The day finally came. It felt like I have been training for ever. But to be precise I started in May way before school ended. Like many fall marathons the bulk of the mileage falls in the hottest months where training days blur into each other. I decided to alter my training plan to include different types of crosstraining modalities to help with monotony of “just running” and to give my muscles a nice dynamic strength. What really helped as well was me signing up for Flat as a Pancake Triathlon in June and NY Triathlon the first week of August. Swimming and biking really added a nice dynamic to the training. (A note: this was my second marathon, the first was NYC last year, so I will be comparing to NYC a lot).
The training. I decided to follow Hal Higdons marathon plan. He has plans which target every type of runner: novice, intermediate and advanced and a really cool part is they are FREE. I printed out all 4 novice plans. The training ranges from 3 day a week to 5 day a week running. I decided to combine all 4 plans and include swim, bike and weight training. The plan had me run 3 days (never consecutive) with running Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday; Monday and Wednesday swimming and biking; and weight training Monday thru Thursday with a complete day off on Sunday and no cardio (rest leg day) on Fridays. (A note: I slightly altered my plan from last year where I was running 4 days a week on consecutive days). I think it worked out really well and the end result is something I’m really proud of.
The injury. I was a couple of weeks into my training when a huge mistake on my part caused me to have some really nagging and recurring injury all thru my training leading up to the big day. I was not paying attention to my surroundings when I accidentally with full force swung my leg into a construction pole injuring my right quad. The resulting injury caused some quad atrophy and consequently a misfiring in the muscle fibers. My quad wasn’t able to fire properly causing my IT band to become inflamed and tight giving me pain pretty much every run longer than 5 miles. It was extremely painful and frustrating but I didn’t let that deter me. I started physical and massage therapy, extensive stretching and foam rolling, TENS unit applications with heat and a weight training routine (unilateral legs) to strengthen that quad muscle. Ideally rest would’ve been the best option but I couldn’t afford that luxury. Did it work? I’d like to think yes. It never got worse but it never got better. The runs were getting longer and more intense and that IT band did not want to deal with it. In my training I like to go over the recommended 20 mile long run leading up to 24 miles. But this training I could only make it to 22 miles. I had one more super long run but I decided to cut that short in leiu of my bothersome friend. After all I need my leg to be it’s best at the actual event. No point to push it.
The training was finally done and the big day fast approaching. My favorite part-the TAPER! Oh how wonderful it was. Ok, truth time-I get anxious and nervous about the big event and the fact that I can’t run that much anymore and now I have all this free time to do what?? Well, this year I didn’t even feel the taper. Between the kids school activities, packing for the trip and taking care of my new baby kitty, it’s a really cool story which I will write up about in my next blog, there was not much downtime. Truth be told I kinda enjoyed having a bit more time to plan and do all those things. I tried to also keep my weight training and swimming up but not the biking. By the last week I was down to calisthenics, short swim and light runs with some stretching.
Going to Chicago. We left Friday morning We had an early flight with a full itenerary complete with sightseeing and deep dish pizza. The flight was super quick and we ended up taking a blue line (subway) to our hotel. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in the center Loop. The train system is really easy to navigate especially for us New Yorkers.
Sights. I’m not going go into detail of all the sights we visited, just going to list them out. Friday: arrival, money museum, marathon expo. Saturday: Wrigley Field Tour, Navy Pier and the Carousel, House of Blues. Sunday: marathon and Architechture River Cruise. Monday: Willis tower, departure.
Food. First thing’s first-deep dish PIZZA! We picked Lou Malnati a very popular chain. The signature pie was everything you would expect from deep dish-buttery crust, delicious homemade sauce , cheese and a sausage patty that covers the whole pie. Perfection! And 2 slices made us full for the rest of the day. We also tried a different deep dish pizza from another very popular chain on our last day in Chicago-Giordano’s. Their pizza was also very delicious and filling but very different. We also got the signature pie. The pizza had a nice crust, extremely stringy cheese, mushrooms, sausage and a very zesty tomato sauce. Pizza while my absolute fave and filling and subs as a casserole slash meal still doesn’t beat the NY pizza. Sorry Chicago deep dish, but I still love you. Besides pizza, we also ate at the House of Blues (pre marathon) and Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse (post marathon). House of Blues pays homage to the famed Blues Brothers and the music of that day-Blues. Once u step your foot inside the decor just overwhelmes your senses. Once seated we check out the menu and are pleasantly surprised by the variety. The food was very tasty and filling and the music was perfect. They have acoustic music every night starting at 5pm and then a band starting at 9pm. Highly recommend. Last but not least was my celebratory meal at Michael Jordan’s steakhouse. High end steakhouse which has a fancy dining room and casual bar seating which serves the same food without getting all fancy. The steaks we’re juicy and perfectly cooked. The kids devoured theirs. Pete got the filet topped with crab meat and a side of mash potato sampler and I got the steak sandwich with house fries. Everything was cooked perfect and top notch and tasted delicious. Ok now that you are completely starving let’s get to the main event.
The Expo. The expo was held at the big pavilion about 3 miles south from our hotel. Completely and totally walkable…not with kids though. We decided to take a complementary shuttle near our hotel. Huge plus! I would highly recommend that nice added perk. The shuttle busses run every 15 min and are round trip. The expo itself was in the huge convention hall something similar to Jacob Javits Center except it was bigger. The number pickup was easy and quick. Everyone was courteous and welcoming. The official sponsor of the marathon is Nike so you know you will get some nice good quality merchandise. Surprise, surprise…. not so. The color scheme was extremely bland. There were four plain colors: navy, grey, white and red (black was the finisher gear). This was Chicago Marathon 40th Anniversay so we were all hoping for some nice colorful gear and a special release sneaker but we got gipped. Not many styles to chose from either. Very disappointing. The rest of the expo was just lacking something. There weren’t that many vendors or variety. There were the usual big sponsors like Brooks, North Face and Saucony (they actually released a Chicago sneaker). But overall I would say they missed the mark coming definitely after NYC for this part.
The marathon. What to pack? Chicago weather is known to be unpredictable, much like NYC. I kept checking the weather all week but these forecasts are never precise until a day prior. Since there was rain in the forecast I decided to pack 3 outfits: compression for rain, tank for hot weather and additional layers of gloves and arm warmers for cold. When we arrived in Chicago on Friday it was muggy, foggy and rainy. Saturday was gorgeous first part of the day and then it poured in the afternoon. This weather is crazy! But Sunday was shaping up to be a gorgeous sunny and hot day. Our hotel was about a mile walk to the start line in Grant Park. I woke up @ 5AM to give myself plenty of time to get ready, eat and walk to the start (I was in second wave with an 8AM start). At home before a big race I like to eat 2 eggs and 2 toast: one with butter and another with raw honey and a big mug of tea. But I’m in a hotel and I don’t have that luxury. Kitchen wasn’t open that time but the staff had a “marathon breakfast” of bagels and apples (things I couldn’t eat before a race cause I would get stomach cramps) but they did have hot tea and coffee. I had a nice hot cup of tea and my Stinger waffle. Walking to the start in the dark was not a big deal since about a gagillion people were out that morning. I got to the start pretty early thinking I would give myself plenty of time to go thru the security check. (NYC security is really top notch. You do get very thoroughly screened so I expected the same here. But to my surprise all they did was scan us with hand-held metal detectors. It was fast and not a big deal). I was at my wave at 7AM. Omg, what am I gonna do for an hour? Stupid question, you make a friend of course! The race started on time, always a big plus when you have been standing around and you are freezing. But that nice cool air will soon dissipate into a distant memory. The marathon itself is a loop course which takes you thru about 70 neighborhoods. I decided to break up this loop mentally into 3 parts: north loop, west loop and south loop. We started off running north. The air was nice and cool and it was pretty shady from the buildings of downtown. Pete and the kids walked over to see me about a half a mile in. That was really cool. You can definitely spectate your marathoner by taking public transport or the L (train). Its easy and fast and you cover a lot of ground that way. I don’t know about your kids but my kids get whiny and tired fast so they decided to watch the marathon on the TV in out hotel room. The course itself is flat especially compared to NYC. The biggest elevations are the small bridges we run across the river and the last .2 miles before the finish. The course had plenty of hydration stops about 1 1/2 to 2 miles apart. There was water, Gatorade, gels, bananas on the course as well (the latter toward the end). The crowds and spectators were great very close to NYC but there were a few spots that were barren like when we ran along the highway. Once we got to the west part of the course the tall buildings disappeared along with the shade and the temps started to climb up very quickly. Runners starterd to take lots of walk breaks and some were cramping. The volunteers were also spraying us with hoses with cold water which was so refreshing. Going into south loop was a huge tease cause we actually turned toward the finish line to then abruptly turn south and away from the end. Ugh! No more! It is so hot! The breeze disappeared and the air felt like July all over again. “Hydrate, keep hydrating!”…”keep taking salt”…”eat”. Turning back north toward the finish line. Yes! Almost there! Except, not so fast. The last strait up run was almost 3 miles long on this wide open road with no shade to be found. As I’m running this last stretch I start noticing many more runners walking, going off the course and in medical tents. Then a huge crowd gathers and ambulance and stretcher make their way into course and take a runner away, last mile. Omg! It was only a mile left. Poor dude. Hope he’s ok. (Due to rapid increase in temps many runners were forced to eaither quit, dnf or walk the last mile). We make the sharp right turn. There’s a huge bulletin board and I know my friends wrote me amazing encouraging words but unfortunately as I’m approaching I don’t see any for me. But it’s last .2 miles and it’s all uphill. Noooo! Not now! Please God! My calf r not responding at this point. They have officially solidified. But I push thru. We make a left into the Park and I can see the finish line. I slow down and shut off my music just in time to see and hear the uproar of cheering fans. I’m done! I finished my 2nd marathon! I tear up just a bit to thank God for carrying me thru this tough journey and the race. I pause my Garmin and keep walking to get my medal. As I get that sweet medal placed on my neck by these awesome volunteers I hear my phone ring. It’s Pete. He congratulates me and then tells me how proud he is of me. Please stop. You are making me cry again. And then he says “You PRed by 24 min. You ran 4:05!” What?! No way! How could I, it was so damn hot? But it’s true. I shaved almost 24 min from my NYC time last year. I feel even more amazing. I get my goody bag and a FREE beer and meet my family. Oh sweet victory! A very emotional successful end to a long, painful and tedious journey.
Final thoughts. I would like to of course thank my very supportive family. My husband Pete who didn’t even blink an eye after I told him last November after NYC marathon “listen, there’s a marathon in Chicago. It’s a lotto and it’s easier to get in than NYC. What do you think? Sure. If you get in we are going on family vacation”. He was there throughout every aspect of this crazy ride. My kids who always told me “have a great run mommy” which gave me that extra boost. Our parents who helped watch the kids when unneeded to squeeze in those runs. Your encouragement and love carried me thru.
This was a tough race. I never expected it to be so hot. I don’t think anyone of us was ready for the October 75F. But this is what worked for me. Compression! That’s my go to. Hat! Yes you are adding an extra layer on your head but it blocks out the sun. Salt pills! I took one every 30 min starting with mile 1. That’s how I trained all summer and that’s what works. Salt holds water and keeps you hydrated. Plain and simple. I have a strong feeling people who were cramping were not taking adequate salt and water. My on personal water bottle! I brought a handheld with me. Yes it’s extra weight and after a while your arm hurts holding that thing but water stops are1 to 1 1/2 miles apart. You grab a cup and chug it. How much water do you think you are getting? I know last marathon it was not enough for me. I am a fish. I need water. I would see a station coming up, open the bottle and as I ran thru I would refill the whole bottle. I actually ended up refilling it at least 5 times. Cheerios! We need to replenish calories we lose and we lose them fast especially as the race goes on. I actually trained my body to burn fat as fuel. It’s a long process but It’s worth it. I usually good until mile 18. Then I need food. I used to take gels because they r sweet, convenient and have the nutrition. But they would bother my stomach later on in the race. (I did that in NYC marathon and ended up with bad pain and not being able to eat for days afterwards). So I actually trained with Cheerios. I bought organic fruity cherios from Stop n Shop for kids and they never ate them so I decided to try them out one run. They were perfect. Good carb source, easily digestible and didn’t bother my stomach. And they were perfect on race day.