I completed the 2021 Chicago Marathon on October 10, 2021. When I signed up and started training, it seemed like that day would never happen. That it was so far away, but then, all of the sudden I was waiting at the airport to fly to Chicago.
Friday, October 8, 2021
Travel and Logistics
I flew to Chicago on Friday morning and arrived in the afternoon. O’Hare was really busy, and you could see people wearing running shirts from past races. Once you got into the lobby for the L, there were signs that advertised marathon weekend. It made me really excited. The ticket even advertised the 2021 Chicago Marathon.
After taking the L into the city, I found my hotel, HI Hostel, which was a quick walk from one of the stations. While I understand this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I cannot say enough great things about this place. I was luckily able to book a private room with a shared bath before I was confirmed for the race (free cancelation) and paid $253.85 for the entire weekend and it is a literal block and a half walk to the corrals. It was perfect.
Once I settled in, I decided to take the Metra train from Millennial Park to McCormick Center. The cost was $4 round trip, but an Uber was $30 one way. Uber’s were incredibly expensive all weekend, so I opted for walking or public transportation the entire time. The train was easy, and I didn’t feel too uncomfortable. I think it was about 3 stops away.
I went to the expo on Friday afternoon. I’m not sure if it was like this all weekend or if that was the time everyone decided to go, but the line was absolutely ridiculous! There had to be thousands of people there.
Once I was in the expo, I found the packet pickup location and received my bib. We then proceeded to another location and picked up our t-shirts.
I’m not sure how the expo compared to previous years, but it was smaller than Disney (obviously) yet I thought it was still really big. I didn’t buy any gear because it was all a bit overwhelming. I focused on getting my bib and a picture before leaving.
Then it was time to make my way back to the hostel on the Metra to create my dinner plans. I decided on an Italian restaurant called Osteria Via Stato my brother recommended in the River North (I think) area. I took the L there, and after getting lost for a few blocks, found my way to the restaurant. Since it was race weekend, I treated myself to an appetizer (burrata) and Cacio de Pepe, which I hadn’t had in a long time. I really enjoyed the burrata, but I should have chosen a different pasta. Since I didn’t feel comfortable on the L, I walked home and saw some beautiful sights. I think it was my first time being downtown at night.
Then it was time for bed to wake up for the Abbott 5K.
Saturday, October 9, 2021
I slept okay but was up well before I needed to be to get ready for the Abbott 5K. The start line is in the same area as the marathon, so it was a quick 1.5 block walk to the start. Read more about this race in the race recap.
After showering and getting ready, I found a coffee on my way to Michigan Ave for the start of the architecture tour. I thought this would be a good activity to see the city but stay off my feet. I had been on one when we lived here in the early 2000s and remember it being awesome. It was the most perfect day, and I got some amazing pictures!
After the tour, I walked really fast to the train station to catch a Metra train to the suburbs to visit my best friend from high school. I spent the rest of the day with her family before taking the train back and walking to the hostel. Then I laid out my gear and tried to get a good night’s sleep.
After all of the early mornings and hard work, I couldn’t believe the day was almost here. I had a really hard time sleeping, but I just had to trust that it was all going to be okay.
Sunday, October 10, 2021 – MARATHON Sunday
Getting Ready and Start Line
Whew. I was terrified when I woke up in the morning. I knew I had everything, but I was still so nervous. For breakfast, I ate my granola bar around 6:00 am and saved my Honey Stinger waffle until the start line. I got dressed, put on body glide, sunscreen, and my bib. It was finally time to do the actual race. My plan was to run 60 seconds and then walk 30 seconds after running for the first 1 or 1.5 miles as a warm-up.
I left my hotel around 6:30 am since they suggest arriving at the gates at that time. It was a long time to be at the start line, but I knew I wouldn’t relax anymore in my room. I wandered around the corrals for a while. I was originally in corral M, but I requested a change to L. Because of the temperature, I knew there wasn’t a snowball’s chance I would get below 5 hours (wishful thinking) and felt guilty about going to L. It all ended up working out because I couldn’t even figure out how to get to the L group from where I entered. Also, I will note, that I shouldn’t have felt guilty about starting in an ambitious group. I think people do that often.
Anyway, my conscious felt better starting in my initial group of M. I went to the corral after checking my bag, using the restroom, and decided to just wait. I had a long time left to go. Slowly but surely things started and we made our way to the start!
Marathon Strategy and Goals
As I was visualizing the course, I put a strategy together that split the course into 6 sections.
- Section 1: Miles 1-3 > the downtown warm up
- Section 2: Miles 3-8 > going north
- Section 3: Miles 8 – 13.1 > south to halfway
- Section 4: Miles 13 – 17 > the west side
- Section 5: Miles 18 – 23 > going south and banana time
- Section 6: Miles 23 – 26.2 > home stretch
I thought this would give me shorter mile markers to focus on and phases for focus. I knew I needed to go slow for the first three sections because I had to feel good at the 13.1 marker or things wouldn’t go well. Sections 4 and 5 would be the hardest and most boring. I wanted to evaluate how I was feeling at section 6 so I could decide if I wanted to pick it up and push towards the end.
- Run in at least 5:15
- PR (I should have confirmed this time before the race, but I knew it was just under 6 hours)
- Run a steady 60/30 pace
- Change to a 30/30 pace at mile 20, if I can’t sustain 60/30
- Run some after mile 18
- Finish even if I have to crawl
Section 1: Miles 1-3
The race was off to a good start. I read a lot of race recaps from previous years on blogs and what they say is true – GPS doesn’t work and it’s crowded. Everyone was running faster than I felt they should be, but it was just so darn exciting! There were so many crowds with funny signs. I really tried to force myself to stay slow for the first 1.5 miles, but I was feeling good. When I started my run/walk series, I felt really out of place. Even in my back-of-the-pack crowd, no one was walking. I tried to stay on the edge and out of people’s way. It was a challenge because I knew I had to run my race. I couldn’t follow what other people were doing. I needed to feel good and not tired when I came back down to the river again.
Section 2: Miles 3 – 8
Shortly after passing the 5K mark, the city becomes less congested and more residential. I keep on my 60/30 pace and was surprised by how strong I was feeling. I couldn’t get my podcasts to work, which was frustrating, but I ended up taking in the crowds and the experience. Around mile 5, you get into a park. I stopped for a restroom break and also got down a little bit of Gatorade for some electrolytes. I hate it so much, but I felt like I needed to do it.
As you make your way further north, the neighborhoods change, but there were crowds the whole way. Even though it was warm out, it didn’t feel that bad. There were gusts of wind which made you feel cool. I tried not to think of that, but I took water at every aid station to drink and also put a few on my head to try to keep me cool. One of the things I learned during training is that your heart rate increases as you get warmer, so it is important to cool yourself off (thus, why I bought a pair of shorts).
Mile 8 was when you make your turn back south. I reached the most northern part of the course. I just kept chugging along. Slow and steady.
Section 3: Miles 8 – 13.1
The last part of the first half was upon me. At some point during this stretch, I picked up another Gatorade and choked it down. Yuck! The city started getting more condensed as we made our way back into River North.
But I just kept chugging along. I couldn’t believe I was feeling so good at the halfway mark. At some point, I passed the police car doing the 15-mile pace for Wave 2. I felt really good about that and felt confident that I could PR this race. I thought with all my training it would be no issue to PR, but maybe I would do better than expected.
But I knew I had to keep my mind calm. Just slow and steady, 60/30. Just keep going. Don’t get excited. Just be steady. After all, this truly was a marathon and not a sprint!
Then we started getting back into the thick of the city and back to the river when we made it to the halfway point!
I just couldn’t believe that I was feeling good and not too exhausted. Just stay steady!
Section 4: Miles 13 – 17
In my visualization, I knew this part would be hard. This was just an out-and-back going west. I wasn’t sure what would be out here to look at, but it wouldn’t be like the River District. Around mile 15, I started to not feel well. I decided to walk for a little bit, took a Huma gel, and stopped at the restroom again. Nausea just wouldn’t go away so I kept walking. When I tried to run, I just couldn’t. I started to get really frustrated with myself. What happened? Why couldn’t I run? I stopped at the restroom again another time or two but nothing was helping. I was so angry and upset.
As a note, you do pass the United Center (I think Chicago Bulls) and the place where the Blackhawks play.
Section 5: Miles 18 – 23
Section 5 did not go well at all. I was so angry. At some point, I walked over to a side street hoping I could throw up but I couldn’t. How did I start out so well for it to go so not well? I was scared I wouldn’t be able to finish because I felt so ill. I got my banana, but I couldn’t even think about taking a gel (the last one I could take was the one I had at 15). Should I just pull over and be done with it? No, I wanted the medal. I worked too hard. I told myself that my last goal was to finish – even if it was crawling over the finish line at midnight – I would get to the end, so I had to just put one foot in front of the other. Just keep going.
This section was just miserable. Just focusing on one foot then the other.
Section 6: Miles 23 – 26.2
Only a 5K remained. This was when I was supposed to evaluate to see if I could push myself further. I couldn’t I tried to run; whether it was 30/30 or just a little run. I struggled so much. By the time I made the turn back north, I started to feel hot. It hit me that it was quite hot outside. There also wasn’t any shade. My Apple Watch died around mile 24. Around mile 25, I was desperate for a water stop. I was feeling dehydrated, but I was almost there! Almost done.
Then I got to Mt. Roosevelt. I wanted to tackle this. It felt like I was running, but I doubt it looked that way. My “run” sustained until the very top when I had to walk, but I was almost there. After the top, you turn left, and just like the other recaps said – and there it was – THE FINISH LINE! I was so close. “Run, Kristin,” I told myself. “Keep going. You’re so close.”
I finally crossed the finish line and was overwhelmed. My emotions were everywhere – I was angry with myself, relieved that I was done, proud that I had completed a marathon, tired, dirty, hot. I couldn’t sort it all out. All I could focus on was finding water and then my medal. They had a cool rag which was AMAZING!
Once I got my water, I made my way to bag claim to get my things and find a place to sit down.
My final time was 5:53:38, which was a lot worse than I had hoped. I thought it may be a PR, but once I double-checked my first marathon was 5:52:32. Just one minute would have made a huge difference. I was so disappointed because I trained harder for this marathon than I did for my first one. The pace was about 13:45 minute/mile. I was doing closer to 11:30/mile at the beginning before it went down to 14-16 minutes during the rough time.
Marathon Goal Update
- Run in at least 5:15 – nowhere close, but I think it wouldn’t have been in my reach if I didn’t get sick
- PR – off my 1 minute!!
- Run a steady 60/30 pace – oh sigh…
- Change to a 30/30 pace at mile 20, if I can’t sustain 60/30 – even 30/30 was too much
- Run some after mile 18 – I tried to do some running, but I couldn’t sustain anything
- Finish even if I have to crawl – Achieved this one
At the end of the day, as people remind me, I did finish a marathon and my first world major. It was an amazing experience and is just further motivation to improve in the future.
Since I signed up, I knew I wanted to celebrate with a Chicago-style pizza from Giordano’s and a Magnolia Bakery red velvet cupcake. Mission accomplished and it was delicious!
Monday, October 11, 2021
Flew home and wore my medal in the airport with the other finishers. I was ready to go home and see my puppies.