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Chicago Marathon 2012 Race Report

Tuesday, October 09, 2012


Background info:
4th marathon, running for 1 year, 8 months
Female, age 43
Starting temperature- 42, finishing temp 48?, winds 12-13 mph
headwind last 1.5 miles or so
Unofficial time 3:33:13 (my Garmin registered 26.42 miles)
Training plan- a SmartCoach Runner’s World that I modified- 15 weeks- running 4 days a week, and 5 days a week during the last 4 weeks before the taper
Topping out at 2 weeks in the 40s, and two weeks in the low 50s (50 and 53)
Cross training- Per week- 3- 1 hr cardio group fitness classes (step, and dance), 2 weighted barbell classes, 1 hour of mixed yoga, pilates, and tai chi

We arrived in Chicago late Friday night and checked into our hotel, Hotel 71.

Saturday we went to the EXPO first thing in the morning via provided shuttle buses. I was able to meet Maureen from our Sparkie Marathoners team! It was so great to hang out with her and chill a bit, eating our free pasta.

My big pre-race obsession this time was what to wear. I ended up going with a tank, arm warmers, running skirt, gloves, fleece earband and my NIke dri- fit cap over it. I had a thin long sleeve dri fit as a second layer.

We left the hotel at around 6:50 am. The walk to the start seemed like it took forever. Eric and the kids accompanied me to the edge of Grant Park. On the walk over I saw many others with garbage bag, plastic ponchos, silver heat ponchos, and disposable clothing. We stopped for a few photos along the way. After I said my good-byes, I followed the rest of the crowd towards the gates. This was the part I didn’t expect to take so long. To get to the C corral, I had to go much further than where I said good bye to my family. We parted around 7:10 I think. It took me 8 minutes at least to reach my proper corral. At that point, the corral was almost full and you enter in the back of it. I ditched my pants before entering the corral, but kept my bag on. I had put heat warmers in each of my pant pockets, but when I shed the pants, I forgot to take one out, so I only had one.

Within two minutes of me entering the corral, an announcement came on saying, “Corral gates A-E are officially closed”. All other runners must proceed to corral F. I would have freaked if this had happened! Not only would I probably have had a really hard time establishing my pace, but would never have found the 3:35 pace group, or for that matter my family who would not have known about me starting with the 8:00 wave. Geez, that one was really close. I would definitely leave my hotel earlier next time- I just didn’t know it would take so long to get from the edge of the park to my corral. I actually started running with several other runners when it was about 10 minutes to start- thank goodness I did or I know I wouldn’t have made it.

The 3:35 pace group was at the very front of this corral and fighting my way through was almost impossible. It definitely made some people grouchy that some of us were doing this. At one point a man said, “I think it is funny how these people are trying to push through to the front”. I turned and said, “I’m just trying to find my pace group”. With a smile he said, “Oh that’s ok”, but I don’t know if he really meant it. I kept asking tall men if they could see up ahead to the 3:35 signs and most of them said no. Everyone was pretty nice when i’d ask this. As it was, another lady who was also looking for 3:35 and I, never made it to the 3:35 group. We ended up stopping behind a man wearing a 3:35 pace sign on his back who also couldn’t get up to the group. Her and I started chatting and her name was Laura. She was from Chicago and this was her 3rd marathon. She definitely was much younger than me and was really cute and excited. She was a great one to start next to. She was worried about her ipod draining for the whole race. I told her I was planning on keeping my ipod off until the halfway point based on suggestions from RW. She decided to try that out, too. We had the same Garmin and were talking about them. Within minutes, the race began and we were off! :) It took 3:30 to get to the start line and then within seconds we were all flying! I was shocked how we got up to our pace immediately. I hadn’t expected that to be able to happen. Laura continued talking to me and after a few minutes I said, “OK, I’m probably going to have to shut up now” and she laughed and said, “Me, too” and then we were on our separate ways- I know she didn’t take it offensively. I just don’t talk when I race and there was no way I could have continued on with that! 

The first thing I remember was going through a tunnel. I don’t remember if there was one or two, but I remember the crowds stationed along each side of us and on the overpass into a tunnel. It was a surreal feeling at that moment- they were all going crazy with cheering, screaming, signs, and huge smiles! I was grinning from ear to ear for so much of this race.

Going through the tunnel, I remembered someone’s words from our RW daily boards saying that the Garmin would wig out for the first few miles due to the tunnels, as well as later around 13-14. Yep- it was happening, but after a few minutes of emerging, they recalcuated and it seemed to maybe be accurate? I don’t know. Within 5 minutes I could see the 3:35 pace signs. Thank goodness. I continued to gradually move towards them until I was at the back of the pack. There were 4 pacers and I believe two had started in corral B and two in corral C. This was great because at every split in the road, two would take one side and two the other. Looking back at my Garmin times, my first mile was a 7:45, because without trying to, I guess I accelerated too much to try to catch up with the pacer. Either that or because of the tunnels and the lost satellite. I don’t remember ever running that packed in before. We were on top of each other, especially around the first couple of curves where you would have to slow down not to slam into the person in front of you. After the first mile, I started thinking about shedding my long-sleeve. I had just slipped it off over my head when I hear, “Renee!”, thank goodness I looked, because there was my cheering section- hubby and two kids. I don’t know how he spotted me, and I never would have spotted them if DD hadn’t been wearing her kooky Georgia Bulldog mad hatter hat. :) That fueled me up. I knew that I would see them in another mile, around 2.5. However, I never saw them there. I knew that I would see them around mile 12.5 so that was fine- I actually felt bad for them, picturing them waiting for me and never seeing me.

Chicago clocked me at running the first 5k at an 8:04 pace. This was a little faster than I had wanted. I wanted to at least keep the first 8 miles at an 8:10, but still was happy with this. I felt like I was getting into a rhythm and warming up a bit.

I’m not sure at what point this happened, it was while running by some park area, really pretty, but I came up behind a tall guy wearing a navy blue tank, arm warmers and sun glasses- I knew that Bookerman from RW was going to line up with the 3:35s and as soon as I saw the sunglasses, yelled out, “Bookerman” from behind. He turned and I said, “Ebunny!” So fun to run along side of him for a bit- we chatted for a short while and then a water station came, we parted, and I never saw him again. LOL! At least I got the chance to meet him, we exchanged our real names, and it was a great race distractor for even the short time we were together.


I had planned to take my Clif shots at 6 miles, 11, 16, and 21. The plan was to take the caffeinated ones 1st and 3rd, and non-caf 2nd and 4th. I had brought an extra one in case I needed one more around 23-24, and I also knew they would be handed out at mile 17. I pretty much stuck to this plan, taking the first at mile 6, then right after seeing my family after 12.5 (a little late), mile 16.5, then mile 21 I think. I drank water with every one I took, and in between, drank my Cytomax and when that was gone, gatorade.

I ran this race with my Amphipod handheld water bottle that was filled with my Cytomax I had brought with me. I skipped the first several water/gatorade stations because of it which was great. When it began getting almost empty, I started adding gatorade to it and mixing it with water. I did a combo of taking cups and drinking and drinking from my handheld. I really do love running with it. i had 3 pace charts taped to the bottle with various goal split times. I didn’t need it while running with the pace group which was great. In the future, If i ever decide to not use it, I will plan to have a pace tattoo that I can refer to, even if I’m planning on using a pace group, just in case I get separated from them or need to adjust my run.

The water stations were absolutely incredible. One about every 1.5 miles for the first 13 or so miles and then every mile after that. Each water station went on for two city blocks, both sides of the street, both sides having Gatorade the first half in green Gatorade cups, and water the second half in red cups. The volunteers were standing side by side with the water cup on the palm of their hand. I have NEVER SEEN such organization- this got to me- what an incredible group of volunteers this race had. Not only the sheer volume of people but their overall amazing, positive attitudes. Each statin had porta potties and a first aid station. Mile 17 provided Clif Shots- 4 flavors, each side of the street, labeled with signs above which flavors. ARE YOU SERIOUS????? 5 stops had bananas sliced and being held out. I almost cried a few times by the volunteers and how well Chicago did this. Kudos to Chicago. If anyone ever questions the race fee, they need to look at all that is put into these productions.

The pacer I stuck closest to was really positive and upbeat. Someone asked him around mile 6 if he had paced Chicago before. He said no, but that he’d paced other marathons and this was his 21st marathon. A couple of people ran up and asked if he was on pace. He said that yes, they were on pace and a little bit under. That was good because I wasn’t sure what the tunnels had done to my Garmin and its accuracy.

I loved running with the pace group because I barely checked my Garmin at all. It was such a liberating feeling and was much more enjoyable being able to just focus on the run, the crowds, the cool architecture of the city, and all the fun and motivational signs.

We went through Boys Town which was a blast- there was a group in costume on a stage twirling fake rifles to some song, lots of color, lots of cheering, really fun section to run through.

My 10k split according to Chicago was also an 8:04 pace, but I didn’t realize this because I wasn’t checking my Garmin during this time.

After finishing mile 8, I decided to increase the pace just a little so I crept ahead of the 3:35 group. I figured if I could stay in front of them, I would meet my sub 3:35 goal. If I couldn’t, I would fall back in line with them and try to stay with them. I never saw them again, but they couldn’t have been far behind me at any point.

Around this time I was aware of people cheering for “Blaze”. He was right in front of me with a purple Team in Training shirt on. At one point I came up beside him and saw that his face was painted pink and purple- don’t know who he was supposed to be, but the crowd loved him and I fed off of it. We were pretty much together for many miles, at least 10 or so.

I passed a spectator dressed as a sneaker. The best costume I saw of the day, even though it was professional.

Around this point, I also passed a crank chair driven by an older man. The crowd was going wild for him and I got emotional here. I started thinking of all the people running this race that faced so many more challenges than I and it hit me hard.

The only time I ever felt ANY incline or decline at all was going over the small bridges. I couldn’t believe that the race had padded the iron grating on the bridges with thick mats! How cool is that??? Somewhere amongst the bridges I remember going over a slight hill and being able to see the thousands of runners in front of me. That was the only view I remember like this because the race is so flat and so curvy with all the street turns. This was an incredible sight and I wish I’d pulled out my camera and taken a shot of it.

I found my family stationed around mile 12.5 just like planned and they were sitting on a bridge railing. My husband yelled, “Looking strong, Girl!” My kids were cheering for me with smiles on their faces. That did it for another huge refueling for me. :) LOVE THOSE PEOPLE!!!!

My 13.1 split according to Chicago was 1:46:09, and 8:08 pace. Miles 9-14 I was attempting to hit around an 8:00 pace, but because I decided to plug into my music at the beginning of mile 13 (couldn’t I have waited until after the 13.1 split??), that mile registered an 8:30 avg pace according to Garmin! Boo- I had trouble typing in my stupid passcode on my iphone, then finding my playlist since I’d forgotten to set it up ahead of time. I fiddled with my phone for a good 2-3 minutes which stunk. Finally got that going and back into my Spi belt, but that was a pain. FUTURE NOTE- TAKE OFF THE PASSCODE LOCK BEFORE A RACE!!!! Fingers were too useless to work for all this. The 4 miles before mile 13 and the mile after, I avg an 8:01 pace.

Up until now, I had been feeling great! A little cold, but physically great. My AT and hamstring had not bothered me once. My heart rate was right where I wanted it- hovering around 168- low 170s. Around mile 15 or so I noticed my right quad started feeling tight. I started throwing in a few exaggerated kick strides to try to loosen it up, but that didn’t seem to be working. It was more a nuisance than anything, since I was aware of it. I noticed my pace was now averaging more around an 8:10 from miles 15-19. I still felt good though, just that tightened quad that I kept trying to shake out while running. I still had not seen any sign of the 3:35 pace group so I knew I was still above pace. My heart rate continued to stay under 175 through mile 19.

Mile 20 I started picking up the pace again. Not sure why- this might have been when I was going through the cool Hispanic area with a mariachi band in full costume, dancers, two giant paper mache people, lots of wonderful smells coming from the restaurants, and lots of loud and enthusiastic cheering. I clocked an 8:00 mile 20, and an 8:01 mi 21.

Around mile 21 when I knew we’d be entering Chinatown soon, the crowd again grew thicker and louder and I spotted my family on the left. My DH and son both got short video clips of me here which was cool- I was smiling and as I passed them, gave a large eye roll, like, “Ok, I’m getting tired”. About another 75-100 feet, the course turned a sharp right and there was the super cool gate entering Chinatown. The smells here were phenomenal! I started craving Chinese food so badly! I remember hoping that my family had made it down to this point to see this cool entrance and later they assured me that they did, but that it was too congested there to get a spot to see. I never saw the Chinese Dragons that MAPS told me about, but my family did, so I’m glad of that.
Mile 22 through Chinatown was an 8:15 pace- probably because I slowed down to smell all the good food!!!

I had already taken my 4th gel by mile 21, and had been consistently drinking throughout. I felt really good, just starting to notice getting a little tired and that right quad gradually contined to tighten more. I was glancing at Garmin more frequently during the last 10k, using a bit more mental coaching.

I don’t remember too many more specifics from here on. I do know my music was driving me, but I still could hear all the crowds. I smiled a lot during this race.

Somewhere around mile 23-24 we got hit by an icy cold headwind. I remember thinking, “oh my gosh, I’m so cold”. My legs looked pink and I thought to myself that maybe I should have chosen the full length running tights- spilt milk -too late for that. I also remember thinking that I felt surprisingly good for having only a 5k left to go. I started getting really happy knowing that even if I had to slow down some, I should be able to get my sub 3:35 since I’d still not been caught by the pace group and I had started the race behind them.

I read in some other race reports about some hill at the end. Funny, I remember no incline at all. Is that possible? Or maybe I have forgotten because I started digging deeper at the end. I knew I wanted to finish strong, so I started pushing the pace a bit again and was aware that my breathing had gotten heavier and my heart rate had gone up some. Maybe this was the hill? Mile 24 I clocked an 8:08 and mi 25 an 8:02. My heart rate was avg of 177 for both of these miles.

I remember thinking, “Only 1.5 more miles, only 1.5 more” this was really the only part I remember feeling like I wanted it to be over. I was picturing I Dream of Jeannie and wishing I could nod my ponytail and blink me to the finish. I also was picturing the deep dish pizza I knew I would finally get after finishing! With all the extra wide turns I had to make, I was having to run past my 26.2 on my Garmin- I knew this coming into this stretch, but still it messed with me and made me mad. I was aware of people around me really pushing it and it was noticeable in their heavy breathing, adjusted strides, etc. One guy yelled out, “Come on, People, let’s DO THIS! It’s right there in front of us!” That was great. My Garmin mile 26 was an 8:04 pace. I loved that there were signs of “ONE MORE MILE”, 800m, 400m, 300, 200, 100m. That was wonderful and all races should have that. When the crowds started getting thicker and louder those last 800 m, I remember I was grinning from ear to ear. My last .42 miles clocked in at a 7:47 pace. I finished in 3:33:13, a new PR by 6:27 and also a BQ minus 11:47. First half 1:46: 09, second 1:47:04- a positive split of :55. That’s the first time I’ve not run negative splits. Don’t know if that is good or bad and will need to research it. The time is funny, because my daughter and I had been joking the week before how cool it would be if I could get a 3:33:33- that almost happened!

Garmin times:
mi1-7:46 (probably trying to catch pace group)
mi3-7:49(sat dropped?)
mi 4-7:30(sat dropped?)
mi 5-7:55

Chicago chip registered split paces:
Half- 8:08 (1:46:09)
Finish-8:07 (2nd half- 1:47:04)
(**Was with 3:35 pace group (8:12 planned pace) from around .5 mi through mi 8)

After crossing that finish line I was making loud sighs of happiness and I remember thinking that everyone around me was so quiet! I was looking from person to person trying to see if they all were as jubilant as me. I asked the guy next to me who wore a small smile, “Are you happy?” He looked up with a huge grin and said, “YES!” Then a woman behind me started high fiving the woman next to her saying, “I Boston qualified!” THe other one said, “ME, too!” I joined in and said, “Me three!” It was a lot of fun. I told the woman she needed to run to a computer and register though, and she looked like she didn’t know what I was talking about. Maybe she thought 2013 was closed?

Got my mylar blanket, then my medal, and then someone taped my blanket closed for me. At this point my legs started stiffening up and becoming useless. I have no idea why I didn’t pull over and stretch. Very limited brain function. At some point I became emotional thinking about what I had just done. We then moved through the food line. They had a TON OF FOOD! I immediately ate a banana, and drank most of a Gatorade protein recovery drink. Then before I know it someone is putting a beer in my hand and I’m cheering them, then looked around at everyone drinking, and thought, “why not?” Though I only took a few sips and continued to carry that full beer around for the next 15 minutes trying to find my family. In a right state of mind, I would have put the beer down. Again, very limited brain function.:)

By the time I located my family, I was shaking violently from the cold- teeth chattering beyond belief. I freaked my children out, but kept telling them, “I’m ok, I just need to put more clothes on” but I really wasn’t able to move much, besides all the shaking. It was much worse this time than my February marathon, but then again that one ended in the low 60s. My husband helped me pull on my warm-up clothing which was quite an ordeal.

I went next to the massage tent and got a great massage. Two people worked on my legs at the same time which was awesome! I read somewhere that someone else had to pick whether they wanted the front or the back of their legs done, but they worked on both sides of my legs which was fantastic.

We started our long walk back to the hotel. A funny sight worth recording- several people in front of me were attempting to walk up about 10 or so stairs out of the park without much success. I came along behind them and walked up the grassy incline alongside the stairs. They all stopped, looked at me, and followed suit. I guess their full brain function had not yet returned. LOL! Walked through Millennium Park and finally got to see “the bean”. We finally made it to our final destination, Bella Bacino’s for our pre-ordered Chicago deep dish pizza. It was all worth the pizza! :)

Later that afternoon, we went to Fado's Irish Pub to meet up with some of my RW forum group. It was great meeting Mdawg, RA, Badger, and Mini in person and to hear some race stories!


The residential areas we ran through were beautiful with all the canopy tree-lined streets. I couldn’t get over all the individuals who had their own fuel stations set up- passing out whole bananas, water bottles, sliced oranges, cups of smarties, I even saw someone handing out gels!!!! This touched me greatly. It reminded me of my first marathon, Boston in 1995, with all the orange slices and bananas being passed out by residents just out of the kindness of their hearts.

I think it was early on, but I loved passing a section of Koreans, displaying their flags, blasting “Gangnam Style” and doing the dance. This was one of my favorite spots to pass- I was always tempted to stop and dance with anyone dancing, but I refrained, just doing some arm moves, and high fiving them, maybe an occasional head bob or stupid fist pump or something instead!

I loved, looking at all the buildings and store fronts. I truly got to enjoy this course. I thought it was neat also how the race set up the two giant screens so you could see yourself running. I’ve not seen that before.

I high fived the Elvis impersonator who was on stage singing some Elvis song in full Elvis costume- I had to jump to reach his hand- he even had on an oversized ring! No idea when this was either- anyone else remember?

I tried to post pictures in here, but for some reason, it wouldn't let me ! Probably for the best, because I looked horrible by the end!!

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    SO AMAZING! It's so awesome to read someone else's race report - and someone who finished SO FAST by the way :) Congrats big time on your BQ. Wow, that's incredible.

    Just reading this made it all come back for me. And a week after the event when I'm really starting to feel like it never even happened, I needed this!

    I'm glad you were impressed with the organization. I LOVE this city, and Chicago does races WELL. It's not just the marathon, every race that starts downtown is this well organized. The volunteers are amazing for sure. And as it was my first marathon, I was also just overly impressed with how awesome everyone was. Like you said - I smiled A LOT in this race. They almost made it feel easy.

    My Garmin freaked out too. I was prepared for it though because I've been under that bridge at the start in every race I've done. Mine measured 26.7 miles at the end. Crazy.

    Elvis was on North Ave turning from Lincoln Park into Old Town. He was definitely a fun sight to see!

    Congrats again. Thanks for bringing it back for me!
    2660 days ago
    AMAZING race report, Renee! I felt like I was right there with you (in real life, of course, I would be significantly behind you, hehe).

    Sounds like it was a wonderfully organized event, too! I loved your descriptions of all the different neighborhoods and runners.

    Fantastic job with your pacing, too. Sounds like you really nailed it for an enjoyable PR! BTW, I had the same thing happen to me with the tunnels and my Garmin in Seattle... the Garmin never adjusted, so I hit 26.2 miles WAY before the end! That was hard, mentally!

    Enjoy your recovery and enjoy running Boston!!
    2665 days ago
  • TAMTAM64
    What an amazing marathon you had! Girl - you are FAST!! :) I am so happy that things were just clicking good for you during that race.

    Congrats on another BQ!! You rock!

    2666 days ago
    Great race report!! Fantastic time. Well done!!

    Chicago knows how to do things right.
    2666 days ago
  • HEIDI-25
    OMG!! You met and ran with Bookerman!!!!
    I am so happy for you! It sounds like an marathon race dream :) I am really glad that you made it into your corral in time. It really sounds like everything went smoothly and though not effortless, your hard work in training paid off!!! Congratulations on your finish time. I look up to you and have really felt encouraged by all of your advice. Thanks for sharing your race recap and I look forward to communicating lots more about running with you!
    2666 days ago
    GREAT race report, Renee. Loved this. You captured so many details I forgot. I'm glad it's all here for me to read and that I can come back to this again!

    2666 days ago
  • KBARRY23
    Great job Renee!!! So excited for you. It was a great race, wasn't it? The crowd, sites and energy were amazing!
    2666 days ago
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