This is my 9th marathon distance run and the one where I feel I am coming into it better prepared than ever before. I decided to seek the help and advice of a running coach for Chicago. We started working together back in July following Ironman UK with two goals in mind. Firstly to run a sub 3:20 marathon and Secondly to run the full distance.
The 12 weeks of training have gone REALLY well, I feel like I am in the best shape of my life and running faster & further than during previous training blocks. My weekly mileage has increased from 30 – 35 mile up to 55 – 60 miles. The only issue I have had is an ongoing achilles ache dating back to Ironman Staffordshire in June. I suffered a cramp of the right calf during the Wilmslow Half Marathon in June which I attributed to favouring the achilles on the left side and putting more pressure on the right. The cramping cleared up in time for the start of this 12 week training and has been fine ever since.
Arrival (Thursday October 4th)
One of the things I changed for this international race was arriving a day earlier than usual. Typically I would arrive on a Friday, race Sunday and fly back Monday. This time I thought getting here on Thursday would give me an extra day to get over jet lag and feel settled. Also I will be able to get the expo done first thing on Friday rather than a busier early evening visit.
Getting here early also allowed me some time to have a walk around in the sun to find my bearings and to do some sightseeing. I dropped my bag off at the hotel and went straight out to Grant Park & Cloud Gate whilst it was still light. I wanted to make it to the Hancock Centre at sunset to get some good views from the observation deck.
Expo (Friday October 5th)
As with any trip to the US, I was waking up at 2am, 3am and 4am finally decided to give in and get up at 5:20am. My training plan for this week was a few easy paced runs earlier in the week, rest day on Thursday with a 30 min easy run today and the Chicago 5k (very easy paced!!) tomorrow. Before flying out I thought that I would get my 30 min run done early today, grab some breakfast and then hit the expo.
I got changed into my running gear and heading downstairs only to find that it was pouring with rain.
With only having brought two pairs of running shoes, I didn’t fancy getting one pair wet on day one so I pushed the run back to later in the day. It looked like it would be dry in the afternoon.
After getting breakfast, I arrived at the expo at 8:45am, there was a short queue forming ready for the 9am opening but I was towards the front.
One of the benefits of arriving at the expo for the opening was a bunch of previous champions were cutting the tape. I got to meet Paula Radcliffe and Deena Kastor.
The entry system here seemed really well organised. You would scan your QR code and present ID then be allocated a desk number where your race packet would be waiting for you. Within 5 minutes I had collected my race pack and participant tee. Pretty much done and dusted. I spent a further 30 minutes having a browse around the Nike Chicago Marathon store, buying another load of running gear that I didn’t really need but had to buy because it had the Chicago Marathon logo on…. we have all been there and done that.
On the way back from the expo, the rain stopped so I thought now would be a good time to get the run done. A 30 min run along the lake shore progressing from marathon pace down to 7 min miles. This run felt great, it was good to get a run in and shake off the flight and time difference at the same time as getting my first taste of the Chicago streets.
Whilst out running I received a message from my mate Steve who was due to be flying into Chicago today, saying that his flight had been cancelled and he was hopefully on another flight tomorrow, however, this flight did not arrive into Chicago until 6pm. The expo closes at 6pm!!! I told him that I would head down to the expo again to try to collect his race pack for him. He did send over his QR code and a photo of his passport, so I did have everything we would need to collect, it was just down to whether they would allow me to collect it on his behalf.
When I arrived at the expo, the first two people I spoke with said that there was nothing they could do and he would just have to miss the race, the third person spoke to the race director for me and he personally walked me through the expo and collected Steve’s and one of Steve’s friends race packs and t-shirts. We dropped on lucky with that third person who really saved the day.
The rest of the afternoon I spent relaxing in the hotel before meeting for dinner with my friend Phil who had just got into town.
Chicago 5k (Saturday October 6th)
Once again I was up early, 5am this time and just like yesterday it was pouring with rain. I had brought some porridge with me to have before today’s 5k and the marathon tomorrow. I had this in my room prior to setting out, the race starts early so I wanted to plan ahead and make sure I had something to eat before setting out. As I was eating my porridge I heard a loud rumble of thunder. I wasn’t sure what to wear for this run. It was raining hard but still fairly mild. At first I went out with a t shirt and a rain jacket but when I got outside I felt the jacket would be too warm so went back and ditched the jacket. If I am going to get wet it may as well be from the rain rather than sweating inside a jacket.
My hotel was just a 10 min walk to the start of the 5k, when I got there I saw a lot of people sheltering under an overhang of a nearby building, at first I thought there were sheltering from the rain but then I heard an announcement….. “Alert status Red, please seek shelter immediately”. After asking a nearby marshal what was happening, she informed me that the start had been delayed by 15 minutes due to lightening.
By the time we got back in the corrals, the rain had stopped, not bringing the rain jacket had paid off.
I stood in the 8 minute mile section, I was planning on running at this pace and taking it easy with tomorrow in mind. In past years I would have ran the 5k like any other race, showing no discipline and running far too quickly. In fact, I ran my current 5k PB of 18:06 the day before the 2017 Rock n Roll Liverpool marathon. This time I did take it easy and coasted around the streets of Chicago in 26 minutes. It was tricky to pace it right as the GPS signal on my watch was pretty useless from start to finish, at one point showing I was running at 14 minute pace only to drop to 3:20 pace 30 seconds later. This was a vital lesson for tomorrow’s marathon. I had heard the the GPS signal isn’t good for large chunks of the race.
I really enjoyed the run, it was good to have a shake out run the day before the marathon, I always feel that this gets my legs lose after a long flight. Having two runs before the marathon is something new and something I felt went well.
After the race I bumped into Lauren @LaurenBarr1 and her husband Jon @JBFrontrunner who I both knew from chatting on Instagram. We did meet briefly yesterday on the bus from the airport terminal but it was nice to meet some familiar faces and have a chat about the race.
After the 5k, I went straight back to the hotel to get showered off and grab a coffee and some proper breakfast. Whilst in the hotel lobby I bumped into Marcelino @Calisthenics_runner and Farai @Shutter.runner Who I also knew from Instagram, although they both live 20 mins down the road from me. It turns out that Marcelino was actually staying in the same hotel, 3 doors down from me. Small world and all that.
I spent the rest of the morning having a look around town visiting the Navy Pier and returning to the observation deck of the Hancock Tower to get some more photos in the daylight this time. I then met another friend Kenny @Kenny_runz, who is another good friend from the Instagram running community, we grabbed some lunch at a Italian Pasta market just off Michigan Ave.
The rest of the day I spent relaxing in the hotel, saving my energy for tomorrow. I had a deep dish pizza for dinner, got showered up, set out my gear ready for the morning, taking the obligatory flat lay for social media and waited for my friend Steve to message to say they had landed. He finally got into town at 9pm, just 10 hours before the race starts, I handed him the race packs and went to bed. I can’t imagine how stressful that must have been for him, firstly having his flight cancelled then worrying about race pack pickup and then getting into Chicago so late before the race.