by Jason Jacobs
First of all, the Chicago Marathon has great energy and city scenery. I came into the race having run the Erie marathon four weeks earlier, the first time I had run two marathons in the same training season. I also had not fully recovered from a lingering shin injury that caused me to pull out of the Toronto Marathon in May at 27K, and my last two years of running have been plagued with injuries. My race strategy was to start out a little slower than MP, then keep MP for the remainder of the race and push at the end. I also had a mantra based on principles of my training that I repeated in my head every KM.
I started out slightly stronger than anticipated at 4:40, still slower than my 4:30 target MP. I looked to enjoy the course, the city and the experience as I eased my heart and legs into the higher pace. I moved into my 4:30 pace at 10K and stuck to it, give or take a few seconds. I tried to follow the marathon line, but the roads were slick with rain and many runners tried to run the same line, so there was a lot of crowding. I likely zigzagged more than I wanted as I tried to figure out how I was going to run the course. I didn’t fully realize (although I had been forewarned) how much time is lost in Chicago by not properly running the course tangents.
At 15KM I felt fatigued. I felt my left quad was tightening like it did in training so I tried to loosen my body and focus on positive language. Surprisingly after a few more KMs it loosened up without losing pace. I was amazed and re-inspired in my race. I refocused on the energy of the race, other runners and my strategy from 20K to past 25K. I was eyeballing two other runners who were clearly running my target pace for a quick assessment of whether I was slipping at all. I felt strong to 30K but my pace had fallen to 4:35. I could feel the insole of my brand-new Nike Vaporflys bunching in my shoe so I stopped to correct it, thinking it was my sock. I kept running with the feeling something foreign lay between my foot and insole. I started repeating my internal mantra more often. My body was very tired but nothing was feeling like a pain I should have been more concerned about.
At 36K, I saw a runner ahead of me jerk from what was clearly a cramp in his leg. He pulled to the side defeated. I ran past him but then turned around to stop and give him salt tabs. I ran a half Ironman where a woman on the run course did the same for me. I knew it likely cost me my PB, but I had no regrets, not then and not now. I was feeling so grateful for how well this race was going, how well I had stuck to plan, and how well the plan was working. At 39K a high energy 3:15 pace bunny and an army of followers surged past me pushing me to the side of the course. I felt disheartened because I had intentionally started ahead of them thinking I would never see them again until after the finish line. It also meant that I would definitely not beat my PB of 3:13:45. I doubled down my effort and tried as hard as I could to keep up with them. In the final km, I attacked the hill I knew was coming, turned the corner and finished as strong as I could.
I felt I left nothing on the course (that I didn’t choose to leave), not my strategy, not a smarter effort, and not an extra ounce of energy. In the end, I ran 3:15:15, my third fastest marathon and 90 seconds short of my PB. I also know that I ran 600m longer than I could have by not following the course tangents more closely (there are a lot of turns), and gave away time to help a fellow runner and check my shoes. Those things cost me at least 4 minutes and an easy PB. I have no regrets, though. I walk away with the confidence that I’ve bounced back from two years of injury and have a PB (possibly several) in my future.