Bank of America Chicago Marathon Race Recap

Normally, I don’t struggle too much with how to open these marathon race recaps, but this year, I’m at a loss for words. Sunday defied my wildest expectations in the best way possible, and I don’t know how to summarize it.

So I guess I’ll start at the beginning.

I got a good night of sleep Friday into Saturday, and then spent nearly all of Saturday fretting about the forecast. It seemed like the meteorologists were getting a little wishy-washy on the potential for thunderstorms on Sunday, but it wasn’t until around 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon when AccuWeather took storms out of the forecast entirely that I actually relaxed. I knew it was still possible that it could storm, but I hoped that the fact that Saturday didn’t get as warm as predicted meant the warm front that was supposed to cause all the thunderstorm-inducing instability had stayed south of us and that we’d get by unscathed.

It’s a good thing I slept well Friday into Saturday, because my sleep Saturday night into Sunday resembled my night of sleep before my first half marathon, which is to say: it barely happened. I tossed and turned throughout the night, but I was able to keep my wits about me. I’ve been running races long enough to know that a poor night of sleep the night before the race is normal and nothing to worry about, which helped keep me from getting upset about it. I also discussed my insomnia issues from earlier this summer with my therapist when I was in the thick of not sleeping between the hours of 1 and 3 a.m. on weeknights, so I had some breathing exercises and other helpful tips (i.e.: no playing on my phone or looking at the clock) to try to help lull me into dreamland. All told, I was up for about three hours the night before the marathon, but I refused to let it bother me: something that would quickly become my theme for the day.

I was in a good mood when my alarm went off at 4:45, and made a point of doing everything in my power to maintain that good mood. It was raining, but AccuWeather said it would stop raining in 90 minutes, so I figured it wouldn’t get in my way too much. I broke the cardinal rule of racing and tried something new for race day. That something new was Aquaphor, which I slathered all over my feet, anywhere I had previously experienced chafing on long, wet days (my sports bra line, under my arms), and anywhere I thought I could experience chafing during the race on Sunday. Holy smokes, you guys. Everyone who’s sung the praises of Aquaphor to me since I started all of this in 2013 was not kidding. I have so many regrets about not jumping on the Aquaphor train sooner. I’m still a Body Glide believer for everyday runs, but moving forward, I will 100 percent be an Aquaphor user on long, wet runs.

The CARA Compound (CARA VIP Experience, as they called it this year, and have possibly been calling it for plenty of years, since I stopped paying attention a long time ago) returned to Hilton this year, so I went there before the race to meet up with my friends from my training group and to stay warm and dry. I ended up leaving the Hilton a little later than I should have, and was antsy waiting in the security line to get into Grant Park. Fortunately, I made it to my corral with about 10 minutes to spare.

I was in Corral G because I asked to be, but didn’t really belong in Corral G, so I lined up at the very back, just like I did last year. It started to drizzle a bit while we waited to start, which reminded me a lot of Rock ‘n’ Roll back in July! It wasn’t too bad, though, and around 8:20, I was off.

bankof americachicagomarathonstart2018

As my post on Thursday may or may not have implied, I didn’t really have much of a race plan for Sunday. I still hoped to run a 4:45, but like I said in that post, my real goal was to give it everything I had and see what happens. That’s all well and good, but it does help to have some sort of an idea of what you want to do in the pacing department, so I decided I’d try to run somewhere between a 10:50 and 11:00 pace at least to start and see what happened.

I manually lapped my watch at every mile, since GPS is useless during the Chicago Marathon, and came through mile 1 in 11:18. That, obviously, is a bit slower than my 10:50-11:00 target, so I tried to step it up a little after that point. I saw my parents and grandma at mile 1.5ish, waved hello, and continued down State Street, and hit mile 2 in 11:01. Still not *quite* where I wanted to be, but better. I came through mile 3 in 10:58, and then hit the first 5K in 34:28, which seemed reasonable enough to me for a 5K pace during a marathon (for me, that is).

I don’t know why I decided to do this on Sunday, but it occurred to me when I hit the first 5K in 34:28 that if I added 34 minutes to that time, I could predict my 10K time if I maintained a consistent pace (1:08:xx. I don’t usually pay attention to the seconds during long races like this, so as far as I was concerned, I had run a 34:00 5K). So then that was my goal: hit the 10K in 1:08.

Somewhere in Lincoln Park, it started raining. There was also a decent breeze out of the north, and honestly, I thought the combination of the two made things downright perfect for running. Several people have commented on how terrible the weather was on Sunday, and while I agree that it was objectively terrible, I would argue that it was PERFECT for marathon running. I have been begging–begging–for 55 and overcast ever since 2013, and I never got it until Sunday. The rain and breeze made 55 and overcast even more pleasant for marathoning in my opinion. They kept me from getting too warm, which I think is one of the most important parts about running a marathon. I also truly do enjoy running in the rain (as long as it’s not storming!), so I will happily take rain on marathon day over sunshine every time.

I continued on my way, going past the zoo and onto Fullerton. Just beyond the aid station in front of the Nature Museum, I saw a spectator making a bit of a commotion. Turns out he was trying to scare away a CANADA GOOSE that had wandered onto the course and was just walking along Cannon as if there weren’t 44,000 people running around him. It was seriously one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen during the marathon. He didn’t even seem interested in flying away! Perhaps we inspired him 😛

Just past Mr. Goose, I crossed the 10K mark and looked at my watch. Lo and behold: 1:08. I felt like I had been maintaining a steady pace, and that confirmed it. I did the math for the next 5K, and determined I’d want to hit 15K in 1:42. I also noted the temperature on the Presence building at Diversey/Sheridan/Cannon, and was oh-so pleased to see 60 degrees on the sign. I always check that when I run past it during the marathon, and it was much nicer to see a temperature I liked at 10K rather than a temperature that was already too warm at 10K!

We got to the top of the course at Sheridan (instead of Addison like in the past), and at the intersection of Sheridan and Broadway, Biofreeze had a video screen up where cheers people sent you would display. I had sent two cheers to myself to remind me of my mantras for the race, but neither one of them showed up. I started to worry that something was wrong with my bib, and in the past, I think that easily could’ve derailed my race. I would’ve panicked, fumbled around with my phone to pull up the app to see if I was being tracked, lost time. Instead, I decided that if my timing chip was malfunctioning and somehow not working, 1) it was too late to do anything about it at that point, and 2) I didn’t *need* an official time anyway. Regardless of how the day went, I most certainly was not going to BQ, after all. (For the record, my chip was working, so who knows why my messages didn’t show up.)

This is part of a bigger theme of my entire race day: my mental game. I really thought having a good attitude was going to be critical to succeeding on Sunday, and I was bound and determined to not let myself get in my own way. I decided in the corrals that Sunday was going to be my day, and I wasn’t going to let anything keep that from being the case. When things felt challenging, I told myself that I liked the challenge. If I felt like I wasn’t pumping my arms enough, I reminded myself that I did not drag myself out of bed at 5:45 for 16 consecutive Tuesdays to let my back get away with not putting in its fair share of effort at the race. When my legs started to burn around mile 19, I told myself that I liked the burn (which is true, for the record. The burn I felt was more of the “comfortably hard” burn of a tempo run rather than the “searing pain” burn you sometimes get in a marathon.). I told myself over and over and over again that the wall did not exist because I decided it didn’t exist, and me deciding it didn’t exist was all it would take to keep it from existing. Rather than feeling good at mile 16 and thinking, “Well, don’t get too far ahead of yourself. A lot could happen in 10 miles,” I thought, “10 miles?! That’s nothing. That’s a Tuesday. That’s easier than most of my Tuesdays!” (Metaphorically speaking, because I don’t run on Tuesdays, and because my Tuesdays are usually long days.). I told myself that I was going to PR, period, and I was going to run a 4:45 to do it.

Every time I’d tell myself these things, negativity followed immediately. “You can’t just decide that the wall doesn’t exist. You don’t have control over that.” “You know you can’t really run a 4:45.” “You’ve been through this enough times to know that 10 miles is a lot at the end of a marathon. You know you always slow down here.” But I refused, absolutely, wholly refused, to listen to those thoughts. I’ve always been a pessimistic person, assuming the worst, expecting things to go bad, but on Sunday I fought tooth and nail against those tendencies. I was not going to let my pessimism get the best of me, even if, especially early on (before I had 3+ hours of practice at shutting up the doubt in my head), my insistence on staying positive felt like lying to myself. I was a little surprised at how many f-bombs my positivity entailed (“You are going to f***ing do this!” was a thought that went through my head many times, haha), but whatever works, I suppose. If aggressive positivity works for me (as opposed to, say, more sunshine-y positivity: “You are the best runner in this race! You are amazing!”), then so be it.

Anyway, back to the physical race. It rained most of the time I was in Lakeview. I could tell that there were definitely fewer spectators than normal–not that I blame them! I wouldn’t have wanted to spectate on Sunday, either!–but it was hardly empty. I saw my mom at Wellington and Broadway, and soon after that hit the 15K mark in 1:41: quicker than I expected, since a steady pace would’ve gotten me there at 1:42. That was great as far as I was concerned! I still did my math as if I had arrived at 1:42 so I’d know when I wanted to get to 20K if I maintained my first 5K pace (2:16).

Somewhere on Sedgewick, I realized I was starting to get some chafing under my left arm, so I grabbed a swipe of Vaseline at the next aid station to slather on the hot spot. What did not occur to me was that, in doing so, I’d end up with fingers full of Vaseline and no good way to get rid of the excess. I wiped a bunch on my arms and shorts, but it took most of Wells for me to clean it all off. Other than that, though, I was chafe-free throughout the marathon, which felt like no small accomplishment.

It had stopped raining awhile ago by this point, and I was getting a bit warm. Once I got downtown, I started dumping water on my head and splashing some in my face at each aid station. I did that during the marathon last year and it made a huge difference. Even though the weather this year was quite different from last year, it still made a huge difference. I felt a lot cooler, and consequently a lot better, once I started doing that.

Downtown was fairly active, and once we headed into the West Loop, I really started to feel the impact of the course change up north. When I learned that they changed the course, I thought it had the potential to be a really good thing for me mentally, and boy was I right. Getting to miles 14 and 15 way before their location on the old course was such a boost. I couldn’t believe I was already there, not because I felt like I was running so fast, but because I’m used to those mile markers being a lot farther along. It made the middle miles feel like they flew by, which is a great way to feel during the middle miles of a marathon!

I had done some analyzing of my past marathon times a couple of weeks ago and discovered that mile 16 is always about 30 seconds slower than mile 15 for me, so this year, I made a point of not letting that happen. When I lapped my watch at mile 17 and saw that I had turned in a 10:43 mile, I pumped my fist. This was happening!

I was still tracking ahead on my 5K splits compared to what I anticipated (I hit 20K in 2:15 and 25K in 2:49, instead of the 2:50 I expected), so when I saw my family just beyond the UIC Halsted Blue Line stop, I yelled at them, “TODAY IS MY DAY!!!” Again, in the back of my head I knew that things could still go downhill, but I pushed that thought away and kept going.

Taylor Street was so different this year compared to what I’m used to. Hitting mile 18 around Carpenter instead of Laflin was a GAMECHANGER. I could not believe I was already 18 miles into the marathon. I felt like I was blowing through the whole race. I also loved running down Loomis instead of Ashland. I’ve said for years that the stretch on Ashland was my least favorite part of the course, and I did not miss it one tiny bit. I crossed 30K in 3:22 instead of 3:24. I knew I had been hitting my 5K splits early, of course, but I didn’t realize I had sped up by two(ish) minutes.

Pilsen was fantastic, as always. When I hit the 20 mile mark, I looked at my watch: 3:37. A couple things to note about that:

  2. As I mentioned in the linked post above, a 3:37 20 miler works out to a 10:51 pace. What pace do you need to run a 4:45 marathon? All together now: 10:52!

Now, I didn’t realize either of those things during the marathon itself. What I did realize (or rather, knew without needing to realize) is that there are 10 kilometers between the 20 mile mark and the finish line, and that my 34 minute 5K split from the beginning of the race worked out to a 1:08 10K. Do you know what 3:37+1:08 is?

Folks, it’s 4:45.

Even though I had been hitting my splits earlier than anticipated since 15K, that math was the kick in the pants I needed. I didn’t plan on backing off my pace, but knowing that I didn’t have room to back off my pace if I wanted to finish in 4:45 (or rather, thinking that I didn’t have room to back off my pace if I wanted to finish in 4:45) was enough to keep me from even allowing myself to entertain the thought of backing off. I won’t lie: it was getting harder around this point. The burn was more difficult to ignore. I felt like I was working. I had been smiling for most of the race, but that had faded. I did. not. care. Like I said, I had decided the wall didn’t exist, and I was not going to let anything, not even biology, prove me otherwise.

I knew if I could just get through Chinatown, I could probably cruise through the last four miles on willpower alone. When I hit 35K in 3:55, as opposed to the 3:58 I expected, I knew I was in good shape. That was when it really hit me that I had put plenty of time in the bank, and I was, for sure, going to PR. (I should note that never during the race did I even attempt to figure out what a 34:00 5K works out to in terms of a marathon time. In case you’re curious, it’s a 4:46). I saw my family on 33rd Street, and this time yelled, “I’M GOING TO PR!!” A person in a T-rex costume right next to them gave me a congratulatory high five, which was delightful.

I’ve never been less afraid of the last three miles of a marathon than I was on Sunday. I knew for sure that I could do it, and I was nearly positive I’d get in in under 4:45. Indiana was tough, I won’t lie, but once I got to Michigan it was go time. According to my 34:00 5K pace, I expected to hit 40K in 4:32. I got there in 4:29. Just past 40K was the 25 mile sign, and I lit up at the crowd support. I no longer had to fight to keep my mind off the pain in my legs: I was too happy to even bother thinking about it. I was smiling without thinking about it again.

Past the one mile to go sign, past the 800 meters to go sign. 800 meters! How many 800s had I run this summer? How many times had I done it under five minutes, even on tired legs? There were so many spectators, there was so much support, there was nothing in the world that could stop me.

I had a visualization session on Wednesday, and during that session, the therapist leading it talked about me hitting mile 26, looking at my watch, and seeing 4:40. When she said it, I truly could see it in my mind’s eye. Since I missed the mile 26 sign last year, I made a serious point of watching out for it this year (I understand why I missed it last year: it was nearly hidden in the trees on Roosevelt). Right before I lapped my watch at mile 26, I looked at the time: 4:40.

After the visualization session ended and I was debriefing with the therapist, I commented on how she said I was at mile 26 at 4:40. “If that’s the case,” I said, “I’ll run a 4:42!” So, upon seeing 4:40 on my watch at mile 26 in real life, I thought, “Well, I guess I have to finish in 4:42 now.”

I was huffing and puffing by the time I crested Roosevelt, but I wasn’t going to let anything stop me at that point. I turned the corner onto Columbus, saw the finish line, and went for it. I crossed the finish line, stopped my watch, and threw my arms in the air. When I brought them down, I looked at my watch: 4:42:49.

I was over the moon. I couldn’t believe it. I did it. I more than did it! I’ve wanted to run a 4:45 marathon for five years, and I finally, finally, finally did it. I PRed, taking 10:03 off my previous PR from 2015. I f***ing negative split a f***king marathon, running a 2:22:56 first half and a 2:19:53 second half. I didn’t just kind of negative split: I negative split by 3:03. If I never thought I’d run a 4:45, I never, ever in a zillion years thought I’d negative split a marathon, and I certainly didn’t think I’d ever negative split a marathon by more than a second or two. I didn’t even MEAN to negative split! I didn’t even know I negative split until someone told me later that afternoon. Like, what?!?!

I got water, Gatorade, my medal, my heat sheet, and for the first time ever in any race, I even got the finish line beer (what can I say? I liked that Goose Island designed cans specifically for the marathon.). I was also shivering despite the heat sheet (being soaking wet in a tank top and shorts when it’s barely 60 degrees outside will do that to you), so I only managed to get four or five sips of beer down before having to dump the rest upon exiting Grant Park. But whatever. The four or five sips I had were well earned 🙂

I’ve said many times that your marathon performance is the result of a plethora of factors, and any one thing going wrong can derail your race day. On Sunday, everything went right. Everything I could control–my running training, my strength training, my diet leading up to race day, my sleep, my attitude–and everything I couldn’t control–namely, the weather–aligned perfectly.

I thought nothing would ever top my marathon experience last year, but somehow this one did. No, I wasn’t comfortable from start to finish, but I didn’t want to be. I wanted to be uncomfortable. I wanted to run without fearing the pain that comes later. I wanted to go for it. I WILL.



19 thoughts on “Bank of America Chicago Marathon Race Recap

  1. Yay!! Congratulations!! I was tracking you on Sunday and my jaw dropped when I saw the result – I think it was projecting like a 4:44 most of the race so you must have really went scorched earth on those last couple miles!

    You worked so hard this summer and I’m so happy it all paid off for you and that you can “retire” from Chicago with a bang! Proud of you!

  2. Yay! Congrats!!! I am so happy for you! What an impressive time and negative split! Brava!

    Great work on your mental game. Those positive mantras really help, don’t they? I use them a lot when I am training and racing for a goal time. Getting in my head with those mantras helps me get OUT of my head. LOL.

    I love that your family was out there and got to see this! I hope you had a fun celebration after. And I am so glad the weather worked out. I was running that morning thinking what great marathon weather it is (considering the Chicago odds). My best marathons have been overcast and rainy.

    LOL at the vaseline situation. Whenever I use it at home I have to have paper towels handy to get it off – or wipe is somewhere on my body!

    And I am SO impressed you did this all with mental math – good work. My brain never works like that and I have to rely on pace bands!

    • Thank you! Yeah, I really think staying positive was one of the keys to my success on Sunday. Obviously I trained really hard and the weather worked out perfectly, but I don’t think I would’ve run as fast as I had if I hadn’t been so insistent on staying on top of my mental game during the race.

  3. I am so freaking happy for you! I checked your time Sunday, cross-referenced against your post from Thursday, and got SO excited when I saw you surpassed your goal by a significant margin. I need to channel some of this mental toughness because it honestly seems like you nailed that part of the race. You deserved to end (?) your Chicago marathon streak on a high note. I cannot fathom getting faster the second half of a marathon but I also know that’s how the best races are run.


    • Thank you!! Maybe I’m giving it too much credit, but I honestly think reading Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor made a HUGE difference in getting my mental game where it needed to be. The majority of the book is about getting your mind where it needs to be to have a successful race. I bought it not really expecting it to do that much for me, but I was totally wrong. It really got me on the right track, and I highly recommend it! I hope you have a great race in a couple of weeks!

  4. You freaking killed this, Bethany! I was tracking you on Sunday and like Hanna said, all race every split would put you either just over or just under 4:45. I knew you could gut it out until the end but I still couldn’t believe how much you crushed it when I saw your final time! You trained well and did all the right things and it paid off big time. It sounds like things finally all lined up just right on race day too (totally with you on the weather – even with some rain that sounds pretty perfect to me!). Congratulations on an absolutely stellar race!

    • Thank you!! I’m so glad I didn’t know my predicted finish time until now, haha – I think it would’ve really stressed me out! I know that I definitely did everything I needed to do to have a good race, but there’s a lot out of your control when it comes to a marathon, and I feel like the stars are aligned perfectly to make for the best day 🙂

  5. Congrats, Bethany!
    After hearing/reading about all of the awesome reviews on the Chicago Marathon … I am going to HAVE to add this one to my bucket list. Are you planning on running any other marathons? I think you should consider running the memphis St. Jude Marathon. It was my FIRST marathon and it was an incredible experience running through the St. Jude Hospital Campus. You would have to either fly to memphis or drive down to memphis from Chicago. We drove and it really wasn’t that bad.

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