2017 Chicago Marathon Race Recap



I did it!  I sacrificed two toe nails to qualify for the Olympic Trials Marathon for the third time in a row.  It was worth it. I don’t need those nails right now anyways.  I may have run my second slowest marathon time ever, but I’m damn proud of my ability to push through when my body was having a negative reaction in the final 10k! 

This year’s race was different than last year’s Chicago Marathon.  Last year, I wanted to prove to myself that I can overcome anything; I had an intense emotional need to run fast after my divorce.  This year wasn’t about achieving a personal best time or proving anything to myself.  After all, this year has been different on so many levels.  My work schedule is chaotic, with some stress mixed in at all decision making points, and travel required to the sprawling plains of Texas, where running isn’t a thing.  My personal happiness is at perhaps an all-time high, and priorities have shifted to being less focused on running and more focused on being balanced in, well, life.  Running is definitely still a priority, and I trained my butt off for this cycle, but I also got some injuries along the way, forcing a much shorter marathon cycle of 8 weeks.  Ironically, such a short training block is totally preferable because I never felt overly exhausted or on the brink of injury.

For that reason, I came into this race with the goal to run 6:15 pace, even though I knew I was in shape for 6:11 pace.  Ironically, I ended up running 6:15 pace right on the dot, because I had to stop to use bathroom.  But, I’ll get to that later. 

At the start of the race, Michelle Lillienthal and I agreed to run together for as long as we could.  Turns out that if I hadn’t been with her, the first half would have likely been pretty lonely.  Aside from one Canadian tagging along behind us, it was mostly just the two of us running side-by-side through the streets of downtown Chicago.  Michelle kept me in check; it’s really hard to run a marathon at a slightly slower pace than you’re in shape for.  She kept us dialed in on our target pace, usually hitting around 610-615. 

After the halfway point, I dropped the pace slightly, and unknowingly dropped Michelle as well. I hoped that maybe she would kick it up to join me, but I wouldn’t see her again until the finish line.  The next 7 miles were very erratic.  I would catch up to a person and try to run with them, but then the split would be too slow, so then I’d run with a person who had just passed me, and then the split would be too fast.  I probably wasted some energy doing this, but I just wanted to latch onto someone for some much needed motivation to get through those final miles. 

A woman with a male pacer caught back up to me by mile 20 and I tried to draft off them because they told me that their goal was to “just qualify.”  However, as much as I wanted to run with them, my stomach had other plans and began to hurt. 

Uh-oh.  Not good.  I immediately knew that I needed to find a bathroom.  I let the woman (Alyssa Schneider) go by and hoped (prayed?) for a bathroom at the next aid station.

The first aid station came and went.  No bathroom.

The second aid station came and went. No bathroom.

At this point, I’d been running 19 minutes knowing that I needed to go.  I felt completely uncomfortable and my form was falling apart as my muscles were over-compensating to prevent the worst from happening.

My options were very limited, and I’ll refrain from outlining them here on this public blog.  My paces were 620/613/620 during this time, which clearly indicate the battle I was having with my mind against my body.  At mile 23.5, a red toilet sign finally appeared.  I sprinted into the porta-john, took care of business and darted back onto the course.  This slight detour likely added less than a minute to my overall time, but I didn’t take the split, because I really didn’t want to stress out over it. 

After all, my mind and body had already been stressing hard for the last 20 minutes.   I didn’t need one more thing to overanalyze.  I just needed to focus on finishing.   

The bad news about stopping, besides losing a ton of time, was that it actually didn't help that much; my stomach still felt wonky.  I tried to push the feeling aside.

I told myself:  Just finish.  You can do this. 

I focused on the positive:  I knew I had some wiggle room to come in under 2:45, so I just willed myself to keep pushing and finish the damn race. With my abs protesting the physical exertion, I gutted out the last 13 minutes of the race.  At the 25 mile marker, my coach screamed at me, “Caitlin, you have 8 minutes to get there!”  I thought to myself, “Well then, I’ll get to the finish line in 7 minutes then, hmpf.”  And that I did.  Seven minutes later, I put on my best version of “sprinting” in the final 200m to barely break 2:44 and finished just 8 seconds ahead of Michelle. 

Michelle and I both stumbled around in the finish chute, trying to put on fresh smiles for our loved ones.  I wanted to go over and give my support crew a huge hug, but I didn’t have the energy to walk ten feet over to the fence to at least interlace fingers with theirs. 

After chugging a bottle of water and clinging to my finish line escort like he was a paramedic, I eventually did find the energy to reunite with my family.  I wanted each of them – my mom, my dad, my brother, Peter and his sister – to know how grateful I was to have them there.  Together, we enjoyed some much needed beverages in the hospitality tent.  During the event, I just felt so grateful to be a Bank of America employee; I know how much work the team puts into this race to ensure it's one of the best marathons in the world.  I'm honored to be a part of it.

I limped away from this race feeling proud.  Proud to have set a big goal and put in the work necessary to achieve it.  Impressed with my patience while I searched for a bathroom for 3+ miles.     But, most importantly, content to have run this time.  I got the job done and now my reward is to take the focus off running; I'm going to take two weeks off. I’m not hungry to run another marathon any time soon, most definitely not in 18 months or more. And, I’m not even going to think about what I’m going to do in between then and now.  Because, I deserve a little time to just enjoy this little personal victory.