by Matt Schenker
I had only been to Chicago once before and I loved it, and I was really looking forward to running through the city. I had trained much harder for this marathon, my second, than my first, and I felt relatively good going into it, apart from some tightness in my hip.
The forecast that day called for a high of 76 degrees, which was disconcerting, but the weather was perfect in the morning, around 55 degrees. My hotel was near Grant Park, so I was able to just walk over to the start. After having done the NYC marathon last year, it was nice to not have to go through any extensive travel beforehand. Sue and I warmed up together before the start and it almost felt like any normal NYRR race.
The start of the marathon is great, because you feel like you are in a canyon with the entire city around you. I especially loved going through the tunnel right at the start. The first 5-6 miles flew by. Running downtown is electric, and the views as you cross the water are great. I was running a little faster than I had planned, but I felt good, so did not worry much about it. Along the way, I chatted with a few NBR’iors who were racing. I started feeling the tightness in my hip at mile 7, and then it just went away. Maybe it was in my head. Miles 8-10 were really beautiful, with good crowds. I saw family at mile 11.5, and was feeling great at that point.
I caught up to the 3:20 pace group right around mile 13, and decided to fall in line with them, since I was going for sub 3:20. My previous mile had been way too fast, so it was good to force myself into a rhythm. I battled stomach cramps for about a mile, but thankfully they went away while I was chatting with someone from the Whippets. The next several miles kind of rolled by. I distinctly remember thinking at mile 16, “only a DOVES run left.” I was looking out for my family again mile 19, but they just missed me. It still helped me because it gave me something to look forward to.
The second half of Chicago is decidedly less cool to run through than the first, and of course, the increasing mileage doesn’t help. Plus, the fact that I didn’t know the city very well made it hard for me to breakdown the course into landmarks, so once I got above 20 miles, it started to become a monotonous game of just looking for the next mile. I was still with the 3:20 pacers at this point, and they helped me chug along. Mile 21 – just a Team Champs left now.
Somewhere between miles 22 and 23, I hit the wall hard. My pace only slipped a little, but the miles started to seem interminable. I was just desperate to stop. I started trying to figure out if I could walk for a while and still break 3:20, but then my rational voice would kick in and tell me that I was crazy and to keep going. Once we turned on Michigan avenue for the last 3 miles, it was a crushing struggle. Plus, it was now in the mid to high 60s and the sun was beating down on us. The 3:20 pace group started to pull away from me slightly, but my scrambled brain knew that 3:20 was still in reach. With this in mind, I just kept telling myself that if I stopped I would be so disappointed in myself and it would taint all of the work I had done. The mile markers exacerbated the difficulty. There was a 39K marker, which only served to make me question how I could run another 3k. Then a marker for mile 25, and mile 25.2. I see two of my cousins, and give them the weakest possible thumbs up imaginable.
Finally, we turned off Michigan Ave. and onto the little bridge which is basically the only hill in the race. Yet it felt like I couldn’t even keep my body moving up it. But once I reached the top, I knew I was home free. I turned into the park with about 3:18:15 and finished just under 3:19. I had so little left that I needed help walking at the finish. I couldn’t even revel in finishing because I was too out of it. Only after ten minutes of eating and drinking slowly did I come back to myself. This race was a very different experience than my first marathon – somewhat less joyous and more workmanlike – but despite how hard it was, I still loved it.