I’d just passed the sign that told me I had 800 meters left to run in the Chicago Marathon, and all of a sudden, I felt like I was running the 2019 Boston Marathon – the race that earned me a qualifying time for Chicago more than three years earlier – all over again.
Just like in Boston 2019, I started to get really emotional. Hundreds of screaming people lined both sides of the street. I was about to cross the finish line. I wasn’t just going to meet my goal of running 3:20 – I was going to smash it. I’d trained for three months for this moment, running up to 70 miles a week, but this race was really three and a half years in the making. And finally, after everything, here I was.
And just like in Boston 2019, I told myself, “Get it together, you can’t keep running if you’re gasping for breath because you’re sobbing.” I made the final right turn onto the *only* hill in the entire race (it’s a very small hill, but given how flat the course is and the fact that the hill is at the tail end, it’s an ass kicker!), then left into Grant Park and across the finish line. I stopped my Garmin and saw 3:18:46, and then I really did shed a few tears. An 8 minute PR and a qualifying time by more than 21 minutes for Boston 2024, my 6th BQ. I did it!
I keep saying that I can’t believe it, but that’s not really true. I can believe it. I put in the training and worked really hard. Of course, that’s never a guarantee in a marathon – a lot can happen over 26.2 miles – but I felt as prepared as I’d ever been.
Did I feel amazing the entire time, like I did last year in Coastal Delaware or in Boston 2022? Nope! I kinda felt like I had to barf from mile 18 on. But I powered through and I am so proud of myself.
Before the Race
As I mentioned, this race was more than three years in the making. I registered for the 2020 race with a qualifying time from Boston 2019. Then COVID hit and of course, the race, a World Marathon Major and one of the largest races in the world, was canceled. Everyone registered for 2020 got three years to use their entry, and I decided to wait until 2022 because I was afraid there would still be restrictions and maybe even a possible cancellation in fall 2021. There wasn’t, but the 2021 race had brutal temperatures into the 80s, so I am glad I waited! We had great weather this year.
I flew to Chicago from Maryland two days before the race and met my sister Catherine, who flew in from Pittsburgh, there. She loves to plan trips and choose all the restaurants and bars we’ll go to, so I turned the agenda over to her since I know she has good taste! On Friday night we went to Girl and the Goat, a fantastic place, and then had some tiki drinks at Three Dots and a Dash, which was right across the street from our hotel in River North. We probably would have stayed out later, but we were both doing the Chicago 5K the next morning. When I saw that was happening, I wanted to do it as my shakeout run and I talked Catherine into running, too (she agreed because she liked the beanies we got, ha!)
The 5K was fun and I did run very easy (finished in 28:06). I had heard ahead of time that GPS watches don’t work well in Chicago due to the skyscrapers, and that was definitely true in the 5K and in the marathon as well. Note to future runners in these Chicago races– you can either manually hit your lap button at every mile, or you can just set your watch on elapsed time and do marathon math the whole 26.2 miles. I chose the latter, because…. I like to make things more challenging for myself? Anyway, I digress!
We did a lot of exploring the day before the race. After going to the expo, where I bought NOTHING – seriously, who am I? But all the stuff was so overpriced and honestly not that cute!! – we went to a sushi restaurant where I enjoyed two sushi rolls and a flight of sake. Then we walked to the Navy Pier, where we met up with my friend Danielle from Rip It Events. It was an absolutely gorgeous day!
We then tried to go to the 360 Observation Deck atop what was formerly called the John Hancock Center, but the line to get onto the deck was 45 minutes long, so we stopped and had beers at the Signature Room overlooking the city.
Then for dinner, we went to RPM Italian just a few doors down from the hotel. This place was AMAZING and I kind of pigged out, which, as I alluded to earlier, came back to bite me in the ass a little bit. I had cheesy bread, then some rich cheesy pasta, then Catherine and I split a huge piece of cheesecake, and I washed it all down with prosecco. If you’re reading this and thinking, “Well Allison, sounds like you weren’t making good choices with your sake and your cheesecake and your prosecco the day before a marathon…..” you are correct.
But listen, I was also in Chicago to have a good time, too. I didn’t want to just sit in my hotel room and foam roll and stretch (and LOL if you think I do either of those things regularly, anyway.) Catherine’s birthday was also Sunday, marathon day, so of course we planned to celebrate all weekend!
The race recommended that people in my corral, C, should be at Grant Park by 5:30 am, which ended up being overkill….. But I always get nervous about being late to races, so I set my alarm for 3:45 and was in an Uber to the start by 5 am.
PS – Don’t take an Uber or Lyft if you’re doing this race. The staff at the hotel had even warned me not to, and I did not listen. Most of the roads were already closed by 5 am, but my Uber driver was a baller and managed to get me within two blocks of Grant Park anyway. He got a big tip for his efforts!
I checked my bag with my clothes for after the race and then was able to find an open bathroom in the park to just keep warm until we started at 7:30. A lot of other runners had the same idea and I got to chat with some ladies from the Netherlands, Ireland, and England, as well as others from all over the country and world. I have never heard so many foreign languages spoken at once – it was really cool! The time passed relatively quickly and I felt excited, but calm. Around 7 or so, I left to walk to my corral and positioned myself behind the 3:20 pace group. There was a group of three 3:20 pacers in corral C and then another group of 3:20 pacers in corral D. Apparently, it’s a popular goal time. The race started at 7:20 with the wheelchair and handcycle athletes, then wave 1, which corral C was in, went off at 7:30, but I didn’t actually cross the start line until around 7:37.
Unsurprisingly, it was super crowded for, well, most of the race, but especially the first 10K. I felt like I was elbow to elbow with the other runners who were with the pace group, and I worried about bumping into someone and tripping, or causing them to trip, etc. Luckily, that didn’t happen! The first few miles felt pretty easy, as they should at the beginning of a marathon, and I tried to take in the spectators and their funny signs as much as I could. The crowds were absolute fire!
I knew to look out for Catherine at mile 9, where the infamous drag queens would be dancing. I had told myself I was going to stay with the 3:20 group at least through mile 20, and then see how I felt. But when I saw her at mile 9, I was already ever so slightly ahead of them and then pulled ahead even more. I was feeling good! She cheered and screamed and waved her Terrible Towel at me (we won’t talk about how shitty the Steelers played later that day!) and I knew she planned to be at mile 23, too!
Miles 10 through 15 went by quickly. I took Maurten gels at miles 4, 8, and 13, with plans to take the last two at miles 18 and 22. Around mile 15 or 16, I kept hearing people yell Go Blue at a runner who was in head to toe University of Michigan gear. As an Ohio State grad, I couldn’t help but yell out “O-H!” and then another runner yelled back “I-O!” The Michigan runner gave me a dirty look. I think he was having a bad race and I pissed him off even more. Whoops.
I was maintaining a super steady pace – not that you would know it from my very confused watch, which told me I ran mile 14 in 6:22? False – and things felt good, not necessarily GREAT, but good until about mile 18 or so when I took that 4th gel. And then my stomach started to bubble a little bit. It wasn’t a horrible wave of nausea, but enough that I was like, OK, time to just take sips of water from the water stops and maybe avoid the Gatorade. I really do think it was the extremely rich meal I’d consumed the night before. It sure was good, though!
Running through Chinatown starting at mile 20 and smelling all that Chinese food was a bit rough. By mile 21, I knew I couldn’t take my last gel because I was likely to spit it right back up. But I knew I was at least a minute or two ahead of the 3:20 group and was able to maintain the pace, and I was looking forward to seeing Catherine at mile 23. She is pretty much the best and loudest race spectator there is and got a video of me as I ran past her waving my arms and yelling out “sub-3:20!!” At least I look strong and happy in the video.
At mile 24, there was a DJ playing music and calling out “all my party people, throw your hands in the AIR!” and all of my energy was just focused on just holding a steady pace and not throwing up. I knew that if I kept it going I was going to be right around 3:18 or 3:19. Things were kind of a blur at that point! The crowds were super boisterous and enthusiastic and before I knew it, I was coming down the final stretch and about to make the last right turn onto “Mount Roosevelt” (seriously, it’s barely a hill, but why tf is it right there at the end?) and getting all weepy.
I crossed the finish line and saw volunteers were handing out cans of Goose Island beer with Finisher written on them, but I wanted to wait to have a beer with Catherine at the after party and didn’t want to use my beer ticket quite yet. I later learned the finish chute beer was actually a bonus beer and so I was mad I left that on the table! As soon as I stopped running, my stomach felt better and I could have totally slammed a beer then. Oh well.
We more than made up for it later at Happy Camper, where the waitress brought us chambongs (champagne in a bong, just as it sounds) on the house, Pilot Project brewery, and Cafe Moustache for karaoke, where we wowed the crowd with our renditions of I Wanna Dance With Somebody and Hot In Herre and enjoyed a few Chicago Handshakes. Needless to say, I woke up Monday morning more in pain from the hangover I got than from the marathon. I might still be able to run relatively fast, but I am 42 years old, so, you know.
Philly! I am running the Philadelphia Marathon, another 2020 deferral, on Nov. 20. I’ve never run two marathons this close together and since I met my goal and then some in Chicago, Philly will really just be for fun. I am doing a reverse taper right now and will build my mileage back up a little over the next few weeks before tapering down again. I’ve heard great things about the Philly Marathon and can’t want to run it!
And! Six days after Chicago, I raced the 5K at the Baltimore Running Festival and BROKE 20 MINUTES for the first time ever! Stay tuned for that recap.