I begin writing this blog sitting on an airplane heading to Chicago to, all being well, add my 4th sub 3 hour marathon major to my collection. I say heading to Chicago, we are actually heading to Detroit for a connecting flight and then on to Chicago but our destination is all the same. After the positive season I have had, improving my times over all distances (with the exception of 10 mile, which I’m yet to race) this marathon, for the first time really, has no pressure on it, yet I can still feel me starting to get a little nervous with the start less than 48 hours away.
Upon arriving in Chicago, it was a case of getting to the expo as quickly as possible in order for us to pick up our race bibs for the 5k the following day. Much like New York, Chicago holds a 5k race the day before the main event and wanting to do a shake out run before the day of the race it would be rude not to enter the International Chicago 5k.
As always with these big races, no bib numbers are sent out prior to the event so a visit to the expo was a necessity. The Abbott health and fitness expo was held at McCormick Place a short 15 minute walk away from where we were staying on the south loop. Expos are always very similar with the usual bib collection kiosks followed by a number of running related stalls and the main event store. As with every major marathon I do, I prepare myself for a big spend up on running gear at overinflated prices but ultimately walk away with nothing. There was a slight buzz around the place, mainly from an air conditioning unit hoisted high above the air but all in all maybe the shear size of the venue, which was impressive as a structure, may have taken away from the expo making it look small and empty.
Chicago holds a 5k event on the Saturday prior to main event. The race started at 7.30, which to many, including us at first, seemed like a ridiculous hour to be getting up. Fortunately before 5.00 am we were all wide awake and ready to get out of bed. Dan, Emma and a I, who were all taking part, left around 6.30 and made our way to the start via a short warm walk and then a quick train ride into the heart of the city.
Runners were gathered off Adams street around what was supposed to be a flamingo sculpture. I’m not sure if it was because it was early or I was half asleep but in my opinion the sculpture looked anything but a flamingo.
We made our way to the starting area, where it was up to runners to be honest with their predicted paces and start from the correct start area. The start areas were labelled by predicted minute mile paces starting from 10 minutes down to 7 then an open space at the front for anyone faster who was racing it. We all decided to settle in behind the 7 minute sign, preventing us from getting caught up and running too quickly but also allowing us to be able to run at the same time.
Me and Dan allowed Emma to run at her own pace whilst we jogged around at a leisurely conversational pace, but making sure we fitted in a few strides to get the legs turning over along the way. The route was nice and flat but the conditions were worryingly windy and very humid which had us both sweating, even at an easier pace. The last mile followed a footpath rather than a road and was slightly congested but thankfully as we weren’t racing it wasn’t really an issue. We caught up Michael Law in the final stretch and had a little chat before fitting in a final set of strides prior to leisurely crossing the finish in a time of 22:27. Probably one of my slowest 5k’s ever, so at least I was sensible on the run but I’m not going to say I didn’t have a little look at the final results and kind of wish I could have raced it knowing that 2nd place would have been an easy possibility.
While we had a short wait for Emma we managed to seize a photo opportunity and quick chat with Paula Radcliffe. Unfortunately she was working and not running the marathon as I was hoping that she might just be out for a real leisurely trot and I might be able to pace off her! It wasn’t to be and I’m more than happy with a photo souvenir of our brief encounter. One thing I did notice was how small Paula was in person, yet another all time running legend who although a nice height for a lady was very short compared to me. A huge pet hate of mine is when people say that my height is an advantage. Paula the fastest lady of all time is 5ft 8, Eliud Kipchoge the fastest male of all time is 5ft 5 and Mo farah is 5ft 7 so I’m afraid to say every time I get that thrown at me it’s just utter nonsense! Yes I’m talking to you woman at the end of the Hatfield Forest Half Marathon, maybe I just train harder and more consistently than your partner because at the end of the day that is the biggest secret to running.
Emma crossed the line in a fantastic 28:18, nearly 2 minutes quicker than her target time. So all in all it was a good morning work for the 3 of us, Emma running so well and me and Dan having a nice social run while trying to shake off the long plane journey effects.
The post race goodies were quite good, consiting of a couple of drinks, some fruit and a cereal bar. A medal was also presented which to be honest I always feel like a bit of a fraud getting one for a distance I run further and quicker than pretty much every single day of my life but that said it’s still a nice little memento. The final item we were presented with was a scarf, oh yes a scarf! I stuffed the medal in my pocket but wore my scarf with pride for some photos before we made our way home to meet Clare all before 9.00am.
We spent the rest of the day on our feet sightseeing with plenty of walking. Not ideal preparation for a marathon but we have traveled way too far to sit in a hotel room. We enjoyed a big meal at Portillo’s hot dogs before receding to bed at the hardcore hour of around 7 o’clock.
I managed to check my phone before hitting the sack. Plenty of support messages from friends and family are always nice to read before a big race. I was also very appreciative of the amount of messages I received from runners of Springfield Striders, it really is motivating that these guys who are all quicker than me seem to want me to do well and it motivates me to try and emulate the success they have had in the sport. I had no trouble getting to sleep, thanks to the jet lag and busy day although I did lay in the bed for a few minutes thinking about the day ahead. I make no secret that my plan A is to aim for under 2 hours 40. But I’m fully aware that this may just be a bridge too far at the moment and that there is so much more I can do in training to get there. Plan B is to record a personal best and take the club marathon record back from Alistair and try and spark him out of retirement. Finally plan C is to ensure I run under 3 hours for the 4th major in a row.
Whatever happens on the day, I will be out there doing something I enjoy! Yes I will question my sanity and yes I’m sure there will be pain but I wouldn’t have it any other way!