Jess Runs Chicago Marathon 2018 – Race Report

Jessica ClarkRace Report, Training TipsLeave a Comment

While standing at the start of the Chicago Marathon, I felt anxious, but also confident in my preparation. I knew that I had put in the work to be there; I earned my spot, and I was going to make the race “mine.” Training my body to be ready was one way to prepare for the marathon, but making my mind ready was just as important.

To boost my confidence the night before the race, I reviewed the plethora of workouts that I had crushed, both on the track and for my long marathon pacing runs. I realized that it was the most consistent I had ever been when training for a marathon. I was able to hit my target mileage each week and I never missed a hard workout. I also reflected on how much faster I was. For many of my pacing runs on the road, I was able to average about 6 minutes and 45 seconds per mile, even when running at higher elevation in Flagstaff. At the track, my coach, Greg, spent many Mondays doing mile repeats with me, and gave me the confidence I needed, in addition to helpful tips, for staying on pace. Having another person to run with for many of my workouts made this training cycle not only more fun, but also more effective for me. No cheating was allowed with Greg around!
Similar to the New York City Marathon, I was primarily surrounded by male runners in my corral while waiting for the start in the 3 hour pace group. Only two other females were part of this group, consisting of about 20 people, amongst the sea of thousands of runners in our wave. Unlike the NYC Marathon, I signed up for the 3 hour pace group at the expo the day before and was able to stand with the group at the start (no fighting through the crowd this time!). With a goal of running under 3 hours, I was happy to be part of this pace team and knew that it would be motivating to run with others who had a goal similar to mine. 

The weather conditions for the marathon were ideal. It was about 60 degrees, clouds covered the sky, and there was a light drizzle of rain. With so much body heat at the start from all the runners, I felt warm and ready to run. After competing in the harsh conditions of nearly freezing temperatures and heavy, constant rain at the Boston Marathon in April, the warmer, lighter rain was welcomed. 

After the gun went of and we all began to run, my legs felt fresh, but I was having a hard time finding adequate space to get settled in. With so many runners, I had to be very careful with foot placement, making sure to avoid nipping the back of someone’s shoe or cutting off another runner. Luckily, I didn’t trip or trip anyone else, but I did witness two other runners colliding into each other and falling to the ground at a water station near mile 6 (water stations can be quite treacherous in the early miles of large marathons!). 

At the half marathon marker, the runners were still quite packed together. At this point, I was running slightly ahead of the pace group to give myself more space. I was pleased that I was right on pace, coming through at 1 hour 29 minutes and 19 seconds; a new half marathon personal best! I was feeling good.

Soon after the half marathon point, I decided to run with the 3 hour group again. My legs were still feeling pretty good, but my stomach was feeling a little “off.” I felt that I needed to be with the group to get my mind off of my stomach discomfort. I began taking in more water at the designated water stations thereafter, in little sips, to see if that would help. Prior to that, I had been mostly drinking from my small handheld water bottle which contained Tailwind. Meanwhile, I was diligent about taking my gels about every half an hour.

To my excitement, I saw my mother and sisters near mile 17, which gave me an instant boost of energy. I was beginning to feel a little tired here, but I was telling myself to “believe.” At that point, I was still running with the 3 hour pace group, slightly behind the tight pack. Unfortunately, this didn’t last for much longer, and soon after I saw my family, I began to get a right side stitch, which slowed me down quite a bit. I tried to fight through the cramping, but was unable to ignore the pain and took my one and only Hot Shot to ease it. The side stitch discomfort had thrown me off pace and the 3 hour group was long gone. 

After the side stitch occurrence, I wasn’t feeling as confident. I was disappointed that I had lost my group and I was definitely beginning to feel the infamous marathon fatigue at mile 20. Despite my set-back, I began to focus on setting a new personal best time in the marathon, even if it wasn’t going to be under 3 hours. At this point, my power word in my head switched from “believe” to “fight.” 

Each mile began to feel longer and longer. I was having a hard time hitting even a 7 minute pace per mile. My legs started to feel tight, and at mile 24 when slowing to grab some water, my left hamstring cramped so aggressively that I was unable to take a step and had to stop and stretch. Without even thinking, I automatically turned my timer off, not once, but twice in a row. I attempted to run after a brief stretching stint, but it wasn’t enough to ease the cramping, so I had to immediately stop again to stretch. I didn’t know how long I had stopped for. Why did I turn off my timer? Was I still going to run a personal best?

The last two miles were tough, especially after stopping, and also because I no longer knew what my cumulative race time was. Once I approached the final mile marker, I began to think of my track workouts – “party’s almost over,” as Greg would say. Large signs posted how many meters were left in the marathon along the route…800, 400, 300, 200. Go! go! go!, I told myself. 
I finished the race, but did I run fast enough to break my record? My watch said 3 hours 6 min and 22 seconds. How long did I stop for? My mind was racing.

Once I walked back to my hotel (which is a convenient 5-minute walk from the finish before running a marathon, and about a 20-minute walk after running a marathon), I met up with my family. My sister informed me of my time. I was grateful: 3 hours 7 minutes and 2 seconds. I still ran a personal best, even after stopping for 40 seconds and slowing in the latter miles.

Marathons are a humbling endeavor. I trained for many months, ran many miles, and had many reasons to believe that I was capable of running under 3 hours. I pushed myself and fought through the challenges, but wasn’t able to meet my goal. Am I disappointed? Yes, a little. Am I happy that I still ran a personal best? Yes. Did I learn from this experience? Yes. Am I fired up to run under 3 hours in my next marathon? Yes, A LOT. Looking forward to Boston 2019!