Marathon #8 DONE! It was hot and difficult, but I did it. Here's a summary of the weekend's events and a race recap.
I flew into Chicago Friday morning and met up with my friend Milady at the airport. We shared a shuttle to the Inn of Chicago. The shuttle was filled with other runners and two random dudes from Austrailia or New Zealand that had no idea there was a marathon happening in the city this weekend. One guy was from Boston and it was his first marathon. We all chatted about our training and race day tips and the weather forecast while the two non-runners just looked at us like we were clearly all infected with the same strange disease that they did not understand and they did not want to catch.
We got to the hotel and checked in. Coolest part about the Inn of Chicago (and one of it's flaws) wicked tiny mirror lined elevators with dance party music blasting in each of them. Riding up to our room was like a quick trip to the Jersey Shore complete with fist pumping, but missing Snookie and Paulie D. Our room was nice. Small like the elevator, but who needs a big fancy room when we were going to spend the majority of our time NOT there.
Once we dropped our things off we headed straight to the Niketown store to hop on a shuttle to the expo. Niketown was totally decked out in marathon schwag and decor. They even had people greet you at the door cheering with cowbells. AWESOME! We looked around the store a little before heading to the expo and even talked one girl into giving us her cow bells!
Off to the Expo! It was my friend's first marathon so I wanted to make sure she had plenty of time to soak it all in and get the full experience. We were lucky because when we got there it wasn't crowded at all. We walked right up to the table to get our bib numbers and timing chips then straight to the t-shirt table. No lines, no waiting. Then we shopped and got all kinds of freebies. We listened to a presentation by a veteran Chicago marathoner on the course overview and some race day tips. Then took a few fun photos and headed back to the hotel to get dinner and settle in for the night.
Saturday morning we took our time getting up and going. My friend Milady didn't sleep well because our room was right next to the ice machine and the maintenance elevator. I slept right through all the noise. We packed our things and requested a room change. Then we headed out for a little sight seeing. We took one of the city's famous architecture boat tours that goes down the river through the city and decribes the history of Chicago and it's many sky scrappers.
After the boat tour we grabbed a quick bite to eat on our way to Navy Pier. We had walked around a little more than I would have liked for the day before a marathon so we decided to spend the next few hours seated, in the IMAX theater watching 'Real Steel'. Not an oscar worthy movie, but a little dose of Hugh Jackman is never a bad thing. It was actually pretty cute for a robot boxing movie. Honestly, from the previews I thought they made a movie out of the cheesy kids game 'Rock Em Sock Em Robots'.
After the movie we walked back to the hotel and I took a short nap before we grabbed a quick take out dinner. We were both still full from our movie snacks and too tired to go eat at a restaurant so the little italian place around the corner was perfect. I had spinach ravioli and Milady had cheese pizza. It wasn't great, but it was just enough to top off the carb tanks for the marathon.
We laid out our clothes and shoes and set the alarm clocks and went to sleep. Oh and our new room was far away from the ice maker and elevator to ensure we would both get a good night's rest before the race.
RACE DAY!!! Excited and nervous, we got up and got ready. We hopped on the tiny dance party elevator with a few other runners and walked to the CTA (Chicago's subway/ 'L' train). A few short minutes on a crowded train and were were at the start area. We still had about an hour to kill before the race started so we walked around a bit and checked our bags. Then headed into the start corrals. we were planning on running different pacces so I said good luck to Milady and headed to the 4:15/4:30 pace area.
Waited around a little, national anthem, and starting gun, then a 10 minute walk to the line and I was off and running my 8th marathon. It still amazes me how natural it feels for me to run 26.2 miles. It was extremely crowded and my garmin lost satelites in the tunnels and tall buildings almost immediately. I kept track of my splits just by looking at the race clocks at each mile marker. I kept a pretty even pace for the first 16-18 miles. I wasn't as fast as Boston, but I felt comfortable and kept a consistant pace so I was happy. Then Mother Nature showed up like an uninvited guest to the party.
It was warm but not hot. I could tell my pace was slowing down a little with every mile that passed. Then somewhere between Mile 19 and 20 the 4:30 pace group passed me. I tried to hang onto the 10:00 pace and stick with them and managed to for maybe half a mile before they slowly drifted off into the crowd of runners in front of me. Right at mile 20 I passed a bank with a clock/thermometer that said it was 83 degrees out. I knew if I tried to push myself and catch the 4:30 group I'd end up in a medical tent and possibly not make it across the finish so I revised my race goal and decided to just relax and run and finish whenever my feet got me there.
I ran the last 10K a lot slower than the first 20 miles, but I still RAN it. I repeated every running mantra I could think of and just kept moving one foot in front of the other, one step at a time, until finally I was on North Michigan Ave heading towards the finish line. I passed the 25 mile marker and then the "1 mile to go" marker and then they had an 800m sign too! A quick right turn up a little incline and a left turn for the last 200m to the finish and I had done it. Granted it was not as fast as I had originally planned, but I did it. I finished my 8th marathon!
Overall, I don't see what the hype is about Chicago. The city is beautiful but you don't see any of it during the marathon. You run through residential neighborhoods and not near any of the iconic tourist attractions that Chicago is famous for. It is a very flat fast course, but there are a million turns in it so I don't know how the elite runners manage to run the tangents and PR. It was fun aside from the extreme heat, but I don't know if I would run it again.
After I crossed the finish line I got water and a free beer and ice and then went to the gear check and got my bag. I found a nice spot to sit down and I called some friends while I iced my legs and waited for Milady to finish. I talked to a few other runners nearby and just enjoyed the weather now that I wasn't running. It was a gorgeous day out for spectating and people watching but not for running. A short time after I finished Milady came out of the finish area and I congratulated her on completing her very first marathon! I think she was partly in shock and disbelief that she had done it.
We walked back to the hotel and stopped along the way for a celebratory cupcake. Back at the hotel, I introduced Milady to the joys of taking an ice bath. She screamed in agony at first but then said, "this actually feels really good". See, I'm not crazy! She showered and then it was my turn. Ice bath and shower. We met up with my friend Antonio for post race drinks on the rooftop bar at our hotel.
After drinks we went out for dinner at the Green Zebra. It was an amazing vegetarian restaurant that Milady found. The food was delicious, the only problem was that they didn't bring it fast enough. It was pretty late by the time we got there and then it took a while for the waiter to take our orders and then to bring the food. We were fading fast and barely had the energy to eat when the food did get to the table. We inhaled what we could and went back to the hotel to sleep.
It was another whirlwind weekend of running and running around and it was full of fun and memories I will have forever (unless I get Alzheimers). Monday morning when I got back to Boston I got a text message from Milady that she is already thinking about running another marathon. It finally hit her, it's not just running 26.2 miles. It's a shared experience with thousands of other runners and a few select friends that makes you a rockstar for a day because you did something amazing that not everyone can do. It's what keeps me motivated and constantly chasing that high I felt after finishing my first marathon.
I've already got plans for the next marathon - #9 the Goofy Challenge in 88 days. Now I just need to decide what marathon to run for #10. I'm thinking the Cincinnati Flying Pig in May. Just need to convince some other people to run with me. :)