Chicago Megathon, er… Marathon Race Report

Let’s get the gory details out of the way.  My time was a 4:24:50. I was hoping for a sub-4.

The Chicago Marathon was on my list of marathons that I wanted to do.  While New York has the five boroughs and the Boston Marathon has the prestige, Chicago is the flat, speedy marathon of high performance times.

Never mind the fact that, 3 years ago, the Chicago Marathon was also the site of a marathon cut short by near 90 degree temps.

Pre-race, the porta-potty line an hour prior to the event was as bad as the worst I’ve ever experienced, at the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon this year [although that was 30 minutes before the start].  Considering the crowd for the Chicago Marathon was about 3-4 times as large, I can understand the wait.

The porta-potty line in the Finish area an hour prior to marathon start

An even bigger problem occurred after I had gotten through the porta-potty line and started heading toward the start line area.  There was a wall of people trying to get around the fencing set up for the start corrals.  At some point, within a few feet of the nearest entrance point, a line of people formed going in the opposite direction.  It turned out that they were streaming out of the exit and that the entrance was a few feet further.  However, there was a mild sense of panic and for a few moments, I thought I was going to be in the middle of a soccer-fan-style stampede.

After about 15 minutes of pushing forward, I managed to get behind the 4:30 marathon pacers.  I don’t know if they intended to be there, as I saw an assortment of other pacers for paces from 3:30 to 5:30 within sight range through the dense crowd.  Bad move on my part for not investing time and effort in a seeded entry–I had a 3:32 and a 3:49 marathon time that I could have used.

My place in the open start area, after pushing through. Behind 4:30 pacers.

When the race began, I found myself waiting for 20 minutes to cross the start line.  Again, considering the size of the field, not a big surprise.  What was a big surprise, however, was the race course having so many 90 degree turns in the first few miles of the race.  In many crowds like this, I have to work to avoid walking.  In this one, I had to work just to avoid coming to a dead stop at the turn.

Much of my first half of the race was spent jogging at a 10-12 minute pace and sprinting to get through openings as they came available.  This resulted in a 9:30 average pace for the first 5k splits and about a 9:00 average pace towards the half.

Water stops were awful.  Of course, they were two blocks long.  The ground was tacky for the first half and slippery for the second half.  Not a surprise, but 2 blocks of this every 1.5 miles is far more annoying that a half block every mile.  With the size of the crowds and the number of inexperienced marathoners, there was a lot of taking fluid and walking down the middle of the course while drinking.  I’m not the best at etiquette, but I try to avoid obstructing traffic as much as possible.

The first block was Gatorade, which meant that I always took it at a stop.  The Gatorade was a very thick mix.  Toward the halfway point, I started desperately looking for the water, and then later, started taking whatever cups of fluid I could get.  The heavy mix of Gatorade turned my stomach by mile 20, and I started having stomach cramps.  It seemed like I had a choice between dehydrating and stomach cramps from the Gatorade.

The heat was not much of an issue.  At least, not on its own.  Yes, it was roughly 83’F downtown when I finished, and downtown temps were on their way to tying the record temperatures by the end of the race day.  The larger issue is that there is so much sun exposure on the course, and Chicago did not live up to its “Windy City” reputation that day.  The air was stagnant and the sun was glaring.  The stomach cramps, heat, and sun wore me down by mile 20, and by mile 23, I was timing run/walk intervals just to keep moving as fast as I could bear.

I fared better than most.  The last two miles were littered with stretchers with exhausted runners who needed medical attention.  I finished, trekked the 1/2 mile to the end of the finish area, and started in on the Gatorade Recovery drink.  I tried to sit and recover some, but the sun was too hot to even sit down in.  By the way, heat and a Gatorade drink with whey protein?  That’s like getting saltwater in the middle of the desert.

The finisher’s medal seems to be way more of an ad for the sponsor than a medal for finishing.  I respect that the sponsor deserves ample credit, but I’d also like ample credit for finishing.  The whole medal seems to pay homage to the Bank of America logo:

Bank of America Chicago Marathon Finisher's Medal

Lessons and recommendations:

  1. Don’t ever run a big city marathon [20,000+ marathoners] again.
  2. If I do run a big city marathon again, get a seeded entry.
  3. If I do run a big city marathon again, but don’t get a seeded entry, jog it without regard for time.
  4. For this area, I would recommend the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon instead.  The money you save can go toward a hotel next to Lucas Oil Stadium that’s within 1 mile of the start.  Two nights in downtown Chicago + race registration would buy you 3 nights + race registration and maybe even tickets to a Colts home game.

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