Chicago Marathon 2023

Chicago Marathon #2, Marathon #101

 Chicago was the last race that I would run to qualify for Boston before I turned 60 in January. I wanted to gift myself a present to see how I would do if I had a coach. One last hurrah to race in my 50’s. I reached out to the coach that my friend Kaitlyn used to see what he could offer. I told him that I run a lot of marathons and my time averages around 3:45. I found myself getting discouraged that I hadn’t run a time in the 3:30s anymore. The last time was in 2021 when I ran Clarence Demar and finished 3:38.

My coach was Pardon Ndhlovu, an Olympic runner with quite a bio. My initial conversation with him was positive. I explained to him that I was an RRCA coach and told him my goals. He started to give me my weekly training plan that consisted of track speed work, mid-week runs and long runs. I followed his plan every week, waking up as early as 3:30 am to get in my workouts and be at work by 7 a.m. It was a tough summer. I did, however, feel like I gained my speed back and was running strong.

I initially had some hamstring issues early on and started working with Jeanette from Select PT. She was incredible. Soon, the pain was gone, and I was able to get back on track with my training. It took a few weeks for the therapy to kick in, so many of my runs were either slower than I would typically run or I would run on the track. One weekend I ran my scheduled 18-miles on the track because my leg hurt when I had any inclines.

Traveling to Chicago for the marathon was not difficult.  We had nonstop flights from Hartford and took the train into Chicago.  We walked in the windy city to our hotel, dropped our bags and headed out.

Tracksmith: Our first stop was Tracksmith.  Kim and I joined the Tracksmith Hare A.C. club which has some perks if you run the majors.  We were club members for London, Berlin, NYC, Boston and now Chicago.  Some perks are the private bus transportation to the start, free massages, pre/post-race party, first in line for the poster signing (where your race time is stamped), race package that consists of a Tracksmith bag, hat, and water bottle and more.  It’s worth the money.

The Expo:  The Expo was so well organized.  I went to the World Abbott Major Wanda Division Tent and picked up my swag and wrist band for race day.  I was excited to be running with this division.  I had a great experience in London that offered so many perks.  I received the logistics for the Chicago experience. There was no pre-race reception, and the only way we could attend the post marathon reception was if I were in the top 3 in my division.  I looked up the times from last year and I’m pretty sure that with all my training I would not be able to pull off a 2:45 marathon so I wouldn’t be attending. 

Pre-race massages:  After the expo Kim and I headed back to Tracksmith for the massages that we booked.  It was so difficult to find where to go and the directions were not clear.  Finally, we found the unmarked location and we both had a great pre-race massage.  They gave us snacks, Gatorade and candy bars.  What a treat!

Dinner:  We had dinner at The Smith restaurant that I highly recommend.  The food was fantastic, and the atmosphere was cool.  Even the ladies’ room was fun.  There was some great 80’s new wave music blasting and Angie, Fernanda and I danced around the ladies’ room and headed upstairs to eat.

Shakeout run: The shakeout run we attended was with Tracksmith. The room was so crowded with people.  We tried to stand on the outskirts of the room to avoid too many people since Covid outbreaks were back up again.   They announced that there were 2 waves.  We headed out to be part of the first and they shut the door on us.  We nervously stood in the crowded room and Colleen said, ‘I’m opening the door, it’s like a petri dish in here”.  When she opened the door a couple of guys started to sneak out and we followed them.  They called Colleen a rebel.  We took off with them and ran down by the water.  It was part of Chicago that I haven’t visited yet.  So beautiful! 

Pre-race dinner:  I had made reservations in groups of 4 because any groups bigger than 4 weren’t available.  I booked them in Angie’s name, Andrea, Colleen (I thought) and myself.  I made a list of who was attending to make sure that we all had a seat.  That was months ago and by race weekend I forgot who had what and stressed myself out making sure we were all set.  At the shakeout run Colleen confirmed she didn’t have a reservation in her name, and I panicked.  Kim overheard the conversation and said “hey wait, I got an email from Open Table that I deleted.  Apparently, I had made Kim a reservation that I forgot about, so we were all set.  Dinner was at Il Porcellino.  The Italian food was fantastic.  On the way home we stopped at Levain’s Bakery and got the most delicious cookies.  We also made a note to go back after we ran the race to get a free cookie if we showed our medals.

Race morning. I was super excited to be in the World Abbott Wanda division tent that had so many perks:  Private heated tent, snacks, private bathrooms, private gear check, post-race massages, food, and beverages. Colleen and I walked to our gate entrance which was a good ½ mile from where the start was.  We got to the bridge only to find a group of runners standing and waiting for them to get into the tent.  We waited a good ½ hour.  People were not happy.  There was one dude “Ron” that was a complete asshole that was so rude to Colleen and the security guy.  I put my head down with disgust.  This is not what I signed up for.  But wait, there’s more.  When we got into the heated tent, it was complete confusion.  We looked and saw huge lines for the port-o-lets and then decided to drop our bags first.  There was a long line for that too.  After we dropped our bags, we headed right to the bathroom line.  Then they started to announce it was time to leave to be escorted to our gate.  We never got any pre-race food or a chance to sit down to relax.  Finally, after another ½ hour we headed over to be escorted to the start.  The guy leading was so fast that Colleen and I had to run up to keep up with him.  Colleen said, “just follow the guy carrying the big blue lollypop sign”.  We broke into the Lollypop song from The Wizard of Oz” and at that point we were laughing and having fun.  I was wondering if he was on stilts since he was moving so fast!  We ran up to him and told him that he was the best part of our morning.  He got us to the corral and directed runners.  Colleen and I were in corral E and as we approached the gate, they were shutting it down.  We slid through and got into the gate with seconds to spare.  Mission accomplished! 

Kim said he’d be with the 3:30 pacer.  It was so crowded, and I could see from afar the 3:30, 3:35 and 3:40 pacers.  We pushed our way through the sea of runners and hugged Colleen when we got to her pacer.  I was still pushing my way to get to my pacer when I heard someone yelling my name.  I turned and saw Kim.  I hugged him and almost started crying. He is my safe person, my warm and fuzzy, my best friend.  We stood in line and finally our corral was on deck to start.  The horn went off and we started running.  I was near the 3:35 pacer. I stuck next to them, until they started to slip away from me as we pushed our way through the crowd.  By mile 2 they were out of my site.  My watch chimed a 9:03 split for mile 1. My heart sank.  What was I thinking?  Why did I set myself up for failure.  Then mile 2 came and I thought “This really sucks, It’s only mile 2”.  I said to myself, just run your own race, it is what it is. 

I settled into a zone and my watch chimed 7:30, and I thought, it must be the buildings messing up my GPS.  Mile 3, 8:03, Mile 4, 8:00 and then the 3:35 pacer was in right in front of me.  I caught them.  The miles were flying by, and I felt so strong.  I heard someone yelling “Jeanne”, and I looked up and it was Kassie from the marathon training program.  She was screaming my name ‘Jeanne, Jeanne, COACH”.  OMG, as I write this my eyes are welling up with tears. There is something so special about having someone there to cheer for you.  I kept running feeling good mile 15, 16, 17, and then 18 I was still with the 3:35 pacer.  Then some random stranger said, “you are running my pace” I smiled and kept going.  I am not sure if this is where I started to fail but it messed with my head, as she started to slip away.  My legs felt like they weren’t mine.  I felt like I was having an out of body experience.  My neurotic mind went where it typically would go, oh my god, you’re going to drop dead.  Suddenly I felt dizzy.  I slowed down but kept my legs moving.  I wasn’t running terribly slow, but enough to take away the anxiety. 

I decided to start to think of those people I dedicated miles to which started with Reggie.  I thought of 10 things that made me laugh.  I got to 5, which took about 3 minutes and then started to panic again.  Whos’ next?  Then I thought of Brittany, my new running daughter whose positive energy had kept me going early in the training when I was dealing with the hamstring issue.  This brought me to a nice warm fuzzy happy place, and I carried that girl with me to the finish.  I ran down the last stretch to the finish with a big smile on my face.  I had no idea what my time was as my GPS was so screwed up.  I shut my watch off and saw it was 3:39:15. I felt disappointed but not defeated.  It was still a decent time. 

I got my medal, talked to a few runners and then headed to the Wanda tent.  I walked over to get my gear bag only to find pure chaos.  Our gear bags were in a giant pile.  No organization.  Runners were walking around looking for their bags.  There was a person that was helping that said, “the volunteers never showed up”.  It took me 20 minutes to find my bag.   I found Colleen who had crushed her time with a sweet PR 3:36. My God was I so proud of her!  It shows if you work hard and train hard it will make a difference.  She had fallen on the course and her leg was bleeding.  I told her I was going to change and then I got there only to find another line.  I said “screw it” to myself and sat in the tent and put on my sweatpants and jacket.  I talked to some runners and then got a text from Colleen that she was leaving.  She waited 45 minutes for her gear check and was just disgusted and left.  I called Kim and he was in line getting his medal engraved.  I decided to leave.  I was disgusted too.  The Wanda tent was a complete bust.  What a waste of money.  It made my race experience horrible.  I missed out on all the post-race fun I experienced in 2016.  I left to go back to the hotel so upset.

Post-race Westin marathon perks:  When we walked into the hotel from the race we were greeted by a few Westin employees with pom poms cheering us on.  I have to give a huge shot out to the Westin who recently partnered with Normatec recovery and provided free recovery with Normatec boots, calf massage, Hyperice guns, snacks, water, etc.  I found out that they will be at the major marathons so if you want to be treated like rockstar I would recommend staying at the Westin hotel.  I am pretty excited that I booked them for Boston. 

Post-race dinner:  We talked about going to a blues bar to listen to some good Chicago music.  We almost bought tickets to see a show at The House of Blues that was next door to our hotel.  It seemed like a great idea before we ran the race, but sometimes you just want to put your feet up and relax.  We ended up going out to dinner at the River Roast.  The food was delicious.  It’s the perfect place for comfort food.

Would I run Chicago again?  I don’t think I would. Even though overall I had a good experience, it’s not my favorite course.   A memory popped up on Facebook from 2016 when I ran the marathon and I said, “I realized that I really like a course that has hills”.  Perfectly flat is tough because it’s the same muscles that are constantly working. I like the give and take of the hills.  My time from 2016 was exactly the same as 2023 – 3:39:15. I did what I set out to do which is to Boston Qualify for 2025.  Looking forward to Tokyo and completing my majors and slowing down with so many marathons.  Because, at the end of the day, marathons are hard.  We just forget how tough they are until we start running them again, kind of like childbirth.