Bank of America Chicago Marathon – an Abbott World Marathon Major
Applications for a ballot spot in the Chicago marathon open in November the previous year, with the outcome known just weeks later in December. Fresh from Berlin and with Craig having secured a charity spot for London 2018, I applied for the draw for Chicago for us both. The email notifying me I had been successful arrived around 1am, and yes I was checking – but nothing for Craig! Then around 4am, success for him as well, so I woke Craig to give him the good news although his level of excitement didn’t quite match mine at that hour.
Training for Chicago followed on from the London marathon, meaning there were around eight weeks of just everyday running before re-entering a structured 18 week program. I came home from our five week holiday in the UK following the London Marathon, and dived straight into rowing, focussing on NSW Masters in May and then learning to row a single scull in June. Craig had extended his trip from the UK to a further few weeks in the USA and arrived home mid June. It was fairly clear that he’d done some damage to his hip in the London Marathon and things had not been helped by several weeks on motorcycles in the USA.
I started training again while Craig rested and took pain meds and anti inflammatories. We found a new cafe in Tighes Hill called Equium Social and this became quite the focal point for those 18 weeks of training. Initially I ran around 7km from home to the cafe, meeting Craig for coffee and then he’d drive us home. As things progressed I found different ways to run all sorts of distances to the same venue, all the way to 25km. I had another couple of favourite routes for 5km or so but essentially anything longer than 6.5km ended up at the cafe. The staff came to know us quite well although it took time to comprehend why we came to there rather than going to a cafe closer to home.
Training for this marathon was four days a week. I decided to keep to the lighter program because I was keen to improve at rowing, which for the majority of the program was also four days a week. Things got a bit out of hand around week 13 when I started as coxswain for an eight at the rowing club, as this entailed two mornings as well, and as such I dropped my individual rowing efforts to focus on finishing the running. There were days where I’d run first and then drive to rowing, and days where I’d run to the rowing club to row.
Another change I made this round was to do the long run mid week before work. This was the first marathon program I’ve undertaken completely alone. My schedule was fairly crazy, leaving home after 4am most days, and generally being done by 6am to coincide with meeting Craig who had dropped our youngest daughter to rowing around that time. Having to get the long run done by 6:30am at the latest meant I had to keep running and not muck around, leaving enough time then for breakfast, picking up our daughter after rowing, getting home, and then onto work. The plan worked really well for my commitments but was entirely antisocial in terms of running with others.
I churned through the program, missing one week while holidaying in Uluru, and one longer run becoming the Wellington 10km, run in pouring rain on a mini break weekend to New Zealand. I also ran the Lake Macquarie 10.5km with my daughter Emily and her friend Liz. I’d never done that particular distance in the event before as I thought the 0.5km on the end of 10km was a little silly, but the company and medal were awesome!
Later, there was one run of 29km I’d call a fail. I’d planned a completely different route, still heading to the cafe, but running south to Charlestown and the east to Merewether to increase the distance. I’d done this in the past but had completely forgotten the hills involved. My left calf kept cramping and as I hit Merewether beach the wind was absolutely howling. It was freezing – 2 degrees! By the time I’d run to Nobbys beach it was clear the next few kilometres out on the breakwall and back would be completely unsheltered from the wind, and I phoned Craig to come and rescue me – 21.1km – target had been 29km. I felt disappointed and disheartened.
I wanted to get the last long run, 32km, right. Trying that distance to finish by 6:30am didn’t seem achievable on a weekday and so I elected to undertake this run on an old favourite course Swansea Heads to home, one Saturday morning. Craig drove me the 40 minutes to Swansea Heads, arriving at 5am. He shone the car lights on the toilet while I used the ammenities, kissed me goodbye, and I watched the car tail lights receding into the darkness in front of me. Nothing else to do other than start running! It’s about 4km to Swansea bridge, then the start of the Fernleigh track at Belmont by 10km. The sun came up around 5km and I dispensed with my head lights into the Salomon pack I’d worn for that purpose. I’d broken the run then into chunks in my head, focussing on each one at a time, and by Adamstown I’d achieved 25km in reasonable time. Happy with that I completed a loop to Broadmeadow, and home – done! I was really pleased with completing the longest run and my spirits were quite buoyed.
Two weeks later the departure day for Chicago came up quickly. We left Sydney Thursday, arriving Chicago via Dallas on Friday afternoon. Somewhere in there we lost 15 hours! We caught the free shuttle to the Marathon Expo which was one of those extremely well organised situations I’ve really come to appreciate. Picking up my bib was a breeze, as was getting the bib for the 5km fun run, and the ticket to the pre and post race Balbo hospitality tent.
Along the way we found the Altra shoe booth and were thrilled to find stock on the floor in Craig’s size 15! He bought two pairs of shoes and I indulged as well, buying my first event pair of event shoes – the Escalante Chicago Marathon model. I thought they were delightful!
Saturday was the running of the International Chicago 5km. We awoke to pelting rain and then a thunderstorm! The event organisers were sending out warning colours that became yellow from green – I had to look this up and it meant be careful and stay alert for more updates. The start was delayed for about 15 minutes while the storm passed and then runners set off in various groups not determined by anything in particular. It was a nice little run – good to stretch the legs and experience the reality that the buildings interfered quite significantly with gps signal. Wearing the new Marathon runners I finished on 5.3km, with one of those kilometres at 4:05 pace – looked great on Strava but I’ve never run that pace in my life! The medal was sensational and I had a lovely chat with a British couple and two people from Austria.
Saturday Craig went to a conference so after the 5km I went shopping! Lululemon Chicago is huge and it was packed. I bought a few things and found a snazzy restaurant for a carb-loading lunch. Despite the rain I had an awesome day, and walked the Magnificent Mile back to our accommodation.
I’d booked a table online for us for Saturday night at The Florentine Italian restaurant in the Marriott in Chicago. Most restaurants were heavily booked even two weeks out so when a table was free at this one I grabbed it. The food was OK. It was a buffet affair at USD$41 per person which for someone who eats like I do is complete overkill and no real value other than being assured of a meal that involves carbs. So I ate about a cup of food while Craig used his $41 worth, and somewhat underwhelmed we walked back to our accomodation.
Our marathon friends Anne and Steve whom we’d met in South America were in the city as Anne was also running the marathon. We arranged to meet up at the Balbo tent around 6:45am where breakfast was supplied. Our accommodation had an espresso machine but no kettle, so I had a coffee with powdered whitener, and managed a few spoons of instant oats partially softened with hot water out of the tap. Sad really! Craig had day two of his conference and thus we parted at the hotel, and I followed thousands of runners to the event area. Security was easy as I wasn’t carrying anything other than the gear check clear bag, and the Balbo tent entry was quiet. Once inside the tent I found more to eat and met up with Anne and Steve. When our wave was called to make our way to the start it was just so quick and simple to use the ammenities (no queuing) and hand over my gear bag (no queuing). Money very well spent.
I said goodbye to Anne and Steve at wave L and found my way to wave J. It was all very easy. The rain continued and I was thankful for the foil blanket I’d been given as it kept me dry and warm. The rain became much heavier just as we started but I tossed the blanket away and headed out onto the course. People were very excited and the whooping in the first tunnel was deafening. Race conditions were still yellow at this time and we were cautioned about pooling water and slippery white line markings, pedestrian crossings and turning lane arrows. Mindful of the gps issues of the day before I wasn’t surprised when I reached 4km and the distance marker indicated 3km. This discrepancy increased over the rest of the race, ending with my watch showing exactly 45km – an ultra!
I knew that after weaving around the inner city, the course went north to 12.5km. This was the point where rain was heaviest and the wind strongest. I’d been busy watching the road for slip hazards and my feet seemed relatively dry. I stopped for a gel and drink around here and on beginning to run again felt a blister on my big toe. Bugger! I stomped on it really hard and that afternoon when I took off my shoes and socks could see the blister had broken. It was a risky thing to do but I didn’t want the discomfort of a blister nagging at me from 12.5km, and luckily it worked.
The next distance in my mind was to 20km – back to the CBD. I was making reasonable time, having decided to stick on mid 6 minutes per kilometre. My head was a bit messed up by the discrepancy in distance as my watch was showing 23km by the 21.1km sign. The other thing too was there seemed to be plenty of mile signs, with fewer kilometre signs, and doing all that maths was a little hard while trying to run. Was it 13.1 miles or 21.1km or 23.7km? I’m hopeless though at not doing maths and I think that’s one of the reasons I was feeling a little off my game by this point.
The following section was out to 25km and then a turn back to the CBD. I ran for a while with the 4hr30 pacers and then decided to stop at the toilets. Gross! I know running does rubbish things to your bowel but why can’t people clean up after themselves? The portaloo was disgusting. Faeces everywhere, no soap, no water. Thank God there was hand towel as there was no toilet paper. Ew ew ew.
I’d worn my Marathon Maniac singlet thinking I’d have company from others in the club. Without Craig it was going to be ages with no company. I was really disappointed that I saw not one Maniac in those hours. The 15 hour time difference meant family and friends were asleep from beginning to end. I improvised by chatting with a nice young woman named Heather who said she had survived a nasty car accident only weeks earlier, and of course being thankful she was even able to participate. Heather was doing more walking than running so I said goodbye and ran on. Not much further I looked down and saw both my knees covered in blood! Horrified, I stopped and found the tape I’d used on one knee had begun to come off, chafing the other. I had some wipes with me and cleaned up as best I could. Unsettled, I ran on.
I was still making reasonable time, sticking to those mid 6 minute kilometres, but feeling some pain in my glutes. My left hip has been problematic to some extent for ages but the right side was an all new experience. I pulled to the side to stretch and as I did the pain escalated and I virtually collapsed to the ground! Omg, what was happening? I decided to abandon the stretching and instead got up and kept moving forward. The discomfort remained but was insignificant in comparison with the stretching pain and so I elected to move on and hope for the best. In retrospect I think the wet ground had caused me to change my gait and this probably caused fatigue in those muscles.
Around 32km, or 34.5km by my watch, I finally came upon something familiar! A Traveling Fit shirt. I knew this was an Australian and to be honest I didn’t care who this was, I was talking to them! My subject was Chris, a 61year old fellow from Sydney who had entered the marathon with a friend and turned up to run having done no training. Such a male thing to do. Chris had torn his calf at 10km, running up an incline. He said he’d been running and walking since that time but over the next few minutes it was clear he was now only walking. I weighed up the options in my head. I could still finish around 4hrs45 or I could stick with Chris which meant helping him and having some company at the same time. I chose the latter.
Chris and I walked together for about an hour, covering around 7km. As always it is interesting to hear the story of the companion. I educated him on “it’s all about the photo” and indeed there are some awesome photos of us together. Around 39km my back started hurting and I felt quite nauseous. I stopped to stretch and noted the collapse issue in my right glute at the same time. Messed up! I ran lightly back to Chris, feeling better for running, and said I’d decided to run ahead. We thanked each other and parted company. I later found Chris on Facebook by looking at his bib number in the photos! He finished in 6hrs16 which was awesome considering his injury.
The last 2km were excellent. I do like a fast finish and in true form my last kilometre was my fastest for the entire race – 5:40.
Crossing the line was fantastic! Another major completed. I felt a bit lonely as there was no one to speak with so I sent Craig a text and headed to the Balbo tent.
But I made sure I found a photographer to mark the moment I finished another marathon!
People there in the tent were lovely – another runner even offered to get me a drink. Gear pickup was a snap (no queues) and not long after Steve came by, waiting on Anne to finish. We had a great chat while I had a wrap for lunch, and then I walked back to the accommodation. So easy.
I showered and spent some time updating family and friends on social media. I felt pretty good and so took an Uber with our washing to a laundrette, having a really interesting chat with the driver who was from Jordan. Craig returned and we met Anne and Steve for dinner. Anne finished in 6hrs21 which was fabulous given the obstacles she’s overcome in recent years. We had a terrific night and I really hope we will see them again in 2019 at another marathon.
A little bit on the course itself – being almost completely flat, with a few small inclines in places. There were some bridges crossing the river on which the race organisers had placed wide strips of felty carpet. The bridges were made of an open weave metal that allowed the water to drain through to the river below, but the metal was quite slippery in the rain. There were aid stations every 2.5km and these were all stocked with water and Gatorade. I stuck with the Powerade powder I’d packed in little zip lock bags, filling these with water at various intervals and then drinking the contents. I think there were toilets at the aid stations too. We wove our way through 29 neighbourhoods of the city, including Greektown, Little Italy and Chinatown which stood out for me. I spied a restaurant featured as one of The Places to take a photo for Instagram but didn’t have time to stop to do so! Crowd support was wonderful with large crowds cheering along much of the route and the volunteers were very friendly. My observation was that people were walking very early in the race and I wondered how many were locals who came along to enjoy the atmosphere. There were some charities represented but nothing like the volume of charities in London. There was also a large Police presence and many of the Officers were connecting with the runners with high-5s and words of encouragement as well.
So Chicago was another well organised World Major. It is just so nice when things work well. If I was to run it again the only thing I’d change would be the dinner the night before by booking well in advance. The Balbo tent was superb and so worth the money. If you’ve ever worried about queuing for toilets at a marathon, this is the answer to your prayers. I guess I’d have much preferred company on the course but that couldn’t be helped. Time zones were also against me but that can’t be helped either. Honestly though, it’s another World Major ticked off and that’s a really massive thrill.
Bank of America Chicago Marathon was #25.