2014 Chicago Marathon Quick Recap:
I swung for the fences at the 2014 Chicago Marathon. I came to the start line Sunday morning with perfect weather conditions for distance running, Boston qualification ambitions, good health, lots of good training runs, and a plan to run at the limits of my capabilities. I ran hard for almost 20 miles before I lost contact with the 3:15 pace group. Things slowly unwound from there and I ran/jogged my way across the finish line much slower than I had started. Finish time was 3:24:51. A new personal best, but a reflection of the price I paid for swinging for the fences.
The 2014 Chicago Marathon was a lottery entry. I think I entered after not making it into the New York City marathon. I have enjoyed big city marathons and have always heard great things about Chicago
For this marathon training cycle I followed the Run Less Run Faster FIRST training program following the 3:15 schedule. The premise of the FIRST program is 3 runs per week and 2 days of high intensity cross training. The three runs each week are an interval run, tempo, and long distance. I was generally unable to meet the interval run training goal. The speed paces were always a few seconds out of reach for me. I ran the tempo runs at the scheduled paces. The long runs were a mix of spot on and falling a few seconds short per mile of the pace goal.
Where my training fell short was the cross training days. A combination of factors – the same things that conspire against everyone – including long workdays, family events, work and family travel, and other stressors cut into my training time. The other four days a week I was almost always active with walking, easy cycling, sports practice with the kids, but unfortunately my cross training was probably too easy without enough intensity.
In mid-September my Garmin Forerunner 305 bit the dust. I think a rain soaked long run was its demise. Like many runners I am reliant on the Garmin GPS for pacing and mileage goals. Over the last month of training I struggled with intermittent watch performance and estimating pace/mileage (for later confirmation). Fortunately, my running routes are fairly familiar so I did not find myself suddenly running dramatically faster or dramatically slower in the last few weeks of training. (Note: I am still looking for my next GPS watch.)
We traveled to Chicago from Central Wisconsin by car first to Milwaukee and then the Amtrak Hiawatha train from the Milwaukee airport to Chicago’s union station. For my time and money the train is a great way to get into downtown Chicago without the hassles of traffic, highway tolls, and parking (our hotel offered parking for $55 per night!). From the train station we had a 1 mile walk to the Hampton Inn on Illinois (HHonors points for the win!)
Expo, Rest, and Food:
After dropping our bags at the hotel Saturday morning we walked another mile to the Fairmount hotel to catch a shuttle bus to the Expo. The Chicago Marathon kindly offers a free shuttle from four different downtown locations to the Expo at the McCormick Place.
Mindful of my steps and time on my feet we were in and out of the Expo quickly. Race bib pick-up, gear bag, t-shirt, and a few packs of gel. Then back to the bus. No extra steps. No shopping. No presentations.
The official t-shirt is a simple black technical tee with a white logo. The shirt is underwhelming, but is a supposedly made from 100% recycled polyester. Compared to the atrocious 2014 Green Bay marathon race shirt (race recap) I am ecstatic with this shirt’s design.
After the bus ride we grabbed lunch and headed back to the hotel. I needed to get off my feet and relax. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening watching movies, preparing gear, and eating. We ate at the American Junkie restaurant next to the Hampton. I had a wonderful dinner of pasta, chicken, spinach, and tomato. One of the best pre-race meals I have ever had. In bed by 830p for a 515 am wake-up
I slept soundly until about 4 a.m. From 4 to 5 I rolled over about every 10 minutes to check the clock. Finally getting up ahead of my alarm clock at 5:10. Like any long run day my immediate priorities two hours before running are the ins (coffee, oatmeal, banana, English muffin with peanut butter) and outs (do I need to explain?). After eating quickly I was dressed and ready to go by 6 a.m.
We exited the hotel and joined the mass of people flowing towards the start line. At each intersection a few more people would join the stream moving towards the entry points to the start area. The walk to the start line is always a sensory overload of nervous chatter mixed with neon running clothes, old throwaway clothes, permanently sweat soaked smelly running outfits, icy-hot, and ripe bananas.
The first of many lines was the security bag sweep. We steadily moved into Grant Park. I hustled to the gear bag drop-off. I had mixed feelings about a gear bag for this race. I had considered not checking a bag and instead either having my wife carry a change of clothes to the finish area or scampering back to the hotel in my running clothes. With a high to be around 50F and breezy at the finish line I decided to drop the gear bag figuring I might be pretty cold and the walk back to the hotel could be long on streets packed with pedestrians (After I finished the New York City marathon in 2011 (race recap) it took me two hours to cover a shorter distance from finish line to hotel because the streets were so packed with people).
I had scouted on the walk into the secure area that there were port-a-potties in the B corral area so I passed on using the port-a-potties in the gear check area. This turned out to be one of my best decisions of the day because I was able to breeze into the port-a-potty inside the B corral.
Once inside the corral I staked out a spot on the curb, kept myself warm with a sweatshirt another runner had tossed, and watched the corral fill with people. At about 7:10 I walked to the 3:15 pace group and did some simple stretching and moving in place to warm-up.
With surprisingly little fanfare the elites were announced, the colors were presented, and we sang the National anthem. Then, bamm!, we were off.
Miles 0 to 4
From my spot in the B corral I was able to cross to the start line in just over two minutes. We were on the road and running on a cool morning under a clear blue sky. There were definitely a lot of runners, but I did not feel congested and at no point in the race, even if the early miles, did I feel like my progress was impaired or impeded by other runners. I am sure further back in the race this is an issue.
In the first 3 miles I kept the pace group in sight. I was doing my best to run the tangents and stayed close to the blue stripe that is painted on the road for the elites. In any marathon I want to run as close as possible to the marked 26.2 miles. Running the outside of turns can add several tenths to an already long run.
After the mile 3 marker I began my search for a port-a-potty. From experience I know that I usually always need to empty my bladder early in the race. This was no different. Get over and done with before lines form. I sighted the port-a-potty and was in and out in 45 seconds.
- Mile 1: 7:30
- Mile 2: 7:34
- Mile 3: 7:26
- Mile 4: 8:07 (bathroom break)
Miles 5 to 10
Obviously my bathroom stop disconnected me from the pace group. I knew I didn’t want to make up 45 seconds in a mile but I also didn’t want to take 20 miles to make up the difference (in hindsight I probably would have been better off continuing to run a 7:30 pace without the pace group).
In this section I ran some 7:15ish miles as I sought to reconnect with the pace group. I felt good and was surrounded by other people that were running a similar pace (perhaps I wasn’t the only one with delusions of grandeur). Somewhere around mile 10 I reconnected with the pace group. At this point I didn’t feel that I had overdone it. I also took my first Gu gel packet….strawberry banana.
- Mile 5: 7:14
- Mile 6: 7:16
- Mile 7: 7:19
- Mile 8: 7:13
- Mile 9: 7:16
- Mile 10: 7:22
Running with a GPS watch during this stretch might me had running at 7:25 instead of 7:15.
Miles 11 to 13.1
The first 13.1 miles is a fairly amazing route as it loops through downtown Chicago, runs north for several miles and then makes another pass through downtown Chicago. We ran through the skyscrapers and the deafening roar of the crowd. An estimated 1.7 million people came out to cheer. It was awesome and I appreciated their support.
Just before the halfway point I took a Gatorade chew pack from the aid station. I have had these before, but have not used them regularly. Therefore I could find the best way to chew or ingest the chew, about 1 inch by 1 inch, while running. I ended up dropping the packet and spitting out the one I had in my mouth.
We went through the halfway point on pace for a 3:15. I was still feeling good. The pace was well within the capabilities of my engine. Would my legs hold out? Since mile 4 or 5 I had been using water over my head and on my neck to stay cool. I tend to heat up quickly, even when it is in the 40s. In a white tech tee, shorts, and no hat I was comfortable.
- Mile 11: forgot to press lap button
- Mile 12: 14:43 (mile 11 and mile 12)
- Mile 13: 7:28
My official split at the half-marathon (13.1 miles) was 1:37:22
Miles 13.1 to 19
The route goes west after the half point and is mostly in the sun. Around mile 16 I began to realize that staying with the pace group was becoming increasingly difficult. In an aid station or adjusting my stride move around another runner I would notice the gap between me and the pacers expand just a little. I kept pulling myself back to the pacer until there was a little rise in the road just before a left turn ahead of the mile 19 marker. Then they were gone. And then it began to fall apart.
- Mile 14: 7:26
- Mile 15: 7:26
- Mile 16: 7:10 (I am not sure what happened here. I was running stride for stride with the pacer)
- Mile 17: 7:31
- Mile 18: 7:25
- Mile 19: 7:30
Mile 20 to the finish
Then the strength left my legs. I had made the choice to go big…too big…and now I was paying the price. I wouldn’t have known if I had not tried. As my pace declined I watched other runners stream by me. I know how great it is to be passing rather than being passed at this stage of the race.
I just kept going, always running, no walking. I would look for slower moving runners and do my best to catch the next closest and then close the gap to the next. With enough effort and determination I knew I could still run a PR (anything under 3:26).
I was glad to cross the finish line in 3:24:51.
- Mile 20: 7:42 (wheels coming off)
- Mile 21: 8:11
- Mile 22: 8:24
- Mile 23: 8:46
- Mile 24: 9:15 (wheels are off)
- Mile 25: 9:37 (this is misery)
- Mile 26: 9:47 (vision narrows, can’t see any other runners)
- Mile 26.2: 2:01
There is a good chance I could have made a more significant PR improvement if I had run a more conservative pace from the get go, not attempted to run down the chase group, or even taken a couple of 30 second walking breaks every few miles. But I had decided I was going to go for it all. My goal wasn’t to PR by a few seconds or a few minutes.
I am OK with the decision I made to go for it and OK with the outcome.
Many other men in the 40-44 year old age group attempted the same strategy as me. The results for finishing times 3:15:01 and slower are littered with runners that ran the first half in 1:37:30 or less, but couldn’t sustain their pace through the finish. I guess there is some solace in knowing others around me tried and failed with the a similar strategy.
For the last couple of miles my fingers were numb and I don’t remember seeing any other runners in the last half mile…in front of me or next to me. Obviously there were runners all around. I just was too exhausted, focused, hypoxic, or disappointed to realize their presence. Just after the finish line a long line of medical volunteers is available to support runners. As my field of vision significantly narrowed and my legs were barely able to move I asked for a medical person to walk with me. He did. We walked a ways and I reported feeling better. He left and I almost immediately asked for another. I was so thirsty and the world seemed so narrow. I walked a ways with the second volunteer and then dismissed him as I felt better. As soon as I bade farewell to his support I asked for a third (and final) medical volunteer to help me to water station. It seemed like we had to walk another mile just to get a cup of water.
Two full cups of Gatorade and easing my breathing had me feeling better and slowly moving towards the food and gear check. The walk to the gear check was another long, slow slog. Then a long line for a fairly inefficient gear return process which was complicated by teeth chattering hypothermia. After soaking myself with water and running at my limit for more than 3 hours I cooled off fast and was frigid. I didn’t feel warm until hours later.
Once inside the family reuniting area I was able to easily find my wife and with her help get into warm cloths (very glad I had decided to check a bag!). And from there the walk back to the hotel and an afternoon taking in the sights and sounds of Chicago.
Time and Place
3751 of 40564 finishers
3155 of male finishers
567 of 3665 40-44 y.o. male finishers
Also available on the Chicago Marathon results page.
- I enjoy big city marathons and would gladly run Chicago again. The logistics of staying downtown and walking to the start/finish are easy.
- The t-shirt and finisher medal are understated in the age of enormous medal and shirt design escalation.
- Crowd support was incredible and appreciated.
- I am taking a few years off from marathon running, at least that is my plan right now. I want to spend more time on kid activities and participate in some other sports.
- After I turn 45 in a few years I might make another attempt at running a Boston qualifying time.
Final Final Thoughts
We made the most of Sunday afternoon in Chicago by basking in the glory of a Packers win, a long walk to the end of Navy Pier, and a deep dish pizza from Ginos!