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Up Topic Training / Marathons / Chicago Marathon 2017 – A Race Report
- - By Beastie Girl [us] Date 2017-10-12 8:55 AM
I have been chasing the sub-4 marathon for years. I publicly declared my intention for breaking 4 hours in 2014, but it really goes all the way back to 2002 after I ran my first marathon. I knew there was a lot of room for improvement, and I knew I could break 4 hours. My ultimate goal is to qualify for Boston, but sub-4 is a manageable intermediate goal that I need to achieve first. After a debacle of a marathon in NYC last fall, I re-dedicated myself to sub-4, getting a coach and focusing my training in a way that I never had before. I followed specific paces in training, and I did structured speedwork consistently for the first time. I got fitter and faster and ran Sugarloaf in May to break the 4-hour barrier.

I missed sub-4 by 15 minutes at Sugarloaf (poor race execution on my part), so I signed up for Chicago as my fall marathon knowing it was a flat and fast course. I also knew that it could be hot in Chicago for the race :foreshadowing: but I hoped that wouldn’t affect me since I would be in such great shape from training. That was wishful thinking since I usually melt in the heat, but it wasn’t something I dwelled on since it wasn’t something I could control. This represents growth for me since I usually obsess over the weather for my races. : pbbt:

Building off the fitness and a shiny new almost 30-minute PR from Sugarloaf, I trained through the summer with sub-4 at Chicago as my sole focus. Easy runs, long runs, tempo runs, repeats—most of my training was right on target, but the summer heat took a toll on some of my long run paces. I ran a series of 5ks throughout the summer—progressively lowering my time at each race, I ran my best times ever at RTB 3 weeks before Chicago, and I finished off my training with a hilly, hot, humid half marathon as part of a 16-mile training run 2 weeks out from the race. I had put in the work, felt confident in my training, and I was mentally prepared to finally break the elusive 4-hour barrier.

That said, I had a lot of work and personal stress over the summer along with the stress of planning a wedding. The week leading up to the race I had a particularly bad bout of insomnia, but I tried not to let that stress me out too much on top of everything else.

Race weekend
JP and I arrived in Chicago on Friday afternoon. Thanks to the air travel, I was rocking a massive migraine by the time we landed. We hit the expo, and my blood sugar plummeted since it was mid-afternoon and I had only eaten breakfast and one snack all day. No one likes a hangry Martha, and this Martha was very hangry! We had a late lunch, chilled at the hotel for a bit, then met some friends for dinner. On our walk back from dinner, I developed GI distress that wouldn’t leave until after the race. Ugh. :cry: I went to bed early but was up bright and early at 4am. Yay insomnia! :meh:

Saturday JP and I did a 2-mile shakeout run and then met our fellow Semper Fi Fund fundraisers for our team lunch. The rest of the day we didn’t do much of anything but watch Spirit of the Marathon and Chariots of Fire for inspiration. I focused on hydrating since everything I was eating was going right through me. Ugh again. We got some pasta for dinner and set our alarms for the quite reasonable hour of 5:30 am. Again I was up at 4 but I was excited for the race to start.

Race day
We walked to the start area, which was only about 10-15 minutes from our hotel. JP and I were in the same corral, which was convenient. We got through security and got in a porta potty line that moved excruciatingly slow. After standing in line for about 30 min, we realized that our corral would be closed by the time we got to the front of the line, so we stepped out, checked our gear, then headed to the corral. As our wave started and we all moved slowly forward toward the start line, the course marshals were letting people jump out of the corral to hit porta potties and then jump back into the corral. I took advantage of that opportunity and ended up back in the corral, somehow ahead of JP. I finally crossed the start line and my race was underway.

The race
Immediately after the start line, we went under a really long overpass. My Garmin freaked out and apparently didn’t track anything correctly for the entire race. It was off by almost a mile early on, and in total it said I ran 28.2 miles with a 6:17 and an 8:11 thrown in at miles 14-15. I thought it was still tracking pace correctly even though the mileage was off, but I was wrong on that point too. Complete technology fail.

It was in the 50s when we started, and the first half of the race was in the shade. It didn’t feel hot, but the running felt hard from the very beginning. I didn’t feel like I needed to hold myself back from running too fast, which is how I felt at the beginning of all my other marathons. This time I felt like I was struggling to even keep the easy pace I was supposed to be keeping for the first few miles. I knew I was in for a long race, but I tried to keep pushing the pace regardless. I thought I was finally hitting MP (~9:00) by mile 6 or so, but my official splits tell me otherwise and that I was never even close to MP the entire race.

I took water at every aid station since I knew I was probably still dehydrated from the GI distress and also since it was supposed to get hotter as the day wore on. I took my gels as I had in training, but every time I did they made my stomach cramp. I just kept plugging along until the half marathon point, when I took a much needed bio break. I felt a lot better after that, but it was then that I knew my race was done and that I wouldn’t be getting my sub-4 that day. I tried to speed back up to what I thought was race pace, but my body said no. I have never experienced that in a race before, hitting a wall like that. I just couldn’t go any faster than my slogging pace.

My slogging pace translated into running between aid stations, walking through each water stop to get one cup of water to drink and one to pour on my head, then running to the next water stop. I stopped to stretch twice as well. Although most of the logistics surrounding this race were great, the logistics of the runners on the course really really sucked. I was dodging runners during every single mile of the race, and the crowds never really thinned out. I was in a bad state of mind since I knew I wasn’t going to PR or break 4 hours, and this added annoyance of having to continually sidestep other runners did not help my state of mind during the long last miles of the race.

Once I reached the 40km mark, I looked at my watch and thought “hey I can go sub-4:30 if I pick it up a little bit” so I tried to speed up and my right calf said “NOPE!” It twinged as soon as I pushed off trying to go faster. I was actually happy since my calf cramps started at mile 20 at Sugarloaf and at mile 16 at NYCM so having them hold off until this late in the race was an improvement. :p My calf didn’t fully cramp until just after the 1-mile to go sign, and then it cramped at 800m to go and 300m to go. It also was cramping on the final stretch to the finish but f- that, I was not going to stop at that point so I just hobbled it in from there. 4:34:30 for my official time. 77 degrees and full sun at the finish.

I was super disappointed in my race. It wasn’t what I trained for. I know I have sub-4 in me (even though I contemplated quitting marathons in those last few miles), and it was supposed to happen on this flat, fast course. The heat definitely got to me, and the insomnia, low blood sugar, and GI distress in the days leading up to the race didn’t help. But in the hours after the race, I realized that this is my second-fastest marathon time ever, and both of my fastest times were set this year, so that perspective has made me re-evaluate the entire race. If I can run my second-fastest time in less than optimal conditions with all of those things against me, imagine what I can do on a cool day and at 100%?

JP and I hobbled back to the hotel (he had a rough race too), chilled out, showered, then met my cousin and her family for dinner and ice cream. We fell asleep around 10pm, and I was wide awake at 1am, so even running a marathon didn’t cure my insomnia. I was awake till 3:30 then up again at 5 to get to the airport where our flight was delayed for 4 hours. :-/ JP had thought ahead to upgrade us to first class though, so once we finally got on the plane it was awesome, and the rest of the trip home was uneventful.

What’s next
I am running the MCM 10k on 10/22 and am looking to PR there. Marathon-wise I don’t know what’s next yet, I am talking with my coach to see what he recommends. I KNOW sub-4 is in the cards, so I just need to be patient and keep plugging away until I get there.
Parent - By Ed [us] Date 2017-10-12 10:10 AM
Given the conditions & issues you had to deal with, I think you ran great!

GI issues
logistics of the runners on the course

It sucks when you're ready for a great race and stuff beyond your control prevents it.  Any one of these things you listed could have messed with your goal, never mind all of them at once! 

You definitely have the sub 4:00 in you!  Chicago is regarded as *THE* pancake flattest course but you probably only need a relatively flat course and one that doesn't have the challenges of tens of thousands of runners. Weather and the other issues are more difficult to affect.
Parent - - By nooner [us] Date 2017-10-12 12:39 PM
Your training has gone really well this year and there is no doubt you are in sub-4 hour shape. You just got a crap weather day to add onto the other issues and that's all it takes. Keep working with your coach and improve your times at the shorter distances and find a good marathon next year. Chris, Cathy & I are planning to run the Coastal Delaware Running Festival marathon next April. Coastal races can be tricky weather-wise but it's not a bad drive for you and we'd have a few folks who could go for the sub-4.

I know one of the guys who was pacing the 4 hour group in Chicago so didn't know if you tried to stay with them at all.
Parent - By blazer85 [us] Date 2017-10-12 2:43 PM
Nooner is the best pacer......if you can join us in Delaware, I am certain you can earn a sub-4:00 if he paces you.
Parent - - By Spingoddess [us] Date 2017-10-12 2:52 PM
Oooo. May I crash your Delaware party? That's not too far from me, sounds like a good one!
Parent - By nooner [us] Date 2017-10-12 3:05 PM
Please do!
Parent - - By Beastie Girl [us] Date 2017-10-13 6:39 AM
Coastal Delaware sounds intriguing...

The only pacers I saw all day were the 4:10 pacers, not sure where all of the other ones were. :wtf:
Parent - By blazer85 [us] Date 2017-10-13 11:13 AM
If you have nooner, you don't need other pacers!
Parent - - By blazer85 [us] Date 2017-10-12 2:42 PM
I know you have that sub-4:00 in you.......just keep trying!  And once you get it, I bet you run more than just one.
Parent - By Beastie Girl [us] Date 2017-10-13 7:59 AM
I hope I get it more than once since my ultimate goal is to BQ! :shocker!:
Parent - By Spingoddess [us] Date 2017-10-12 2:50 PM
I literally feel your pain, I trained to qualify for Boston at Dallas White Rock in '08, PRed at multiple shorter races during the training cycle, and race day turned out to be the hottest, most humid day that year. I ran a new PW.:meh: Was Chicago humid? Humidity is just a killer, and hurts almost everybody who runs in it. Point is, put it behind you and don't give it another thought. One year after the PW at Dallas, I broke 4 at NYCM- after DNF'ing a marathon 3 weeks before. So this Chicago isn't even a bump in the road, and you will hit the combo you need to break four- great training (check), great course, and great weather. *Poof!* Chicago is gone!:laugh:
Parent - - By Xtreme Taper Date 2017-10-12 3:08 PM
Sorry about your race. A lot of factors against you as others have mentioned. That's the trouble with the marathon sometimes. It's not just the training, but several other factors have to come together for one day. Keep plugging away, and maybe stay away from megathons for your next sub4 attempt. If it's any consolation my one race at Chicago did not go according to plan either. Once I blew up, it was sort of shocking how many people went streaming by me until I settled back into the flow of the masses.
Parent - By Beastie Girl [us] Date 2017-10-13 8:00 AM
Definitely going smaller for my next few races :happy:
Parent - By Schantzie [us] Date 2017-10-12 6:10 PM
Thank you for taking time to write the report.  It is so frustrating to have a race that doesn't give you a finish time that really demonstrates your ability and preparation :mutmad:   I had a big PR race in 2002 (Columbus), and chased a PR for 8 damn years, then had to keep at it another two years before I was able to make my breakthrough.  Seems like it was one disappointment after another :meh: One thing that kept me going was the number of people who said that the day you have your big race will be just the same as any other day and the run won't feel any more difficult than any you've had before.  That turned out to be true for me.  I've had great races that maybe shouldn't have happened and also suffered through some that should have ended with much better finish times than what I got.  You are doing everything right.  I hope you don't spend too much time second guessing your execution.  Like others here, I truly believe it's going to happen for you very soon.  :hug:
Parent - By indie [us] Date 2017-10-12 8:30 PM
Sorry about the rough day Martha. So much has to go right to get a good day. Heat is the worst really there is no way to a goal race in it. You've become such a strong runner, you will have your day. :hug:
Parent - By PTRunner [us] Date 2017-10-13 11:07 AM
Sorry you had such a rough race. I was at Steamtown the same day and we had crap weather as well, I totally understand where you are coming from. Thats part of the "fun" of marathons, you can train your butt off and still just get a tough day. I'm sure you will get that sub-4 soon :)
Up Topic Training / Marathons / Chicago Marathon 2017 – A Race Report

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