Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Chicago Marathon 2011 Race Report - She's a Maniac!

"She's a Maniac, Maniac!" No, there's no dance scene, water, or any other remnants from Flashdance. But the completion of the Chicago Marathon on October 9, 2011 made me eligible to join the Marathon Maniacs running club, by completing 3 marathons in under 90 days. I had run my first 3 marathons in 70 days - San Francisco 7/31, Kauai 9/4, and now Chicago. But I didn't do Chicago to get the Maniac status. It was just a happy side effect.

I signed up for Chicago Marathon back on February 8. At about 1 am, and I think there might have been a glass of wine in my hand. I had just agreed to run the San Francisco Marathon as my first and had told Jojo, who was the overseer for all the San Francisco Marathon Ambassadors (of which I was the DFW one), of my decision. So I stumbled online and registered for Chicago. Because I refused to follow the path of friends before me who had a bad first marathon and never gave the marathon another look. Even if San Francisco was an awful first marathon (it wasn't), I was NOT going to be a one-and-done marathoner.

It was a solo trip. I flew in Saturday at 12:30 pm. I hurried to the hotel, checked in, waited in a long line for the shuttle to the expo, and then picked up my packet while shopping the expo with friends Amanda and Dana.

Entering the Chicago Marathon Expo

A cool touch! Every runner's name on a wall in the expo

Back to the hotel after a 45 minute wait for the shuttle, rest a minute and off to dinner at Quartino. Dinner was with two new friends, also Dallasites, Christy and Diane, both of whom I was meeting for the first time, and my friend Wendy, who wasn't running the race but had just moved from Dallas to Chicago a few weeks earlier!

I had the typical pre-race meal for me of pasta and meat - pappardelle pasta with a braised beef tomato sauce. Delicious. Everything laid out in the hotel room for the next day, and off to bed at 9 pm.

Up at 5:15 am. I'm at the host hotel Hilton Chicago right by the start line. So I join Amanda A., Amanda H., and Dana at the open corral entrance about 6:45 am. We find a spot with the thousands of others and we sit down to wait.

Waiting for the start - from left to right: Dana, me, Amanda A., Amanda H.
We're at the signs for 10 minutes per mile. I spent too much time in the later miles at San Francisco dodging people by lining up at my average anticipated pace, so I'm going with a faster group and they can go out too fast in the beginning and go around me because I might be passing them anyway in the late miles when they run out of steam.

Smiling at the start line
It's 56 degrees and 82% humid. Since my pregnancies, the hormones that influence my body core temperature have never seemed to calm down because I was like a furnace while the other 3 girls had goosebumps and were cold to the touch. This is not a good start to the day.

Took this pic of the Event Alert System status at the expo - this means: "It's going to be HOT"
But I still had the goal to break 5:30. 5:34 was my PR at San Francisco. I had prepared my race strategy band, and I knew what pace I wanted to run and how much my walk breaks would affect my overall pace. (Run 12:10-12:15 pace, and then I would take about a 0.06-0.10 mi walk break every mile or so that would bring me to a 12:30 average pace)

My race strategy band
The race starts, and we wait. Then we slowly inch forward. I must say the super wide start area is excellent for handling 45,000 people because they had us crossing the start line at 13 minutes into the race! I've seen races half that size take 30-45 minutes for people my pace to start!

A sea of people waiting to cross the start line
Dana sticks with me because she's forgotten her watch at the hotel and we're about the same pace. Garmin is wonky the first few miles, and I have had zero data reception (i.e. no tweeting) downtown. I keep reining Dana in as she wants to take off with the crowd. "Let them go." "Watch them run away." But she's struggling not to go with the flow. About 1.75 miles in, she goes with the crowd. It takes a lot of work to just go your pace and ignore all the stomping racehorses around you. I'm feeling blessed I've learned that lesson right then.

I use the clock time to try to determine pace since the Garmin is zero help early on. About mile 3, I'm able to get a tweet out to the world finally. The tweets will be in bold and will help narrate the race report.

@libbyruns: At mile 3: 12:18 avg - service spotty
See, I'm going 10 seconds per mile too fast, so I'm not immune to the galloping people around me. With 45,000 runners, we move collectively. There's risk of being trampled everywhere you turn. Elbows are thrown, someone's sweaty arm grazes yours. In mile 4, a girl basically bodychecks me at the shoulder, I say, "Dude, watch it" but there's so much chaos I don't think she even hears me.

@libbyruns: Mile 5: 12:22. Mile 6 will be slower - a tweet, a GU, and 2 aid stations!
We go through Lincoln Park, a nice little park area. Weird thing is, in this race, with the chaos of the crowd, the entire 26.2 miles, you stay focused on
FIRST: where you step, especially at aid stations,
SECOND: the teeming masses around you,
THIRD: the spectators which are amazing and deafening at times in the sheer volume of their yells and cheers and music
FOURTH: the scenery
So I know I'm running kinda along the lake on the east. But I never saw it. How did I miss that?

@libbyruns: Mile 6: 12:35. Crowd is clearing slightly. That sun feels warm! :-) #CM11
Yeah, crowd didn't really clear, I was already delirious, HA! Really it's probably that the density of people improved the teeniest bit but in relative terms it felt better.

@libbyruns: Mile 7: 12:28. Heading back towards downtown! #CM11 oh, and feeling good!
Pace is on target. Ride the wave (of people).

@libbyruns: Mile 8: 12:27. Mile 9: 12:30. Found my pace in the crowd #CM11

Shortly after this we went through the LGBT neighborhood in Chicago. And there was a group of men with white wooden rifles and they had some sort of name with "Twirling Corps" at the end. They were up on that stage twirling away, it was so fun. And a couple minutes later, the Lady Gaga twins with outrageous costumes of course, on a stage dancing their hearts out. I was sad because you couldn't really stop to take pictures or you would be instantly trampled. So my few pictures are taken on the run, for fear of losing my life if I stopped at these specific moments engraved in my memory!

Mile 10-13, the satellite reception was off again and I couldn't tweet. Cool to reenter downtown just to be sent west this time.

Also in mile 10, I literally run into my friend Ken from Dallas! So happy to see him, but I realize after a bit I've also sped up. I tell him I'll walk so I'm letting him go, but he's cool with walking. He's just having fun. But when we start running again, he's struggling I can tell to slow to my pace, so eventually, I'm left behind. Which is okay, really, I felt worse watching him try to slow down when it didn't seem natural for him. I ended up leapfrogging with that friend for several more miles. :-) Such an encouraging guy, he coaches for one of the training programs back here at home, so I was secretly happy whenever we would happen upon each other again!

@libbyruns: 13.1 2:44:13. On pace for sub 5:30 but the shade is disappearing. Garmin went wonky downtown. Awesome cheer zone at 12.6. #CM11

Cheer zone lined with spectators
At this time I got a text from my husband that said "Great first half!" So sweet of him. He knew I'd read it with the live tweets.

@libbyruns: Mile 15: 12:32. Right after that, my friend Wendy was waiting waving the Australian flag. :-)need a hose off - it's hot! #CM11

During mile 15, the heat really started to bother me. I just felt like I was overheating. I was losing my pattern of gatorade versus water and how many cups of each, and just drinking out of desperation. And I truly was hydrated going into this race, getting 140 oz a day race week and I typically get about 100 oz. And a good amount of electrolytes race week as well!

@libbyruns: Mile 16: 12:52. Soooo hoooot!! #CM11
Mind is beginning to blur. I'm taking 1-2 cups of water at each aid station to simply dump over all or part of my body. I'm also deviating off course for any water hose I see to get doused. And I personally hate hitting up the hoses or dumping water on my body, especially the chance my feet will get wet as the water trickles down to risk blisters, or any possible uncomfortable chafing it could cause with my shorts or thighs. So you know I'm desperate.

@libbyruns: Mile 17: 12:36. Having to weave around a lot of runners. No thoughts past how hot it is. I picked the wrong pace. #CM11

I'm still mostly trucking but have definitely noticed how many runners are just walking. Like death march walk. Mentally, I think this is where I started to break. My tweet laments that I think maybe I also feel close to death because I went 20 seconds per mile faster than I should have been.

@libbyruns: Mile 18: 13:16. Dumping water over my head. Is this what the wall feels like? I want to cry or call my husband or both. #CM11

Thankful for Corina who tweets back,
@ultramamc: @libbyruns you can cry when you're done!!! Call S[Steve, my husband] but no crying on the race course!!! #mamacracerules
This made me laugh at the moment. Proud to say I didn't cry, but I got awfully close a few times from there until the finish, and just after the finish, and may have sported "crumply cry face" under my sunglasses in some near tears moments.

@libbyruns: Mile 19: 13:05. #CM11 keeping it together... So far
I'm still running a pretty decent portion of each mile.

@libbyruns: Mile 20: 14:04. 10k left. #cm11 I have no cute things to say, lol
I wanted to tweet my split, I know my husband's happy to see the continuous progress of my "not dead"-ness. But my brain had SHUT.DOWN.

@libbyruns: Mile 21; 14:26. Running a good amount but pace dragged down at aid stations. #CM11
I'm really proud of how much of this course I ran. :-) But at the aid stations I slow to a crawl dealing with dumping cups of water, or getting under a hose, or balancing cups I'm drinking, or taking a GU.

@libbyruns: Mile 22: 14:46. I hate bananas and I've nvr seen So many peels, ick. Between that and clif shot zone, stickiest race EVAH! #CM11

It truly was a danger zone at every aid station when 30,000 runners have already come through. For goodness sakes, people, can no one learn to try to toss their stuff to the side. How do you expect me to run through 30,000 sponges strewn in the middle of the roadway?!? And the banana peels, that's just unsafe. And lower your arm, spill out the remainder of your cup, crush the cup, and then it actually throws really well! Don't you dare drop your half full cup right in front or behind me, splashing my leg with your cootie-infested fluids!!!

@libbyruns: 5:30 pacer passed me just b4 mile 23. Trying to hang on
That was the worst image, to watch that pacer pass and realize what it meant. I had lined up to cross the start line a few minutes before that pacer, and my goal was to never see that pace sign the whole race. :-(

The pacer had a big group and I think picked up people like me as he went. I pulled everything in me together and just tried to keep that sign close and in sight. I even caught up enough to see the Sharpie'd "Steve" on his pace bib.

He was doing some sort of run/walk, but I didn't know the intervals. I will say his hand signs were great, he raised his hand high up, and would count down from 5 for the next run time. And they walked through the aid stations too.

@libbyruns: Mile 24 12:23. Hung w 5:30 pacer for over a mile but they are moving!!! Sign is slipping out of sight. #CM11 sloshy belly, drank 2 much

The result of the pacer run/walk-ing is that the run pace was FAST. At the start of mile 24, while I was holding on to dear life in a pack of 5:30 wannabes, was like 10:30. Which makes sense to get it to average to about 12:30 with the walks. But I have a hard time pulling 10:30 in a 5K, so how did I manage to hold on to them for a mile?

I had drunk too much and was starting to feel sick to my stomach. I left the group when I heard medical folks at the aid station yell, "ICE!" I avoided trampling and cut a path over to get a cup filled with the most glorious ice ever. EVERY aid station, I would hope the drinks would be iced down. And none of them were. And logistically, I can't imagine even trying to ice that much fluids, but man, I wish there was a way. But that ice was wonderful. I alternated chewing a piece and then shoving the next piece into some spot in my sports bra, until I was a bumpy lumpy melty mess. I didn't care. But I watched the 5:30 pacer run away, and that sucked.
@libbyruns: Mile 25: 14:46. Somewhere around mile 18 I gave up. No excuses, I just gave up. :-(

It wasn't the heat. It wasn't too fast a pace. Mentally, I just lost the fight in me. And succumbed to the pain and soreness. I was much more sore than my last two marathons, which were actually hilly races. But hilly races let you alternate muscle groups on uphills versus downhills. And the flat terrain here meant a continuous use of the same muscles over and over and that was excruciating. But I found the strength in mile 25 to just recognize there were no excuses, I just couldn't execute my plan that day - ME, I'm the only one to blame for not hitting my goal time.

I walked most of mile 26 and started to run when we turned onto the Roosevelt bridge. And ran all the way into the finish that last 0.4 miles.

Running into the finish the last tenth of a mile. Had to take a picture!
@libbyruns: Finished Chicago Marathon in 5:47 unofficial #CM11 it's 78 degrees, gah

So happy to be done, but kinda depressed about the race day conditions and my personal physical and mental state. I went straight off to ice bath and then clean up. My mood improved drastically over the afternoon, and now I can appreciate the day. There will be better race days ahead.

By the way, runner tracking was excellent at this race - kudos to Chicago Marathon! Here are my official splits at the multitude of checkpoints:

What's Next? MY FIRST TRAIL 50K!!!! I have the Rocky Raccoon 50K in Huntsville on November 5, with my darlings Corina, Alicia, and Fiona!

The splits - with wonky Garmin reception, I tried to hit the Lap button when I would see a mile marker so could figure out split from my actual time between miles.
Mile 1: 11:57
Mile 2: 12:15
Mile 3: 12:32
Mile 4: 12:14
Mile 5: 12:21
Mile 6: 12:56
Mile 7: 12:28
Mile 8: 12:27
Mile 9: 12:34
Mile 10: 12:08
Mile 11: 12:39
Mile 12: 12:52
Mile 13: 12:36
Mile 14: 14:43
Mile 15: 12:03 (may have gotten Mile 14 & 15 commingled a bit, hit Lap button at wrong time)
Mile 16: 12:43
Mile 17: 12:36
Mile 18: 13:16
Mile 19: 13:05
Mile 20: 14:04
Mile 21: 14:29
Mile 22: 14:49
Mile 23: 15:25
Mile 24: 12:23 (tried to hang with 5:30 pacer)
Mile 25: 14:46
Mile 26: 16:53 (walked majority of mile)
Mile 26.2 (last 0.2mi pace): 11:09 (good run pace at end!)


  1. Awesome race report! Can't wait to seeyou at RR 50K!

  2. NICE WORK!!! It was fun to keep track of you via twitter. :)

  3. Great report! I have run Chicago twice and love it. The crowd is fantastic but that back half is tough. Gotta enjoy the first half and the shade as much as you can. And Quartino is a routine stop for me in Chicago. I was spectating this year with Team LIVESTRONG but never made it to Charity Mile - had a 8 year old in tow with me. We stayed at mile 1, 3 & 12 (this is a fantastic race to spectate since you can move around to several spots very easily). Congrats! 3 marathons in 90 days is AMAZING!!!!

  4. SO INSPIRING!! I beg to differ on the best ice ever....that ice was the ice HnH provided for last year's Hottest Half!! Felt like ice from the gods! I loved the LGBT strip on the course....those parts of races are the absolute best to keep your mind off things! I want to do a marathon race with you my friend! Luv ya!

  5. Loved reading your report. Congrats on pushing through a tough one. As an injured runner I was out there cheering my ass off. You all were an inspiration! I was SO proud of each and every one of you! I will be back for redemption in 2012. Wheeeee!!!

  6. Lorna "SheRunsforLove" SwanOctober 12, 2011 at 11:53 AM

    I missed the really cool sign at the expo with all the runners names on it! <3 I did cry on the race course, 2-3 times, and at the finish line. Not so much from the exhaustion, but it was a very emotional experience for me. I say, if crying helps you push past whatever mental wall you're batteling then why not? And AAAARGH, at those banana peels. HORRIBLE!

  7. Awesome race report! You'll get that sub 5:30 soon. :)

  8. Barbara, I was trying to recognize you from your Twitter avatar when I ran by the Livestrong tent on the Charity Mile! LOL!
    Elaine, yes, we'll have to run together someday.
    Andrea, get healed up, you will love the race in 2012!
    Lorna, you are so right! I don't think I would have come out the other side if I'd started crying. :-)

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