After the Chicago Marathon – Review, Tips and Lessons Learned

An introspective person by nature, I spend copious amounts of time after a race (or pretty much anything for that matter) reviewing and reflecting upon my performance.

After my tenth marathon, with a time that met my C goal but nothing more, I have plenty to reflect upon and learn from regardless of how pleased I am with my time and my performance given the conditions.

First off, the review.

For this race, I am adding a tips section. The night before the marathon I searched fruitlessly for concrete, applicable tips on arrival, even reaching out to a marathon Facebook group I participate in and came up with nothing, even concerning anything related to the race.

Race Review

Registration and Packet Pick Up
Registration – Chicago has two different methods for entry: time qualifier and lottery entrant. Unlike Boston, times for qualifying marathons last for three years. Thus, this year constituted the last year I could use my Rome Marathon time. Registration for time qualifiers and lottery entries ends much sooner than expected. About the time I was about to start training for Chicago, Mom mentioned that she might like to run this with me. Unfortunately, lottery entry had long since closed. If you want to run Chicago, you must decide way in advance.

Packet Pick-Up – Some people really love expos. I like looking around, being with all these other running focused people. Seriously, 40k people running a marathon all getting together? Best. Ever. As far as buying stuff? That’s not my focus, as the many posts on frugality and minimalism would best explain. I did not mind attending the expo only a couple hours before closing. We did not have to deal with long lines plus, Paula Radcliffe just so happened to be on the Runner’s World stage when we walked by. *Cue major running nerd geek out moment*
Chicago really does have the packet pick up down to a fine-tuned, efficient science which is a must for the second largest marathon in the world.

Race Shirt
I really like the clean and simple design. When I first picked up the shirt I wondered if I had made a mistake in choosing the small. Most times that is the perfect size. Occasionally the smalls run too short. Thankfully, this one fits just right. I will likely use it as a cross-training shirt since I am not a fan of high-neck shirts on runs.

Pre-race amenities
I will cover a lot of this in the tips section below.

Course and course support
As I mentioned in my recap, at times I wondered if I should just turn my music off since I couldn’t hear it over the crowd support. I love having this problem. According to an article I read afterwards, somewhere around a million people lined the course to cheer on the runners. (See the tips section for more.) This course has quite a few turns but lacks hills of any significance. Even the rollers a few people around me noticed, I hardly noticed since they pale in comparison to the hills we have in South Carolina. The Marathon’s over 12k volunteers handily manned water stops and served as course monitors having been well trained. I never once had an aid station issue. Plus, the course has 20 aid stations, nearly one every mile.

Finish line and Post Race Amenities
I tend to head straight home after a race or at least straight to the nearest milkshake and coffee purveyors. Nothing about that changed. I wandered through the post-race area, the one accessible to only runners and volunteers and picked up necessary accoutrements along the way from my medal to a bag of food. I also witnessed many caring and efficient medical volunteers checking on any person who sat down in that area. You had to keep moving.
Unlike in DC for the Marine Corps Marathon – which, granted, ran mere months after Boston 2013 – Mom had no trouble finding the Runner Reunite area and me. The tall polls with the letters were positioned just after the entrance and security check making them highly visible.

Marathonfoto provides official photography for the race. They have a strong enough reputation that I do not need to review their services.

Results can be found immediately online or via the app. Unlike past experiences with race apps, this one worked like a charm for Mom. She could easily track my location and has plenty of screenshots to prove it.

Tips Section

1. The official recommendation is to arrive two hours prior to your particular wave start. You do not need to arrive that early. I understand why they give that recommendation. Despite those instructions, too many people wait until the last possible second to access their gate and corral causing enormous congestion. In race this size, they will not delay the start for you. However, even an hour and a half before the start, I breezed through security and the portopotty lines which meant that I ended up spending half an hour sitting on a bench shivering until close enough to the start I actually headed into the corral.

2. If you possibly can, avoid having to use gear check and arrive one hour before, not two.

3. Use the portopotty section in the area before entering the corrals. I was able to cycle through this line, with plenty of time in between, twice. I attempted one last time in the corral but that line moved so slowly I ended up abandoning the attempt.

4. Bring throwaway gear for the time that you wait before the sun comes up. You will have to wait a little. Bring a trash bag or a heat sheet form a previous race or something like that to stay warm and save the energy that you would otherwise waste on shivering.

5. If you absolutely must have music, use at least one headphone. I have stopped using headphones and instead run with the music playing from my phone. Those little speakers have nothing on Chicago crowd support. Only a few sections lack complete crowd cover so a little silence might be welcome.

6. Wear your name somewhere. I did this for the first time during this race and loved it! It never ceased to bring a smile to my face.

7. Start taking water or Gatorade at the first aid station. Despite the October date, Chicago has a reputation for some really draining heat. Take hydration at every station. Your body will thank you.

As I think of other tips, I will add to this section.

Lastly, the reflection bit…

As I mentioned in my retrospective, my training has not approached the rigor I would have hoped. Several things seemed to get in the way. Instead of waxing eloquent, I will stick with simple bullet points, boil it down, so to speak.

  • I do not run well in the heat, no matter how “acclimated” I am.
  • My best performances have come under one of the following circumstances: cooler weather, spring date, with a coach’s help or all of the above. (See Rome for proof.)
  • My best two times have come while working with Matt as my coach. I think I have reached the limit of how fast I can push myself when I am the one designing my training plan.
  • My base mileage for this training cycle hovered too low. I think I would have been able to make it a little farther in those later miles even with the heat but only one other time this training cycle has my mileage reached 40 mpw.
  • Tiered goals and letting go of goals makes the overall race experience far more enjoyable.
  • I need to rebuild my mental toughness. It’s been a while since I really pushed myself out of my running comfort zone. That’s what it’s going to take to get that BQ.

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