On Sunday, I ran the 40th annual Bank of America Chicago Marathon—my eighth crack at the distance. It was my first of the Abbott World Marathon Majors. Since I ran a pretty massive personal best in Erie just one month ago, I didn’t have high expectations for my performance in Chicago. Racing two marathons back-to-back isn’t exactly advisable (for obvious reasons), so I planned to take it easy and enjoy the experience. I’ve come away from Chi-Town with a long weekend’s worth of happy memories and some useful lessons to keep in mind for when I one day toe the line at any of the other five World Marathon Majors. Here’s what I found out from this experience:
Resist the urge to explore the city pre-race.
Still new to the whole destination race thing, I didn’t realize the toll hours of walking could take on my body. I was warned, but I didn’t listen. When I felt my feet start to ache at around 3:00 p.m. the day before the marathon, it dawned on me that I had been on the go since early that morning. I felt the effects as soon as I started the race, and I knew I was in for a tough 42.2K. If you’re racing in a new city and you’re keen to explore, take an extra day or two off after the marathon. Do your sightseeing then. Marathon eve should be reserved for a short shake-out run and a whole lot of resting.
Show up when you’re told to.
The participant information package suggested arriving at the race grounds at 5:30 a.m. for the 7:30 a.m. start time. I was adamant that this was far too early, so instead I showed up just an hour before gun time as I normally would. When I arrived, I was met with a lengthy security wait, barely-moving bathroom lines and a gear check tent that was further away from the start line than I would have ever imagined. I was running around in a panic mere moments before go time. This could have easily been avoided if I just followed the instructions.
Make a plan with your cheer squad.
I had been told that one of the best things about the Chicago Marathon was the sheer number of spectators that line the course from start to finish. But one thing I didn’t factor in was that this would make it extremely difficult to locate my one-man cheer squad amidst the frenzy of fans. The huge number of runners would make it equally challenging for him to spot me. After trying and failing to find each other on three separate occasions, it became evident that we should have made a better plan. Next time, we’ll decide on specific spectating locations and invest in an attention-grabbing sign.
Unplug and take in the energy of the crowds.
I spent the first half of the race listening to music. I was so busy trying to block out the noise of the crowds that I forgot that they were the reason I was there in the first place. I had come to Chicago to experience of one of the world’s largest and most-spectated marathons, and there I was turning up the volume on my headset to drown out the endless support that was being thrown my way. I’m so glad I eventually turned off the tunes so I could spend the rest of the race being present and grateful for the hoards of people who were there to cheer for everyone.
Accept that everyone doesn’t thrive in this type of environment.
While the crowd support was incredibly energizing, this race made it clear that I’m not the type of runner who excels amongst throngs of cheering fans. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy this type of environment, I just don’t think I run my best races this way. I do well when I can get in the zone and block out my surroundings. That’s hard to do when there are screaming fans as far as the eye can see. From now on, the big, crowded races will be for fun and smaller ones are where I’ll go to chase down my time goals.