On race morning, I did my usual routine: wake up extra early, drink a cup of coffee + eat my oatmeal with a banana + almond butter. I stayed in Lincoln Square and took an Uber downtown to Grant Park, where it all started. I used the bathroom about 10 times so I wouldn't have to stop during the race (every minute counts when going for time!) At 7:30 a.m., we were off — me, Albert, + his friend Marcus, who was also going for a 3:30.
The #1 mistake that runners make during the marathon? They go out too quickly. It's easy to get caught up in the excitement, the crowds + the energy on race day. It's hard not to surge ahead, you feel amazing. You're on fire. Everything is wonderful. You trained for this, it's easy! You'll be fine in 20 miles. Except... you won't at all. That said, I knew my race strategy to start at a faster pace was not a smart one. But I really wanted to see how I would do at the pace.
I wasn't worried about the first half of the race — we were aiming for a 1:47 half, a time I had run many times in the half marathon. Mile 1 was slow + congested. Around mile 3, I could hear everyone's Garmin watches buzzing as we flew through downtown Chicago. Our watches were so off + runners all around us were confused. "Is anyone else's watch acting up?" One girl asked. We all went through it. I decided not to fixate on that since it wasn't even accurate. I saw my parents at mile 4, who flew in from Pittsburgh to watch me run. It was amazing to see them and it gave me a boost!
I was keeping up with the guys OK through the early miles, using the marathon playlist I created and getting pumped by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Strokes tunes I added. I took my headphones out sometimes to focus on the crowd, but they helped when I needed to focus on the pace. I fueled at mile 6 with dates, deciding not to use gels for this race for a change. I wasn't hungry but knew I needed fuel. I continued to trail a few steps behind Albert and Marcus, who I knew where going a little faster than we had planned. I just focused on each step, knowing we were approaching the half. Grind grind grind.
We hit 13 miles in 1:45. Only a 2 minute difference, but it was too fast. I was holding on OK by this point, but knew it was only a matter of time. The sun creeped out from behind the tall buildings and it started to get hot — it was 70 by this point. Marcus pushed ahead of us after the half and Albert stuck back with me. I ate a date, but I remember spitting out half of it, not wanting to eat at all. I was slipping during mile 15, feeling my pace fall from 8:15 to 8:30. "My wheels are starting to fall off," I remember telling him. "It's OK," he said. "Just focus on what you can do right now."
I chugged on but those miles were getting slower. Up until mile 18, I thought maybe I could bounce back to the pace. But it kept dropping. 8:30 to 8:40, then 8:45, 8:50. By mile 20 I was doing 9+ minute miles, it was hot, and my legs were getting exhausted. For the first time, I stopped running to gulp down cups of water at the aid station. I ran again after a few minutes, but noticed that Albert had dropped off behind me. He had done a race the weekend before and his legs had completely given out. I was on my own now.