Thursday Things

1. As promised, my Opinions on this year’s Chicago Marathon corrals!

I, like, I presume, 45,000 other runners, got an email Friday morning letting me know that preliminary corral assignments were available online for this year’s Chicago Marathon. Hoping against all hope that I somehow conned the marathon into putting me in Corral G once again, I immediately went to the marathon’s website, entered my name, and saw…

Corral K.

K!! As in, the second to last corral in the entire race! I could not believe it. How dare the marathon put me so far back! The NERVE! Putting me in H last year was already a blow to my ego, but K! That seemed willfully cruel.

Rarely one to raise a stink over something without at least some sort of factual information to back up my outrage, I navigated over to the start corral section of the marathon’s website, which outlines who ends up where. This is what I saw:


The first thing I noticed was that the race has three waves this year instead of two, which means the poor suckers in Wave 3 (i.e.: me) are going to have to wait for-freaking-ever to start the race–like probably in the neighborhood of 8:30 for-freaking-ever, since historically, there has been a 30 minute gap between the start of Wave 1 and the start of Wave 2. I already don’t like how late Wave 2 starts, so the ideal of waiting to start until Wave 3 is not at all appealing, especially since the later you start, the later in the day you’re running, and the later in the day it gets, even in October, the warmer it gets, the less shady it gets, and the more intense the sun gets. I obviously understand why the slow runners like me have to wait to go last, but it really feels like we’re being kicked when we’re already down to put us in a position of having to run through, quite likely, the worst weather of the day when we were already going to be out there for five billion years anyway.

But I understand that that is my lot in life as a mediocre-at-best marathoner, so whatever. If it really upsets me that much, I should probably try a lot harder to be a faster runner so I don’t have to deal with running the final miles of a marathon after 12 p.m.

The second thing I noticed was that it was not actually all that absurd for me to be placed in Corral K. My perfect-case scenario for the marathon involves me running a 10:30 pace, which would put me solidly in Corral K. This seemed a bit bizarre to me, since Corral G has always been 10:30 territory, so I started looking up corral assignments for other people in my CARA group and found that we were all over the board. Some were in G like normal, but others were in J, K, or even L.

This, then, led me to take a closer look at the corral assignments, which became less and less explicable the more I studied them.

For comparison’s sake, here are the 2014, 2015, and 2016 corral assignments:

2014 (from here)


2015 (from here)


2016 (from here)


And in spreadsheet form, for easy side-by-side comparison:



I have several things to say regarding this:

Thing #1: What on earth was going on with Corral J for the past three years? Why was the estimated finish time for that corral 4:59-5:00? That’s a ONE MINUTE interval! Why does that even exist?!
Thing #2: What on EARTH is going on with Corral H this year? “3:45+”?! What does that even mean?? Is this a random catch-all corral for all the people in Wave 3 begging to get into earlier corrals (like me)? I certainly fall into the 3:45+ category, so technically, I could be in here.
Thing #3: WHAT ON EARTH is going on with Corral L?! 4:45-6:30?!?! That’s a GIGANTIC interval, especially when all the other intervals are 15 minutes at the most! To highlight the ridiculousness of this, please take a moment to analyze my race statistics from the past three years:

2014: 4:57, finishing 28,328th out of 40,659 finishers (69.6% of the field finished before me, meaning 30.4% of the field finished after me)
2015: 4:52, finishing 24,153rd out of 37,459 finishers (64.4% of the field finished before me, meaning 35.5% of the field finished after me)
2016: 5:07, finishing 29,864th out of 40,400 finishers (73.9% of the field finished before me, meaning 26.1% of the field finished after me)

Please note that all of these finishes fall into the 4:45+ category. Regardless of my time, there was, minimally, more than a quarter of the entire field behind me when I crossed the finish line, and sometimes up to more than one third of the entire field behind me when I crossed the finish line. This, of course, does not include anyone who ran a 4:45, but I think it’s safe to assume that a fair number of people crossed the finish line between 4:45-4:52/4:57/5:07. If the field turns out to be roughly the same this year in terms of speed, that means we can infer that at LEAST one third of the runners, based on this corral assignment breakdown, should end up in the last corral of the entire race. Sources in the know have suggested that the race may have a larger field this year than in years past (which I had wondered about when they opened race registration so early last year), BUT, assuming that there were 45,000 registrants for this year’s race like usual, that would mean 15,000 people should end up in Corral L, while the remaining 30,000 people would be divided among 11 corrals. Obviously it’s not safe to assume that there would be an equal number of people in these other 11 corrals (ADP, for example, will be much smaller), and I also know that the corrals aren’t all the same size (see p. 137 of the 2016 media guide for a Grant Park map, and, consequentially, a rough visual guide to the corral size differences) but if there were, that would mean roughly 2,727 people in each of those 11 corrals, while 15,000 people ended up in the final corral.

What. The. Hell.

If the previous 900 words didn’t make it perfectly clear, I think the corrals for this year are absolutely absurd, and while I have some pretty serious doubts about the likelihood of the race changing any of the corral standards at this point, I at least hope that the race smiles upon my slow soul and bumps me up to Corral H (or G. I wouldn’t complain about that either, even though, based on those standards, I have absolutely no business being in Corral G this year.). I’ve already emailed them pleading my case (along with, I’m sure, 15,000 other people), so we’ll see what happens when final assignments are posted on Aug. 22. I should note that several people in my running group also asked to be reassigned and already have been reassigned, which makes unspeakably anxious, since, as of last night, I was still languishing away in Corral K. *sobs*

2. I have a new dilemma, and, once again, I am soliciting your input.

I have run with a Polar M400 watch since May 1, 2014, and really haven’t had any complaints about it at all. As expected, its battery life has begun to dwindle. These days, I can usually expect the battery to last 3:30-4:00 per charge while running GPS. It could probably go longer than that, but once I get into the 4:00 range, I start to get nervous that the battery won’t last much longer based on the battery life icon. It hasn’t ever told me that the battery was low at this point, but I’ve been hesitant to push it, so I don’t know exactly how long it can last.

In an absolutely perfect world, I’d like to run a 4:35-4:45 marathon this year, which would be at the very upper limit of my watch’s normal battery life. I don’t know if running downtown, where the GPS constantly jumps around, affects this at all, but I’m also not particularly willing to find out the hard way. I’m not 100% confident that my watch could hold a charge for the entire race, and that’s not a risk I really want to take, so I’m in the market for a new watch (as I anticipated I would be around this time, based on how long I expect rechargeable devices to last).

My dilemma arises from the fact that Polar has discontinued the M400. It looks like I could still find a few on Amazon, but since I hope to get two to three years out of my next watch, I don’t want to invest in one that has already been discontinued (and likely will have fewer updates/support as a result of that discontinuation). Polar discontinued the M400 because they replaced it with an upgrade, the M430. I would buy the M430 without hesitation, except for one, gigantic dealbreaker: the watch doesn’t have audio alerts. It only has vibration alerts. (WHY.) I’m not opposed to audio and vibration alerts, or the ability to decide for yourself which you prefer, but I have run with a vibration-only watch in the past (an Adidas watch) and I did not like it at all. I constantly missed the vibrations, and since I almost always want to know when I’ve hit the next mile in my run, this was a huge annoyance for me – enough for me to stop wearing the watch altogether.

Both of Polar’s watches currently on the market only offer vibration alerts, so that’s off the table. I assume, then, this means returning to Garmin. I’m not opposed to returning to Garmin, but it frustrates me that I’m going to have to switch over to a completely different platform mid-season. This is a very small problem in the grand scheme of running data tracking, but I like having all of my statistics readily available on one website/device. Switching over to Garmin would mean having to log on to two different websites to have my entire year’s data. This isn’t a dealbreaker, but it also isn’t ideal, in my opinion.

I’m also struggling to find a watch that doesn’t offer optical HR monitoring. I’m not anti-optical HR monitoring, but since I already have a FitBit that does that, I really don’t need or want a watch that can function as an activity tracker. Again, not a dealbreaker, but it’s a costly perk that I don’t particularly want.

Here are the things I do want in a watch:

  • Audio alerts
  • Quick-connecting GPS
  • The ability to set up an interval timer on the watch
  • A display that shows me my overall time, overall distance, and either current pace or lap pace (I honestly don’t know what my Polar shows me – something you’d think I would’ve worked to find out by now, haha) all at once
  • The ability to automatically and manually lap the watch
  • An easy way to sync the watch, ideally one that doesn’t require finagling with the cord connecting the watch to your computer five billion times until it finally decides it can sync.

That’s it. I don’t need any particularly fancy bells and whistles, because even when I’ve had them, I’ve never used them.

I think I’m gravitating towards the Forerunner 35, since it seems to do most of those things without too many additional features. It is a bit pricey, though, especially compared to what I expected I’d need to pay for a new M400. Therefore, if anyone has experience with the Forerunner 35, or knows of another watch that will do what I want for less than $200, please feel free to let me know!

3. I’ve seen so much live music over the past few weeks! I saw Queen and Adam Lambert at the United Center two weeks ago, went to a concert in Millennium Park last Wednesday, and saw Paul McCartney at the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater in Tinley Park on Tuesday.


To my great surprise, my favorite concert of all of these was Queen. I didn’t expect to dislike Queen, but I was blown away by Adam Lambert. I suppose as a diehard American Idol fan from 2002-2009, it shouldn’t be that surprising that I geeked out over seeing a former American Idol contestant live and in the flesh. He was such an incredible performer, and his voice was just incredible.


That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the other concerts, though. Enjoying a show in Millennium Park is one of my favorite summer activities in Chicago, and seeing Paul McCartney, of course, was also amazing. The venue, though…*shudders*. Getting to Tinley Park isn’t the easiest task in the world, but that was NOTHING compared to trying to get out of that ridiculous parking lot. Let me tell you, that situation is the best argument for why regulation is a good thing. It was complete chaos and took an hour to get out of the lot. An hour! At that time of day, it shouldn’t even take an hour to get all the way HOME from Tinley Park! It was enough to make me never want to go to a show there ever again, no matter who’s playing.

(Though the Paul McCartney show, to be fair, was awesome.)

Have you seen any shows lately?
Any running watch input?

9 thoughts on “Thursday Things

  1. Ahhh finally the Chicago corral post!

    The corral H standards threw me for a loop at first too but now I’m thinking maybe that’s where they put charity runners who may have registered through the charity and weren’t able to provide as specific of a finishing time? I know someone running for charity who is in that corral.

    So, this probably won’t make you feel better, but I’m in Wave 1, in a corral that I don’t quite have the qualifying times for. My sense was that they must have filled in all of us time qualifiers first, in order of qualifying times. But I’m glad you posted previous years’ standards because I *do* meet my corral’s standards from 2014-2016 (I actually meet the marathon standard of an even higher corral), so maybe they filled our corrals based on that, and then decided to change the qualifying standards?

    I hope you get bumped up!! Fingers crossed.

    • That’s an interesting theory about Corral H. I don’t know anyone how ended up there, but I also don’t know anyone running their first marathon for charity this year, so that could explain it. The marathon used to do a charity corral–I believe Corral E used to be the charity corral, so last corral of Wave 1–but they got some pretty negative feedback from it (understandably so. Charity runners run the gamut from BQers to people who barely squeak in under the time limit, so to put that much variety in one corral in the very middle of the race would unsurprisingly not work out particularly well), so it would really surprise me to see them do that again. But who knows! That wave makes no sense from a time standpoint, so I’m super curious what its deal is.

      I got bumped up to G this morning (yay!!), which has basically just convinced me that everything outside of Wave 1 is a free-for-all, if all it took was an email saying I wanted to run with my friends without even the slightest insinuation that I would run a 4:00-4:15 marathon to counteract the 4:30-4:45 estimate I put on my application o.O And the fact that you ended up in a corral you don’t have the qualifying time for, especially when you got into the race based on a qualifying time in the first place, is so bizarre! They make it sound like the Wave 1 corrals are SO STRICT, and if you’re one second too slow, you end up in the following corral…which clearly isn’t the case. Goodness gracious, what a mess! (Though I’m happy for you that you got into a fast corral!)

      • I’m using it as incentive to not slack on my training the rest of the summer :-). A similar thing happened to me at my last marathon – I got put in the first corral, which was supposed to only be for people running a sub-8:00 pace. No idea how that happened because I definitely did not estimate that as my pace.

        Anyway, I was being a creeper and saw that a local runner I know of through social media somehow got into corral E even though she is not a time qualifier and does not have the qualifying times for Wave 1. I guess someone in the marathon office goofed. With that many people it’s bound to happen.

  2. Hmm. I wish I could give you advice on the watch dilemma but I wore my Garmin 405 for 7? 8? years until the watch strap broke to the point where I had to duct tape it onto my wrist and the battery barely lasted two hours, let alone four.

    I then upgraded to the 920xt last summer since it does triathlon stuff. It was probably way more watch then I needed but since I want it to last another 7-8 years I figured the cost-per-year was reasonable.

    • That is some serious dedication to your Garmin! It must’ve been quite the change to go from that to an eight-years-newer tri watch! I think I’m still a few years out from needing a tri watch (would need to get over my disinterest for swimming in open water and remedy my lack of a bike situation first haha), so that would definitely have a few more bells and whistles than I need at the moment. Though I do think tri watches are cool! Haha.

  3. It looks like the marathon corral designers got tired after K and just lumped everyone together. I agree that Corral L should be huge based on the times listed. I see it mentioned above in a comment but Corral H is probably a unique group of runners like charity runners. That makes most sense for the 3:45+, but why not just assign those runners to their correct corrals and delete H?
    Good luck trying to switch corrals! I would also not want to start the race at 8:30 considering you probably still need to get there at 6 am like everyone else.

    • That’s the only logical explanation for H, but it would be SO surprising to see them do that after they did it in the past and eliminated it because so many people complained! They last did it in 2012! That wasn’t that long ago! The more I look into all of this, the more curious I become about the entire corraling process, both for this year and years past. I’ve got to imagine it has something to do with the registered field and the estimated finish times people put on their registrations, but my gosh, the whole thing just seems so shockingly haphazard and random for a World Marathon Major.

      I checked this morning and I’m now in Corral G, so everything worked out just fine for me! Apparently all it takes to negate the estimated finish time you put on your application is saying you want to run with your friends, at least outside of Wave 1 o.O

      • Oh interesting that they’ve had a “fundraiser” corral in the past and removed it. Maybe they forgot all the angry emails they received! Yay for Corral G. I guess they approve of your reasoning!

        I still think its crazy the amount of people that really should be in corral K – almost 25% of the field based on your previous results. Do you only have to put in your estimated finishing time? Do they validate your times based on previous races? Maybe they just assume everyone will go out to fast lol

      • Nope! No validation whatsoever unless you’re in Wave 1. Then, allegedly, they require you to prove that you belong there, although now I don’t know that that’s true, either, after reading Hanna’s comment, which is PARTICULARLY odd considering she got in via time qualification, so it’s not like her previous marathon time is a secret to the Chicago Marathon. But anyway, according to the website, you only have to prove your worth via past finishing times for corrals in Wave 1. I could say I’m going to finish in 3:46, even though that’s more than an HOUR faster than my PR and I don’t even have half marathon times–heck, I don’t even have the 5K times!–that would suggest I could run that fast, and just because I said I could do it, they would, allegedly, put me in Corral F. I understand that validating 45,000 race entries and making sure they’re not lying would be WAY more work than taking people at their word, and maybe is even an impossible burden–maybe they couldn’t get through it in time to actually assign everyone a corral. But it is pretty crazy that I could lie through my teeth and get into any Wave 2 or Wave 3 corral that I want. On the other hand, maybe they figure so few people WOULD lie that dramatically (I mean, I would never even consider saying that I could run that fast, because I wouldn’t want to get caught up in a corral with people running more than a minute/mile faster than I wanted to!) that it’s worth letting the few liars be wherever they want because they make up such a small percentage of the race.

        I have so many questions about this entire corraling process. Haha.

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