I can’t remember the exact conversation but it took place some time around the beginning of March – the topic: running the Chicago Marathon. And to cut a long story short it all centred around an innocent comment from Toney (aka @ultratone_), ‘we should run Chicago one day’. Pretty soon after that Katie (podcast #10) was also onboard and with extra encouragement from coach Jon Lyau (who ran 2:29:35 on the same course) before we knew it our applications were in and plans for a fall marathon began taking shape. Chicago Marathon 2015 was on the cards.
The Eugene marathon in May was a test of general fitness (see write up HERE) – and gave me some hope that if I could just sneak through a 16 week block of training for Chicago without any holdups – a long-held goal of breaking 3 hours for the marathon might not be too far out of reach. With 15 months of continuous running behind me since landing back in Hawaii after completing Retracing Routledge, an October marathon was ideal.
I began the build up to Chicago at the end of June. After a brief stint of trail running I dove back into the marathoners’ bread and butter of interval training and tempo runs along with the essential weekend long run. Katie and I met up on Sunday mornings to run around the windward side of Oahu – often ending up at the Kailua farmer’s market for a giant green smoothie from the ‘Oma’o Man stand. Toney was based in San Diego fitting marathon training in around her new nursing job.
As the weeks ticked by, I simply stuck to the training plans from Jon as best I could and held on, increasing mileage by a manageable amount each week whilst maintaining yoga, strength and core work (*for a slightly more detailed breakdown of my training see the end of this post). I also gave more attention to recovery from hard workouts, which included skipping wine or beer with dinner. OK, so this didn’t happen 100% of the time, I did enjoy a few celebratory post-relay beers in Hana. But for the rest of the training cycle I was about 90% teetotal. It’s not that alcohol is bad – not at all – everything in moderation! I was simply at a point where I wanted to give my body every chance to be able to re-build and get stronger without giving it any extra work to do – such as dealing with the by-products of metabolising alcohol. We were also coping with a long Hawaiian summer and hurricane season of high humidity and low trade winds. Let’s just say after one particularly ‘sweaty’ Sunday long run (when Katie was in Haiti – even hotter!) by the time I got home, feeling totally wasted, I had lost 8lbs! And that was even after hydrating with nuun beforehand and water from local fountains during the run!
The next part of the training equation was to prepare mentally for Chicago. In the lead up to Eugene marathon I had found the meditation programme from Headspace extremely useful but during the summer I had let the practice slip. Instead I began using some of the mental toughness techniques outlined in the ‘Believe I Am’ training journal and set up a plan to deal with negative thought patterns. I also wrote a list of 26 people who I could dedicate to each of the 26 miles.
As marathon day approached I followed my tapering advice from Jon and finalised travel plans. There were lots of Oiselle Volée runners going to Chicago – about 60 in total – and a couple of meet-ups had been organised. It was going to be a great opportunity to see a few friends from Bird Camp 2014 and the Eugene marathon, and meet new faces.
As a first – I had decided to take the red-eye flight to Chicago from Honolulu on Friday night with Katie – arriving on Saturday morning. It was a slight gamble but an approach I’d never taken before, travelling so close to a Sunday marathon. However it seemed to work. We landed in Chicago with plenty of time to attend a Fleet Feet shake out run, which a group of Oiselle runners were also attending (and also Deena Kastor, Sara Hall and Bart Yasso!) and I was surprised to find that my legs felt ok. OK.
After a post-run coffee, small breakfast and a catch up with the Oiselle girls it was time for the expo. At the expo I coincidentally bumped into Beth, a lady from San Francisco who I’d run with a few times (early morning miles repeats anyone?) during her summer vacation on Oahu. It was great to see Beth but by then I was starting to feel tired, the red-eye flight catching up with me, and soon after picking up my race number I quickly retired to my AirBnB accommodation west of the city centre. Once there I slept, ate, drank – prepped all my marathon gear, set an early alarm and slept some more.
Marathon morning. Usual routine: water, black coffee with honey, quick oats with hot water & honey, small glass of nuun.
I made my way to Chicago’s Millenium Park – where I was due to meet up with Dan Walters and a group of runners who Julia (@runningon0m) had kindly connected me with. It transpired that the group were all also aiming to break 3hrs and graciously included me in their plans to run 6:50min/miles. Prior to the start they were all hanging out at a condominium that belonged to Erin & Mike from the group – and just sitting and chatting with them, soaking up their positive, fun attitude, was very relaxing. As the sun came up we made our way through the crowds (45,000 people took part) to the start line, wearing a fine assortment of second-hand clothing (to be discarded right before the gun) but in the hustle I managed to loose Dan’s group! However I wasn’t worried and after making a final porta-pottie stop, settled into the A corral. Katie was up ahead with the American Development group, and Toney a corral behind.
7:30am. Go. I settled into a good pace quickly, but forgot advice from Rachel Ross: don’t set your watch to the automatic GPS function for mile splits. This would come back to haunt me later. I did take the advice from Dan Walters – and hugged the first four corners of the course: left, left, right, right. I ran with a Oiselle girl for a short while, Molly, and then shortly after spotted Dan’s group up ahead and slowly meandered over to join them. The next 10 or so miles ticked along smoothly. 6:50’s. I wouldn’t say at that point I felt great but I was focused on the task at hand. 6:50’s. I made a huge effort to drink Gatorade at every opportunity – even if it was only one sip. At about mile 10 I had one PowerGel, washed down with a few sips of water. 6:50’s.
Over the next few miles the group sadly diminished and by mile 16 it was just myself and another runner called Alex. We had gels around mile 16.5 but at mile 17 we were woken from the pacing-trance we had fallen in to by a chorus of cowbells from the Oiselle supporters on the side of the road. It was awesome to see a few friendly faces but they were gone again in a flash as Alex and I ploughed on to mile 18. Unfortunately it was right around then that my watched died. It had bleeped low battery once, but what can you do? Too many tall buildings, too little GPS signal. It was time to go old school and start doing some marathon-math in my head.
Mile 19. Alex and I briefly chatted about pacing – we were drifting slightly apart. After the next aid station I picked it up and moved ahead as Alex stayed at just over a 6:50 pace – then we were on our own.
Mile 20-26 of Chicago are a bit of a blur. I remember seeing Beth again and saying something. I also remember watching for the red digits of the overall marathon clock that was occasionally on the side of the road and thinking, I can do it. Every now and again runners would appear in my perriferal vision who were doubled over with cramp, which just made me grab more Gatorade and reminded me to to take one last gel. I also distinctly recall trying to pick up the pace again – and being almost in shock when my body responded. I nearly cried! In every other marathon up until that point the last 6miles have been wars of attrition between muscles groups – not the other way around. Then one more thought buzzed through my mind: you’ve run ultras that have hurt more than this. Let’s go!
800m to go. 2 laps of the track. You can totally do it. Kick. (WTF ???) 400m. 200m. FINISH. 2:58:07.
Wandering through the finishing shoot I was handed the giant foil-like wrap thing (synonymous with marathon-finishers around the world), a pint of beer (which I gladly accepted) and then eventually found Katie, whose name I had heard being called out as I had approached the finish line. Katie had also run 2:58! Not long after that I bumped into Oiselle runner Sarah Attar (the one and only), and then a number of other team mates – Molly (who I ran with early in the marathon) and Emily – who smashed her PR in her first race as a member of the Oiselle Volée and ran 3:13.
High on my list of after-marathon priorities was connecting with Toney, which eventually happened over lunch – after picking up our pre-checked gear bags and phones. We had lots to catch up on, not forgetting the essential post-race analysis – all 26.2 miles of it! Toney ran an awesome Boston marathon qualifying time of 3:30:5 – entry to the 2017 event.
The marathon aftermath is always pretty entertaining. You can see who did what by the way people move around. Calves, quads or hamstrings – they are all hurting and everyone looks like a zombie. After lunch with Toney I slowly hobbled and wobbled via train and sort of on-foot over to the Old Town area of the city to re-connect with the Oiselle team. It was great to chat with so many uplifting women and intriguing to hear so many different stories of the marathon experience. Each 26.2 is unique.
When Monday rolled around, Katie and I met up with Jess from Oiselle and we took an Architectural River Tour of the city. We were all moving slowly so a seated tour was perfect! It was so interesting to hear the history of the down town buildings and other parts of the city in general. Chicago to me felt like a mix between certain areas of London and a South American city like Buenos Aires – old but new, constantly developing, growing, designing and planning for the future.
Life goes on. Finishing a marathon on a high note is incredibly powerful but I’ve been on the flip side too. How to balance the highs and lows of running is no easy task but the best medicine is sometimes just to realise that it’s all up to you – define your own success – as Lauren Fleshman so succinctly put it. I’m defining Chicago as a success based simply on the way that I felt over the last 6 miles of the marathon – strong and completely in the moment.
Finally – I would be lying if I didn’t add that the book: ‘Once a Runner’ by John L. Parker, hadn’t made an impact on me over the last few weeks. If you haven’t read it I won’t give too much away but will say it’s a must read for all runners and people who enjoy very engaging and active types of stories (a book I wish I’d read a long time ago…).
And the take away point from the book and this very long blog post (thanks for sticking it out):
“— that there are no secrets.”
*Summary of training during 16 weeks leading up to the Chicago marathon: 822.5 miles (Ave weekly mileage 51. Highest 70 with 3x 65, lowest 35, mostly run on road but some on track and trails); the odd swim; about 80 hours of yoga; and roughly 40 hours of what we’ll just call ‘S&C’ (lumping together weights, core-work, foam rolling and 2 massages).