Chicago Marathon 2019 – Six Star Finisher

I woke up the morning of the Chicago Marathon after a fantastic night’s sleep. No one was more surprised about this than me to be honest.

I had fallen asleep and stayed asleep nicely, despite being so worried and stressed. I woke up about an hour before my alarm (5am) and did all that I needed to for a comfortable running experience, if you get my drift 😉 I made my porridge in our lovely Airbnb kitchen and drank my black coffee. No stress, no panic.

Just before 7am Kyle and I headed down to the start, a mere 10 minute walk away. I didn’t need a map, I just followed all the other runners coming out of the woodwork.

I had an aluminium blanket round me and was quite warm. It wasn’t nearly as cold as the day before thankfully. And no rain!

Kyle had plans to see me at mile 3, mile 14, mile 17 and then somewhere around the end. He was going to message me encouragements and any changes in his plan and I would see them pop-up on my watch (normally I have notifications turned off). This would be lovely.

My wave began at 7.30am and my corral closed at 7.20am, so at about 7.10am I left Kyle only to find that my gate was closed and was redirecting people to another one (no idea why). So I had to do a bit of a panicked jog the long way to my corral but managed to get in before it closed, whew! I have to say, it was the easiest and quickest race to get to. I didn’t even need a pre-race wee as I’d had one just before I’d left the apartment.

I wedged myself into the crowd of runners (so many people, as is typical for a major marathon) and found myself stood behind a 3:35 pacer.

Hmmm, VERY ambitious but could be worse. We waited for about 10 minutes after our supposed start time and then inched forward closer to the start. The finally we were off!

Having not properly run for a week I was nervous how it would feel. So far, it was OK. Suspiciously OK. Unlike New York, I didn’t have that euphoric feeling of “yay I’m running a marathon”. It was a cautious and almost constant thought cycle of “how does my knee feel? Is it OK?”. And it was OK so far. I could tell though that it wasn’t as strong as my other knee and it wasn’t quite “right”. So I stayed within a cautious pace.

Within the first mile however it became clear that my watch was not tracking things accurately (presumably due to the skyscrapers affecting the GPS). I reached a mile way before the mile marker and my pace was all over the place, despite feeling consistent. This panicked me a bit. What was I going to do?

I knew from experience that when you run a marathon it all feels very easy for the first 10 miles or so regardless if you’re running faster than you should be because… well, you’ve only run 10 miles. If you continue at that pace it starts to get a lot harder and unsustainable later. Having my watch tell me my pace has helped me in all my marathons to not get carried away. And it was important as I didn’t have the training (or the strength in my body) to maintain a faster pace than my planned one. I was going to aim for 8.30s to begin with and then maybe chip away at that later on.

The next issue hit when Kyle started messaging me. His messages would be cut short on my watch display because it was only a preview. So he’d say “I’m waiting near to the….” and that was all I’d get. He kept sending messages like this and it was frustrating – we should have tested this before the race! And in my confusion to see his message I then managed to LAP my watch by pressing the wrong button. Oh god what a muppet! Now it was all out of sync and all over the place.

At mile 3 when I saw Kyle I had minimal amount of time to explain everything of course. I told him I felt OK (knee update) but that my watch was completely out of sync and all I had was the time I’d been running and the mile markers on the road.

I got to 5k in 26:50 (08:39 min/miles). My watch is so far out I can only really go by the 5k splits from the app.

I carried on. He sent another long message and I decided to whip my phone out and message him to tell him to send bursts of messages rather than long streams so I could read it. That worked much better. The first few miles were full of cheering crowds and the skyscrapers of Chicago, along with a couple of bridges to run over. It was a good start for definite. It was brightly sunny but cold. I had my arm warmers on and expected I would take them off later in the race (I didn’t).

Then we headed out north of downtown Chicago towards Lincoln Park. At this point it was probably my lowest time of the race. I could occasionally feel my knee (no pain, just something “not right”) and I worried about the accumulating miles ahead.

I got to 10k in 53:51 (8:42 min/miles).

I had some serious doubts in whether I would finish and all I could see was the time when I did the Bournemouth Marathon a few years ago and had sporadic sharp knee pains which caused me to walk the final two miles. I remembered that in that race I’d gotten to mile 12 before really feeling pain and I hoped to get to that point without issue. But I was in a dark place, wishing I could try and enjoy the race a bit more.

Lincoln Park looked very pretty and I made a mental note to come back here with Kyle. There were lots of people cheering us on and that boosted me somewhat. Then we turned around and headed back south.

I needed to go for a wee (as I always tend to during a marathon and usually plan a stop somewhere between 2-10 miles depending on portaloo availability). But I was loathe to stop for fear that if I did the pain would start when I began running again. So I kept going.

I got to 15k in 1:20:29 (8:35 min/miles).

At mile 10 I switched to a playlist of Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish (current two of my favourite female artists). It was a nice mix of happy clappy songs and chilled but somewhat depressing vibes.

I started noticing that pretty much at any point during the marathon I could look around and find someone wearing the Nike Vaporfly shoes. I’ve never seen a more prolific shoe in a race. So many of these crazy bright neon Nikes. I must have seen over a 100 of them during the race. It was actually comical the number of them.

I got to 20k in 1:47:09 (8:35 min/miles).

Kyle was going to be at mile 14 so I looked forward to this. As I got past the fateful mile 12 without issue I started to relax a little. OK no pain. No discomfort. We’re good for now.

I saw Kyle and he boosted me along, asking me if wanted a gel (he was my gel mule). I said I was OK. Actually in terms of fitness I felt fine. I was running comfortably and felt I was fine to maintain the pace. I’d now worked out I could see my pace (sort of). But my watch was still so far out in terms of distance (around two miles out).

I got to 25k in 2:14:09 (8:42 min/miles).

I started to relx a bit and I allowed myself to start to visualise the finish. I hadn’t done this at all in the lead-up. It was tempting fate and being over-confident. Now I used these thoughts to boost me along. I would be picking up my SIX STAR MEDAL. How would that feel? Seeing Kyle afterwards wearing my TWO medals. The relief. I held on to those thoughts tightly and helped them spur me along.

It was still cold and the wind was fierce. It was more gusty than consistently windy so you’d suddenly get this big blast of frigid air hitting you for a bit and then it’d disappear. It was tough going but at least the course was flat. I actually saw a large piece of cardboard fly down the road and smack into a male runner (fairly amsuing it must be said).

I saw Kyle at mile 17 and honestly this was the best. I felt confident suddenly. I could do this. As I got close to him he shouted, “In less than 10 miles you’ll have your Six Star!” and I punched the air and yelled back “I’ve got this!”.

I got to 30k in 2:40:59 (8:39 min/mile).

I started grabbing water from the aid stations now (which were frequent and a mix of Gatorade, water and gels and then later half bananas and orange segments). Paper cups! And according to the brochure, entirely compostable. In fact, the marathon was very forward thinking in it’s environmental conscience – so much designed for recyling and reducing waste and plastic. Big thumbs up, Chicago!

As I got past 18 miles a man ran up next to me. He said he recognised me and had read my blog. He hoped I was enjoying Chicago and that the race went well for me. Oh I can’t tell you how much this put a spring in my step! What a lovely thing to be told mid-race. I couldn’t work out, in the rush of it all, whether he was running too or a marshal, but it was lovely to see him.

Around 18 miles we were running through the University Village, which would become very familiar to me in the days coming as our next Airbnb would be around there. There did seem to be a numerous number of universities in Chicago I must say.

I hit into mile 20 and could barely contain my excitement. In less than hour I’d be done! I switched my playlist to something else (I love Taylor and BiIllie but god I was done with them).

I tried to do the mental maths of what time I could finish in. My time of course didn’t matter (just finishing was my intention) but a tiny voice wondered if I could sneak in under 3:45? I had had a dream before all this hamstring and knee drama that I could finish all my Six Stars in under that time (I had so far). But it would be a push I think.

I got to 35k in 3:07:34 (8:34 min/mile).

As is typical for when wearing your name on your vest, I got a lot of “Go Anna!”s which is always nice. I love how Americans say my name with their accent. I kept thinking, smile smile smile. And it helped, people would cheer more.

I heard “go Anna” quite enthusiastically and looked over to see a crowd of cheerers. I looked harder and realised I recognised the ‘ring leader’. It was Charlie from The Runner Beans. It was lovely to see her cheering and it definitely boosted me along 🙂

I got to 40k in 3:33:43 (8:25 min/mile).

Just 2k to go. I saw Kyle message me saying I could get under 3:45 if I pushed. Urgh I was so tired now, so this felt like a hard ask. But I pushed on, seeing my pace get a bit quicker. Come on Anna, not long left!

I couldn’t work out where the finish was (I was confused with the 5k course yesterday) but eventually we turned into Grant Park and I saw it ahead. My watched clicked to 3:44:xx and I absolutely sprinted to get to the finish.

3:44:35! Just snuck under 3:45. A man tapped my on the shoulder and shook my hand: “great finish!”. Ahh what a lovely thing to say 🙂 I couldn’t believe I’d done it. The stress was over. The RELIEF. My god the relief.

I walked along, collecting my Chicago medal, some water, ALL the apples…

And then I saw the Six Star Finisher signs. Ahhhhh! I headed over there tentatively, still wondering if something would stop this moment. But they scanned my QR tag and the Abbott man said “congratulations Anna, here is your medal”. Omg it was like a dream. They put my medal on and the weight of it hit me – both metaphorically and physically. It was a beast. I’m not a sentimental person but I must admit, I did get a tiny bit emotional. No crying but a bit choked up.

The crowd of Abbott volunteers were so lovely, congratulating me and saying what an achievement. It was just lovely. They took my things so they could get a photo of me – they looked after me so well.

And then I headed off into the swarms of finishers to find Kyle. Walking on clouds.

I found Kyle faily quickly, thankfully, and showed him my medals. It was such a fantastic moment. I was so glad he was there with me to share my happiness. He was so relieved for me too. (Though he claims he never doubted me finishing, I’m glad one of us was confident!).

Chicago Marathon was definitely a hard graft. The lead-up and the race were mentally and physically tough going. I was so stressed and I don’t think I ever really relaxed properly while running. Of course for any marathon I never go into it believing it’s going to go OK or that I’m 100% confident I’ll finish as anything can happen during those 26.2 miles outside of your control, but I do tend to go into it fairly positive and while I’m running enjoy myself.

This was different. The pit of my tummy was constantly in turmoil. I do remember clearly thinking though, “This is what my body was made to do”. Running a marathon, even when semi-injured and undertrained, is just natural to me. I love it and find such happiness from it – not just finishing, but the entire process. I hope to have many more marathons to come 🙂

And as for getting my Six Star Finisher medal… well, that was just wonderful. It’s been six years since I did my first marathon major, Berlin, and so much has changed in my life. I was married then, I’m divorced now but so very happy. Each Major has special memories and I enjoyed all of them. I was very lucky to have such good experiences, good weather and no big upsets. Yes Chicago was tough because of my injury woes, but I still had a comfortable race and finished smiling. That’s all I ever hope for.

Have you done any of the Major Marathons?

Have you ever run abroad?

Do you depend on your watch during races?

5 thoughts on “Chicago Marathon 2019 – Six Star Finisher

  1. Congratulations on the Six Star Finisher Medal! What an achievement!! And well done for running this marathon with an out-of-sync watch. That is horrible, but you kept your calm and just carried on. Fantastic job. Relax and enjoy the success!

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