Chicago Marathon Training Week 16

Sunday, September 16: 20.15 miles in 4:16:50 for a 12:45 pace


Where to even begin with this run? I guess we’ll begin with my 4:30 alarm, which made me inexplicably angry. I’m no stranger to getting up at 4:30 for long runs–I’ve done it every week of marathon training, aside from the first one when I was in Seattle. Compounding my anger was the fact that it was already 70 degrees two hours before sunrise, which did not bode well for the run (incidentally, I wrote basically that exact same sentence last year in my 20 miler recap as well.) I felt moderately better after eating (and waking up a bit), and off to Wilson I went.

I swung by the 10:30 Awesomes’s wave to say hello to my old group leaders. Even though I firmly believe I made the right decision by dropping down to an 11:30 pace (and moving locations) this year, I do miss my group leaders a lot, and it was nice to see them. I briefly chatted with a couple other people from the group as well, then headed back to my 11:30 wave, saying that I hoped to see everyone at the finish line in less than four hours!

Ah, blissful ignorance.

I met up with my current running buddy in our 11:30 wave and we made our way to the start line. This year will be her first marathon, so she was a bit nervous heading into the 20, but I wasn’t too concerned. I’d done this five times before! I knew exactly what to expect!

We started off a little quick, logging an 11:14 first mile, but I honestly thought that felt quite slow. My running buddy peeled off around mile two to use the bathroom and said she’d catch up with me later.

I chugged along all right for the first four miles or so. My stomach had really bothered me at the start of the race and after getting water from the first aid station, but it was feeling a little better at that point. We wound around Montrose, and then, due to Lakefront Trail construction, were routed onto the service road detour on the east side of the golf course. HO.LY. COW. I severely underestimated how much harder it would be to run on gravel compared to pavement, or even the crushed limestone I’m more used to. We were only on the gravel for about a mile, but my legs felt TRASHED, which is really not what I was hoping for four miles into a 20 mile run >.<

I hoped to catch a second wind after getting back on the paved trail, but I didn’t. Less than six miles into the run I was already bargaining with myself on when I could start walking. My usual rule is that I have to make it to the halfway point of a run before walking is even on the table, and here I was, barely a quarter of the way through the run, trying to convince myself to make it to the next aid station before I started walking. AWESOME.

One of the big problems with the 20 miler (or rather, with running the Lakefront Trail in the morning, period) is the dire lack of shade. The afternoon isn’t as rough, because there are usually more trees on the west side of the trail than the east side, where there’s just a gigantic body of water. When I was in the shade, things felt tolerable–manageable, even!–but in the sun, it was rough. The aid station at 6.8 was in a bit of shade, so I felt a little better, but that didn’t stop me from walking through the aid station and a bit beyond the aid station. My shoulders were killing me–another bad sign, that I was already slouching so much the muscles involved in slouching hurt–so I took some time to stretch them out before resuming running.

My stomach acted up again, which made the next stretch not particularly fun (nor did total lack of shade for several miles). When I got to the aid station around North Ave., I noticed that the volunteers were filling the water cups with jugs labeled “Alkaline Water.”

Now, I know next to nothing about science, and even less about the various benefits and/or drawbacks of ~fancy~ water, like alkaline water. A very brief Google search says that a small study involving people who drank alkaline water after strenuous exercise showed that those who drank alkaline water experience reduced blood viscosity, which allows your blood to flow more efficiently and deliver oxygen to your muscles better. If that is the case, I can see the argument for using it during a 20 mile run on a hot day. What I do know is that after taking a cup of that water and downing it, my stomach started to hurt again. I then thought back on all the other times my stomach had hurt during the run, and realized every single one was after taking water from an aid station. I wasn’t experiencing an upset stomach after drinking out of the water bottles in my hydration belt, so it must’ve been something about the water CARA provided that didn’t sit well with me. While I was glad to figure out the root cause of my stomach woes, I was NOT glad to realize that it was the WATER, of all things. I usually wear a hydration belt for convenience’s sake, because it allows me to take my chews whenever I want, not whenever an aid station appears. On Sunday, however, I was so thankful that I at least had the means to hydrate myself without depending on the aid stations, because it was quite apparent that that was not going to be an option for the remaining 11 miles of the run.

South of North Ave., I stopped at a drinking fountain to fill up my water bottles, and while I was in the process of doing so, my running buddy caught up with me! Hooray! Another girl who runs from our location was also in the area, so the three of us took off together and decided to stick with each other as much as possible for the rest of the run.

The stretch along the lake to the east of Grant Park was brutal. I was horribly thirsty and so, so hot. We stopped at the aid station right before the Museum Campus, where I grabbed a Gatorade, despite having a very spotty history with Gatorade and my stomach agreeing with each other midrun, and filled my water bottles again at nearby drinking fountain. I told the other girls I was going to need to run/walk the rest of the run, and they felt the same way, so we implemented quarter-mile intervals for most of the rest of the run: a quarter mile of walking followed by a quarter-mile of running. This made things manageable, but I will admit that I was dying for those walk breaks by the end of a running interval.

As we continued south, we picked up two other people who were interested in following our run/walk method, bringing our group to five. This was the first time I’ve ever had running buddies for the entire second half of the 20 miler, and it really helped. Having someone else keep track of the intervals was great, but it was also just nice to have company and people to pull me along. I’m sure I would’ve walked a LOT more if it hadn’t been for everyone else in my group.

This was, unsurprisingly, not even close to the 20 miler I had hoped for. I really wanted to use this run to practice (and/or figure out) pacing for the marathon, and initially hoped to run the first five (maybe 10) miles at an 11:30 pace, then attempt the remainder of the run at GMP. The closest I ever came to GMP was that 11:14 first mile. I’m not at all happy with my overall time–I would be happy with that time for a marathon, but certainly not for a 20 miler–and comparing this year’s 20 miler time to all my other 20 miler times (3:37, 3:37, 3:37, 3:40, 4:07), and seeing how those 20 miler times have consistently gotten slower over the past three years, does not exactly inspire self-confidence.

That being said, I know that the weather had a significant impact on my run. I was recounting to my running buddies at one point how I distinctly remembered putting on jeans and a sweatshirt after the 20 miler in 2014. It was 66 degrees and overcast at noon that year. This year, it was 78 degrees and clear at 11:30, with a Real Feel of 87. Obviously that makes a HUGE difference. The weather is out of my control, and I think it had a bigger impact on how my run went than my preparation up to this point. I still wish I could’ve used this run to practice what I want to do for the marathon more effectively, but it’s done and over, and I’ve written 1487 words analyzing it. Time to move on.

Monday, September 17: Strength training – legs
Normally I wouldn’t work out at all the day after the 20 miler, but gosh darn it, I have been too consistent about these strength training workouts to give up now! Plus, Erin gave me a really gentle workout for Monday, and I used significantly lighter weights than usual (like, to the tune of 50 percent or less than what I would normally use), so this was more of a recovery “workout” than anything, and I honestly think I felt better after doing the workout than I felt before doing it.

Tuesday, September 18: Strength training – upper body (AM) + dance (PM)
I technically did strength training on Tuesday, but to say I phoned it in would be generous. Rather than going to the gym, I stayed home and used the 10 lb dumbbells I have at my house, justifying my lack of effort with the fact that it’s taper time.

We were back up to five people in dance on Tuesday. Since one person missed all of last week’s instruction on the combo we learned then, we spent most of the class reviewing it, which was fine by me. I need all the review I can get on that one! I felt like I had a much better grasp on it when I left class on Tuesday, and that was reassuring.

Wednesday, September 19: 6 miles in 1:04:34 for a 10:46 pace
I woke up Wednesday morning with pain in my left hamstring, just above my knee. I didn’t really know what to make of it. On the one hand, I doubted that it was an injury, due to the fact that every other time I’ve injured myself in any way, the pain has presented itself for the first time during activity, not when I woke up the following morning. It seemed unlikely to me that I would’ve injured my hamstring while sleeping. On the other hand, the pain did not feel DOMS-like, and that concerned me. I walked a lot on Tuesday, and our dance combo from Tuesday did involve a fair amount of kicking with the left leg, so this wasn’t entirely out of left field, but it was a bit unexpected. Since the pain seemed to kind of come and go, I decided to proceed with my run as scheduled to test it out. The first 100 meters or so were painful, but after that, I found the pain subsided a lot. It didn’t bother me at all on hills, and it felt the best it had felt all day during the last mile. I made a point of focusing on hamstring stretches when I got home.

Thursday, September 20: Strength training – legs (AM) + 3.5 miles in 36:54 for a 10:33 pace (PM)
My hamstring still hurt Thursday morning, but I couldn’t decide if it was better, worse, or the same. It didn’t bother me at all on my walk to the CTA on Thursday, so that made me think it was better, but it did bother me when walking up steps, which made me think it was worse. I went through all of the strength training exercises I had scheduled for the day with lighter-than-normal weights, and only one (hip thrusts) caused any sensation at all in my hamstring. I was getting increasingly worried about the pain, however, and decided to schedule an injury screening with a physical therapist later that day for a professional opinion on the situation.

I went to the physical therapist at lunch for my injury screen, where it took approximately two minutes of me telling the PT about my situation for her to declare that I have a hamstring strain. Now that you don’t need a prescription to get PT in Illinois (which is very disorienting for me. I’m used to going to PT because a doctor tells me I need PT, not because I decided I need PT. I don’t feel like I have the authority to make that decision!), my injury screen turned into an evaluation/appointment. The PT massaged my hamstring, had me do some gentle stretches, and then hooked me up to the stim machine and put a heating pad on my leg. I was told that I can continue running, though no more than three to four miles at a time, and I have to ice when I finish. My remaining runs for the season were a six miler, a half marathon, a four miler, another four miler, an eight miler, a five miler, and a two miler, so realistically, that’s not too big of an adjustment. If I’m not cleared to run more than three to four miles before race day (which I don’t expect I’ll be), I’ll lose a total of about 17 miles (but still run about 25.1 of the initially planned 42.1). I’m not super excited to miss those miles, but I’d rather miss those 17 miles than 26.2 of the marathon.

Since I was still allowed to run some, I cut my six miler with six hill repeats into a 3.5 miler with no hills Thursday afternoon. Considering that it was a balmy 93 degrees when I left work that afternoon, I suppose I preferred that to what was scheduled. I really wasn’t trying to run fast, so I don’t know what happened that led me to run this almost a minute/mile faster than usual. My hamstring felt far better running than it had at any other point that day, which was frustrating.

Friday, September 21: Rest

Saturday, September 22: Rest


By Friday afternoon, my hamstring felt much better, and it barely bothered me at all on Saturday. I still noticed it a little when walking up stairs, but the pain was much less intense (not that it was ever that intense in the first place). Of course, feeling better so quickly leads me to wonder if I substantially overreacted by going to the PT. This close to the marathon, though, I figure better safe than sorry. I was pretty worked up about all of this on Thursday and Friday (ok, fine, I was really worked up about it), and getting some professional eyes on the situation made me feel a little more in control about everything. I would be quite surprised if a few appointments of PT between now and the marathon make things worse, so I suppose I have nothing to lose other than some sleep, since most of my appointments are before work. I know hamstring injuries are no joke, so even if this isn’t serious, I want to take it seriously to prevent it from becoming serious, especially with the race less than two weeks away at this point. If nothing else, I’ll be very well rested going into race day!

4 thoughts on “Chicago Marathon Training Week 16

  1. Oh man, it was SO the heat and that weird water that affected you! And the no shade. That was just a brutal day and I hope race day is MUCH cooler.
    Why do you wait to start walk breaks? I have a much different mentality that I figured out after my first Chicago, so I am curious 🙂
    It’s totally going to be better to rest the hamstring! You are done with the big weeks and should be resting anyway. I hope it’s feeling better day by day!
    And awesome job keeping up with all your strength training during this cycle!

    • That’s a good question! I honestly haven’t put a whole lot of thought into the “why” of it, but I think it’s mostly because I know that my all-run miles are always faster than my run/walk miles (I’ve never tried the run/walk method where you try to maintain a certain pace and run faster than that pace during your run intervals to make up for the time you lose walking), so the more all-run miles I can log, the quicker I’ll finish the race. That, and I always would ideally like to run the entirety of a race, so holding myself to, “You have to run x miles before you can start walking,” can help with that sometimes. That being said, if I NEED to walk before the halfway point, I will. But usually I don’t need to, I just want to (though it can be hard to distinguish between the two during a marathon!).

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