The 2022 Chicago marathon!

This race has been a long time coming. I first learnt I had a place for the 2020 race nearly three years ago, during which time my travel plans have been made and dashed countless times. Even at the start of this summer’s training cycle, I couldn’t quite believe that I would actually make it along to the race – but as we got closer and closer, the reality finally started to sink in! This would be my third of the six World Marathon Major races, a rather prestigious set of the biggest events in competitive marathon running. Having already ticked off London and Berlin in 2019, I still have New York, Tokyo and Boston on my bucket list, some of which I may never be able to run as the entry tickets are very difficult to come by!

As well as the race of course, this was an opportunity to spend a few days in a city I had never previously visited, and I was immediately struck with how beautiful it was. We took a boat out onto Lake Michigan and were rewarded with the most striking view of the city skyline – a forest of shimmering skyscrapers. My hotel room was nestled amongst these skyscrapers, way up on the 40th floor, with an incredible sunrise vista right behind the curtains each morning.

Of course, when you think of Chicago, one of the first things that springs to mind is their famous deep-dish pizza, which I got to sample plenty of on the Friday night as part of a guided Downtown pizza crawl, a great way to discover some local gems and meet up with a few other runners. It really seemed every tourist in town was here for the marathon, everywhere you looked was saturated with people wearing colourful trainers and race finisher jackets. Every restaurant was packed out, and soon we were all stuffed full of lashings of melty cheesy goodness.

Saturday morning we met bright and early for the Abbott 5km run which started at the rather unsociable hour of 7:30am! Thankfully due to a good old case of jet lag, I had been awake since 4:00, so it wasn’t too much trouble to get out in time. At the expo, they had given all the 5km runners a blue knitted bobble hat, which most people wore to the race itself, obviously more prepared for the freezing cold Chicago morning than I was! At 3°C, and with no bag drop available, it was a slightly strange jog around the city streets, wrapped up in all my layers and trying to go easy on the legs.

Before I knew it, Sunday morning rolled round and it was time for the main event! I was glad of the previous days mini run through, as I knew exactly where to go, and just how many clothes to stay wrapped up in! I reluctantly dropped off my coat, and shivered through the next hour while we waited to start. I clearly feel the cold more than other people who had one disposable layer with them, while I started running in my race tee, base layer, Primark knitted jumper, old hoodie and gloves! Still overall, I do like a nice early start to a marathon day, and by 10km in I had fully adjusted and warmed up, old clothes discarded along the way where they would be swept up and donated. The crowd support in Chicago was absolutely fantastic, and I loved how we toured around the different neighbourhoods, many of who turned out in force to show off their distinct characters. From the gleaming Trump Tower, through Chinatown and out into the suburbs, there was plenty to see.

The first half flew by smoothly, buoyed along with enthusiasm and my favourite podcast in my ear. And then, as it so often does for me, at mile fifteen the real race began. I don’t think I will ever be a natural marathon runner. Some people really thrive at the longer distances, but I think short & sweet is more my forté! By mile fifteen I had already been running non-stop for 2 1/2 hours, quite enough for any normal day, and then at some point the realisation dawns just how far you still have left to go. The temptation to stop for a walk becomes increasingly strong, leg muscles already starting to tire, but you just know that stopping is the beginning of a slippery slope of more and more walking, all hope of a decent finish time fading away.

It was time to break out my plan-B strategy; jeffing! With a decent first half time under my belt, I knew a PB was still possible if I kept things under control. Keeping one eye on my watch, every time 5 minutes ticked by, I allowed myself to walk for 30 seconds. I absolutely love this as a strategy for keeping going when things get tough. It gives you that crucial little rest for the heart rate to settle, and mentally you know you are only ever a few minutes away from your next break. It also stops you falling into the trap of taking longer and longer walking breaks as you tire. Even with this much needed boost, it took all my grit and determination to keep the momentum going out past the difficult 20-24 mile markers.

Having my name written on my top did make me smile, as the ever-enthusiastic American crowd shouted out ‘You got this Gail!’ over and over. Finally the end was in sight, all I had to do was keep going and it would be a new PB. I crossed the line in 4:42, having improved my best time by a few minutes, and feeling very wobbly! The sun had come out in force, warming up to over 20°C, making it a glorious afternoon to sit and celebrate with friends. Everyone had had a fantastic run, some truly impressive times, and we all agreed the Chicago Marathon was fully deserving of its reputation as one of the best races in the world!

My Chicago Marathon trip was an amazing experience which I am so glad I finally got to take part in. I had definitely underestimated how exhausting it is flying halfway across the world, packing in a full weekend of sightseeing on top of the marathon itself! Jet lag hit me hard, and the sleepless nights made it a significantly harder prospect than racing at home. Still, I am so grateful for this amazing, unforgettable opportunity, and a lifetime of memories. So what next? For me, there is one more part to my marathon journey. New York awaits, for my fourth and probably final World Marathon Major star. Let me know if you have run any of the majors, which was your favourite experience?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: