Chicago Marathon 2017 Review

This is a summary of my Chicago Marathon experience.

Meeting Paula Radcliffe

Paula Radcliffe was at the race expo and I was fortunate enough to get a photo and talk to one of my running idols and one of the best marathon runners of all time. She set a world record marathon time of 2:15:25. It’s a record that still stands to this day.

I was star struck but she was really down to earth and friendly. So after I composed myself, I said that historically I’ve struggled with the last miles of a marathon, and I asked how does she get through those tough moments.

I’m paraphrasing what she said, but she essentially said that I should focus on placing one foot in front of the other.

Now a non runner would say, that’s just common sense right?!

But it was a light bulb moment for me, and the best advice is always the simplest.

This reminder to stay present and in the moment, helped me keep focus in the race and became my mantra. It kept me from worrying about what has happened and what could happen. Paula’s advice gave me a reminder to keep building on my progress in the now.

Paula’s advice was the exact same phrase that my grandfather said about life. Although he is no longer with us, it felt as if he was with me during the race upon hearing those words, and that phrase became one of my mantra’s during the race.

Pre race

The day before the marathon I took part in the Chicago International 5K. This was an easy paced run which was an opportunity to loosen my legs pre marathon and see part of the marathon course.

A lesson I learnt from Tokyo is do the tourist things after the marathon as the days leading up to the race day are sacred. So for Saturday this meant that bar the shakeout run, that I rest, hydrate and fuel. So the later part of the Saturday was spent at the hotel, relaxing and being off my feet.

I felt nervous pre race, but they were good nerves. To settle my mind I reminded myself of the following:

  1. I drew confidence from following my coach’s training programme and reminded myself of all the challenging moments I’d overcome in training;
  2. For the difficult moments in the race, I would view the discomfort as a privilege, something to embrace and move towards, rather than something to fear;
  3. The marathon race and training is meant to be hard and I reminded myself that I was up for the challenge;
  4. I reminded myself that the marathon is a distance that must be respected and for the moments that pushed me outside my comfort zone, not to complain but see it as a privilege test;
  5. You can’t always PR so this isn’t my sole focus, my primary priority was to cross the line and do my best. Whether I PR’d or crossed the line after struggling, both options were a win;
  6. Historically in my marathons I’ve blamed other people, the course, weather, kit, nutrition etc. There is comfort in doing this, sometimes it is to save face, but there comes a point where you have to stop running from yourself, look at yourself and take accountability. So my focus was to train hard and not make any excuses during or post marathon;
  7. My priority was to earn Marathon Major No. 5

The Marathon

From mile one my GPS on my watch was out of sync and I knew I had to blank out the minute per mile notifications, and just focus on using the watch timer, against the mile markers to calculate my minute per mile in my head.

Following my experience from Tokyo, I learnt that I had to learn in training to trust myself to run at the target pace, rather than rely on my watch.

This stopped me from clock watching and really got me focused on each mile I was on. As a result I don’t remember much of the course in terms of different areas of Chicago, as I was solely focused on the race.

Around mile 22 I was still feeling good to get close to 3:30, however I started to get mild cramps to my left hamstring. In my head I rated it on a scale of 1-10, but being optimistic I rated it about a 4. So I convinced myself it wasn’t that bad and although I slowed I didn’t stop running.

But following this, I had a sharp cramp to my right hamstring. There was no counting, it stopped me in my tracks.

Momentarily I had a sense of panic, I swore profusely, I thought I’d blown my race due to not taking on enough electrolytes. Then the following happened.

Firstly I looked at my watch and realised that although the 3:30 wasn’t going to happen, I could still beat my PR time and I thought about the challenges I’d faced in training, the things I missed because I was training 7 days a week especially in my personal relationships.

At that moment I said to myself, that the pain of all the things I had given up was worse than the physical pain of the cramp, to endure for the remaining miles. By changing my mindset it gave me the focus on the PR.

During the cramps, the 3:30 pacers had caught up and overtaken me, although that could of added to the pressure. I remembered the advice Paula had given me.

Then another runner stopped asked how I was and after I explained, he said take deep breathes and keep moving.

It’s important to focus on where you are now, rather than think about where you were and think you should be. So my focus became taking the best deep breathes that I could do and to keep moving.

Then gradually the cramp subsided and I could run uninhibited. It was a great moment to catch up with that runner and thank him for his help.

For the last few miles, I just imagined I was running home from one of my usual running routes. And I remember a group of women standing side by side and they had this steady chant:

“You got it! You got it, let’s go!”

This new mantra helped, as it reinforced the importance of staying in the moment, then building on it. And then repeat the process.

The crowds of Chicago were incredible. Having my name on my shirt was a good choice. It felt like the crowd were pushing me forward throughout each mile as I was cheered on. Thank you!

And the official after party is the best finish of any marathon I’ve run. Thank you to the organisers of the Chicago Marathon for hosting a fantastic event.

Lessons learnt

The first lesson was about nutrition. I spoke to Science in Sports Performance Nutritionist Ted Munson following the race and explained my gel strategy for the race, with the aim of gaining advice about tips to prevent or lessen the chances of the cramps I experienced.

He explained that the cramps may have been partially contributed by sodium deficit and the high running effort considering the warm weather.

Whilst I taken 1 electrolyte gel per hour, Ted recommended that I look at sodium loading pre race, by adding salt and fluid to my breakfast, so this could look like taking 500ml of water with two hydro tabs. However with quality training sessions such as intervals, hill sprints would help in the fight against fatigue.

The second lesson was about forgetting the world of would’ve, could’ve and should’ve.

Post race it’s easy to judge a race based on your emotions, before your rational brain joins the party.

The emotional part of my brain was disappointed with my time, thinking if I hadn’t had cramped I would of been faster, and I would of been closer to sub 3:30.

But with perspective and talking to my running buddy Stephen, I came to realise that if I had a perfect race, the satisfaction of a PR wouldn’t had been as great, as my actual Chicago experience.

As Harriet Beecher Stowe said “Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”

In this particular case, she was right my PR was on the other side of wanting to give up. And as such coming through this challenging moment, has more value than a trouble free PR.

The memories

Thanks to Guus at Sportymaps for providing this commemorative artwork celebrating the 40th edition of the Chicago Marathon personalised with my race result. I’m looking forward to completing the set of six artworks with Boston next year.

Pictured with Paula Radcliffe, one of the best marathon runners of all time.

Pictured with Julie and Stephen finishing the Chicago International 5k.

Pictured with Patrick. This guy is an incredible runner and a really humble person.

Pictured with Karin, fellow SiS ambassador and super positive part of the running community.

Pictured with Carlos. A humble guy with an incredible artistic talent, have a look at his Instagram profile to see more.

Pictured with Mike. Former US Army Ranger and now running all the six World Marathon Majors in a year. Check out his Instagram page!

Pictured with Iain. Overcame cancer and is a six World Marathon Majors finisher. And he is going for round 2 of the majors challenge! He is a knowledgable and important part of the running community.

Pictured with Albert a quick and knowledgeable runner. We connected through Instagram through a shared passion of running. It was great to be able to run with him in Chicago.

Pictured with Michael a six World Marathon Majors finisher. He is a humble guy and well known part of the running community.

Pictured with Stephen (right) and Iain (centre) a six World Marathon Majors finisher. Knowledgeable runner and very easy to talk to about running and life.

Pictured with Julie a six World Marathon Majors finisher and Stephen who is on no. 5 like myself and will earn 6 in Boston. Both are great people that have a passion for life which runs off on those around them.

It’s great to meet people through the social media like Ana, Patrick and many others not all pictured Ashley, Pau, Ricky, Jodi, Roxanne, Jess.

Thank you’s

  • Science in Sport for your nutritional support and allowing me to do a Instagram takeover pre Chicago;
  • 2XU for providing the compression kit which helped in the race recovery and for the flight socks;
  • Decathlon UK for providing kit to support my marathon training. The accessible prices offered across the range;
  • Oakley for providing the sunglasses;
  • Rymora compression socks;
  • Steigen sports for the USA singlet and Stars and Stripes socks;
  • ASICS for the kit.

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