Bank of America Chicago Marathon Race Recap

Alternately titled, “In Which Bethany Learns She is Not a Windy-Weather Runner.”

As always, I have more than enough to say about the events surrounding race day, but I’ll save that for Thursday. For now, we’ll start with Sunday morning, where I “woke up” on an air mattress in a friend’s apartment at roughly mile 25.75 of the course. I say “woke up” because waking up implies that I slept Saturday night into Sunday morning. While my Fitbit claims that I did, I personally disagree with that assertion. It took me forever to fall asleep, and once I did fall asleep I struggled to stay asleep. It was noisier than I’m used to, it was brighter than I’m used to, and I think we can all agree that air mattresses, no matter how high quality, are never a decent substitute for an actual bed. But I’ve had plenty of poor nights of sleep heading into a race day, so I wasn’t too concerned.

I was, however, concerned with my mental state. I have been in much worse moods waking up the morning before a race, but I also wasn’t as geared up and ready to go as I was last year (having to quietly prepare while my friends slept probably didn’t help). I firmly believe that my positive attitude last year was the x factor that allowed me to PR, and I was a bit worried that my lack of an excessively positive attitude (and inability to conjure one up) was going to hurt me during the race.

I originally planned to bail on the CARA VIP Experience due to the Palmer House not being nearly as convenient to the race as the Hilton, but since it was so cold, I opted to go. All of my runners were in Wave 3 while I was in Wave 2, so I didn’t expect to see any of them, but then ran into one of them when I was getting one last sip of water and saw the other three when I got off the elevator to head to the race. I was so excited to see all of them and wish them good luck. Even though three of my four runners were almost twice my age (and the fourth was I believe seven or eight years old than I am), I still felt like a proud mom seeing all of them πŸ™‚

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I don’t know the exact Real Feel before the race started, but I’d guess that it was in the high 30s/low 40s. To that end, I wore capris, a short sleeve shirt, arm sleeves, and gloves for running (I had an earband, but getting that on/off over my visor is such a nuisance, and I never felt like I needed it while running. I looped it around my hydration belt for the duration of the race.) and layered on fleecy sweatpants, a long sleeve tech shirt, a fleecy zip-up sweatshirt, and a hat as throwaways. I also had throwaway gloves, but ultimately decided to wear my running gloves the whole time instead of the throwaway gloves, and didn’t feel like I needed an additional layer while I was waiting. Since the wind hadn’t picked up yet, I was surprisingly comfortable. I kept my throwaways on a lot longer than normal (I wore my pants, sweatshirt, and hat until about Corral B, and wore my long sleeve shirt until right before I entered the starting chute), and I have zero regrets about anything I did in the throwaway department. That might be the one thing I really, truly nailed for the race, ha.

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I was in Corral G, per usual, and lined up at the very back of it, also per usual, so I wouldn’t be in anyone’s way at the start. The 4:10 pace group decided to hang out by me (lol), and while I was standing there, a woman standing next to me said she thought she should be in a different corral, because she was hoping to run more of a 4:25/4:30 and didn’t think she’d be able to keep up with the 4:10 group. I assured her that it really didn’t matter and that the slower pace groups would catch up to her eventually, and then the two of us started chatting for the duration of the time we had before we got to the start line. I never got her name, but MarathonFoto took two pictures of us together at the start line, so naturally I looked up her in the race results. (She ran a 4:38.) I could tell from talking with her that she was obviously a lot older than I am–I guessed she was in her late 50s/early 60s, most likely–but according to her race results she’s in the 70-74 age group! WHAT! As the kids say, #goals. I think just to be out there running marathons in that age group is incredible, but to do a 4:38! She came in FIFTH in her age group, for goodness’s sake! Amazing! She’s my new inspiration. I really enjoyed chatting with her, especially when she at one point said, “You know, I really don’t like running marathons all that much, but what keeps me coming back is the training. I love the training.” Girl, same. That’s what I’ve been saying for years, and it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who feels that way. Incidentally, she also used to take a hip hop dance class (I KNOW RIGHT) and now she does Zumba NINE (!!!) times a week. When I grow up, I want to be this lady.

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Unsurprisingly, we split up the second we crossed the start line, and I was on my own. I really didn’t know what I was aiming for pace-wise. It was weird going into this race because while my training was almost perfectly identical to the training I did for last year’s PR, I really didn’t feel like I was in PR shape at all heading into Sunday. Logically, it seemed to me that if my training was exactly the same, I should be able to run exactly the same, which meant I should’ve been able to aim for 11:00 miles – or possibly even faster, since the weather was objectively better (at least at the start) this year than it was last year, with much lower humidity and much lower temperatures. While I thought I probably could run 11:00 miles, I also kind of didn’t want to run 11:00 miles, so I figured I’d go out easy and see what the yielded. What it yielded was an 11:13 mile, which I was perfectly happy with and thought I should definitely be able to hang onto for quite some time.

I saw my parents just before the Chicago River, wove my way through downtown, and as I was heading up LaSalle, started to feel some discomfort in my chest. Being me, I immediately went into a panic, terrified I was about to collapse and die of a heart attack on the course (even though you would think if I had some undiagnosed congenital heart defect, which is what tends to be responsible for younger people collapsing and dying mid-race during an endurance event, it likely would’ve made itself known sometime during my previous seven marathons). Since I’m still, you know, alive, I think it was more likely a reaction to the cold than me knocking on death’s door, since this was the first time since spring that I’ve spent any significant time exercising outside in cold air.

Regardless, that obviously didn’t do much to help my already-iffy efforts at staying positive, and I really wasn’t enjoying myself all that much. When I ran the race last year, I had a lot of success breaking the race up into 5Ks to try to use that to stay on pace, so I concentrated on getting to the 5K mark where I could check my watch and have a goal moving forward. I hit the 5K in 35:xx, a minute slower than last year but much easier for doing on-the-fly math, so my new goal was to get to the 10K mark in Lincoln Park in 1:10.

Even though I peed before leaving the Palmer House, I had to go again before I even started the race. I believe that’s happened to me other times during the Chicago Marathon and I’ve chosen to just power through, but when I got to the intersection of Fullerton and Cannon and saw zero lines for the portapotties, I decided to test the “stopping at a portapotty doesn’t make you lose that much time” theory I’ve heard thrown around plenty of times, popped into the first open one, emptied my bladder, and carried on my way. I came through mile six with a 12:09 split after doing mostly 11:15-11:25s up to that point, so now based on personal experience, I feel like I can confidently say that a bathroom break doesn’t destroy your time that much.

I stepped on the timing mat for the 10K as my watch said 1:10:59 (crushing it), which was good enough for me to believe I was still on pace (my official split for 10K is 1:11:01, but I cross my heart I saw 1:10:59 on my watch, so that’s what I’m sticking with). Even though I ran a 12:09 for mile six because I stopped in a portapotty, I was now anxious about staying on pace and ran four miles I came to regret later on in the day: a 10:30, a 10:58, an 11:03, and an 11:03. While that was, admittedly, closer to what I ideally would have liked to run on Sunday, it was a bit quicker than I believed I was capable of running, and I didn’t feel all that confident that I’d be able to keep it up for the rest of the race. Spoiler: I couldn’t.

That being said, I felt like a freaking rockstar in Boystown, which was nice. Maybe it’s because I ran through Boystown in the heaviest rain of the day during last year’s race, but it felt more energetic than I ever remember it being this year, and I loved it. Even though other parts of the course had equal energy from the crowd, this was the only part where I felt good enough to enjoy it, so this was easily the best part of my day. I even felt good enough to joke with my parents about my time when I ran past them at Broadway and Wellington (“I don’t think I’m going to break two hours!” Ha.).

I wanted to hit 15K in 1:45, so I was very happy to come through it in 1:44. Just like last year, I decided to continue setting my 5K split goals based on if I were still maintaining my starting pace rather than my new pace, so I was shooting to get to 20K in 2:20.

And then the wind picked up.

The forecast was pretty clear that we’d have some wind to contend with during the race, though after running about 10 miles that felt wind-free, I hoped that it was wrong and we’d get through the race totally unscathed. I also have spent ample time in Chicago during windy conditions (hello, all of mid-October to early-May), so I am VERY well versed in how wind acts in the city. It doesn’t matter in the least which direction the wind officially comes from once you get into areas with tall buildings. In those environments at street level, the wind comes from every direction, and coming down Wells around mile 11, I got my first taste of what a fair portion of the rest of the race would look like. I could see the wind before I encountered it, because there were tissues and other debris swirling around 40 to 50 feet in the air. My pace had been fairly consistent up to this point, but the wind really slowed me down, and I was now turning in 11:25-11:30s. One the wind settled down, though, I was back to my 11:1xs, and managed to come through 20K in exactly 2:20:00. Once again, crushing it.

My inability to do math bit me in the butt on the trip west on Adams. The wind was coming from the west southwest on Sunday, so even without buildings, Adams was a bit of a challenge. What really got to me, though, was thinking that I needed to hit 25K in 2:50, when in fact to stay on pace I needed to hit it in 2:55. I was getting more and more restless wondering when the heck the 25K mark was going to appear and how on earth I had gotten five minutes off pace, when, just before turning onto Damen, it occurred to me that I should check my math. After doing that and realizing I thought I had five fewer minutes to get to 25K than I actually had, I felt much better, and I felt even better when I hit 25K in 2:55. I wasn’t speeding up, but I wasn’t slowing down either, and that was good enough for me.

In all of my marathons, the only one where the wheels haven’t fallen off between the mile 16 mark and the mile 17 mark (assuming they hadn’t already fallen off by that point) was last year’s. I chalked all of my previous 16-mile walls up to poor nutrition, and assumed I must’ve figured out exactly what I need to do nutrition-wise to avoid the wall during last year’s race, since I never hit it. I rigidly stuck to that plan again this year, but when I lapped my watch at mile 17 and saw 11:34–my first 11:3x of the day that hadn’t been into the wind–I started to worry.

Though I was worried, I wasn’t all that surprised. Even though I didn’t feel like I was pushing myself to my limit, my legs started to feel tired somewhere in the neighborhood of mile 10–a full 10 miles before that happened last year. I don’t really know why I started to feel tired so early on. I was good about limiting my activity for the last two weeks of taper. I wonder if it was due to the cold? I’ve always felt that I thrive in cold weather, since nearly all of my PRs came on days when it was in the 40s or so, but most of those PRs have also come in mid- to late-April, when I’ve run in similar (if not colder) conditions for the past four months. Obviously, coming off a full summer of training, I’m not as accustomed to the cold right now as I am in April, and I’m curious if that has anything to do with my leg-tiredness on Sunday. I also felt physically tired from the poor night of sleep leading into the race morning, which I’m sure didn’t help at all. I also felt emotionally tired and cried (or cried as much as one can while running) several times during the race, including running down Jackson between mile 16 and 17, and I’m also sure that THAT didn’t help at all, either.

Fortunately, I knew I would see my parents on Halsted around 290, so that helped me keep going through that stretch. The crowd here was also very enthusiastic, and one girl in the crowd saw me and said, “Bethany! You’re looking great! You’re going to PR today!” I laughed and said, “No, I’m not!” to myself, because I knew I was very, very off PR pace by that point, but I appreciated her encouragement nonetheless.

It was getting harder and harder to fight the urge to walk as I turned into Little Italy, and I decided that I should probably use the aid station on Taylor Street to refill my water bottles. I hadn’t refilled them once up to that point, which is NUTS. I usually refill my water bottles two to three times during the race, and on Sunday, I only refilled them once, and it was past mile 18. So on top of everything else, I’m sure I had some dehydration issues going on, too. Anyway, I got my refill and walked to the end of the aid station, at which point I definitely knew my dreams of finishing this marathon feeling great were over. Surprisingly, it didn’t bother me that much. I think I was kind of over everything by this point and really just wanted to be done.

I knew even before I got to the 30K mark just beyond Little Italy that I was no longer on pace (3:30), but I figured I’d check my watch anyway. I came through 30K in 3:31, which wasn’t that far off, but I knew I didn’t really have the energy, or, more importantly, the will to push the pace for the next just-over-seven miles.

I hoped the crowds in Pilsen would give me as much of a boost as the crowds in Boystown did, but no such luck. I was struggling. I took my last Honey Stinger chews at mile 20 and was not even a little sad to say goodbye to them. Though I’ve never had issues with Honey Stingers in the past, they were bothering my stomach from mile 10 on on Sunday. My stomach felt cramped for a fair portion of the race, though I do wonder if that’s from my nutrition/hydration or if it’s from hunching over due to the wind/cold – or some combination of the two.

The only thing really keeping me going through Pilsen/between Pilsen and Chinatown was the hope that I could still somehow sneak in under five hours. At some point during the race (I don’t remember where – maybe mile 16 or 17?) I looked at my watch and realized that as long as I could keep up an 11:30ish pace, I’d cross the finish in 4:54 – which, crucially, gave me a six-minute cushion in case I were to slow down. After mile 20, though, it seemed less and less likely that I’d be able to pull that off. I came through mile 20 in 3:48, which meant I’d need to do the last 10K in under 1:12 to break five hours. If I were still doing my 11:15s from earlier, that would’ve been perfectly reasonable. By this point, however, my mile splits were more in the 12:30 range, so I was pretty sure I didn’t have a prayer at finishing in under 5:00.

Because of that, I decided to walk a little bit on Cermak. For the first time ever, I took out my phone to see how everyone I was tracking was doing. The app still predicted a 4:58 finish for me when I checked my phone, which kind of motivated me to push harder, but this was also a pretty good distance past the 30K mark where the app took my last split. A lot had gone wrong since that point, so I didn’t think it was all that accurate anymore. That being said, if I wasn’t going to break 5:00, I didn’t want it to be because I gave up on myself, so I started running again and actually felt a lot more energized after my little phone/walk break.

That energy didn’t last long, and I was hurting again once we got out of Chinatown. I knew my parents would be right before mile 23, so I made sure to be running and smiling when I passed them, even though I didn’t really feel like it. I was just really over it by then and mostly wanted to be done.

I took one more walk break around 35th Street to eat some more pretzels, and then shuffled my way through the rest of the race. Getting to mile 24 and knowing I only had two more miles to go was a huge relief, but I swear the distance between the “one mile to go” and “800 meters to go” signs was MUCH longer this year than it was last year πŸ˜› I was race-crying again by this point, which only got worse as I turned onto Roosevelt (though I did force myself to stop crying on Roosevelt, because it made breathing so difficult). I was weepy the whole way down Columbus and cried as I crossed the finish line. For the first time ever (!), I didn’t stop my watch the second I crossed the timing mat, prioritizing having triumphant finish line pictures over getting a perfect time on my watch since the race would obviously have an official time for me anyway.

I finished in 5:07:32, putting 2019 in the #5 spot on Bethany’s All-Time Marathon Finishes list (by mere seconds: my 2016 Chicago Marathon was a 5:07:49). For those of you keeping score at home, that does make this one of my slowest marathons, but like I said two paragraphs ago, I was so over it that I genuinely didn’t care. I had told my family I thought I’d be able to finish in under 5:10, which I did, and that was good enough for me.

I kind of kept it together emotionally through the finisher’s chute, at least until I got my medal. I wasn’t expecting that to be the moment everything hit me, but it was, and I was an absolute mess. Another medal volunteer saw me, reached out, grabbed my arm, and gave me the most genuine, “You did it!” I’ve ever received, which was very touching. Yes I did, medal volunteer. I did it eight times in seven years. I did it for almost all of my 20s. I did it in everything from 4:42 to 5:25, I did it in Chicago and the far western suburbs, and I did it in heat and sun and cold and rain and wind. I ran 209.6 miles worth of marathons – 209.6 more than I ever would have imagined I would run 10 years ago. Hopefully I’ll add a few more to that tally in the future (my legacy entry will be good for Chicago through 2025), but for now, I’m hanging up my (full distance) marathon shoes, proud of and satisfied with what I’ve accomplished.

As I said every time we left a water station during this summer’s training runs: onward.

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8 thoughts on “Bank of America Chicago Marathon Race Recap

  1. Congratulations on making it through and enduring and getting triumphant finish line photos. I was camping this weekend and on Sunday the thought crossed my mind “oh, it’s Chicago marathon day, I wonder how it’s going for internet stranger Bethany.”
    My official training plan for my first marathon got derailed a week into it by getting sick with a lingering cough. I was thrilled to do a bit of trail running on a hike this weekend and I’m excited to get back into it this week, and I’ll read your training recaps for corresponding weeks to get motivated. Finish time calculators put me around 5:30, my goal is under 5:45 (or before the 6:00 course cutoff, ha).

    • That’s so sweet of you! Thanks for thinking of me! πŸ™‚

      I came down with a cold in July that kept me out of training for a week, so I know how that goes! Hopefully you’re feeling all back to normal now. I hope you enjoy training and that you have a great race in a few months!

  2. Congratulations! You should be proud of all your marathons! You’ve worked so hard these last 7 years!
    I bet the cold was causing some of those issues. I get stomach cramps when I try to digest in the cold weather, too. It this was our first actually cold week. Like you said, in the spring, you are used to it. You weren’t this weekend.
    I ran in the wind Sunday am and was hoping it wasn’t as bad at the race. Ugh. Sorry it was. And sorry you were just meh and over it, but that happens SO often in marathons!!! Nothing wrong with that.
    I want to be that lady when I grow up to.
    P.S. Air mattresses are horrible. I slept on one the night before my marathon PR and am shocked I PR’d.

  3. Congrats! You did it! Yes, your time might not have been a PR BUT you now have legacy and can keep trying again in the future when you have a bit more “consistency” in your schedule AND you can potentially find a marathon training group in the Suburbs so that you don’t have to get up quite so EARLY for your long runs! ❀

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