Thursday, October 11, 2018

Chicago Marathon 2018 Race Recap

Posted by CheapRunnerMike

So I need to start off with a confession…2018 has been an absolute s**t year. It started with me battling back from injury in my last race of 2017 and actually getting myself into decent running shape, but never really to the point where I actually felt good. I raced a half marathon in April at much less than 100% and still managed to get a 1:24 so I figured things were on the right track. A few weeks later in May, Michelle and I ran Ragnar Cape Cod and had an amazing time…it was an absolute blast running with our Florida friends and the course and organization were top-notch, restoring my faith in Ragnar after the South Beach debacle in late 2017. I even got to run the ‘Wiked Hahd’ leg and crushed it. Just a lot of fun.


Unfortunately the Spring wasn’t all roses. There were some big changes at work that resulted in a lot of extra responsibilities falling on me. I have been in my job for nearly 20 years and have always enjoyed it. This year is the first time that I have actually hated my job. Stress has been through the roof, I’m unhappy, overworked, underappreciated, and oh ya did I mention stressed? Just not fun. And it has taken a toll. I haven’t had much in the way of time and that has meant things don’t get done. Both kids are super busy with swimming and I am the one that takes them to all of their practices and meets, and I do not begrudge that one bit…but it is just another thing that consumes my time. Running just hasn’t been a priority and when I actually have time to get a run in I am already exhausted before I even start. To top things off, Michelle’s Mom, who has been quite sick on and off for a few years now, passed away in August. Just a rough time for our family. Running and racing weren’t even a blip on our radar.

We were dealing with Michelle’s Mom’s passing, cleaning out her place, taking care of the estate and before we knew it we were into September. Oh right, we are both signed up for the Chicago Marathon in like a month’s time…maybe we should start training??? I did the bike and run legs in a Sprint triathlon relay with my daughter and we both had a good time and that was sort of a catalyst for me to get going for Chicago. I started adding the miles and getting in some long runs to try and build fitness but I’ll be honest and admit that it was really tough. My longest training run was 17 miles and for most of my “training” I was doing run/walk…I was seriously considering doing run/walk for Chicago. My fitness had just fallen so much and I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. I had always prided myself that I could basically roll out of bed on any given day and run a half marathon, and run it well. Not true. My base that I had worked so hard to build over the last 5 years was gone.

The thing that perhaps bothered me the most had nothing to do with my race goals. I had reached out to Billy, a Disney running friend, back in late 2017 and offered to help him run a BQ at Chicago. That meant a sub-3 marathon and there was absolutely no way I was going to be able to do that. Just as I was getting ready to go to Billy with my tail between my legs he sent me a message saying, “So I won't hold it against you if you'd like to do your own thing on race day. Neither will I hold it against you if you choose to drop me sometime mid-race. I aim to do my best on that day whatever my body will give me. But just wanted to put it out there that you've got no obligation to run with me if you'd prefer otherwise.” I quickly let him know that I had no intentions of dropping him and also made sure that he knew he was free to drop me if that’s how the race was going. I admitted that my fitness was way off and told him I was realistically looking at a 3:30. We decided that we would stick with the plan to run together, at least at the start, and I think we eventually settled on the goal of ‘Might not suck’. That sounded like it might be the best goal for me going into race day.

Cue Sunday October 7 and it is suddenly race day. Michelle and I walked down to the race start from our hotel and said our goodbyes before heading to our corrals…I was up in B with Billy and Michelle was in L, the last corral. After dealing with bag check and bathroom lines I met Billy in the corral about 20 minutes before the race started. We quickly caught up with each other and decided a bit on race strategy. Billy was aiming for a negative split and wanted to run fairly even splits, blind running of course as he doesn’t typically look at his watch during his races. I said not to worry, I would call out every split for him…although I would be running in kilometres so he would be really worried when I gave him splits starting with 4’s & 5’s. Elites were announced, an anthem was sung and we were off.

The first few miles took us through the tall buildings of downtown, effectively destroying GPS pace reliability for the rest of the race. It was coolish, but also incredibly humid and I was sweating right from the get go…a bit of an odd sensation to be honest. The clouds were ominous and the sky was low…wet weather was a certainty. Billy and I started out nice and easy, with seas of runners flowing past us. We just stuck to our pace and chatted away, knowing the tough miles would come eventually. We crossed the river a couple of times and began our trek north towards Wrigley Field. As we headed up LaSalle I knew we would see my Mum and the kids shortly…they were right around the 5K point. Sure enough I could hear them calling my name as we approached, so I ran over once I spotted them and gave everyone big kisses.

A quick little burst and I caught back up with Billy and settled back into our easy steady pace. We were cruising along at about an 8:30 mile pace as we hit Lincoln Park and the rain began to fall. Just past the bagpipers I decided to duck into the port-a-potties as I couldn’t hold it any longer. After the pee that Would. Not. End. I took off and weaved my way through the crowd to find Billy a little ways up ahead. We made our way out of the park and made the turn back towards downtown. Running through Old Town was one of my favourite experiences the first time I ran Chicago back in 2013 (my first marathon) and it didn’t fail to recapture those great memories this time. Despite the less than ideal conditions, there were still plenty of spectators out supporting all of us runners. The streets were lined with people and there were plenty of high fives for kids as we ran past. Billy was getting lots of shout outs for his Wisconsin singlet while I received cheers as well for my getup…it usually went something like this…”On Wisconsin, go Badgers! Oh, and go Hawaii!!”


Billy got to see his pineapple-balloon toting family through this stretch, which was completely fitting given my pineapple jersey…we had a bit of a laugh about this. He received his boost from their cheers and we started to up the pace a little bit around that time…nothing much, but enough that I could see we were now booting along at sub-8:00 miles. I didn’t tell Billy though since he was busy playing Blind Man’s Bluff…I just let him keep setting the pace. It was still seeming quite easy for me at this point and I felt like I would be able to run forever. We crossed the halfway point as we came through downtown once again and our time was 1:49:28…Billy’s negative split goal was certainly within reach. We turned west towards the United Center and continued to drop the pace hammer, getting down in the 7:30 mile range. It was raining very steadily now and it was cool. The wind also picked up a few times around this stretch and I realized that I wasn’t sweating very much anymore. I had been drinking plenty of water and Gatorade at the aid stations but because I wasn’t working super hard, along with the cool conditions, I wasn’t sweating out my fluids. Yup, time for another pee break. It is rare that I ever have to stop during a race, but twice? This was different. Another post pee break sprint and I caught back up with Billy. We were not coming through 30K and I was finally starting to feel the run a bit. I told Billy that he could probably tell that it was starting to get a bit harder for me because it was at this point that I began to get really chatty. We talked about Disney, running, food and whatever else came to mind…just distractions to what was going on with our bodies. I was past the point I had run in any of my training and Billy was long past his as well, so we knew that there would be struggles ahead despite the conservative pace we were holding.


Speaking of our pace, it was creeping up again, back into 8:00 miles. We were on our way to Chinatown and I heard someone call out “Hey Canada!” (I was wearing Maple Leaf compression socks) and I turned and called back, “Hey Joe!”. It was a local runner I know and was cool to see a familiar face on course. We chatted a bit and wished each other luck before him and his buddy took off ahead of us. Around this time Billy was really starting to show signs of slowing…the race was definitely taking it’s toll. I kept the chatter up and wasn’t getting much back so I knew he was boarding the struggle bus. I tried to keep it positive and gave us some short term goals to work for, Pac-Manning other runners and stuff like that. I also told him that right around that spot with 5K left to go was all new territory for me, since I don’t really remember anything from my first Chicago after Chinatown. Billy was really labouring now so I asked him a few questions…”Are you hurt?” “No.” “Are you injured?” “No.” “So you’re just tired?” “Ya.” “Well, you can run tired so let’s finish this thing. You know what Zelly’s Chris says right?” “Ya.” “What does Chris say?” “F**k tired” “That’s right, F**k tired. Let’s do this.”

As we made the turn back towards Lake Michigan I noticed an impromptu beer station set up across the road…I pointed it out to Billy “Look Billy, BEER!”, to which he said go get it buddy, or something to that effect. I darted across the road to the table and picked up a Dixie cup of beer and slugged it back with a Dixie cup pinch and everything, just like a real water station. It was actually pretty awful, probably PBR or some other swill, but I was able to check off my only real race goal of drinking beer on the course.

One last turn and we were onto Michigan Ave, home stretch time. The crowds were back out in force cheering everyone on and it looked like a giant block party. The conditions on the street itself weren’t quite the same party atmosphere as there was quite a bit of carnage all around us. Billy was focused on just putting one foot in front of the other and he was actually looking better than a lot of the other runners out there that we were passing, despite our pace slowing into the 9:00’s. I saw one poor guy doubled over at the side of the road so I came by to pat him on the back and give some words of encouragement only to find he wasn’t doubled over in pain, he was puking. Yuck. Another woman went cruising by us saying she was going to keep running to Boston and it made me smile thinking happy thoughts for her…it’s always great seeing people meet their goals. The final mile seemed like an eternity and then we were greeted by the ‘big’ hill at the end, but I greeted it with joy as I saw my family again at the turn and knew we were finished. Billy and I made the climb into the park and crossed the line in 3:41:16, which was a great result given the training we both suffered through and the conditions on the day. I was able to grab a delicious Goose Island 312 Dry Hop, which was specially crafted just for Chicago Marathon finishers, DELICIOUS!

Goose 312

After that Billy and I grabbed our bags and made our way to the ‘Q’ runner reunite area, where I met up with my family and was also able to celebrate some amazing results from Christian and Kris (BQ WOO HOO!). I changed out of my soaking wet run gear and my Mum suggested that we head back onto the course to try and see Michelle. Based on her little map she thought it would be a good idea to walk back to Chinatown to see Michelle come through around 22 miles and then a quick scoot back to Michigan Ave to see her again around 25. I was like, “Okaaaaaay….” Knowing the area enough to know that was a solid 2 mile walk, plus the walk back of course, after I just ran a bloody marathon. So off we went and 45 minutes later we arrived in Chinatown and waited for Michelle. And waited. And then waited some more. Finally I asked a stranger if they could do me a favour and pull up a runner on their phone for me (I couldn’t grab a wifi signal and I am too cheap to pay roaming charges).


She was somewhere around 16 miles and the app said she was well overdue for her latest checkpoint. I decided to be not-quite-as-cheap RunnerMike and turned on the phone to call her…she was running with her phone along with cash and a credit card in case things went pear-shaped. And pear-shaped they went. I asked her how she was doing and she said “Fine…I’m just waiting at ‘Q’ for you guys”. Turns out she pulled the plug at 16, she was done. I felt awful for her and we went back (another 2 miles/45 minutes) to the runner reunite to find her. We finally got there and she gave me the lowdown…

Michelle’s training was even worse than mine. Her Mom’s passing was hard for me but obviously much harder for her, and the work that fell on her was also way more than I had. We got out to run together a few times and her longest runs were in the neighbourhood of 10K. I was proud of her for even starting and giving it a go. She ended up walking towards the end of her day and the final straw was when she neared 15 miles the water stations were gone, shut down. She was by no means alone as there were plenty of other runners around, many asking her to run/walk with them, but that was it, she was done. She said that mentally she couldn’t continue under the conditions, knowing that there was no more support ahead, and also realizing that she didn’t deserve to finish with the training she had put in . She was realistic and at peace with her decision.

She decided to grab a cab back to the finish area and started to walk off course to find one. About three blocks later a police officer saw her with her bib on and asked if she was okay…she said yes and explained the situation and he got his phone out and ordered a Lyft for her on his account…super nice of him. He put her in the car and told the driver to take care of her for him. Thank you officer Chris! In talking with Michelle she is totally at peace with her decision…it was the right move and the way she puts it she probably put in 10 miles more than she expected. The good news is that she has a bit of a fire in her to take on Chicago again with proper training…this year just wasn’t meant to be. I’m proud of her for her effort and even more so her attitude in defeat.

After heading back to the hotel for well deserved showers we went to Lou Malnati’s for some Chicago deep dish (and beer) and then we hit Cantina Laredo for our traditional post-marathon margaritas. A great way to end the night!

Thanks for reading folks!