Saturday, October 18, 2014

Chicago Marathon -- 3:00:52

Wow, Chicago knows how to put on a race! I was impressed over and over again at the scale of this marathon and how well-supported it was. I heard that there were 12,000 volunteers for us 41,000 runners!

I had a really good race! I felt strong and kept up a good pace for the entire race, with my fastest miles towards the end. I started about a third of the way back in the second corral, Corral B, which positioned me with runners who were aiming for around 3 hours 20 minutes. I never felt too crowded though, and the psychological benefit of continuously passing runners the whole race was nice.

I ran the first half in 1:30:51 and the second half in 1:30:01. I monitored my heart rate, aiming for the low 150s for the first five miles and then gradually increasing to the high 160s and low 170s towards the end. That gave me a finish time of 3 hours 52 seconds, which is the 7th fastest of my 23 road marathons.


The morning of the race, I woke at 5am and immediately ate a small breakfast of about 2.5 slices of whole wheat bread, a Clif bar, and a banana. I took the train for a short ride from our rental house and arrived at my designated Gate #1 at about 6:40am. Security was tight, as expected, in response to the stupid delusional Tsarnaev brothers who bombed the Boston Marathon in 2013.

The weather was great, being nice and cool in the morning, like around 47F as I recall. I only had a very slight urge to use the bathroom, but as a good practice I wanted to go one more time before the race. Unfortunately, it was too crowded!

After standing in line for about 10 minutes and estimating that I would need to wait another 20 minutes to use the porta-potty, I realized that I would miss the 7:20am cut-off to be in my corral in time for the 7:30am start. I left the porta-potty line and went to take off my warm clothes and drop off my drop-bag.

As I was entering the corral, people from other later corrals were being stopped from entering corral B. Why do slower runners feel like they need or deserve to get up front? They're just going to become obstacles to those behind them. After entering the corral, I saw that there were more porta-potties! Oh, well, it was too late now. I felt OK. I tried to get myself situated between the 3:20 and 3:15 pace group.

After some nervous waiting with thousands of runners packed in around me (I tried to do some gentle stretching, but it was difficult), we were off! Well, the runners far in front of us started. A short couple of minutes later I crossed the start line in a run and then things were fine as far as the crowds were concerned. I appreciated being forced to not run too fast at the beginning. We were soon running through a big tunnel. Neat! When crossing some of the bridges, there were carpets laid upon the steel grate to give us better footing. Nice!

I enjoyed the sights and the spectators and the whole vibe. I tried to take it easy, keeping above 7 minutes a mile.

The miles pleasantly cruised by. I steadily passed runners, jumping from one group to the next. I came upon pace setters that were identified by bibs on their backs. I was concerned when at the 7 mile point I came across two guys who were a part of the 3 hour pace group. Oops, I thought I had gone too fast! I realized later that the pace group people were all over the place and these guys were far behind the actual 3 hour pace. I wanted to take it easy the first half, so I didn't mind. My goal was to finish in the low 3 hours, like 3:04 or 3:03.

At the 13 mile mark, I came across the first casualty -- some guy was walking stiffly with what looked like cramps. Perhaps he went out too fast.

Finally the half way point came. 1 hour 30 minutes and 51 seconds. Sweet! I felt like I had a really solid workout but I had plenty of energy left. I gently increased my effort and monitored my heart rate every couple of minutes.

I was surprised at how there were more than a few overweight-looking people running at nearly a 3 hour pace still.

Somewhere around mile 16 or 17 I latched on to a slender fast woman who was steadily passing people too. She was the only other runner I saw around my pace who apparently had my strategy of starting off slow and finishing fast. I started thinking that I had a chance at a 3 hour finish if I could gradually increase my pace and finish strong.

Around the 18 mile mark I was looking for Jennifer and Claire, but I didn't see them. I learned later that they were there looking for me, but they didn't see me either.

At some point around the 20 to 21 mile mark, my heart rate hit 169 beats per minute and with 5 or 6 miles to go, I felt like it was too risky. I slowed down a bit and the fast woman I was following gradually pulled away from me.

A runner asked if I wanted to finish her drink. She had just taken a small sip. Sure! I was going to skip that aid station otherwise. Nice!

I was still passing people steadily and I felt tired but still really good as the last few miles passed by. I was looking forward to finishing though! I realized a sub-3 hour goal was impossible but I still wanted to do as well as I could. There was a helpful sign for "1 mile to go" and then 800 meters (which was dispiriting actually), then 400 meters. There was one short sharp hill before the final downhill straightaway. Ugh... I felt weak all of a sudden going up that. The finish line was in sight! I put in a good strong finish. Woo hoo! 3 hours and 52 seconds!

The finish area was the best I've ever seen for a road race. There were hundreds of volunteers ready to assist, starting with a sports drink, then your medal, bottle of water, prepared bag of goodies, a banana, protein drink, and then a freshly poured beer! Yummy! There were many medical personnel, too, ready to assist runners with cramps, for example.

Weather-wise, I never felt hot, but after some miles in the occasional bright sunshine I appreciated the return to the cool shadows. After crossing the finish, I suddenly had a lot of sweat in my eyes which stung, so I dumped water on my face to wash my eyes. That's why my shirt is so wet in the photo above.

This was my 23rd road marathon and my first Chicago Marathon (or "Bank of America Chicago Marathon" as it was carefully branded so frequently) and this was my 7th fastest. Here are the fastest road marathons I've run:

  1. New York City Marathon 2010 -- 2:55:52
  2. California International Marathon 2011 -- 2:56:40
  3. Oakland Marathon 2010 -- 2:59:03
  4. Las Vegas Marathon 2010 -- 2:59:04
  5. California International Marathon 2007 -- 2:59:36
  6. Napa Valley Marathon 2011 -- 3:00:06
  7. Chicago 2014 -- 3:00:52
  8. California International Marathon 2012 -- 3:01:32
  9. Oakland Marathon 2013 -- 3:02:07
  10. Boston Marathon 2009 -- 3:03:33
  11. Santa Rosa Marathon 2014 -- 3:04:16
  12. California International Marathon 2006 -- 3:04:56
  13. Avenue of the Giants Marathon 2012 -- 3:05:05
  14. Boston Marathon 2007 -- 3:05:31

Things that went well:

  • I think I ran well and paced myself well.
  • I didn't feel weak except for a bit at the very end.
  • I didn't have any cramps.

Things to improve upon:

  • I got to the park at 6:40am which ended up too late to use the main porta-potties considering the 7:30am start time. The porta-potty line was way too long, like 30 minutes. I had to leave the line. Fortunately, I was OK during the race. I saw that there were many porta-potties in the corrals, so for next time, I should drop off my drop-bag and then go straight to my corral.
  • I should have been in the back of corral A or the front of corral B, given my finish time.
  • I need slightly better skin protection. Body Glide isn't protecting my nipples well enough. I also got a blackened toe nail and a blister on another toe. My purple Firetrails 50 shirt was distinctive ("Good job, Purple!" spectators shouted) and lightweight, but it was a little tight around my armpits and I got some chafing there.

Random data:
  • I ate an energy gel every 40 minutes and drank plenty of sports drink.
  • I ate breakfast at 5am which consisted of two pieces of whole wheat bread, a Clif bar, and a banana, for a total of about 550 calories.
  • Weighed 164.0 lbs recently.
  • Garmin data.
  • Over 41,000 racers started and 40,802 racers crossed the finish line. I finished in 1,100th place. (Wow, this was a big race.) I was 132nd in my 40-44 age group.
  • Official results.
I run a lot of trail races, too, and I notice some cultural differences between trail runners and road runners. With that in mind, I have a few tips for my fellow road runners:


  • Thank the volunteers! It takes thousands of people donating many hours of their time to make the race happen. (I was told 12,000 volunteers worked this marathon!)
  • Be aware of the runners around you. Try not to suddenly slow down or stop in the middle of the road or in front of an aid station. Try not to cut someone off while turning a corner. Runners wearing headphones are more likely to do things like this.
  • Smile, high-five people, cheer occasionally! This doesn't cost any appreciable time and you and those around you will enjoy the experience more.


  • Don't drop your cup right at your feet! Thousands or even tens of thousands of runners are behind you! The road can get slippery with all the empty cups and it's difficult for the volunteers to rake them away when the road is crowded. It's very easy to crumple the cup and toss it to the side of the road or aim for a trash can if the race includes them.
  • Don't throw your empty energy gels on the street and especially not on bike paths. It's not nice to make someone pick up your sticky mess with their hands. Just put the wrapper back in your shorts pocket or into an empty paper cup that you crumple and throw to the side of the road.
  • Don't drop your discarded clothes right at your feet after the race starts. Thousands of racers behind you will have that tripping hazard and have to navigate around your trash. Toss your clothes to the side. If you can't throw that far, hang on to your clothes until you can get rid of them in a better way.
Thank you, Chicago! We had a wonderful five day family vacation there. And thank you, Jennifer, for watching Claire during the race and supporting my running. Love you!