Chicago Marathon Race Recap

For some people running a marathon comes easy. I am not one of those people. My head often hinders my ability when it comes to 26.2. I haven’t decided if I am crazy or I just like to torture myself. It’s gross.

When I got to Chicago I felt excited and nervous to toe the line. I had just two 20 mile training runs this cycle but felt confident yet uneasy about running a strong race. I had planned on running with a friend and we decided that there would be no pressure to stay together. We would start easy and push later in the race. I just needed some sort of  breakthrough.

On Sunday morning the alarm went off at 4:15.  I shut it off and planned on going back to sleep and then there was a knock at the door. Breakfast.

The hotel I stayed at had an option for a boxed prerace meal and I jumped on it.  There was a lot of food in that little box so I took what I wanted and gave the rest to L. I hopped in the shower to wake up and then checked the weather. Cloudy and 38.

I figured the sun would come out and some point so I went with shorts, compression socks, a tank and long sleeve.

At 6:40 I  put on my Garmin and slippped on my little purple “believe” bracelet to support my MIL. I gathered my stuff, put my headphones in my pocket and was ready to go. My friend and I agreed to meet at 7 close to the start so that we could get into our corral before it closed at 7:20. I sent her a text that I was leaving and left my phone behind.

I got to our meeting point at 6:55…and waited…and waited…and waited. By 7:05 I was worried and knew that the corrals were closing soon. I did one last final sweep of the area and decided it was time to go. I was going to be running solo. L went with me until spectators were no longer allowed and I literally had to run to get to the start. I think I was one of the last people to make it into corral C.

I stood at the back of the pack just checking everything out. There were so many runners and so many people. It was awesome. The start gun went off and it took about 5 or so minutes for me to cross the start.

My plan was to go out easy and see how I felt. I passed the 5k point at 27 min or so and realized I was running at training pace. Time to speed up a little. I am not sure how to describe it other than my mind was ready to move but my legs were not.  My legs were freezing and they felt heavy. Like I had ice blocks strapped on. NO! You all know what happened right? For the next several miles all I could think about was how effing cold and heavy my legs felt. Told you I think I like to torture myself.

Can't feel my legs

At mile 5 I took my first gel and crossed the 10k mark in 54 min. I think at this point I knew my legs had no intention of going faster so it was time to have some serious fun. And I DID!

I high-fived every kid I saw. I ate oranges, I thanked neighbors for cheering us on and I happily took an ice cold water bottle from someone to refill my handheld. I looked at the buildings, I laughed, I thought alot…about our move, my MIL, my crazy job, my kids. I think I said “I can’t believe I am running the Chicago Marathon. This is awesome!” at least 5 times out loud. I crossed the half way point in just under 1:54 and decided I was done checking my Garmin (which was ahead by .30. Bad tangents I guess) and was going to run to finish strong.

The miles just kept ticking by. At mile 18 a lady on the side of the road was holding a sign that said “Only 8.2 miles left. After 18 that ain’t nothin.” That made me smile. Only 8.2 miles left. I could do that! I looked down at that little purple bracelet and just kept running.! Cheeeeseee

As I approached mile 20 I was ready for it. The wall. I have hit it in every single marathon. I took my 4th gel and reminded myself that I had an iPod zipped in my pocket so if I felt like I needed it I could bust it out. And then suddenly….

Mile 21. What? Wait? Where is the wall? It’s gotta be here somewhere. Holy crap I am passing people. A lot of them. I am usually the one being passed.

“Can’t stop. Won’t Stop.”

Mile 22. I looked at that little purple bracelet. There is no pain while running that is worse than what my MIL is going through.

“The longer I go the stronger I get.”

Mile 23. I should be speeding up but at this point my pace is working. Why ruin a good thing? I’ve freaking got this.

Mile 24. I grab gatorade chews from a volunteer. I will need them to help me pass the time to get me through the last  2.2 miles. A lot of people are walking, I pick up the pace a bit.

“Can’t stop. Won’t Stop”

Mile 24.5. I meet Kevin. He is from NY. He was hungover, barely slept and had run a marathon the weekend before. This race was his victory lap. Without saying it we decide we’re going to finish together.

Mile 25. I look at my watch. 3:38. I knew I was going to PR. I said it right then. Out loud. And then I cried a little. I finally freaking enjoyed a marathon. Yeah the beginning sucked but when I let go I loved it. And then I decided it was time to run fast. It’s never too late to run fast.

Mile 26: I saw 7:38 pace on my watch. I had a lot of kick left. I felt like I could run forever. The crowds were awesome. Me and my new friend looked at each other and sprinted. And giggled like little kids.

I crossed the finish line in 3:49:11.

A 6 min PR.

I took my medal, thanked my buddy for running with me and looked back down at that bracelet. WE did it. I think I did the robot, the running man and the cabbage patch all within a 30 second span. Impressive, no?


So I didn’t break any records, I didn’t make it hurt,  and I certainly didn’t  lay the hammer down so that I couldn’t breathe at the end. But you know what? I didn’t care. I freaking ran the best marathon that I have ever ran. I was never tired and I had the most fun I have ever had running a race. Man I needed that!

When I finally saw my splits I realized that I was within 1 min of running a completely even race. That is what letting go does. It allows me to just run.

I got a text later that evening from my “coach” (who has done so much for my running and I can’t thank him enough) telling me he was proud of me. Sometimes that’s all that any of us need to hear. I am proud of me too.

Although there will be another race one thing is certain: I will never forget Chicago. I will never forget the feeling of finally “getting” the marathon. It was the breakthrough I was looking for. I am a heck of a lot more confident in myself. No longer a prisoner in mental self-doubt jail , the headcase is out and this girl is in. Although the marathon will never be easy  for me, one day, just maybe, I will do something big.

74 thoughts on “Chicago Marathon Race Recap

  1. CONGRATULATIONS on your SIX minute PR! That’s huge!!!
    Oh, dang. I must say… you have enjoyed the part of the marathon that no one enjoys (the last several miles), hahaha. That’s truly a blessing to finish feeling so great!

    1. You are so right! I have NEVER enjoyed that part. That’s usually when I am doing the death march (read: slow painful shuffle and maybe a bad word or two!) This is a first and I know it will not always be this way. I think I was in so much shock that I was ok that it was a major endorphin rush!

  2. Wow, congratulations on your PR. Even better than you were able to enjoy yourself too! Loved this post, it made me tear up a little. You are such an inspiration.

    1. Thanks Amanda- it made me tear up too. Running is so hard and when we get that one shot when it just works it pushes us to go further. Again thank you!

  3. You did AWESOME!!! There is truly nothing like the feeling of conquering something so huge. You went right up and over that wall, girl! BELIEVE, indeed;)

    Hope you mother-in-law is doing well, I think about you and your family often.
    “Don’t be afraid, just believe.” Mark 5:36

    1. Thank you Erica! She is one amazing woman. She is going through radiation and is praying that she will be able to come visit us at the end of the month!! She is a warrior. I appreciate you keeping us in your thoughts. It means the world 🙂

  4. Congratulations! I feel the exact same way about the marathon. I have never NOT hit the wall and I keep signing up with the hope that someday I will have a race like this one. I am so very happy for you! That is an excellent time and more important you enjoyed yourself! So very happy for you!

    1. That freaking wall!!! Argh! You know I was trying to encourage every runner I saw struggling at the end of that race. I have been there so many times- feeling defeated and wanting to just quit. It is awful. This time was so different. I wish every race could be like this!

  5. this is my favorite race re-cap of yours Nicole! Congrats on marathon redemption, breakthrough & a sparkly new PR!! 🙂

    you maintained a positive attitude & that’s always 1/2 the battle. you fought on & “OWNED CHICAGO!!” still soo proud of you! Cheers to lucky #7!!! see you soon! xo

  6. Oh my. I teared up while reading this. So, so happy for you! I love that thinking of your MIL was such a motivational push as you were running. Excellent and inspiring recap!

  7. Congratulations! I think I enjoyed your post because I find stories like this one intriguing. I like the idea that we can accomplish more with less effort. That’s not to say that you didn’t work hard – you absolutely did! I like that your achieved personal success after you decided to ignore the technology and just have FUN. There are times when less is more. In running, both in training and when racing, I find that letting go can often bring surprises like yours. I’m not sure it necessarily applies to the elite athletes, this letting go tactic, but how fortunate it DOES exist for us weekend warriors!

    Relish this success, and savor the reminder to HAVE FUN.

    1. Thanks Erin! The less is more worked so well this last weekend. The pressure that I put on myself come race day often hinders my ability to run strong. Having fun worked that day!

      I have a friend who is considered an “elite development” runner (he had a PR of 2:46 in Chicago) and he said most races hurt!

  8. As I was reading your post, my heart seriously smiled and I couldn’t help but feel so overwhelmed with joy for you! There is nothing better than feeling amazing, running a great race and PR-ing all in one! Congrats on your finish/PR/best race yet! It definitley makes me want to go to Chicago 😉

    1. Run Chicago!! I’m serious 🙂 The support is amazing and for how large the field is I never felt crowded or boxed in. Such a great race 🙂 I will likely go back next year if I can’t get into NYC!

  9. What a great recap!! Congratulations on running the marathon and enjoying it (a whole new feat in itself)! When I read a recap like this it makes me want to get out there and do the same, so thank you!

  10. Congratulations on an awesome race. To be able to enjoy yourself, have fun AND PR, that is amazing! I’m going to try to take some of your attitude about this race and apply it to myself when I run NYC next month. I really want to have fun and soak in the experience and not stress about time. Of course, it’d be great to PR like you did too!

  11. Way to go!!! I loved this made me get a bit teary eyed too. 🙂 I had a 10 mile race similar to this ( well, not the distance…but…). I relaxed and had fun, and I had NO idea I did as well as I did. haha…funny, how that happens. Congrats to you! What a great race and PR.

    1. 10 miles is no small feat! I love that we can all share similar stories of personal success. The mom in me is always striving for perfection and that moment when I got to let go it just worked. I wish I could do that at home and the house would magically clean itself! Now THAT would be amazing!

  12. I LOVE recaps like these! It makes me want to hunt down a training coach and seriously get after it! I want to run and have fun doing it. Right now, I am ‘enjoying’ 2 miles jogs/trots every now and again. These types of “I let it go and had fun” recaps make me want more! 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

  13. So so SO happy for you! What a great race – physically and mentally! Nearly even race, without even trying? Umm that takes some talent. Hope you’re still basking in the major PR glory and enjoying recovery! xoxox

  14. Congratulations on the PR and for having a great time out there! The best races are the ones that you can have fun on and it is really awesome that you got to experience it with someone else at the end! I really enjoyed reading your recap 🙂

  15. You ran a strong race! The fact that you had so much left at the end definitely means you will do something bigger 🙂 And isn’t great NOT to hit a wall? Wall sucks goat butt.

    I ran nearly even splits at RnR Nola – I had a great time in that race. I don’t know if it was a breakthrough, but I felt similar feelings of just pure enjoyment for that race. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have a whole lot of expectations from myself 6 weeks after Carlsbad

    1. The wall does suck goat butt! That made me laugh. Reflecting back I should have pushed that last 6 but there is always another day for that. This was truly the first time I enjoyed a marathon. I am usually looking for a cab about 10k in, lol!

  16. Hi! I read this blog post right before I ran my second marathon. Your words really inspired me to let go have fun and just enjoy what I was doing! And I got a 30 min PR! Thank you 🙂

      1. Basking in my glory is right! ha! After I read what you said I became eerily calm it was great! 30 min PR and a sub 4! I had never even read your blog before that post too- it was meant to be 🙂

  17. This sent chills down my whole body! I want to seriously cry happy tears for you! I’ve never run more than a 5k, but am set to do a half in about a month, and I fully relate to everything you said about being a mind-games prisoner! You rock, girl! So excited you got this! You totally worked for it and earned it!!! 🙂 Hooray and happy dances all around!

  18. LOVE your race recap!!! Congrats on your PR! I am running my first full this weekend and I am so incredibly nervous!! Reading this was great… I need to RELAX!! LOL!

  19. What a great race recap! I ran Chicago too – it was my 1st marathon and my run was quite different than yours. For me the first half was fun and fast and then I pretty much slammed into wall the last quarter of it. It got so bad that I finished 30 minutes slower than I was anticipating! Great job on the PR! Love your perspective on the run and it’s definitely something I hope to channel when I finally run #2.

    1. Meg, I have felt that way 6 times before this one- I even had a DNF due to an injury half way through. The marathon is stinking hard. Keep your head up- you finished something that most of the world will never even attempt. Can’t wait to hear about you crushing number 2!

  20. New to your blog and LOVED this recap! Congrats on your awesome race! And thank you… reading this got me excited again for my 26.2 coming up 🙂 It’s nice to know the marathon can be an enjoyable experience!

  21. This was my first time reading your blog and this post made me tear up 🙂 I’m running a marathon in just less than a month and this made me excited for it (when I’ve been feeling more nervous than excited lateley)! Congratulations on such a great race! I hope I can achieve that feeling!

    1. Congrats Melissa!! You are heading into taper so enjoy it 🙂 Let that body recover and get ready for race day. One of my friends texted me “The hard part is over, the race is the easy part.” I had to remind myself of that several times but it worked. Another little mantra 🙂 GL in your upcoming marathon!

  22. I’m late to post, but wanted to say congrats on your PR and having a great marathon feeling! I love you write up and I’m so glad you liked Chicago! 😀

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