Chicago Marathon 2018
I've had an amazing day at the Chicago Marathon. It was such a thrilling experience to be able to run with thousands of people through the streets of Chicago. I loved every moment of the race, including the rain, the puddles, and getting my shoes wet. I loved the camaraderie amongst runners. The energy from the volunteers and cheering crowds stretched all over the marathon distance. Despite the rain, the Windy City had pulled off with some very decent street parties for this special event.
The Chicago Marathon was well known to be a flat and fast course, I had trained quite hard over the summer and was half expecting a PR. In the end, I was really proud of my 8 minute PR with a negative split. It was still quite some way from a sub-four hour marathon that I was hoping for, but I really wouldn't want to have this race any other way. I was amazed that my body could feel so good all the way to the finish, and without hitting the wall!
Race Day Morning
Months of training for that one day and there was always something I had forgotten to prepare. It had already been raining for several days prior to the marathon, but it still hadn't occurred to me that it was going to rain on race day. Luckily I was to be able to find a poncho before heading to Grant Park. The sky cleared up a little later on and the temperature was just perfect for a marathon.
Reunion with NYRR Group Training
I was in a very good mood because I managed to meet up with some friends from NYRR Group Training at the start line. It was fun hanging out with Fiona and Lana before the race and we talked a lot about random stuff. They were the kind of run hard, play harder type of runners who could make a workout feel like a party. Hanging out with them before race start was an ideal way to make time pass quickly. I was happy and relieved to find out they had also put their names on their race shirts. Earlier I was getting pretty wound up about being the only runner out of 45,000 to have my name loudly printed on my shirt. Thankfully I had company!
There was almost no time left once we were through security and toilet queues. Fiona didn't get to finish her breakfast donut and I didn't get to fill my water bottle. We were swiftly through the marathon start line and very soon I was running behind both my friends. Within 5 minutes, the 4h10m pace group passed me too. My Garmin reading was off. My very-fancy-looking sports watch could now serve as a very-fancy-looking stopwatch. It was not a big deal, I remembered when we crossed the start line so I could still use the big clock at each mile post along the race.
I considered running a bit faster to catch up with Lana and Fiona but I decided to take it easy. I knew my body wasn't warmed up enough to run fast, and it was better to be patient and allow my body to ease into the race and find my own rhythm.
What I learned from Coach Melanie at NYRR
At this point, I reminded myself to run with my head. It was a mantra from Coach Melanie at the NYRR, who said: "Run the first ten miles with your head, the next ten miles with your legs, and the last six miles with your heart." Running with my head meant I had to resist the temptation to run fast in the first ten miles whilst my body was still feeling fresh. Then I would have the physical energy to push harder in the next 10 miles and the mental power to dig deeper in the last 6 miles.
Run With My head
Having spent months training in the Hong Kong heat at a slower pace (11 - 12 min/ mile), I honestly didn't know how much faster I should have gone under these cooler temperatures in Chicago. I also didn't know the route except for what I have seen and read online. So I had simply planned to repeat what I did in New York City Marathon the previous year, basically covering 5k every half an hour or one mile every 10 minutes. It worked well then and should work again. My job now was to conserve energy and save my legs for the second half of the race.
Fuelling and Hydration
My next task was to sort out my fuelling and hydration. I had an empty bottle with a portion of Tailwind powder in it but no water. I had planned to add water before race start but I didn't get round to it earlier. I had to wait until the first water station at mile 18.
The fuelling part was something I hadn't rehearsed properly before. As I got to the water station, I realised the water cups were tiny and each was only a third full. It took me about 10 cups and too much time to fill a half litre bottle. It was a pain but I got a bit better and quicker at the next refuels with the help of some kind volunteers.
By Mile 8, I stopped at a water station to refuel and took a sip of water. Suddenly I felt a rush of joy. I did a quick body check from head to toe , and a mental check too. I felt great. I smiled and thought to myself: "Isn't this a fantastic race?" Months of running in narrow paths in steamy sticky Hong Kong was paying off for this day, which turned out well. Now I got to run with 45,000 people and to enjoy these wide avenues, the cheering crowds, and the street parties of Chicago.
Run With My Legs
People were calling my name and cheering for me. "Go Vicky", looking strong", "you got this'. I soaked everything in and was on a runner's high. It wasn't quite at Mile 10 yet but I felt really good. I felt better than at any point I had been during my training. My legs were ready to switch up a gear, so I pushed a little more. It was time to "run with my legs".
By halfway I had already taken more than 2 hour 5 minutes, I knew I wasn't going to hit a sub-four hour time. As I was going over the bridge around mile 13, I told myself: "missing the sub-four was no big deal, just enjoy the moment and make it as good a race as you can." I smiled and kept going. I felt good and I knew the second half of the race would be fine.
Loved the Rain
The rest of the race was just pure joy. It rained pretty hard at one point and I could hear other runners chuckling. It was a shoulders shrugging moment. I stepped into puddles several times and my right shoe was half soaked. It wasn't a problem because I was pretty used to puddles, muddles and soaked shoes from running in rainstorms and a bit of trails in Hong Kong. I could hardly feel the rain as I was enjoying the ride.
A Runner's High
I was having a runner's high. I couldn't believe it. I was having a runner's high at a marathon! It was liberating and calming at the same time. I didn't care whether I was running fast or not, I was just happy to be running, and with a whole lot of people doing the same thing.
Two ladies, one after another, cheered: "Vicky, looking strong!" "You've got this!" My immediate thought was: "Really? Can they tell I am having a great time?" I decided I was better off believing them and I stayed strong.
My training was working. My body was responding. My body was doing what it was supposed to do. My body was just running but my mind was in a state of euphoria. Everything was aligned and I was exactly where I wanted to be.
Three hours later
Three hours and 20 miles later, I caught up with the 4:10 pace group. I saw the 4:10 pacers' lollipops a couple of hundred meters back but I took my time to overtake them. I knew I could do it. I tried to maintain a steady pace as I started thinking about the wall. I increased my pace just a little and made sure I still had enough in the tank for a little push towards the end. I should probably refuel once more just before the last 10k.
The last 10k
I passed a handful of runners who had 4:00, 3:55 and even 3:30 signs on their backs, who were falling behind their respective pace groups. I was thinking about the wall a lot now. My longest training run was 22 miles, surely I was going to hit the wall somewhere between Mile 23 and the finish line? What other tricks could I pull out of my bag?
I also thought of my husband. He must have landed about an hour ago and getting a taxi from the airport. Maybe I could race him to the finish line. That way he wouldn't have to wait too long for me. At this point I tried not to think of the possible chaos at the other end. I needed to focus on running this race.
The Finish Line
No wall! I was feeling great and I yelled a "yaaas" as I passed the 23 miles mark. I could see a few people stalling. 5k to go. I was so happy to get this far without bonking! I was still feeling strong. I started to count down the KM's as I reeled people in. 39km, 40km, the final mile, 800m. A little bit over the small slope and then it was over. I saw my husband's message, the image says 4 hours 8 mins and 8 seconds. It was a 8 minute PR with a negative split.
At that point I hadn't quite processed what it really meant as I was a bit disorientated. I was overwhelmed but certainly grateful that I've had such a great run. It really wasn't about the time, I was utterly gobsmacked by how great I felt and being able to run strong to the finish.
And very importantly, I'd like to add that my husband's brother-in-law Patrick also ran the marathon with a PR and a sub-four time of 3h57, which was amazing. As did my run hard and play harder friends Lana with a time of 4h7m and Fiona 4h0m. It was definitely fantastic day!
Congratulations to all Chicago Marathon finishers of 2018!