Chicago Marathon Race Recap

These past few days I’ve been trying to get to terms with this race. Trying to look at it in a positive way. But I can’t help but feel disappointed. It’s not necessarily the time I’m disappointed about as much as the feeling that I didn’t get everything out of this race that was possible. That this race could have been more and that I’ll probably never get a chance for a do over.

I knew this marathon would probably be my slowest, since this year has been a year of struggle and slow races. Last year was a year of personal bests and this year is a year of personal worsts.

Before the race I knew I was probably going to finish in 06:20 or 06:30, but I didn’t even manage that. But I guess that’s what you get when your heart only works for 75%.

Race day

I got up at 3 am on race morning. Since I was in the Athletes with Disabilities corral I was completely at the front, we even had a 7 minute head start on the elite runners. Thus I would start at 7:23 am. Luckily this is Chicago and some of the subway lines operate 24 hours a day. It wasn’t difficult to get to the start, but the AWD had a separate entrance gate and not all volunteers knew where we were supposed to go and looked a bit confused. But I managed to find the waiting area. The AWD are allowed to wait inside the Art Institute so there are accessible toilets. I was happy I could wait inside for a while, since it was really cold outside and I get cold really easily, because my blood circulation isn’t all that. At the start it was 5 degrees Celsius, but because of the wind it felt like 2 degrees.

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At 7 am we all went outside, luckily I had some throwaway clothes with me so I wouldn’t completely freeze even though I was still cold. They sang the anthem. The wheelchair men went first, followed by the wheelchair women and then it was our turn. We were only at the start line for about 40 seconds and then they told us to go. It was a bit of a surreal experience, running the streets of Chicago with about 50 people around you, roads closed off by marshals and police and people lining the streets and cheering you on.

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But this didn’t last long. About 1 km in the elite caught up with me. Unfortunately, at that moment I happened to be on the left side of the road (I had just turned a corner and since there were hardly any other runners I didn’t pay that much attention to the side of the road I was on) and when I looked down I could see the blue line beneath my feet. So, I decided to jump onto the sidewalk so the cars and elite could pass. After that I ran to the other side of the road. But the elite start together with the first starting wave, the fast runners. Now I understand why almost all AWD have guide runners with them, not only cause they need the guidance, but also to prevent them from being bumped into the entire time.

Every time a pace group or an aid station came along I was holding my breath hoping no one would knock me over. I did get bumped into several times though. Especially the faster runners are a bit more aggressive since they have a fast and clear goal in mind.

I had a bit of trouble pacing myself in the beginning, because my Garmin watch was confused by the high buildings for about the first 5k and soon was already a kilometer off. And I kept getting passed by the very fast runners in the first wave. So, only when I got to the 5k mark could I just look at the time on my watch and see how I was doing. And I was doing just fine, although I knew my pace would drop later on, but that would still be fine. Before you hit the 5k mark you’ve already crossed the river three times and I was enjoying this part, because the parts along the river are really nice.

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But at the same time I was struggling with the cold. It was doable when there was no wind, but this being Chicago, if you rounded another corner there would be a lot of wind again and the wind was very cold. I was wearing a long sleeve with a t-shirt underneath and at times when there was no wind I would get a little hot, but as soon as there would be wind I would be freezing again. This wasn’t really helping my muscles; because when you’re cold you’ll tense up your muscles. And since the general temperature in the beginning also wasn’t very high I did have some trouble breathing (which I always do with cold air), so in the first few kilometers I did try to cough up my lungs from time to time, but that always passes after a few kilometers. Although, I could still feel the effects from that until halfway through the race.

Seeing familiar faces

After the 5k I all of a sudden heard someone scream my name, not just Heart Runner Girl, but Marijke. Which surprised me since it wasn’t on my shirt and hardly any English speaker is able to pronounce my name. I looked up and saw Renée (@runlaugheatpie) in the crowd of spectators. I briefly grabbed her hand in acknowledgement, but decided to keep running since I was finally able to breath a little. It’s always great to see familiar faces in the crowd.

The route continued up north and you pass through Lincoln Park. Which is also where you pass the 6 mile point and it dawned on me that I would have to do another 20 miles! At that point it seemed awfully far. Around the 9k point Cindy (@sportycindy) passed me and briefly said hi. My 10k split was also fine and by this point my GPS was doing better. The route continues north along Lake Michigan until you make a turn and head back south.

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Pacer

At the 15k mark I was still doing fine. Before I got to the halfway point a girl noticed I was run walking and decided to use me as a pacer (imagine that). At this point the running and the cold were taking up all my energy and I remember thinking, I want to start a conversation with her, but I just don’t have the energy. And since she didn’t start a conversation either, I just left it that way. After about 2 kilometers I slowed down a bit to take a photo and that’s when she decided it was going a little too slow and she took off. Which was totally fine by me.

I passed the halfway mark in a pretty good time, at least for my current form. It was a bit faster than Edinburgh Half and the Great North Run, which were personal worst, so I was happy with that and hoped I could sort of keep it up for the next half.

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Crowds

In most neighborhoods there were one or even two rows of people cheering us on. Often they were very loud screaming, cheering, ringing bells and shouting through bullhorns. Only in Lincoln Park and along the lake there were less people. Apparently I’m still not completely used to the sound quality of my new Aftershokz Aeropex, because every time the crowds got less loud and I could hear my music again I would wonder where the music was coming from since I couldn’t see any speakers only to realize it was coming from my own headphones! After the halfway point it was also a little quieter. At the 15 miles mark there is the Charity Cheering Zone where all the charities were cheering us on, so it was back to being loud. I did get a little slower in the next few kilometers, but I still wasn’t worried. Until the course makes another turn at the 25k mark.

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Energy levels

Since I’ve started using heart medication I’ve been having trouble with my energy levels. At times I’ve felt as if the previous five years of running have been erased and I’ve started from zero again. Since my heart rate is so high everything takes more energy for me anyway, but with the heart medication my energy levels all of a sudden drop without clear reason. It’s stabilized in my every day life (in the beginning I just used to be tired all the time) and I can do normal things again, but it remains a problem while running. I’m still not entirely sure why, but from one kilometer to the next my energy can suddenly disappear and sometimes it briefly comes back only to disappear again later. During a 10k training run the first 5k might go okay, then the 6 to 8k might go great only for the 9 and 10k to go terrible. By training I’ve managed to get my energy levels up again, but it’s a very, very slow process.

So, apparently after 7 months on medication I’ve managed to sort of build it back up to 25k. Because after that all my energy was gone. It wasn’t due to nutrition, since I still had half a bottle of Tailwind Nutrition with me and I was drinking at the aid stations. I was no longer run walking, I was just walking. But I estimated that Darren (@runnersknees) could not be too far behind me at this point. He had started in a later wave, but by the time I passed 25k, he had passed the halfway point. I decided to stick it out until the 30k point and then look in the app if Darren had caught up with me or not. In the meantime I was scanning the pack of runners to see if I could spot him, but since for me he would be coming from behind, this was a little difficult.

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Just before 30k Caroline (@cazza7) passed me and said hi. And when I passed 30k I took out my phone to see where Darren was, but at that time the app refused to refresh and I couldn’t see where he was. Luckily for me, Darren spotted me anyway.

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Since Darren was recovering from the stomach flu he wasn’t feeling that great either and we decided to stick it out together. We walked, talked and laughed while my energy levels varied from being able to run about 100 meters to hardly having the energy to keep walking and keep up with Darren. If I would have continued on my own I might have ran a bit more or at least tried to, but it also would have been way more frustrating.  With a few kilometres to go Kyla (@Kylawhitefoot) passed us and said hi.

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Me trying to run and Darren wondering what I’m doing

In the meantime my legs were also hurting. Not the kind of pain I’m used to experience during a marathon where your quads start hurting and your muscles get sore, but more joint pain in my hips and my feet were also hurting. I think this was a combination of the cold and my shoes. My previous three marathons I had run in the same model Skechers, but ever since I had trouble with those during the Great North Run I’d been looking for a different pair of marathon shoes. I had hoped the Brooks Glycerin 17 I was wearing would work for me and although I didn’t get any blisters, they apparently weren’t the right fit for me for an entire marathon.

Finish

After counting down the kilometers Darren and I crossed the finish line together.

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Crossing the finish line, Darren is just outside the frame.

In the end due to the medication, the cold and the shoes, I finished in 06:36:38. I said goodby to Darren after the finish and there were some amazing volunteers to help me get the things I needed and helped me get my stuff.

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Luckily, it wasn’t that difficult to get the subway back to my hotel and I even managed to get up and down the stair alright. When I got back to the hotel I noticed I was still wearing my headphones. With previous models of Aftershokz I would take them off after some hours because the top of my ears would get irritated, but I do not have that problem with the new Aeropex model. I think I’ve had them on for about 8 hours without really realizing it, at times enjoying the music when the crowds weren’t too loud.

As Kofuzi put it: I really enjoyed the race, until I didn’t. Same here, the Chicago Marathon is a very well organized marathon through a great city. There are lots of people cheering you on (although at times when I wasn’t doing so well I did find them a bit too loud). There are aid stations every mile on both sides of the road with lots of volunteers giving you Gatorade and water and you do get to see the city from Lincoln Park to China Town. The streets are wide and the course it flat. The medal is nice and so is the race t-shirt. A big thank you to all the volunteers and AWD volunteers, you made this great event possible!

I didn’t get the time I wanted, but I guess it’s the time you get when your condition gets worse. But in the end, I did finish another marathon and I finished my third World Marathon Major, halfway there.

2 thoughts on “Chicago Marathon Race Recap

Add yours

  1. I was so SO happy to see you and even happier for you that you were able to complete the race ! I know it’s been a tough year for you, adjusting to the meds and I hope that soon you’ll be able to leave the disappointment behind. You DID it!

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