Race | Chicago Marathon | The hunt for a PB

It was always about the PB.

After some knuckled down training in the Spring, I blew up like a water balloon at my A race of the Spring, the Copenhagen marathon, and not only missed my PB, but lost a bit of love for marathons.

Getting in to Chicago through the ballot was so exciting. My second World Marathon Major would be my 30th birthday trip to see if I could beat my current PB, set at my 1st Major, Berlin last year. For those of you following my running for some time, you'll know that post-Ironman last year I was in the shape of my life and in a gritty marathon, secured my sub-4 hour dream marathon time in Berlin.

There was a small part of me that thought, that's it. Ironman fit vs marathon fit. Can marathon fit really produce the same results?

I always A, B and C goal set and Chicago was like no other race in that I had prepared my three goals. And they were pretty big:
Goal C: Sub- 4:30 - leave myself room for it to all go tits-up on race day
Goal B: Sub-3:59:39 - PB by a couple of seconds at least
Goal A: 3:50-3:55 - PB by 5 minutes+

Maybe one day my reach will see me put a Good For Age time in there but the truth is, I knew my fitness and my pace and thought the A goal was a great stretch already. No point repeating the errors of Copenhagen by going out too fast.

I arrived an hour beforehand, bag check was easy and lining up in the pens was the usual mix of chaos and excitement. When the gun went off for the first wave I felt quite emotional. I was lucky enough to have travelled half way around the world to take on this challenge and I felt that in spite of a few twinges, I was in marathon ready shape.

The weather wasn't great on race day, 16 degrees and rainy with some periods of rain being pretty heavy. But as the weather in Chicago at this time of year could be up to 35 degrees and humid I was happy. I'll always take wet and colder over too warm!

Crossing the start line was wonderful, and as we came out after 500m in to the crowds I was overwhelmed by the support Chicago brought. Honestly: best race of my life. I had my name on the front of my t-shirt and people were screaming my name and cheering for me. It was such a humbling experience.

Due to the chaos of the start pens I went out with the 3:45 pacers with the intention of dropping off as soon as it felt a little too fast. My Garmin was behaving like a toddler who'd eaten too much sugar so I was running on elapsed time against the road markings and nothing else. The race heads up towards Lincoln Park zoo before returning south around 7 miles. My brilliant mum was screaming her heart out on the course and I was lucky enough to see her 4 times: 2, 8, 17 and 23 miles which, especially given the weather, was the most incredible boost.

I'm not going to lie: at 6 miles I knew I was going to get a PB. Sounds cocky perhaps but the achilles soreness I'd been suffering with for a couple of months had melted away, I was moving well, I was fit to burst happy and the course was great fun. This was it: this was my race.

The districts of Chicago were so vibrant, I loved running through Boystown in the North and shortly after this I passed my great friend Heidi. We ran together for a kilometre before I said bye and pushed on with the pacers. As you approach the halfway mark you make your way back in to the city and I passed the half in 1:51:23. At 14 miles you head out West and at this point, the rain turned apocalyptic. I was struggling to see because of the amount of water pouring down my face, running the sweat in to my eyes until they stung. Time to let the 3:45 pacers go. The really awful rain lasted about 15 minutes and by the end of the downpour I was pretty chilly. My hips were getting pretty tight now and I kept repeating to myself that I was mountain strong. If I could run for hours in the mountains, I could cling on to the marathon pace I wanted.

I found 16 to 20 miles tough, the crowd support was quite a bit quieter and it took me a while to warm up. On top of this my grumpy back had started complaining in a way I usually only suffer with on long bike rides. I stopped briefly at 20 miles and threw myself on the floor, rolling around to try and click my back back in to place which caused so much relief. Just after 21 miles we hit my new favourite type of aid station: a Biofreeze station: volunteers spraying painful areas with a type of deep freeze. Back happily frozen I was off. This was it: 5 miles to go.

While my pace was continuing to slow slightly, I was still well on track for not just a PB but a sub 3:55 time. By my calculations I could come in around 3:53 so I kept clicking away at the mileage.

At 23.5 miles you turn to head north towards the finish line, a long drag of a straight line to the end. But by this point there was no stopping me. I just kept thinking 'This is the race of my life', 'I've massively surpassed my goals' and in spite of the gritty pain of the later stages of a marathon I was having a great time. It felt like a long victory lap.

As we approached the final 400m to go sign, some quick maths told me if I could increase my pace, I could finish just under 3:53. Silly games we play, but off I went.

The finish funnel was great fun with so many people thrilled to finally be approaching the end of such a great challenge and great race. Kick, kick, kick, over the line. 3:52:58. And then I literally screamed with joy.

The last two marathons I've run I haven't really enjoyed, I found Berlin last year so tough clinging on for dear life for the sub-4 finish and Copenhagen in the Spring was such a disappointment for the wheels to fall off so much.

Chicago was the retribution I felt I deserved. A 6 minute 31 second PB. My second time sub-4 and by a comfortable distance. My first marathon in my 30s.

It can be really easy to see times and think of what-might-have-beens or what-nexts but I'm far too delighted to do that. 3:52:58 from a girl who ran her first marathon in 5:47:45. It's going to take a long time to get over it.

Total time: 3:52:58 (PB)

Finishing position: 11,847 (out of 44,571)
Finishing position (gender): 3,207 (out of 20,612)
Finishing position (age-group): 611 (out of 3,416)
% of runners who finished: Unsure.

First half time: 1:51:23
Second half time: 2:01:35

To find out more about how to enter the ballot for 2019's race go to: https://www.chicagomarathon.com/


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