26.2 Miles Of FUN AKA My Chicago Marathon Recap

Have you ever been running a race and with every step you "wished this race would never end?" 

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No?

Well if you have never experienced a race like that, I really hope that you do one day!

On October 8, I set out to tackle my 13th marathon and my first Chicago marathon. For four years (2008-2012), I called Chicago my home. It was where I met, fell in love with and married my wife. It holds some of my happiest memories while working my dream job. So I was THRILLED when I was picked through the lottery.

As we know things in life happen and I didn't get to use Chicago as the PR race I had envisioned on the day I registered for the race. Due to injury, travel and shortened training, the focus on the run turned from PRing in time to PRing in fun! I was up for the mission.

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Let me start by saying the expo was hellacious and I went through there on Friday as quickly as possible. For a major marathon, I was shocked at how disorganized it felt and how runners and their families were acting. Huge groups just stopping in the middle of the aisle, people running in front of other people to get to free snacks, and getting pushed and shoved while just walking in the aisles. Not sure if we just picked the absolute worst time to go or if it was like that all weekend. Either way we got my number/shirt, did one lap of the floor, bought my Sparkly Soul headbands and peaced out! That may explain my lack of Expo photos. :P

On Saturday, I had an amazing time at the International 5k with Kristin (Bamagirlruns) and her friends, caught up with the wife's family (who took the train up from Central Illinois), and had a great dinner with my Boston friends who were in town to also run. Overall Saturday was a great "day before the marathon" day, except for the waiter who spilled my entire glass of wine on my white shorts. :/ I encouraged the wife to head to the Blackhawks game that night because it would be the last time for ages that she would because of our move. She got herself a ticket and I was in bed by 9:30pm and out like a light when she returned closer to midnight. The alarm was set for 5:30am and I was happy that I was set up for a nice solid night of sleep.

My nerves were high for this marathon. You'd think since I wasn't going for a PR and it was marathon #13, I'd be calm, cool and collected. Well first off, we all know I am never like that for a race. And two, the high temps were just making me nervous. It's been a theme with my races this fall though so nothing I was really worried about. And lastly, I felt wicked undertrained. As I mentioned between injury and travel, I didn't have the training cycle I really wanted. But I was ready to have the time of my life and enjoy running through my old neighborhoods.

My alarm in fact did go off at 5:30am and I leapt out of bed. Since we were about a mile away from the start line I didn't have to get up at the ass crack of dawn (or Disney time as I also like to refer to that) and I was happy with my solid 8 hours of sleep. 

I had already laid everything out the night before so I didn't have to worry about forgetting anything on race morning. I thought I would be heading to the Start Line solo, but the wife offered to come with me. I know she's the best. :)

We got to our meeting point with our friends Tina and Dave right on time. It was great catching up with them pre-race. Finally it was time for Tina and I to head through security. I gave the wife a hug and kiss and we were off. We parted ways as we both headed to our corrals and I got in line for the port-o-potties. Ohhhh man the line was long. The marathon rules said my corral would close at 7:45am. I was nervous to get locked out of the corral even though I should've known that wouldn't really be the case. I feel like those rules are put in there to scare folks into being on time. ;) I opted out of the port-o-potty line and would just use the first one I saw on the course.

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Oh it was so nice being lined up among so many excited and anxious runners. Haha. For many it was their first marathon, I assured them: "automatic PR!!" I also felt a nice sense of peace surrounded by the familiar Chicago skyline.

It got me thinking about my time in Chicago. When I got to Chicago in 2008 I was extremely overweight and had sworn off running (after my first marathon in 2006). But by the time I left Chicago I was at a healthy weight and back in love with running. This was going to feel like a giant victory lap.

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Our wave (which was corrals F, G and H), was set to start at 8am. So there was about 20 minutes of waiting around time before we really started moving. We shuffled our way up to the Start and we could finally see the MCs.

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Can you feel the excitement from the folks around me? I'm sure many were nervous as we were right around the 4 hour pacer so I could guess a lot of people around me were shooting for sub-4. If I had been trained the way I wanted, I would've been one of them. But that was for another day.

It was finally OUR turn to start the race at 8:07am. I clicked my Garmin on, fixed my cape and started searching the sidelines for a port-o-potty. Luckily I only had to wait 4/10 of a mile to find out. There were only 3 people in front of me and I was A-okay with that.

Just to make you all aware: I wasn't going to win the race so I was safe to make the stop. ;) Just in case anyone was confused. 

After a quick port-o-potty break, I was feeling 1000 times better and really ready to run. The wife would be meeting me at Mile 8 so I broke the run up in little chunks of time between wife sightings. :)

We were running through downtown Chicago and I was loving it. The spectators were out in full force and the signs... oh the signs were ON POINT! I quickly new a new challenge for the race would be to take pics with as many of the signs as possible.

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During Mile 1, I backtracked to snap a pic with this photo. As a result, I had everything crossed that there in fact would be puppies at the Finish!! At least I told myself that to keep me going. ;)

Now because of buildings and other fun issue with running in the city, my GPS was way off the mark so instead of sharing my 28+ mile splits (I swear I didn't run an ultra that day), I am going to share the splits supplied by the timing mats.

5K: 34:02

Since I used to live in Chicago, I was scanning the crowd for potential friend sightings, but didn't really notice any... until Mile 4. Okay Lauren spotted me, but I was past her before I realized what was going on. I had to backtrack and snap a pic. Lauren lives in DC area so I didn't expect to see her along the course. 

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She reminded me of my inner Kenyan and I took that motivation with me to use later in the race.

I was stopping and taking water at every water stop. With temperatures and humidity rising I was wicked happy to have my handheld full of Pedialyte. My stomach was having issues with Gatorade so I switched to Pedialyte earlier this year and wicked happy I did.

My plan was to have a GU every 4-5 miles to keep on top of the fueling. Plus it would give me a chance to post some pics to Twitter.

As we made our way North Side of the city, my smile got bigger because we were quickly approaching MY HOME!

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Gotta like the product placement for their other races. ;)

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HII!!! In case anyone was wondering if I was as having as much fun as I say I am, I made sure to take some selfies.

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I can't tell you how many people were confused when I asked them if I could take a pic WITH their sign not of their sign. "No no I am not worried about my time." "Yes yes I am serious and want a pic with your sign."

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Now with these guys I wanted to take advantage of the free hug, but they looked SUPER busy playing and I didn't want to kill their flow.

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10K: 1:07:00

It was finally time to leave Lincoln Park and nothing signifies that more than seeing this view.

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Now quickly this run was turning into the: "Oh we used to brunch there," "I remember getting the bus there," and "We shopped there" tour. To say my mind and soul was 100% occupied during this race with old memories while creating new memories would seem weird, but true.

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How awesome was this guy? Not sure I will ever get to his level, but it is inspiring to see others do it and keep hope alive that I too may get there one day.

Now as we approached Mile 7, I realized we would be taking a left onto Addison and running right past my first apartment in the city. OMG!

See surprises like this is why I sometimes like that I am too lazy to look at course maps before the race.

We took that left on to Addison and I started getting a little misty.

My energy level was escalated to a billion and couldn't imagine how much higher it could get continuing through Boystown.

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Now Boystown knows how to throw a party. It was awesome running down Broadway and seeing all of my old stomping grounds. It really made me miss living in that neighborhood. The wife and I were texting so I wouldn't miss her, yet somehow I got to Broadway and Belmont and she wasn't there. I called her and realized I had already passed her a half a block up. Well she took the train up to the North Side so I wasn't going to miss that so I asked her to walk to me and I would wait. I made some small talk with the folks around me until the wife got there. It was only a couple of minutes and the hug was worth it.

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She told me she would see me on the South Side so I gave her a quick kiss and headed off.

Now by this point (actually around Mile 7), we had taken the turn to head South and back towards the city center before taking a tour of the South Side for the second half of the race.

15K: 1:41:20

Check in: body feeling good. Keeping the pace relaxed. On top of my fueling. Taking all the pics. Sharing updates on social media. Hugs in effect.

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I was getting some serious love on the course for my cape. I felt like I was a super hero for raising awareness about the fight against Stroke! 

And then it was time for an Elvis sighting!

He was on his game. Do you think it was the real Elvis? I think so! Chicago Marathon attracts the BIG stars.

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As we headed into Old Town, I was thinking about the fun Second City shows we saw in that neighborhood. It was pretty much the only time we would go. 

The race and spectators did a great job of keeping runners hydrated and cool. There were a number of misters, cold sponges and people out with hoses spraying people if they wanted it.

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Oh it hit the spot! I took every opportunity I could to run through the water.

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Now I asked him this was regular or peanut M&Ms, but he didn't have an answer. I was going with regular and really wish I had the answer for peanut M&Ms - those are my favorite. ;) 

20K: 2:14:23

Ahh we were quickly approaching the halfway mark. Now the race allowed folks to send racers encouraging messages that would be displayed on the board at the half and finish. I didn't really promote the link so I didn't expect to see any.

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I didn't see any, but still grabbed some motivation from the ones I did see there. Then it was quickly upon me... the halfway mark! Amazing photobomb in the back right?

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Now I was feeling fantastic - outside of course hot and sweaty thanks to temps/humidity - but physically I was doing okay! Taking a big step back on the pace was a smart move and I was having a reat time.

HALF: 2:21:28

Now as I mentioned I was going for fun over time, but I was still happy to see I could finish under 5 hours. My marathon times have ranges from 3:58:49 to 5:59:27. So I wanted to stay within that range if possible. But wouldn't sacrifice a photo-op to do that. :P

Alright South Side we are coming for you. Now in full honesty I BARELY traveled to the South Side in my 4 years of living in Chicago. Since I worked for the Cubs the only time I went to the South Side was when we played the White Sox or the Red Sox played the White Sox.

So I wasn't as jazzed about the second half of the race. I sort of wished it was in reverse so I could have MY side on the latter half of the race when I needed them most. BUT I knew I would be seeing the wife around Mile 16 then the From Fat To Finish Line folks at Mile 22.

I was also having a BLAST tracking my other friends that were running on that day.

Here I was just running along and then OOOHHHH A SNACK!!!

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I give extra credit to this lady who gave an extremely accurate message on her sign as well!

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I also can't believe the pups didn't make ME a single sign. :( I thought they loved me.

25K: 2:48:05

As we made our way through Greektown, the smells of delicious food took over and my post-race meal was all I could think of. Haha. Anyone else have that happen during the race? GU just wasn't hitting the spot when you have those smells in the air.

I really loved how each neighborhood brought their own flair to the race and really showcased what their community was about. It was fantastic and a great learning experience for out-of-towners.

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Ain't that the truth?

I was getting super excited as I was getting texts from the wife and knew I was quickly approaching her spot on the course.

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Not only is she a great sherpa and cheerleader, she is one heck of a photographer as well. ;) 

It was nice to stop, take a GU, catch-up and refill my Pedialyte at this moment. I grabbed a quick kiss for inspiration and was off. She said she would see me at the Finish. I knew that would work since I was 16.5 in, I'd see the FFTFL folks at 22 then her at 26.2. Okay that was enough motivation to get me through. :)

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You may have noticed I didn't have headphones on at all. I forgot them in the hotel room, which was actually okay. I basically stopped running with music in 2013 when I picked up triathlon-ing which doesn't allow headphones while racing. I started using headphones during ultra training last year, but I would mainly listen to podcasts. I did enjoy the noise. I was planning on putting the headphones in my handheld for any "just in case" moments, but I forgot them race morning. Not shocking for anyone that knows me. I always leave the house forgetting at least 1 item every single freakin' day!

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Thankfully since I was texting and tweeting the entire race I didn't feel alone at all. I virtually had a ton of friends right by my side.

And when you aren't in Disney, you have to make your own character stops...

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... and it's like the city had my back!

30K: 3:26:59

The Mile 20 marker was on my radar, but I was distracted by the amazing energy of the Pilsen neighborhood before reaching it.

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The Mexican-American neighborhood was alive and crushed the water stop entertainment.

Now after a much-needed dance break, I was focused on making my way through the carnage of castoff sponges.

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Oh boy it was the sign that some squeal at and some dread: Mile 20.

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I was ecstatic. I was having the time of my life and felt golden for the last 6.2. Now this was around the time where I thought "hmm should I pick up the pace?" then I spotted this sign... and knew what I had to do. ;) 

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I got a text from the wife that she was going to surprise me with a visit around Chintatown. Unfortunately I got the text after I had passed her and it was more difficult at that spot to wait for her. So she said she would make her way to the Finish. I felt bad to have missed her. There was even a couple spectators that tried to help me locate her, but we were just too far away. At that moment said HI as they ran by. It was someone that I had trained with for the Boston Marathon with a couple of years ago. Such a small world racing is sometimes.

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But it's like Chinatown knew I needed a pick-me-up and there they were... Dunkin Donut munchkins! Don't mind if I do!

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It HIT the spot! No Weight Watchers points during a marathon, right? ;) 

And JUST when I thought I couldn't see another amazing poster... this family ups the sign game!

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Perfect right? Especially after the Mile 20 "wall."

35K: 4:05:06

Now I had the FFTFL family in my sights. Their cheer station was AWESOME!

The cowbell, snack, water and cheer game was on point. While I was catching up with the crew, a blog reader, John, who I met the day before ran up. He lives in Dublin and it was nice running into him the day before at lunch, but now mid-race - hello run gods intervening and having us meet. :P

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Oh man it was exactly what my little heart needed. So much love in one cheer station. I gave everyone a hug and headed on my way. Only about 4 miles remaining in this magical journey.

I really didn't want the fun to end, but I realized I was getting closer to the 5-hour mark and needed to pick it up a smidge. But not before taking another sign pic.

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Aaawww Chicago - I am proud of you TOO!

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It is amazing seeing the human spirit towards the end of the marathon, people were digging team, friends pushing each other along, and people struggling, but putting one foot in front of the other. 

40K: 4:45:03

The wife texted and said she was at Mile 25 on the left side. I had my eye on the prize, BUT then the Jell-o shot booth caught my eye... a detour to the right side was a MUST.

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OH BOY it was delicious and gave me the little JOLT I guess I needed. I headed to the left side of the road and spotted the wife. After on last kiss, I was ready to head to the Finish.

I needed to pick the pace up a scootch if I wanted to finish under 5 hours. I guess the Jell-o shot was what I needed because my last mile was an 8:47 min/mile pace. :P

I wish I had taken my phone out while running down the Finish chute, but I wanted to 100% soak up the moment. It was worth it. I have every sight and sound backed up in my mind for whenever I need a happy moment.

FINAL TIME: 4:57:01

Oh that was my everything! That day was exactly what I needed.

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Just after getting my medal, I got my mylar blanket and then stumbled right on to the beer table. I have never seen a major marathon have free beer at the Finish just hanging out in the chute.

I happily took my Goose Island 312 and made my way down the rest of the Finisher chute to meet up with some friends. HUGE shoutout to Dave (guy in shades) that crushed his goal of sub-4 with a 3:53.

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What more do I need but beer and bling? Am I right?

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It took awhile, but we finally connected with the wife.

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It was an honor to run in the 40th running of the Chicago Marathon. I can't recommend this race enough for anyone looking for a fun and flat course. The atmosphere reminded me of Boston with the sides lined with spectators, families and entertainment. 

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Overall, this weekend was a great mix of blast from the past and creating new memories. 29.3 magical miles and my second World Major checked off.

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Do I wish I could've raced raced this race? Get what I am saying? ;) Someday I will attempt to PR again, but we will see when that day will be. For now, I continue having the time of my life running and taking you each along on the adventure...