Race Recap: Chicago Marathon 2013

What a weekend! Chicago Marathon 2013 ended up being all I had hoped for and more.

If you’re looking for a great fall race in a big city with a fast course and awesome spectators, Chicago is the one for you. Just make sure that you sign up ASAP when the registrations open up in February. This year, I was lucky enough to be able to sign myself up and my bestie Becky in the midst of the technical glitches that the registration provider experienced. Due to those technical glitches, the remaining thousands of entries became lottery-based for fairness.

Let’s start off this race recap from the very beginning.

I arrived for my 10am Southwest flight on Friday with my carryon luggage and Nuun Hydration. Time to hydrate and rest up before the weekend ahead. FYI – this was the first time I had ever done carryon-only and it worked out well. Before you travel, pack the absolute essentials and scope out where you’re staying to see if there’s a Walgreen’s, Target, etc. so you can buy any necessary liquids then.
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Traffic from Midway (MDW) airport to the Magnificent Mile area on Friday night was atrocious. It took 70 minutes in what I hear would normally be a 20-30 minute ride. The Yellow Cab driver was driving like the Fast & the Furious movie. Had no idea if I would even make it to the marathon!

Alas, we made it to the condo that we were renting which was smack dab in the middle on Michigan Ave along the Magnificent Mile. Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus were steps away.

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Friday night, a big group of Chi Marathon Oiselle team birds met up at Gino’s East for a deep dish pizza party. Half of the gals were from the PNW (Sarah, Rebecca, Becky, and I) so meeting my other six teammates for the first time was a blast. I love how Oiselle and this team brings so many runners from different geographies, running backgrounds, abilities, etc. together. One big run family.

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Needless to say, I was very excited to try my first slice of deep dish pizza legit Chicago-style. It did not disappoint.

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During the get-together, Kristine had organized an ice breaker that involved matching up interesting facts to the person. One of Becky’s was that she had never carved a pumpkin in her life. Kristine brought Becky a mini pumpkin that already had the little pin hole outlines made! So sweet. And, yes, this was the first-ever pumpkin carved in the historic Gino’s.

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Team picture:

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Team Sarah ready to dominate:

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Becky and I:

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After pizza, Becky and I wandered around in search of the famous Garrett’s Popcorn. Came across this fabulous sight in the middle of the Magnificent Mile.

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We made it to Garrett’s but alas we were too late! By an hour. Yelp had it wrong.

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Loved this sign at the Niketown.

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Bright and early the next morning (Saturday), Becky and I headed over to the Fleet Feet Sports location in the South Loop, met our friend Clarissa and her bf Sam, for a fun 3-mile shake out run with the legendary Bart Yasso! The run was sponsored by Runner’s World, Hoka One One, and Fleet Feet Sports.

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Here’s Clarissa, Becky, and I before the run.

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The entire group of runners that showed up to shake out before Chicago Marathon. So fun! I’m in the front row center. Bart is the yellow dot behind me.

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What a gorgeous day!

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We ran along the waterfront which showed off the magnificent skyline.

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Sun rising:

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Here I am trailing Bart:

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The 1.5 miles out went by so quickly. Here we are on the way back the way we came.

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Hi, Bart! If you don’t already follow him on Twitter: @bartyasso

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Clarissa and Becky speeding along with huge smiles. :)

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We had the pleasure of running into our teammate from Tennessee, Ashley Evans! What a sweetheart AND a super legit fast girl! She ran the Chicago Marathon as a debut in 2:48! Yes, 2 hours and 48 minutes. Whoa. So impressive.

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After the run, we enjoyed hearing Bart speak about his running adventures. My question to him was what he liked to eat after a marathon. He recounted a story about a race that served ice cream along the course. It was so good, he ran back for more.

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After all this early morning fun, it was time for us to head to the expo. Rather than cab, we decided to walk the 2 miles to the expo which was held at the McCormick Place. In hindsight, I really shouldn’t have been walking so much the day before a marathon. 3-mile run and then a 2-mile walk to expo plus more afterwards.

On our way, we walked up the “hill” and passed the mile 26 marker. I’d heard about the “hill.” It’s really not a hill but for such a flat course like Chicago, having any sort of elevation change right at the tailend of a race is brutal.

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As I passed the mile 26 marker, I turned to my left and saw the final stretch down to the finish line. This was great! I knew exactly what to expect.

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Once we finally got to the expo, what I experienced was likely the most well-organized expo I have ever attended. Check-in was in the form of presenting ID and either the paper or mobile format of the participant confirmation that they sent out a couple weeks earlier. They quickly scanned the QR code, located my information, had me verify, and told me a table number to pick up my bib.

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I was in and out of that area within a couple of minutes.

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The expo was filled with so many awesome vendors and things like the below: an #OWNCHICAGO wall to sign.

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There were also lines to get our pictures taken with a cool personalized screen. Just scan the bib and it recognizes your first name. How cool is that?

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While at the expo, I got to meet the ultramarathon running badass and author, Scott Jurek.

My question to Scott was how he mentally pushed through the mid-way point of the race. He said that all runners including himself suffer from the exhaustion and the leg pain during the race. His advice was:

With 50+ miles to go, you just have to forget about the pain in the legs. Instead, try to think about the breathing, running mechanics, stride, etc. to keep pushing through. Also, if possible, playing music at the midway point will help.

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Finally, after the expo, Becky and I took a free shuttle from the expo center over to the Magnificent Mile. This was super convenient. Note for future Chicago Marathon runners: there are free shuttles to certain neighborhoods, but be prepared for long lines if you want to ride mid-day.

We hadn’t eaten all morning, so we stopped by the Corner Bakery for some brunch food. Afterwards, we hit up Garrett’s Popcorn (finally!) for their amazing Chicago Mix (cheddar popcorn and caramel popcorn), and obtained sweet potatoes from Trader Joe’s.

Saturday afternoon for me was spent laying on the floor, Tiger Tailin’, eating popcorn, hydrating, and watching my Oregon Ducks beat my husband’s Washington Huskies! By the way, Garrett’s Popcorn? It’s SO good. Everyone raved about it to me and I’m so glad that I tried it. And they do online orders…… trouble.

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In comparing both The Stick (I forgot to bring mine to Chicago) and Tiger Tail, I have to say that Tiger Tail wins. I enjoyed how firm the foam was, enabling me to really dig into the right areas of the muscles and relieve the soreness and stiffness. The Stick, in contrast, is good but I don’t get as good of a muscle massage.

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Laid out my bib with the Chicago Marathon shirt. I really like this race shirt! Might be my favorite one.

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For dinner, we headed over to La Madia for our pre-race carboload dinner. Of course, on our way walking there, we totally went well past where we were supposed to turn and walked across the river. Yet another example of all the extra walking that Becky and I probably didn’t need to do before the marathon.

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For dinner, I had an amazing gnocchi dish that contained sausage and spinach in a light broth. So good!

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Before I went to bed, I laid out every single thing that I’d need to bring with me or wear on race day. It’s the planner in me. I absolutely hate going to bed before a race wondering about the myriad of essential race things that I could miss.

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Bright and early the next morning (4:45am or so), I woke up to eat my pre-race meal of 1.5 sweet potato and half of a banana. My appetite was not so great, so I had to force myself to eat as quick as possible.

I took my pre-race shower — it’s definitely something that sounds weird. Shower before running 26.2 miles? Crazy. But, for me, it helps to wake me up and feel refreshed.

Becky and I left the condo at around 5:55am, walked a couple of blocks to “the L” subway station, hopped on the Red line for a few stops, and got off at the Jackson stop.

We proceeded to walk a couple of blocks to a Starbucks and stood in line for the bathroom. Hey. This was a great decision. Super warm and we didn’t intend on being in our corral area till after 6:30am.

Clarissa met us at the Starbucks and we walked through the Gate 1 which allowed access to corrals A-D. Security was heightened due to the Boston Marathon bombings, but we didn’t have to wait very long to get through the lines.

No idea why, but I decided to wait in the porta potty line. Didn’t I just go to the Starbucks bathroom? The line wasn’t moving much, so I decided midway to just skip it and head into Corral C. I wished Cla and Becky good luck and made my way to C.

By then, C was packed. Corrals closed 10 minutes before the start time — for us, race start time was 7:30am. I found the 3:45 pacer and was elated to start with them. It was my first time ever running with a pace group and I was so glad! Secretly, in my mind, my goal was to run somewhere between 3:40-3:45.
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My plan was to start off with the pacer for at least the first few miles and re-evaluate how my body felt as the miles ticked by. I had a Salted Caramel Gu (my favorite, Yeti would approve!) about 15 minutes before the start. As soon as we crossed the start line, I fought the urge to sprint ahead. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I ran with the pace group for the first 6 or so miles (I lost count) and felt great — so great, in fact, that I decided to deviate from the pace group and start running at the pace that felt comfortably hard. My first 5K of the race clocked in at a 25:40 (8:16 min/mi), 10K was a 51:36 — the additional 5K held steady at an 8:21 min/mi.

I began pulling ahead and the next three 5K increment groups were pleasantly speedier with 8:06, 8:09, 8:04 min/mi. By midway point, I was at a 1:47:33 which was less than 2 minutes off of my half marathon PR time. Um, what? At this point, I felt great and I was flying through the different neighborhoods of Chicago. I loved all the sights and sounds and all the spectators gave such an energy boost. Sadly, I have very poor memory when it comes to recalling specific neighborhoods, so definitely refer to the race map for more guidance.

During the course of the race, I had a Saltstick tablet every 30 minutes no matter what. I was determined to keep my sodium levels up and to prevent cramping at all costs. I had a Gu every 60 minutes and ended up having 4 total — one pre-race and one at miles 6, 12, and 18. I made sure to take small sips out of my handheld water bottle filled with Nuun Cherry Limeade. This worked out well for the majority of the race.

I was on such a roll. I had never felt so good during a race before. At some point after the half marathon mark, I surpassed the 3:40 marathon pace group and it set in that I could potentially achieve a 3:3x marathon. I kept it up pretty well and went at my pace with every 5K clocking in around 25 minutes. Each mile that I hit, I was excited to be increasing the deficit to my 3:45 target. 3 minutes under goal, 4 minutes under goal, and so forth. I was stoked.

By mile 20, though, I definitely started to feel the fatigue set in. Despite the constant hydration, fueling, and salt tablets, I got a slight cramp in my left calf. I managed to shake it off and continue. At the next water stop, I desperately needed some clean water to quench my thirst. Since the hydration stations spanned two city blocks, my strategy was to run past the bottleneck of runners at the front to the very end. This is where my strategy ended, though. Mentally, I needed to just stand there and sip my water. Don’t ask me why I chose to stand at the water station, but I did.

So began a routine the remainder of the race to target each water station, stand, and drink water. I didn’t feel like running or even jogging with water cup in hand. Instead, I chose to stand and drink. Dump out the remainder of the water and continue on. For each water station, I’d glance down at my Garmin and check the start time of the lull till the end and each water station stop accounted for around 20 seconds. Yeah. Hm, not desirable but necessary at the moment.

At around mile 22, my stomach started to feel funky and so, despite all desires NOT to, I had to make a quick pitstop at a porta potty. This was my first-ever porta potty stop at any race of any kind. I just needed to go. TMI. It was just a quick pee – in my daze, I forgot to lock the porta potty door and a guy opened up the door and I shrieked!! Haha, standing there with my shorts down. That definitely woke me up and I trotted away and ran back onto the course. That taught me a lesson. Lock the door. Always. Luckily, the porta potty stop did help make me feel a little better.

The mile 22 of the race was straight through the gates of Chinatown and this was my favorite neighborhood of the race. It’s not only because I’m Chinese. The culture, the sounds, everything was great. I had read that there might be Chinese food odors that are undesirable during a marathon but I was pleasantly surprised that I couldn’t detect it.

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The race photographer snapped my favorite race picture ever. Don’t I look too happy to be at mile 22 of the marathon?

The remaining four miles of the race were a blur. As I had hydration issues, I started having worse calf cramp problems. There was a point round mile 24 that I had such a bad left calf cramp that I had to immediately divert to the side of the course and stretch out along the sidewalk. Popped another Saltstick and off I went.

As soon as I was at mile 25.5 or so, I could see the city down the remaining stretch. Tons of people cheering, so much energy, I was so ready to be finished! We had walked past the mile 26 marker and the finish line the other day, so I kept thinking about how it was so close. SO close.

Unfortunately, there was the “hill” at the end of the marathon right around mile 25.8 or so. In reality, it was not much of a hill, but for such a flat course, it was the biggest hill ever. At mile 26 (literally to the right of the mile marker), I had THE worst cramp in my left calf of the whole marathon, maybe ever. It felt like the size of a softball. I immediately stopped, as horrible as it sounds, 0.2 miles away from the finish that I couldn’t yet see. The officer standing next to me asked if I was okay — “Yes, yes! I’m okay, I just have a huge calf cramp. I am so close!” I stood there massaging my left cramp, got up, jogged a couple more steps, and was sidelined immediately again. Two medical people asked if I was okay. At that point, I was not okay. The finish line was so close. It was unacceptable for me to be cramping up wondering if I could finish.

As more people passed me, I mustered up all the energy that I had and began running back towards the finish line. Once I saw the finish, I ran as hard as I could. Crossing the finish line was so sweet.

I had achieved my goal race! Finish time: 3:45:08. 14.5 minute PR. Booyah!

Here are my race results by 5K splits:

Chicago Marathon Results

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Chicago Marathon was my favorite course yet out of the three fulls that I have run. The course was flat, volunteers were amazing, spectators and cheerleaders made for the most energetic marathon. For a Marathon Major race of 45,000+ runners and 1.7 million spectators, I was so pleased with how everything turned out.

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The only thing that I would change is the proximity of the post-race celebration/finishers area to the finish line. After the race, runners had to walk 0.8 miles to the finish celebration. That is way too much walking. I even saw one guy puke all over the place. Immediately called a volunteer medic over to assist him. In my post-race daze, I somehow missed all of the refreshments and food boxes that they handed out. I did get to enjoy some yummy Gatorade chocolate protein shake, though.

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Got to the finisher area and proceeded to get a quick massage by one of the hundreds of massage students from a nearby center. It was alright. I wish that she had applied more pressure.

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Found both Clarissa and Becky after the race and got our pictures taken. All of us achieved big PRs in Chicago. Becky had a 17 minutes PR! What amazing women.

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I didn’t really care for the beer that they had available for finishers. I took one sip and was done. Becky and I stretched out for a bit and made our way back to the subway station (another walk away). For post-race, I had a Jimmy John’s sandwich and chips. Needed that.

For anyone interested, here’s my 3:45 pace tattoo. Loved this and really recommend using a pace tattoo or band. Since the satellite signal for my Garmin watch was way off for most of the first part of the race, I leveraged the total elapsed accumulated time and compared against the target total time by mile in order to keep on pace.

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After finally getting ready, Becky and I headed off to the #BirdsandBros post-race party at the Old Town Social sponsored by Granato Racing and Oiselle. It was a full-on marathon-loving bird party.

I finally got to meet my elite Oiselle teammate Melissa Gacek who ran a 2:51 full marathon. Whoa. Plus she designs the awesome jewelry that you can find here on Oiselle’s website. :)

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Here’s new mama bird Laura Hugo with her baby Landon. Even with a new baby, she was able to train hard and Boston Qualified with her first full running a 3:26. Hot dang!

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Here’s Mac with Landon. Mac totally rocked the marathon finishing in 2:47. I seriously am in such awe. My teammates seriously inspire me. Badass.

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Birds represent!

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It was also such a pleasure to meet new friends whom I had only met through social media. So great to meet these ladies! Jenny, Chanthana, and Corey are awesome. Come move to Seattle. :)

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What’s going on here?

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Becky brought up a great point. Doesn’t Tim Ragones, Granato Racing runner, look like the Photogenic Runner? The resemblance is uncanny. Tweet him and let him know if you think so!

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Thank you to the Granato Racing crew for organizing this party. It was great speaking to Kevin Granato about potential race coaching. If you’re in the market for a coach, check him out for coaching opportunities!

After the party, Becky and I went back to the condo and freshened up quickly. Unfortunately, my stomach was feeling worse and worse.

We went to the James Beard Award-winning, Top Chef-winning restaurant Girl & the Goat. This is at the top of best restaurants in Chicago and reservations for dinner are hard to come by. Fortunately, I made this reservation three months ago so we were all set. I was SO giddy to try this restaurant.

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Right off the bat, the ambience was great. Even their napkins were cute.

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Since my stomach wasn’t feeling well at all, I decided to go the non-alcoholic drink route. They made me a concoction called the Happy Juice. Stephanie, winner of Top Chef season four and co-owner of the restaurant, informed me of the contents of said Happy Juice. It was seriously SO delicious!

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We (Becky, Clarissa, her boyfriend Sam, and I) proceeded to order nine different dishes to share. Every single dish was phenomenal! I only wish that my stomach wasn’t feeling so funky. Halfway through, I started having only small nibbles.

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I highly recommend Girl & the Goat if you are ever in Chicago. Just make sure to make the reservation well ahead of time. Tip: use OpenTable to book the reservation.

The next day, Monday, my flight was set to be 2:30 but kept getting delayed. Therefore, I was free to go with Becky to eat deep dish pizza with our high school friend Kevin!

We went to Lou Manalti’s and ordered the Chicago Classic. This did NOT disappoint! Definitely the deep dish Chicago-style pizza that I desired. Better than Gino’s, in my opinion. My upset tummy had gotten better by then, so I had two huge slices.

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Thanks for the pizza hangout, Kevin!

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I said goodbye to Becky and Kevin and Uber’d back to Midway Airport. This was definitely more pleasant than the Yellow Cab ride I endured getting into the city.

At the airport, since I didn’t get to enjoy my favorite post-race treat of ice cream, I had to have the Ben & Jerry’s. Cherry Garcia is where it’s at.

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All in all, Chicago Marathon was a wonderful weekend! Can’t wait to visit Chicago again one day.

Big shoutout to all my friends close and afar who ran Chicago as well. :) So many amazing PRs, pushing through the physical and mental barriers, being badasses! You know who you are!

28 thoughts on “Race Recap: Chicago Marathon 2013

      • I’m kinda dreading the completely flat course at MCM, which just so happens also has a big hill at the end. I’m a fan of rolling hills — it breaks up the monotony and decreases the chances of repetitive strain/injury.

        Have you thought about upping your salt tab intake? I know there are some guidelines on the bottle, but I was listening to a podcast lately (Trail Runner Nation), and one of the hosts said he doubled the amount that was recommended during his ultras and it helped him tremendously. Maybe you could test it out on long runs next training cycle?

      • Yeah, that’s actually a great point! The bottle did say no more than 8 or 10 per day, so I took in about 7 or so — one every 30 minutes. I should definitely try upping the intake during long runs.

        I have to admit that I broke one of the cardinal rules of racing — no trying new things on race day. I figured that the salt tabs with electrolytes could only benefit, not hinder, me.

        It’d be interesting to test whether further increased sodium would have prevented those calf cramp episodes.

  1. Love the recap! Congrats again on your huge PR; I’m so glad I was able to see you out there on the course and hang out at the party afterward. I also love the shots of Landon :-) Wee Bird in the house!

  2. Wow, congratulations on your amazing marathon Sarah! You trained so hard and you really earned that PR. I’d really love to run Chicago one day. I was originally thinking next year, but with Ironman Boulder in August I think an October marathon may be pushing it. The course sounds beautiful and the spectator support also sounds amazing.

    I wonder what is causing your calf cramping? I can’t imagine how frustrating that would have been to have been so close to the finish but with such a big knot in your calf!

    • Thanks so much, Leana! I would highly recommend running Chicago one day. Just make sure to sign up the moment registration opens some time in February.

      Agreed, running a full so soon after Ironman Boulder would be pushing it.

      I came prepared this time to prevent the calf cramping. No idea why! I felt like I took in enough fluids and plenty of sodium. I’ll definitely try upping the sodium during future training runs and see if that helps. Though, I never once got cramping during even my 20-milers. It was definitely frustrating and painful to have that big knot so close to the finish. But, finished! :)

  3. LOVE this post! Congrats on your PR, that’s so awesome! I am so jelly of all the amazing food you got to eat! I have always wanted a tried and true slice of Chicago deep dish! Girl & the Goat didn’t look too shabby either =)

    • Thanks, Dana! Go to Chicago for the deep dish pizza at Lou Manalti’s. Sooooo good. I wish I could have another slice right now. Girl & the Goat was fabulous! A must-try in Chicago. Wish I had had enough time to eat more. Haha :) Wanted to also try the famous Portillo’s Chicago-style hot dogs.

  4. LOVED reading this…brought back all my Chicago marathon memories. It really is the best race (minus the LONG walk to the finisher area!). Bummer that you cramped up so much at the end but HEY you still pulled off an awesome PR. I seriously see a BQ in your future ;)

    • Chicago Marathon was really the best race I’ve experienced yet. Yes, minus that extremely long walk to the finisher area. I couldn’t believe it!

      I’m contemplating running the Vancouver Marathon in early May. :)

  5. Wow, what a performance. Very well done Sarah and for the superb race reports (as usual) including all the build ups. I seem to remember you did a recentish play list (I have only started using headphones on my runs recently and am liking your choice of songs so i chose some of the same and they have really helped with my running. However I need more, do you have the link again please? many thanks, Anil.

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