Chicago Marathon Architectural Tour

Warning: I did not train much for the Chicago Marathon. I did however train for the 70.3 triathlon which I completed a month prior.

Mile 25 – All the suffering faces


Had the date been last year when I was actually planning and registered to run Chicago, it would not have coincided with the same date I ran my first marathon 10 years ago (Portland Marathon). So now 11 years later (due to covid cancelation) into the marathon world I finally ran the other marathon (Chicago Marathon) and shared the date with my first ever 26.2, the Portland Marathon. This was my 9th 42kms/26.2miles race (I have done one other but during a full Ironman…which I do not count), my 4th World Marathon Major (WMM) but really the 3rd as I´ve done Boston twice. To date I do not have a goal to finish all 6 but you never know.

WMM are known to be the most prestigious marathons in the world and attract 10s of thousands of runners worldwide each year. Chicago had 30,000 runners (reduced due to covid though) with 26,000 finishers. The WMM locations are Boston, Tokyo, London, Berlin, New York and Chicago. I signed up to run Chicago in late 2019 to give me something to focus on when I returned from an around the world trip, the race was later cancelled and deferred to other years. All participants choose if they would run this year or the next or get a full refund.

Training for this marathon consisted of a focus on triathlon (a race I signed up for early 2021) of which I ran very little, maybe 20 miles a week (generally you at least run 40 mile weeks). So once I finished the 70.3 triathlon I really had to focus on the next month of training plans. Since recovery from the first race took about a week that made it hard to program long runs which would be important while also not overloading the body with too many miles (which it wasn´t used to) or doing the runs too close to race day. I decided on 2 long runs, a 2 hour and a 1 hour 45 minute one with the help of a friend. All of my training was by time, none was done according to distance. The 2 hour was about 3 weeks out and the other long run was just under 2 weeks out. I had a massage a week after the triathlon and another 1.5 weeks out from the race and a final one the day after the race…all of which definitely helped with recovery and injury prevention! My max for mileage for training was a 41 mile week (3 weeks out) and I had to be careful not to get too many miles during race week. Goal time was a wide range between 3 to 4 hours, aka I was not looking for a personal record.

In early 2020, I almost anticipated the race being cancelled and waited out the news before really beginning to train. With uncertainty, back then my goal was to be at half marathon level by June just in case I did need to train for the full beast of 26.2/42km. This lead to a half marathon a month until the end of the year as the marathon eventually did get cancelled as I had predicted. The race was then deferred to 2021 and 2022 for registered runners. I was tempted to defer until 2022 just in case but in the end I registered for this year. Even until the last week I wondered if an email would come through with news of a cancellation which luckily the 2021 edition never sent out. Thankful to have made it to the startline of the 2021 Chicago Marathon, glad I am always running some miles and very happy to get back to some racing.

It was an emotional start as we set off under some bridges and runners quickly realized that the streets were lined with spectators cheering for us again after 2 years without road races. People were everywhere, it made me tear up a bit actually. It´s a joy to be a part of one of the larger races worldwide after a long absence and see the support for us out on the streets. Emotion quickly turned to focus as we realized we had many miles still to pound away to the finishline. Running the initial miles of the city it was hard to not look up at the infinite skyscrapers and their amazing and distinct architectural design as we passed. I´d done a architectural boat tour on the river a few days prior and it was great to be able to recognize some of them as we passed through downtown. Into Lincoln Park we went and then around a corner near mile 8 the feisty cheers raised the hair on my arm and put immediate energy in my legs. I´d only hope to find that type of cheering again….I did but only once more as we ran under the L line…which in itself was spectacular.

Shortly thereafter I found my boyfriend (at the time) with his cousin and ran over to give him a kiss. The failure to remember how fast I was going was quickly realized when I actually flew into him and managed a kiss on the nose instead ha ha before I was off again as quickly as I had veered over. I would later find them at mile 25 as planned. A few miles from there I found my cousin and his girlfriend on the sidelines and then again a few miles after that. Chicago has such a good course for supporters to easily walk to multiple spots and cheer us runners on. From what I hear the tracking app was excellent, warning of the runner approaching calculated down to a few blocks. In fact, I saw other runner’s supporters again and again too…which I found funny once I realized this. Anything to make you laugh in a marathon is always good, even simple things like that. I absolutely loved going through Chinatown and through the Latin American neighborhood of Pilsen. Although by then the struggle was starting to fire away. Right around mile 20 I found a friend of mine who just cycled across the country and happened to be volunteering the race. He was right on a bend of the route and I literally ran right in front of him, loving the cheers and happy to have gotten a perfect high-five between us two champions I sailed away and around another bend leading us back toward the city….the final miles!

I knew Chicago could throw any weather at runners because when I ran Portland I thought it was crazy that in October while I ran in non-stop rain for 26.2 miles, over in Chicago it was 90 degrees…record breaking temps for that marathon…probably why they now have a weather alert system in place…ha. For race day the alert was yellow, aka not ideal…but at some point during the race it was changed to red…aka dangerous. Yes, the race was in the 70s with some 70% humidity. This is likely why everyone seemed quiet (keeping to themselves mainly) before the start…nervous energy (usual) and some worry (not usual). It all seemed fine until the temps rose as did the humidity while we ran. The windy city showed it´s face too with at least 10 mph gusts at various moments along the course. The combo sent plenty home and slowed everyone down. A friend at home asked me after the race how the conditions were, stating that even some of the leading men and women elite runners looked toasted.

By mile 20 that humidity started being felt, pace had to be reduced for pretty much all runners. I was running with what felt like side stitches. I reduced my speed in hopes to recover but in reality it wasn´t a side stitch, just humidity making it tough to breath. In addition, around mile 17 I also had my left quad flare up which I treated with some icy hot I brought with me knowing I´d probably need it around the 20 mile mark…due to my lack of training. That held for a few miles and then my hip decided to bug me so I pulled over to stretch it out…felt soo much better after that. The legs returned to being sore though so I gave in to the struggle bus with continued slow forward progress.

The last few miles it was just a mental game for me. I was between do I follow suit with the bunch of runners I saw walking, do I slow the pace more, do I walk a couple of miles….trying to strategize the last few miles I did a bit of everything. I knew I needed to slow so I did that, when that wasn´t enough I decided to walk while drinking water at aid stations, when that wasn´t enough I decided to stop and stretch. Either way I knew I must keep moving forward however I could. Finally, just before mile 25 the good upbeat music kicked in and I started singing along. My pace picked up, I saw some of my supporters and continued to pick up the pace and finish as strong as I could given the circumstances. Not quite the usual sprint to the finish I am used to throwing down but I never had a set time goal for this race because again I didn´t train much for it. Sad to do that (not train well) at such a flat course but also nice to enjoy the awesome route around the huge and historical City of Chicago!

I was in the first corral and second wave of the day which left at 7:35 am (5 minutes after prior wave) and finished in 3:31:34….something like top 10%. The fastest female of the day did it in 2:22:31 while the male did it in 2:06:12. Ya know Kenya and Ethiopia taking it away…American runners took 2nd place though on home turf.

Covid measures seemed to be entry only for those either fully vaccinated (with proof) or a negative PCR test within 72 hours which gave runners a bracelet (cut to remove) as confirmation (the blue and red one I have on my wrist above). This process to check each participant caused long lines at the expo but kept numbers low inside for packet pickup. There were less vendors at the expo and masks required indoors. Start corrals were smaller as was the total participant size (about 10,000 less then prior years) and time between waves seemed longer.

To even get to race day I spent a week nearby checking out Kentucky, Cincinnati, Indiana and then Chicago. The first three states were all new to me and for my second visit to Chicago each touristy thing I did was also new. Besides the architectural boat tour (recommended) we stuck to the architecture theme and also checked out Frank Lloyd Wright Studio and neighborhood homes in Oak Park, the Bahai Temple in Wilmette and the Cultural Center (aka old library) right by Millennium Park.

Thank you to all who tracked the race, supported me over the months and day of, or simply asked how it all went. All effort is appreciated and considered support in my book. If you ever want to sign up for this race….click here! It is a whole process to get in and it all starts next week.

More of my marathons.

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