When you live with Chris it definitely keeps things interesting, this time he decided he was entering us both into the Chicago marathon ballot as he really wants to do the Abbotts series. Yet again i somehow got in and he didn’t and its starting to become a running joke between him and the lads because i never had any intention of running a marathon and have now done 4 because of him. I don’t have the best track record when it comes to marathons as injury or life always seem to get in the way of training for them and this time it was a bit of both. My running went out the window at the start of the year with illness then niggles and even though Chicago was booked back in January the majority of my training for the first half of the year was dedicated to the half iron triathlon that Jonathan had signed me up to.
The hope was that I could come off the back of triathlon training and still be in a good place due to the cross training, it didn’t really work out that way. I managed to get one 16 mile run in about 7 weeks before race day and then my right leg decided to rebel. Another 3 attempts at long runs ended in despair as i couldn’t even get upto double digits due to pain in my right leg, luckily a visit to Andy and a solid hour of work on my right side the week before the marathon really helped out and we just had our fingers crossed I’d be able to wing it round on race day. Its safe to say travelling abroad for races is never ideal especially when the flight is just short of 9 hours and there’s bugger all leg room! If i wasn’t already nervous enough being on a flight where half the passengers were clearly runners didn’t help, stood in the queue to board the flight and trapped in the middle of a group of guys talking about how they wanted to try and get another 2:40 marathon was slightly depressing. One long ass flight later and I had shooting pains through one knee and pain through my hip thanks to being all leg with no room to stretch meant me and Chris were far too happy that our hotel offered an in room training bag that had a yoga mat and foam roller.
Its safe to say Chicago is a great place to go visit. As far as races go I’ve never had one keep me so informed by email and constant updates and tips. The expo was really easy to find and absolutely huge with a really good choice of stuff in there and loads of helpful people. Race number collected all i had to do was try not to walk too much but that never happens, I think we averaged about 8 miles a day but we do like to explore. The night before the race was just about me getting kit sorted and making sure i had some kind of snack for the morning in case i couldn’t find breakfast, i have to eat before any race or i just go downhill fast. Id already decided i was going to go to the start on my own because of how early it was and leave Chris and the kids in the hotel.
Its very odd going to a race on your own especially in another country in a city you’ve never been in before. We had been to a shop the night before to get me some fruit for breakfast in case i couldn’t find anywhere in the morning which worked out for the best. Heading out the hotel at 6am i was surrounded by other runners on their way to the start though it tickled me slightly that most of them were in pyjamas or wrapped in blankets and i was in shorts, running jacket and a buff, must be a northern thing. There were plenty of coffee stands open but no where to get a real breakfast so i had to settle for a croissant and the apple and two bananas i had picked up the night before. I know to a lot harriers that seems a big meal before a race but it was no where near what i usually eat before a long race and i knew i was going to feel it later on. Its a really good set up for the start, you get a coloured wave and a staggered start which means you don’t get squashed in and you can get into your race pace pretty early on.
Music blaring and surrounded by excited runners we made our way towards the start line and we were off. I’ve never been round such a well supported race! From the off you run up a slight hill and under a bridge which must only be about 500m from the start line and from there till the finish there were people clapping, cheering and ringing bloody cow bells at you. I knew i was never going into this race looking for a time it was always going to be a case of just getting round so id said from the start i wanted to try and just enjoy it for a change and i really did. The first few miles were spent trying to get into a comfortable pace while avoiding the various pieces of clothing the other runners were trying to take off and discard while running, never seen so many people stripping off so many layers while running outside of a harriers session when jonathans decided he’s had enough of clothes.
I saw the family for the first time around mile 4 which was really nice as they got to see me still fresh and smiling and I wasn’t sure how long that was going to last. I was treating this as a long training run so figured I would try to keep my pace between 9-9:30 a mile as long as i could because I knew I could hold that pace for at least 14 miles on a good day.
Its fair to say its not cheap to do this race. Berlin was an expensive race entry and this one was similar but i have to say you can see where the money goes. This is one of the most well organised races i have been too and well supplied too. The roads are so wide that there’s minimal jostling with other runners and there’s plenty of room to cut through groups. There’s aid stations almost every mile with really long water stations and gatoraid stations, they have portaloos at every aid section and you didn’t have to queue because of how often they were which was brilliant! I think i got to mile 11 before i started to seriously feel hungry and the blister i already had on my foot started to make itself known. I got my ass to the half way point and ducked into the aid station where the lovely people had compeed blister plasters to hand, they really are amazing, and decided i would walk out and eat my toffee crisp that i had put in my race belt. I always run with clif blocks but for anything longer than half marathon distance i take a proper snack too.
fed and blister protected i got my ass back into gear at a slightly slower pace but i was happy and I was moving. The support was still going strong and you really cant beat stages with drag queens on them cheering you on with cops dancing away. I think i got to 18 miles before I started to struggle and had to start walking. It had started to get seriously warm at this point and i was understanding why the race started so early! Everything was starting to get tired and trying to run when around your knees is cramping is the weirdest feeling. By this point I was messaging Jonathan and Chris who were both being they’re amazing loving selves and telling me to behave and keep my ass moving and stop playing on my phone. I’m pretty sure that sheer stubbornness on my half and amazing support is what got me round. I was in a fair bit of pain but just kept plodding on because i knew even if I walked the last few miles there was no way i wasn’t finishing, even with a complete lack of training. The people that came out on that course to support were amazing and constant. There were people with pretzels, twizzlers, cookies, sandwiches, sweets and even beer and jello shots all of them cheering you on and keeping you going.
I managed to get to mile 21 where i saw Chris and the kids again and it was really needed, i got a hug and a kiss and knew i was almost home. They said they’d be at the finish for me and the last 5 miles were a case of stop starting which i really didn’t want to do but my body wasn’t giving me much choice. I saw my family again at mile 25 and had pretty much managed to hold it together the whole run, i’d had a few arguments with myself but that’s nothing new, but i was getting annoyed as i just wanted to be able to run in the last mile. It was getting annoying that i was running long too as i’d been about half a mile up since mile 7 so i knew i was running long no matter what. It doesn’t matter how many times you do a race when you see that last sign that says 800m left there is always a wave of joy and relief and trying not to cry at the fact that you actually managed to pull this crap off, though it is a bit mean that its uphill into the park at this point. I managed to get my ass across that finish line with a 2 minute pb somehow which tells you how bad my previous marathons have gone haha. I was in pain, tired and hungry but i had a smile on my face for the majority or the run and even at the finish line. I had genuinely enjoyed every minute of this race more than any other race I had done previously and would definitely recommend it to anyone that fancies travelling that far to do one or if your going for the 6 stars. You really will have a brilliant time and meet some lovely people and the free beer on the course and at the finish line will be a nice plus point too. I don’t recommend doing this crap without training its just plain stupid but sometimes life and injuries really do just get in the way. At some point i will go into one of these well prepared and do the club colours proud.