Chicago Marathon 2017 Race Report

Two Marathon Majors in 2015 (Boston and New York), two more in 2016 (London and Berlin) and two more in 2017 (Tokyo and Chicago); now I have all six Marathon Majors under my belt. I ran the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, October 8, 2017 in an official time of 3:49:40 and actually had fun running it!

Here are my Strava and Garmin links for detailed statistics (in case you care to analyze it and/or follow me).

As always, I went to bed early but barely slept. I woke up every hour starting at midnight. Finally, at 4:30AM, I woke up and drank 24 oz. of water with electrolytes. I went back to sleep for an hour before getting out of bed. The weather forecast in Chicago today called for high temperatures in the upper 70s with bright sunny skies. At race start though, it would be nice and crisp at around 60 degrees.

Before the start of the race

I ate a banana and took Ibuprofen. My chest still hurt from the bicycle accident but the pain was considerably less than earlier in the week. I showered and got ready. I put on each garment slowly and methodically paying attention to the smallest details. I had a few sips of coffee and left the condo on Michigan Avenue at 6:30AM.

The starting line was a 20-minute walk away. I had decided to take not waste any time with gear-check because the condo was so close to the starting line. I walked slowly. Hundreds of runners were excitedly walking towards the starting line. In the crisp morning with the sun about to rise over Lake Michigan (to our right as I walked North), energy was bubbling over.

I reached Gate 1 without any incident. Security was tight. Each runner was checked and double-checked by metal-detectors. Dozens of runners were warming up doing short sprints, jogging, stretching and expending unnecessary energy. It’s a marathon people and the start is still more than 30 minutes out. Stay calm and conserve your energy. You will surely need it at mile 24. I shook my head and looked for a port-a-potty.

The lines (as usual) for the bathrooms were super-long. I wised up and went to the medical tent to seek out toilets. They were nice and let me right in. There were a dozen toilets with nobody around them. Jackpot! I did my business in peace and walked towards corral E.

About to take off – Chicago Marathon 2017

The First 5k

The race-start was uneventful. I was in Wave 1, Corral E. The elites took off at 7:30AM. By the time I crossed the starting line, it was 7:48AM. I started my Garmin and off I went, running North on Columbus Dr. I wanted to run the first 3 miles at a pace of 8:45 or so per mile. As I weaved through traffic, I knew I was probably slower. That was just fine.

We went under a tunnel, over a bridge and took a left on Grant. I looked down at my Garmin to see that I was running at a pace of 6:13 per mile and my heartrate was well in the 150s. I knew rightaway that both readings were wrong. My actual pace was closer to 9-minute-per-mile as I weaved through congested traffic on rough Chicago streets! We took another left on State, went over the river again and then took a right on Jackson to finish 2 miles. My Garmin read 2.3 miles which only confirmed my suspicion that the Garmin GPS was getting lost going through the tunnel and around tall buildings.

I took a right on LaSalle and waited for the 5k mark. I felt good. My chest didn’t hurt. My body felt fine. I looked for a key runner to follow and found a couple of girls running together. They had their names printed on the back of their tops. Jenni and Allison. Their pace was just about the same as mine. Perfect! We ran together for a while. There was very little wind to speak of. I felt a bit of wind each time I went South or West and fell in line behind one of them.

Start to 5k Time: 27:52 | Per Mile Pace: 8:59

5k to 10k

I knew I had run the first 5k slower than I wanted to. This was okay. Today I wanted to run cautiously. I wasn’t targeting a 3:40 marathon anymore. I just wanted to finish strong in a decent time.

Sande holding up flags of India and Chicago

I now looked forward to seeing Sande who was to hand me a Stinger Waffle right after Schiller at the 4.5-mile mark. I was running smoothly behind Jenni and Allison when Jenni decided to take off. She increased her pace as we fell back. “Run your own race” was my self-talk. Allison had increased her pace just a bit too; I decided to stay with her.

I passed Schiller and saw Sande and Rocco (her son) holding a sign with the flag of India and Chicago painted on it. I stopped for about 30 seconds to chat with her. “How do you feel?” she asked. “Great. I feel great.” I said. She handed me the Stinger. “Oh, at the 10.5 mark, there is a Gatorade and water-station. Meet me AFTER these and not before.” I said to Sande. She acknowledged it and I proceeded to run. Allison and Jenni were gone!

I ate the Stinger waffle. The first step in my nutrition plan was a success!

We continued to run north zigzagging a bit through various streets. The course was flat with no wind. There was a blurry blue line on the road that was probably painted a few years ago to mark the shortest distance. When I saw it, I ran on it. When it was invisible, I guessed where it was to take the shortest route.

I looked for another key and found multiple ones for short times. The guy in blue, the girl in peach, the couple running effortlessly. None lasted very long. The crowds were terrific. They were loud and boisterous. I could hear them through my headphones. There were lots of cowbells!

I knew that my second 5k pace was slightly faster than my first 5k pace in spite of stopping to chat with Sande.

5k to 10k Time: 54:53 | Per Mile Pace: 8:42

Chicago Marathon – Feelin’ Good

10k to 15k

I consider 7 miles per hour an easy, relaxed, marathon pace. This translates to a per-mile pace of 8:34. Today, I knew that I would be slower. At the 1-hour mark, I had run around 6.8 miles. I was at my happy pace. In less than 3 hours, I would finish all 6 marathon majors. The thought made me happy!

I was carrying 6 salt pills in a small vial (doctored up by cutting a Nuun container in half). I took out two and effortlessly swallowed them with no water.

I saw a few wheelchair participants and even a couple of blind runners with guides running or walking behind them. It must take an incredible amount of courage to run a marathon when you can’t even see. I admired their heart, their gusto, their panache even!

We took a right turn and another right turn to head back South. Immediately, I felt a slight headwind. I was time to find a key. I found an Asian guy in a black and yellow sleeveless top. He was running at my pace and was a slightly aggressive runner. He was perfect but only lasted a few minutes because he stopped for water as we crossed the 8-mile marker.

That’s when I saw the girl in peach again and found a good rhythm with her. I followed her for the next mile and then some. My pace was steady in the slight headwind.

10k to 15k Time: 1:21:41 | Per Mile Pace: 8:38

15k to 20k

I was still following the girl in peach as I started the 4th 5k. It was starting to heat up just a bit and most runners were looking for shade to run in.

As we crossed the 10th mile, I knew that the course would go left and then right before there would be an aid station and then Sande would be waiting for another Stinger waffle. I looked for these clues. The crowds were thick and noisy. There were the usual signs ranging from “Touch here for power” to “Find a cute butt and follow it”. I couldn’t help smiling at some of them.

I saw Sande again right after the aid station holding up the same sign. This time Rocco was not with her. I decided to stop and chat with her for a longer time this time; maybe around 45 seconds. I wasn’t tired but I didn’t really have a goal finish-time in mind. I was having fun. She asked me the same question; I had the same answer!  She handed me the stinger and I ran on. I ate it heartily. My nutrition plan was working flawlessly, thanks to Sande!

I had lost the girl in peach. I needed to find a new key. Even in a race with 44,000-odd runners, this is never easy. I have never really written about what makes a good key. Here goes:

  • Must be the same pace as you want to run
  • Must not emit a stinky odor (important because you are running behind this person)
  • Must not be too big or too tall (important because you have to be able to look around them to see where you are going)
  • Must be wearing headphones (most folks don’t like you running behind them; if they are wearing headphones, they don’t know)
  • Lastly, you can’t really have a key if he sun is shining behind you because your shadow will give you away

We took a right turn and then a left right after mile at the 12-mile mark when I was Jenni again (the one with her name on her back). I thought she was WAY ahead of me but it seemed like she was losing steam. This was way too early to blow up; we were not even at the halfway point!

We crossed the river for the fourth time before we hit the 20k mark.

15k to 20k Time: 1:48:47 | Per Mile Pace: 8:44

Looking comfortable at the half-way point

20k to 25k

Right after the 20k mark, there was to be a Gatorade Endurance station. I was depending on it for nutrition. There was an aid station but there wasn’t one that was handing out Endurance gels. Ugh! This was the first SNAFU in my race plan today. I was momentarily annoyed but had no choice but to suck it up and run on.

The course took a right turn to head west. I knew it would go in the westerly direction for the next few miles. I now looked for the half-way point. As I passed it, I looked down at my Garmin to see 1:54:40. This was about 4 minutes slower than my original race plan but it made me happy. I was heating up but still felt pretty good. There was still a slight headwind as we passed through what looked like a financial corridor. Crowds were heavy throughout the race.

At the 14-mile mark, I swallowed two more salt pills.

For the first time, I saw a few people walking. It was a little early for that. Some surely had gone out too fast, some hadn’t consumed enough calories, some were probably injured, some were probably rookies, and some had overheated.

Just before the 15-mile mark, we took a right and then another right to head back east towards the lake. At the 15-mile mark, I took out and ate the first of three Stinger waffles that I was carrying in my left pocket.

I was heating up but still running well. I wanted energy from the crowds and decided to high-five a few folks as I ran on. Hundreds were talking random pictures and videos.

25k done, 17k to go!

20k to 25k Time: 2:15:25 | Per Mile Pace: 8:35

25k to 30k

The course zigzags through a few neighborhoods. My next marker would be the 17.5-mile aid station where they would have Gatorade Gels. I ran with some anticipation because I knew that if they didn’t have gels at this station, my nutrition plan would fail.

The heat started to take its toll on all runners by mile 16. Since I train in the Arizona heat, I have a bit more tolerance than most. Most of the course now had shade on one side because of building or tree shadows and sun on the other side. Almost all runners ran in the shade.

I found a guy in an inverted Nike baseball cap as my key. He was taking a slightly longer course but his stride was smooth and his pace matched mine. He was also a smart, patient runner. When there was a traffic jam, he would slow down instead of expending unnecessary energy by bobbing and weaving.

At the gel station, I picked up an Apple-flavored gel and another berry-flavored one (not sure what kind of berry). This made me happy. I now had enough calories to run at my happy pace. I waited for the 30k mark to swallow my first gel.

25k to 30k Time: 2:41:50 | Per Mile Pace: 8:31

30k to 35k

With 12k to go, I still felt good but knew I was heating up. I was running through every spray station that I could see to keep cool. Everyone was! Some spray stations had large, heavy-duty fans setup to spray water dozens of meters. I took full advantage of this and even thought that a little bit of tailwind from these fans could only help!

At water stations, I was picking up a Gatorade and gulping it down. I had already consumed my second gel. I was picking up water and pouring it on my head. I was heartily drinking water too! They had bananas at these aid stations but thought of eating bananas while running is not appealing (although I love bananas).

More and more runners were walking as the miles progressed. Some were nursing what looked like pulled hamstrings, calf muscle soreness and knee pain. I felt for them but they had plenty of assistance from the crowds.

I kept seeing the same runners over and over again. They guy in the Nike hat and the girl in peach were somehow always in sight. Some runners I had followed early in the race were nowhere to be found. They were either managing a superb reverse split (although I doubt that in this heat), or had hit the wall somewhere along the way (more likely).

I opened my salt-pill vial and found only one pill left. I was expecting two. I have no idea if I dropped one somewhere along the way or I had only packed five. It isn’t that hard to count to six, is it?

We ran through a few neighborhoods before making a right turn to enter Chinatown. The energy kicked up a notch here with rhythms of drums, louder crowd-noise and vibrant colors (mainly reds and oranges). As I crossed the 35k marker, I decided to remove my headphones and absorb the ambient energy.

30k to 35k Time: 3:09:02 | Per Mile Pace: 8:46

Chicago Marathon – Race Splits

35k to 40k

I saw a sign that said 26th Street. This was right around mile 22. I was already hot and now getting fatigued; and we were going directly into the wind. I knew that we had to go south until 35th before turning around to come back towards the finish line.

At the water station right after mile 22, I stopped and walked for the first time. I felt slight discomfort on my big toes. As a runner, I am used to Subungual Hematoma (black bloody nails). I could feel it coming on. I opened up my second stinger waffle and ate it. I had one more left.

I decided to enjoy the final stretch of the race and started high-fiving more and more spectators. They loved it. I loved it even more. I was hurting but I was smiling. Six Marathon Majors in about 20 minutes. All six!

We turned left, right and then left again on 35th Street. This was it. I knew we had around 3 miles to go. I was hot, I was tired but I was also happy. Euphoric even! As I consumed my final water right after mile 24, I walked a bit. I opened the last Stinger waffle and ate it.

Nothing mattered. I was completely in the moment loving things exactly as they were. I had two miles to the finish line. I was in Chicago. I was hot and fatigued and probably dehydrated. I was running on empty. That’s exactly how a marathon should feel. My body wanted to walk but my mind wanted to go. My mind won! “Relax and Flow” has always been my mantra. I uttered it in my head and ran smoothly. It was mind over matter!

35k to 40k Time: 3:37:49 | Per Mile Pace: 9:17

The Finish

I was running with the wind going north on Michigan Ave. With less than 2 miles to go, I was now one of the faster runners. The crowds thickened. Street numbers were dropping. Our condo was just north of 13th St. and Michigan Ave. Right after this was a right turn on Roosevelt Rd up a bridge and then a left turn to the finish line.

Chicago Marathon – Happy – Almost to the Finish Line

I approached 13th St with some anticipation. As I crossed it, I saw Binita, Julie, Len, Marty and Brian outside the condo door cheering me on. I made it straight to them with my hands in the air. I got a burst of energy seeing them. Adrenaline probably. I hammed it up by energetically smiling (see pic to left), strutting towards them like a peacock and then twirling around like a poorly choreographed cheerleader. I spent a few second with them before moving on.

As I took the last right turn up the final bridge, my pace slowed (I am a slow uphill runner). But when I took the final left towards the finish line, my pace quickened. It was the girl in peach right in front of me. I passed her and about a dozen other runners. I saw myself on the Jumbotron as I made my way to the finish line.

I finished strong. 6 Marathon Majors. Check!

40k to Finish Time: 3:49:40 | Per Mile Pace: 8:41

Overall Finish Time: 3:49:40 | Overall Per Mile Pace: 8:46

Happy after the Chicago Marathon

The post finish was a little anti-climactic. I got my medal, picked up a couple of bottles of water (drank one of them right-away) and walked to the Abbott booth to ask about my six-star medal. Nope. Apparently, I had to let them know in advance. Of course, this information is not on their official website. I had even asked them (on Twitter) about how to apply in advance to which there was no reply. Annoying! But then, it’s only a medal, just a token to stamp completion of all six Marathon Majors. I have emailed them with all the information they have requested. Hopefully they will mail me the medal soon. I will blog about it when they do!

Customary Bib and Medal Photo – Chicago Marathon 2017

It was now time to bask in the sunshine. It was a warm, lovely morning (yes, it was still morning) as I slowly made my way back to the condo. It was a short 20-minute walk. I was wearing my Chicago Marathon medal. Dozens of spectators congratulated me. Some wanted to touch and feel the medal. I let them. Maybe they drew inspiration to run their own marathon. Almost all of us have the physical ability to do so (although not many of us think that we do). I believe that you need a stronger mind than body to run a marathon.

Dessert at Lena Brava after the Chicago Marathon

We went out to dinner that evening to a restaurant called Lena Brava. I had a pineapple margarita to celebrate. They created this dessert concoction for me with the words “Congrats” inscribed on it. It tasted every bit as good as it looks.

At The Bean the day after The Chicago Marathon

The next day, we walked around Millennium Park and ended up at a Flamingo sculpture. Little did we know that instead of the Picasso Flamingo sculpture, we ended up going to a weird mutant-looking one by an American artist from the 1970s (Alexander something). It wasn’t anything to write home about (but I guess it made it on this blog entry). We went up to a rooftop bar at The London House for a drink before walking taking Uber back to the condo.

Hanging out at The wrong Flamingo Sculpture in Chicago

Both my toes were shot. I had a pretty severe case of Subungual Hematoma on both toes. Brian helped me drain out the blood by poking a safety pin. It was a precision surgical affair conducted in super-sterile conditions (I am being facetious). It was done in the kitchen with what looked like a semi-rusted safety pin and paper towels (I am exaggerating). I did put some Neosporin and Band-aid on it afterwards.

I picked up the Chicago Tribune to seem my name in print. There it was in all its glory alongside 44,257 other finishers.

Chicago Tribune the day after The Chicago Marathon 2017

Now that I have run all six Marathon Majors, it’s now time for a new goal. Maybe I should do it all over again. Maybe I should run a marathon in each continent. Maybe I should join the Ironman circuit again. We shall see…

For now, I am going to take it easy and enjoy the rest of the year. Time for new goals will come in early 2018!

Thank you Chicago for hosting an excellent marathon.

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