Chicago Marathon 2018 _Race Day

RACE DAY: Sunday October 7, 2018

Race morning finally arrived, a 115 days after I started specific marathon training. Starting from zero running fitness and a lingering hip and hamstring injury, I ran close to 1,000 km in training. The first month was a slow build to get back in the habit of daily running. Once I had a reasonable base I focussed on three key workouts: a weekend long run, various interval sessions through the week and a marathon pace, mid-week run.

It has been almost 10 years since I’ve run a marathon under 4hrs. A very turbulent 10 years with significant health challenges. My personal best time of 3:48 was set in the Paris Marathon 2009, a few months before my 50th birthday. So with my 60th birthday approaching I wondered if it was still possible for me to once more dip below 4hrs.

Chicago Marathon is a flat course and my goal to run under 4hrs required a consistent 5.40min/km pace. In training, my mid-week marathon pace runs topped 20km at 5.30-5.50min/km pace. Knowing how hard I found these runs I was not confident that I could hold a 5.40 pace for the whole distance. My plan was to start conservative, get to half way and if I felt good pick up the pace a little.

Race day was wet and cool with little wind. It felt like perfect running conditions. There was a little panic moment getting to the startline. The bus I was going to catch from my hotel was delayed and by the new arrival time road closures resulted in a diverted bus route, and I didn’t know where. I ended up running/ walking the 2.5 miles (4km) from my hotel to the start line in Grant Park. As I started to run I noticed that my legs felt remarkably good. It felt like it was going to be a good day. Passing race volunteers and police along the way I was greeted, without exception, by well wishes and cheers of support.

I made the start area with plenty of time to spare and was on the lookout for a couple of friends from Sydney who were also in my start wave. But with thousands of nervous runners milling around I could not find them.

Rain held off till just before my wave start. The singing of the National anthem, even though it’s not mine, gave me goosebumps. The gun was fired and we were off.

Thousands of nervous runners finally unleashed onto the wet and slippery road led to a few nervous moments. It took all my attention to avoid sliding. I think each of the nine starting corrals had 5,000 runners and despite the numbers I could run freely as soon as I crossed the start mat. I settled into what felt like an easy rhythm and every now and then checked my watch to make sure I was on pace. By mile 8, the sky truly opened and dumped buckets of rain. The rain was so heavy I could barely see the hundreds of spectators lining the city streets. They were cheering wildly and the runners around me were smiling – how can a bit of rain dampen such good spirits and enthusiasm.

The first 13 miles was an out and back loop north of the city? The only part of this section of the course I did not like was along the freeway. It was nice to turn left and be back in the city canyons with cheering crowds. I don’t remember much of the mid- section of the course heading west of the city. I recognised streets of the old town that I had visited on a previous trip. Nice to see how it all fitted into the geography of the city.

By the 30km marker, the 3:55 pacer came past me. A brief moment of panic….should I hang on or should I hold off. I let the pacer go and stayed on my own pace. I felt great and by 35km I had almost rejoined the 3:55 pacer group. I was buoyed by the knowledge that there was just one more 5km timing mat and I was almost done. But this last 5km split was very tough. Banana skins at the aid stations added to the slipping and sliding hazard and each kilometre just seemed endless. I ran in a bit of a painful haze trying not too look at my watch. I had not seen any mileage markers for ages. I started to wonder if I was moving through treacle. And then totally unexpectedly a sign indicationg 800m to go appeared. But before I could turn left onto Coronation????? Drive and into the finish line shute there was a totally wicked uphill section. I was warned about this nasty uphill and I thought I was expecting it but it still caught me by surprise. It nearly finished me off. Slowly I lifted my leaden legs up the incline and finally turned the corner towards the finish line. I always get teary approaching the finish and it took a lot of control not to start blubbering as I crossed the line. Official finishing time of 3:59:09 – a very satisfying conclusion to my 3 months of focussed training.

I loved the Chicago marathon course and despite the race day weather the crowd support was phenomenal.

Walking back along the course to my hotel I was congratulated by almost every person I passed. Such generous and friendly spirit of the participants and spectators will be my lasting memory of this race.