This is a guest post courtesy of Steph N.
Going into the Chicago Marathon, I was feeling both nervous and excited. I had entered the ballot for the marathon the previous year, not actually thinking I was going to get a place on my first try, so I was pleasantly surprised when I received an email in December saying I had been successful.
Training had gone surprisingly well through the summer with no injuries (which is unheard of for me) and I felt like I was peaking at the right moment. I have to thank all the various training buddies I had who accompanied me on the long runs and interval sessions.
I had never been to Chicago before but had been told by several people what a great city it was and they were certainly right!
To give myself time to adjust to the time difference (Chicago is 6 hours behind the UK), I chose to arrive on the Thursday before the marathon. The jet lag was pretty bad, but I have to say it played to my advantage on this occasion as the marathon started a lot earlier than previous races I had taken part in.
I did most of my sightseeing the couple of days prior to the marathon and was getting fairly familiar with my surroundings and the unreliable and somewhat confusing public transport system.
Fellow City Runner Soumya, who had run the Chicago marathon before, had kindly and very generously offered to run the marathon with me. We had agreed beforehand that if either one of us felt like he should go on (he is a lot faster than me), then he would.
As predicted, on the morning of the marathon, the unreliable public transport system lived up to its reputation. Luckily I had given myself plenty of time to get to the start, unlike some people who were starting in the earlier wave and seemed quite concerned as we waited for the delayed train on the platform.
Once I arrived at the start area, got through the very busy security, dropped my bag off and made a quick stop at the portaloos, I met Soumya at his bag check and we made our way to my assigned corral. It was a very cold morning but it was dry with only some clouds in the sky and the sun was starting to shine; this is my favourite kind of weather to run in, so I felt like the weather gods were on my side.
I felt good and excited, but I made the conscious decision at the start of the marathon to not worry about my time and to try and take in my surroundings and enjoy the occasion. It probably helped that due to the skyscrapers towering over us, the GPS signal on my watch was not going to be reliable at all. I just had to rely on how I felt rather than trying to figure out my pace.
After a bit of a wait at our starting corral, we were off. There were over 45,000 participants and although the beginning of the course involves running along essentially an eight lane highway, it felt quite crowded, but that didn’t concern me as I thought it would prevent me from starting off too fast.
The support out on the course was quite incredible; there were people cheering throughout with many signs and high fives all round. Although there was no one out there specifically cheering for us, we had a lot of cheers of ‘Go London’ or ‘Go City Runners’ thanks to both Soumya and I wearing our club tops. Not something I usually do, but I found myself high fiving people when the opportunity arose, it was quite uplifting!
The course took us through many of the neighbourhoods of Chicago and not once did you feel like the support was thinning out. There was everything from bands and drag queens to a group of people handing out shots of beer towards the latter miles of the marathon, which I politely declined! I would say that it did at times feel quite crowded around the course, particularly around the drinks stations, which were very frequent, and around the pacers, so it was quite frustrating at times having to weave around but you soon adapted to it. Partway through the course an announcement was made over the tannoy system that Brigid Kosgei had just broken Paula Radcliffe’s 16 year old marathon world record; this created a lot of cheers from both the crowds and runners and I’m sure provided a lot of motivation for everyone, it certainly did for me.
As predicted, the GPS signal was very patchy during the course of the marathon and I even remembered around mile 22 or 23 looking at my watch when it beeped to say I had just completed a 2:08 minute mile (Kipchoge better watch out!), which of course was utter nonsense! I felt like things were going pretty well and having overtaken the 4 hour pacer a while back I felt confident that as long as I didn’t slow down too much towards the end I would definitely get around the course in under 4 hours.
As we neared the end of the marathon a massive 400m sign appeared with the Abbotts logo, at this point my watch was proving even more unreliable so I couldn’t trust anything it was displaying, but I felt like we still had more than 400m to go (thankfully Soumya had told me what to expect in the last part of the race so I knew this did not seem right). As it turns out I think it was a sign indicating that there was 400m to go until you reached the Abbotts cheer station (talk about misleading), because shortly after that an 800m to go sign showed up! Having spoken to other participants after, many had started to sprint or speed up thinking they had only 400m to go upon seeing the sign only to realise shortly after that it was not the case.
Before I knew it, Soumya and I crossed the finish line together to achieve the exact same finish time. I could not believe that I had just completed the marathon and quickly after, felt quite overwhelmed with emotions as we were cheered by the volunteers at the finish line and ushered forward to collect our medals, foil blankets and beer! I checked my phone and was pleasantly surprised by all the lovely messages from my wonderful friends and loved ones who had tracked me around the course. It was certainly very heart warming.
I found the whole experience very enjoyable from start to finish – even surprisingly towards the end when it started to get really tough. I would highly recommend entering the Chicago marathon. Although it is pricey, I would say it is definitely worth it. It was very well organised, from collecting your bib at the expo (which took no time at all) to getting your bag checked in at the starting area. The volunteers were just amazing and lucky for me the weather was ideal, this of course can’t be guaranteed….we were just very lucky this year!
The ballot is currently open for 2020, so enter whilst you can!