {If I could make a suggestion to the Chicago Marathon, Uber, Lyft, etc - I would HIGHLY recommend having a location where runners can be dropped off (similar to an airport). I would suggest publicizing this address and making the drivers (spectators dropping off their runners, ride-share drivers, etc) aware of this so it can run smoothly and efficiently.}

With the Las Vegas shooting happening a few days prior to the race, I was expecting the security to be really beefed up, but I didn't notice anything outside the norm. That is NOT to say I felt unsafe or worried during any point, I just figured there would be an extra check point or two with the recent events. When we got to our suggested gate, there was an officer who used a wand medal detector and then waved us through to the bag checker (but since I didn't have anything with me I didn't have to stop). I'd say we probably had to wait about 5 minutes to get through the security line.

Once we got through security Jason went to gear check and I got in line at the port-o-potties. Although there were a plethora of bathrooms, the hoards of runners definitely made for a long wait. I think I waited for about 20+ minutes before I could jump in one to piddle (and I don't think I was in a slow line, it just seemed like the average wait time).

The starting corrals close approximately 10 minutes prior to the wave start (there were three waves), so I had to hustle to Corral C because I did not want to get sent to the back of the wave and have to do a ton of weaving to start the race.

Ready to get this party started!

As we were waiting, you'd see runners hoping over the fences to get into the corrals (and I'd say the fences were about 10 feet tall that they were climbing). Thankfully I made it in with no issue and found my way near the 3:25 pacers.

"Wait, 3:25, but Carlee, I thought your A Goal was Sub-3:30?" Yep, but like I said, my coach and I had some specifics that we were keeping quiet. Although my main goal was a PR (which would have been any time faster than 3:30:50), my coach and I had technically been training to get me closer to a 3:25. The difference between a 3:30 and a 3:25 finish time is the difference between 8:00/mile and 7:49/mile respectively. I had been training to try and get comfortable at a 7:45-7:50/mile, so if the stars aligned on race day I thought maybe I would have the chance to do it. #GoBigOrGoHome


PS I kept a message from @nycrunningmama in my inbox since LAST JUNE that said she thought I was capable of a 3:25. I would've NEVER thought it possible, but having others in my corner who believe in me make all the difference!

So my goal was to try and keep the 3:25 pacers in my sight. I know I have the tendency to start fast and I didn't want to risk blowing my chances on a strong race by rushing off the line (the adrenaline and excitement just get me raring to go and I have a hard time holding back until it's too late). I am a pretty terrible pacer, so I thought the less I had to do myself, the better. I figured I'd let the "professionals" do the work and I'd try to stick with them (rather than having to check my watch every quarter mile to see if I was going too fast or too slow and make a ton of mid-race adjustments). 

The Chicago Marathon was my first of the World Marathon Majors. I had always heard that the crowds were insane and they did not disappoint! When I needed the energy I would swing out to the edge and give out a ton of high fives and when I needed to zone out and get into the groove I pulled closer to the center of the road. Around mile 3.5 I heard someone scream my name and looked over to see Kelly Roberts yelling for me! (She told me she'd be around Mile 17 with oiselle so I wasn't expecting her that early in the race, but the boost was just what I needed.)

I kept chugging along with a smile on my face, trying to focus on gratitude and thanking God for the ability and opportunities He has blessed me with. No matter what the clock said at the end of the race, I was stoked to be out on the course doing something I loved. I didn't want to take a single step for granted.

Because I was sticking with the pacers I didn't do much looking at my watch. Every 4 or 5 miles I'd look at the pace band I printed off to see overall how I was doing, but I wasn't overly focused on my time. The less stress the better.

I knew Erica and a few of her friends would be at Mile 13 so I kept my eyes peeled. They started yelling when I got close and I was so happy to see them. Having random spectators cheering for you is amazing, but having people who know you, know your goals and are legit proud of you and pulling for you just makes your heart burst! 

Thankful that Erica was able to snap a couple quick photos of me while I ran by.

I was able to cross the half way mark at 1:42:30 (which is exactly on pace for a 3:25 finish). At this point I was still feeling strong and happy, but the temperatures were rising quickly and making their presence known. Thankfully when we were in the city the tall buildings were helping to offer some shade, but we could still tell it was getting warmer out. 

It's sort of funny that I'm the only one smiling in this picture, right?! I mean, we pay to do this!

Starting around Mile 14 I was dumping a cup of water on me at every aid station. At the beginning of the aid station I'd grab a cup to wet my buff or dump on my chest and then I'd grab a cup to drink. (PS Since people had asked, I do normally carry a handheld with me. Depending on the race, some races offer refiller's at their aid stations {folks who wait at the end of the water volunteers with jugs to refill your bottles}. Mostly I use the handheld as a way to carry my phone and fuel, but do drink from it in between aid stations depending on the weather as well as rely on course water.) (PPS As per usual, I fueled with PROBAR Bolt Chews {Pink Lemonade}. I took 4 chews at mile 6, mile 12, mile 18, mile 22 and 2 chews at mile 24. They worked like a charm and taste so stinkin' delicious. #FueledByPROBAR)

Like I mentioned, the crowd support was amazing! There were so many people and it seemed like they thought you were the most fantastic runner they'd ever seen. Some cheered for me as "yellow girl" (I guess that's what happens when you were all the bright colors). My favorite are always the kids, but the puppies are a close second. Had I not been pushing for a good time I would've taken the time to stop, pet and selfie with all the sweet dogs along the course.


I saw Kelly and the oiselle crew around Mile 17 and HAD to stop for a hug! I told her I was sorry I was so wet, but the majority of it was water. Her excitement for my strong race was just what I needed because I knew we were entering the difficult part of the race. (For any of you who have run a marathon before, I'm sure you can agree that anything over about Mile 18 requires quite a lot of grit and determination, especially after pushing so hard and for so long already.)

Shortly after we passed Mile 20 I saw a school that had a sign on it that was showing the temperatures. It was already reading 76* and we still had a 10K to go... I knew I had to dig deep if I wanted to keep my pace on target. #IsntItFall?!

I knew Erica and her friends would be near Mile 25 and my friend Greg would be somewhere after 25.2, so I kept my head down and gave it my best. Every time I saw a Citgo gas station on the course (I think I saw two in the second half) I'd tell myself that if I kept pushing, hopefully one day I'd be seeing the famed Citgo sign on the streets of Boston

One of the pictures Erica grabbed of me around Mile 25.

When we got closer to the end I knew my goal of a new PR was in the bag (granted, something catastrophic could've happened, but I was doing math in my head and figured that even if I had to walk some of the last mile or two I'd be able to hit a sub-3:30). I did my best to leave everything I had on the course. It was hot and hard, but I didn't want to finish and think "if only I had gone faster there or given it more then". I truly believe that's what I was able to accomplish.

I think if I had anything negative to say about the Chicago Marathon it would be in the final quarter mile or so of the race. First off, who puts a hill (even if it is just an overpass) that late in a race?! I mean, that's just plain rude! Second, after the Boston Marathon bombing, the Chicago Marathon changed up their finish line. Now, spectators are required to have a wristband to watch the finish line. This cuts down on the crowds drastically. I felt like we went from having spectators screaming for 26 miles to a lackluster and near silent finish line. Don't get me wrong, I know safety is priority number one and I wouldn't have it any other way, but I was a little bummed when I made it to the finish line area. Oh yeah, and I'd probably order less bees... For some reason I felt like they were swarming us for the majority of the race!

One of my friends, Stephanie (@runtrimom), was handing out medals at the finish line, so I knew as soon as I crossed I had to find her. When I did she let out a little yell because she had been tracking me all morning and knew I hit my goal! 

Getting your bling from a friend makes it that much sweeter!

After grabbing my goodies I called the hubby and let him know I DID IT! Even though it was two hours earlier in San Diego, he said he had been watching for me on the live feed and was so proud of me! I tell you, running may be an individual sport, but everyone around you puts up with a whole heck-of-a-lot during your training. To have my hubby support me through it all has been AMAZEBALLS! Then I quickly called my parents who hooted and hollered for me!

The tall buildings must have made my Garmin go funky a couple times because I know for sure I wasn't running a 7 minute
 mile for Mile 4 or a SUB-7 mile for Mile 13... but it gives you an idea of overall paces for the race.

I knew I had started my watch a few seconds before crossing the starting line, so I wasn't sure what my official time was, but my watch had me at 3:25:10, which was good enough for a FIVE MINUTE AND FORTY SECOND PR! 

I realize I'm not amazing at running tangents, but I believe the tall buildings interfering with my GPS had something
to do with the extra half mile that showed up on my Garmin. 

My official time had me at 3:25:02, which added eight more seconds to that PR - WHOOOO HOOOO! (And a BQ {Boston Qualifying time} with nine minutes and fifty-eight seconds of buffer for the 2019 Boston Marathon!)

Thanks to the pacers I was able to stay fairly consistent throughout the majority of the race!

With 44,262 finishers, I am STOKED to have
placed in the top 8% (and top 2.5% of women)!

Erica found me shortly after I crossed the finish line and we snapped a couple pictures before heading over to the train. I originally thought I would have loved to go to The Bean for some post-race photos, but figured it would be a zoo so decided to go there Monday morning when everyone else was still sleeping/ recovering.


A picture I snapped Monday morning while exploring the city... See tomorrow's blog post for more of my adventures!

I cannot say enough great things about the Chicago Marathon. The volunteers were amazing, the aid stations were huge, the bling was purrrrty, the pacers were spot on, the organization was impeccable. I don't know that it will necessarily be one that I would repeat again (mostly because of the travel and costs associated with it), but it is definitely an amazing race where the city opens its arms VERY WIDE to welcome you with all it's got! If you ever get the opportunity to run it, I would definitely recommend you take the chance! (PS Applications for a guaranteed entry will open on Tuesday, October 24 and the application for a non-guaranteed entry will open on Tuesday, October 31.)

And then I came home to a surprise when the hubby picked me up from the airport - a celebratory balloon and candy!

He's the sweetest and bestest cheerleader I could've ever asked for!

Have you ever run the Chicago Marathon?


Erica @ Erica Finds said...

I love everything about this recap and I'm so glad that Neal and I could support you in meeting this goal! You earned it and you crushed it!! Come back any time - and bring Ryan - love his airport surprise. What a sweetie!

Raina said...

Congratulations on the HUGE accomplishment, Carlee!! That’s a great PR. After people have been running a few years, those are hard to come by. Well earned!
You look stinkin’ adorable in that yellow outfit , BTW.
Way to crush it!!

Taryn said...

That is an amazing time! Congratulations on reaching your goal! Chicago is definitely on my bucket list.

Bree at Clarity Defined said...

Congratulations again!!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your experiences with us!! Seriously. It is so motivating & inspiring to read and go through your stay at Chicago, as I am training for a big BQ/PR right now. From one running lady chasing goals to another, congratulations on your BQ & PR! You’re a huge inspiration- keep it up!!

Unknown said...

Was tracking you from Boston and cheering for the BQ and the huge PR! Congratulations! Been following your journey for a while now; gunning for my first BQ attempt in a month at Philly! - Kim K.

Jennifer said...

Way to go girl! So proud of you! You rock!!!

San said...

Congratulations, Carlee. What an amazing race you ran and what an amazing PR! This is fantastic. You're a real inspiration.

Here'a question: what's your proven training secret to getting faster?

TriGirl said...

Girl! What an awesome PR!! I ran there this year too and even though it was my slowest and I never want to run another marathon, the way the city welcomed and supported all the racers throughout the weekend was AMAZING and I'm so glad I got to experience it!

Anne said...

You are amazing! That is all. :D

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your excellent accomplishment, and thanks for a very nice race recap. BtW, that hill at the finish is where Sammy Wanjiru won $500,000 in the Marathon Majors Race Series in 2010. He was just a few steps behind Tsegaye Kebede until they reached the hill, then he pulled out and ran on to win. Had Kebede kept his lead, HE would have won the 1/2 mil. So, the hill is a kind of final gut check, which you passed in fine style! (even though you only beat me this year by 2 hours 35 min.!) Kudos, also, on qualifying for Boston.
-- Henry, one of the Geezers who's run all 40 Chicago Marathons.