Fitness Swellness: Chicago Marathon 2014 race report

October 15, 2014

at the race expo

“I got this.”

This is what I told myself as I started the Chicago Marathon on Sunday and throughout the race.

And whaddyaknow? I killed it.

I don’t mean to sound too boastful…although I am proud. To be honest, even three days after running the race, I’m still rather stunned over how this race played out.

As I mentioned earlier, training was going quite well up until about a month and a half ago. I was often doing an additional fourth short training run, I’d incorporated a tiny bit more crosstraining (by regularly attending NTC classes once a week). Then a few curveballs threw me for a loop, and while I continued with three runs per week, my heart wasn’t into the race anymore and my focus was off and I even found myself regretting having registered for this destination race…

I became more and more anxious. And even in good times, my sleeping habits are poor; now, being stressed out, I lost a ton of zzz’s. I got a prescription for sleeping pills, but was wary of trying them and then didn’t want to be experimenting with them so close to the race.

With my growing anxiety came a growing need to do really, really well in the Chicago Marathon. With a lot going on in my life that I felt I had little control over, I needed something to feel strong and good about, so I became fixated on running a personal best. I felt it was something I could control and be in charge of.

Could I have chosen something I could have even less control of?? So many minute factors have to be aligned to have a great race. From the weather, to my stomach/appetite, the other runners, etc. etc. So even though my rational self knew I’d chosen a silly thing to feel in control of, I couldn’t help it. Friends I spoke to and interviews with running coaches kept stressing that all you can do is your best at that given time in a race. And yet, still, all I could think was “PB or die.”

I tried to remind myself of that but still remained a big ball of stress leading up to race day. Given that I’d also traveled to Chicago four days before the race, I was eating foods I was unfamiliar with, and drinking a decent amount, and walking probably more than I should’ve. All things not conducive to running a great race.

my pace band

I’d printed a pace band for what I thought was the best I could run: 3:57. That is two minutes faster than my personal best of 3:59 in Philadelphia last fall. This works out to a 5:37 min/km pace.

The morning of the race, I could tell conditions were going to be ideal in terms of the weather. Blue skies, and 9C at the race start, warming to about 15C by midday. I was buoyed by the happy and excited runners at the race start and just tried to focus on running my best race.

I have a habit of starting out too fast, so I’d ┬ápromised myself to try my best to stick to my 5:37 pace dictated by my pace band. So I took it easy for the first few kilometres…and then I realized I was actually slower than my pace band. Doh! So I focused on speeding up a bit. I also decided (a bit on a whim) to run steady (without a one-minute walk break) for at least the first 15k or so.

And, then, as I often do in races, I broke the rules I’d set for myself. I was feeling good, and didn’t feel I needed the walk breaks just yet, and had settled into a 5:21 pace, which was very comfortable, so I just decided to keep going as is.

As it got further into the race, I realized taking a walk break at that point might be tough–stopping to walk would allow me to realize how my legs were feeling tight, so I made the decision to keep going as long as I could into the race without a walk break.

I remember being about three minutes ahead in terms of total time. Then it grew to seven minutes, then nine minutes. But even up until about 25k, I fully expected to crash and burn for the last part of the race. Like when I ran the Goodlife Toronto Marathon in the spring–I was strong and too fast for the first half, and then slowed down a lot for the second half of the race.

But in Chicago, I forget what point of the race I was in but I saw that I was a solid 10 minutes ahead of my pace band. I remember triple checking the numbers as I was so stunned. This was also when I realized that my finish time would be verrrrry close to what I need to qualify for Boston, and I was shocked. I already knew that no matter what I would have a personal best, but a time close to my BQ qualifying time was blowing my mind.

The crowd support and entertainment along the Chicago route is phenomenal. There were very few spots without a steady stream of people cheering. A sign with Grumpy Cat saying “I tried running once. It was horrible,” made me laugh, as did the one of Justin Timberlake.

In a less charming, more desolate part of the route, I followed a tip I’d read in Runner’s World about dedicating each mile to someone. So I thought of everyone who’d ever wished me good luck in a race, or liked my Instagrams of running; of my good friend who’d traveled with me to Chicago, who’d helped distract me from driving myself crazy about the race, made sure we weren’t doing too many tiring activities, hunted down some carbs for me to eat for breakfast; of friends at home who I knew were cheering me on and who’d dealt with my stress-y texts in the weeks before the race; of my running partner who did nearly all of my training with me, and who I knew wished she could’ve been in Chicago to run me in, so I envisioned her beside me; and I thought about how lucky I was to be able to run and take part in this race.

As I crossed the finish line, I was beyond thrilled as I knew I’d likely run sub 3:47. And sure enough, my running buddy had already texted me congrats and told me how proud she was of me. I couldn’t log onto get my finish time, so she texted me:

3:46:51

Which places me 384 out of 2,953 women in my division; and 2,082 out of the 18,389 women who ran that day.

post Chicago Marathon

Everything, from the mostly flat route and fun spectators, to the weather and my mindset must’ve all aligned Sunday. And I ran my best marathon so far.

Now, onto a bit more recovery, before tackling the Nike Women’s Half-Marathon in San Francisco this Sunday. FOUR days from now! Let’s do this.

 

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1 Comment Leave a Comment

  • 1. Yuki  |  October 15, 2014 at 4:30 PM

    Amazing, Karen!!! Way to go! What an awesome finish time.

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