Race Report: Chicago Marathon

The Big Picture

I would have to say that the Chicago Marathon was the perfect race. Perfect running weather? Check. Perfect spectators? Check. Perfect running buddy? Check. Perfect course support and aid stations? Check. Every mile. Perfect logistics pre- and post-race? Check. Perfect course? Check. Flat and fast. Perfect tribute to Boston? Check.  I find it hard to complain about anything about the race. It was extremely well-organized and you can tell that the race committee considered every last detail. I loved every aching second of it!!

  • Race: 2013 Bank of America Chicago Marathon
  • Distance: 26.2 miles
  • Date: Sunday, October 13th, 2013
  • Wake up call: 5:00am
  • Start line: Grant Park in Chicago, IL
  • # of Participants: 45,000
  • Weather: 48 degrees and sunny at the start, warmed up to about 65 degrees at the finish
  • Finish time: 4:30:00
  • Course: A very flat, city course, with an estimated 1.2 million spectators!
  • Spectators: They were amazing! Almost the entire course was lined with people with cowbells, funny/inspiring signs, and cheering with all of their might for EVERYONE, not just their friends or family.
  • Highlight: Running the entire way with my older brother
  • Lowlight: Mile 16 when my hip started hurting and realizing I still had more than 10 miles to go! Took a lot of mental and physical strength to re-focus and continue running.

Detailed Weekend Report

The best part about flying to Chicago is the fact that Virgin America has pretty decent fares, and they fly out of Terminal 2 in SFO. This is a BIG DEAL! Terminal 2 is full of delicious, organic, and vegan food; it’s amazing! I arrived early for a quick manicure and my favorite Plant Burger and green juice from the Plant Cafe. Best way to start a cross-country flight ever!

I arrived in Chicago on Thursday evening just in time to grab dinner at my favorite restaurant, Native Foods, near my brother’s apartment in Wicker Park. We had a delicious meal of healthy plant-based foods and hot tea. I got the Sesame Kale Macro Bowl (they made my tempeh look like a sailboat) and we split the Butternut Polenta Bites. Delicious and the perfect way to start a weekend full of healthy plant foods and lots of running! I was energized and felt great!

Native Foods dinner

Friday started with a lovely coffee from Lovely Bake Shop with my brother’s roommate. Great coffee and very cute interior. My brother (Michael) had also made me a giant green smoothie full of fruit, veggies, flax seeds, and hemp protein. I was full for hours! Later in the day we went to the race expo which was so much fun! We first picked up our bibs and t-shirts then marveled at the various exhibits. We had free samples of coconut water, superfood bites, and snap pea snacks. We took lots of pictures. And we met Scott Jurek!! Scott Jurek is a famous ultra marathon runner who runs on plants. He wrote a book recently called “Eat and Run” which I absolutely loved.  We chatted about my brother’s Brooks shoes, his latest trip to San Francisco, and then he signed our bibs with a message… “dig deep”. Believe it or not, I thought about that message quite a bit during miles 16-26 of the marathon. I thought: “if Scott can run 165 miles in 24 hours, surely I can make it 26.2!” After the expo we spent about 2 hours in the car to drive 5 miles (barely an exaggeration). Note to self: never ever drive in Chicago under any circumstance. And we ended the night with a delicious carb-friendly dinner at Tocco. I had gnocchi with tomato sauce (no cheese) and lots of fluffy bread.

Meeting Scott Jurek at the expo

It’s finally Saturday, the day before the race, and I still don’t have those race jitters. Typically I get pretty nervous before races, but I was feeling calm, confident and excited for the next day. I just had to make sure to eat well and stay hydrated. We started the day with a coffee-in-a-bowl from my brother’s pour over coffee maker. Delicious! And we met my parents downtown for a quick tour of Michael’s office which was pretty neat. Then we headed to the East Bank Club for a quick 10 minute jog around the track and about 30 minutes of foam rolling, stretching, and core work. It felt great to get all of the kinks out of my system and feel ready and relaxed for the race. After our short workout we had lunch (veggie burger on a gluten-free bun, and a plain baked sweet potato with lots of water) which was largest meal I would have all day; exactly on my plan. After lunch we did a fun driving tour of Chicago and did a little bike shopping for fun.

Then the horror started. And by horror I mean Michigan football. Good grief. The game was going OK until Gibbons missed the 33 yard field goal in 3OT. We ended up losing the game to Penn State 43-40 in 4OT. So embarrassing. We should have won!!  But I was still planning on wearing my Michigan t-shirt for the race… with pride. And I’m glad I did. I still got an insane amount of Go Blue’s along the way. While the Michigan game was on we were streaming the Ironman World Championships and I was tracking my triathlon coach and friend who were competing in the race. Truly inspiring to see the professionals with their flawless form, their effortless-looking gait, but knowing they are fighting and digging to cross that finish line. It really made me excited to begin my own Ironman journey.  After the horrific Michigan game we watched the Tigers win (yay!!) and headed to bed for an early wake-up call.

I never sleep well the night before a race, ever. No matter how little coffee I drink, or how confident I feel, or how prepared I am, I toss and turn like a mad woman. This race was no different. I guess I slept OK for a few hours then I woke up at 2:45am wide-eyed and ready to get the day going! I tried to shut down my brain and my mind but I just kept tossing. So when my alarm went off at 5am I was ready to roll. I had a small cup of coffee, a banana, 2 pieces of gluten free bread, and a 1/2 pack of Justin’s almond butter. This gave me plenty of time to let my food digest before the starting gun went off 2.5 hours later. After a few photos my brother and I walked down to the starting village to stretch, warm up, admire the sunrise over the lake, use the restroom (plenty of porta-potties, yay!), and hydrate. We saw my friend Jenna and all got excited together. The race was about to begin!!

Pre-race at 6am!

7:40am and we finally crossed the Starting line. Woohoo!! I kept telling myself: “pace yourself. Find an easy, comfortable pace, and don’t go out too fast”. It’s really hard to go slow at the start of a race because you feel so darn good and energized! But I maintained a pretty even pace and felt strong and happy. I had headphones in but I didn’t need them. The course was lined with a million (literally) spectators with signs, costumes, cow bells, beer(!), you name it! So it made it a little difficult to zone out, but I loved the energy of the crowds. Michael and I ran together and stuck together. We talked to each other and checked in “how do you feel?” “how’s the pace?” “re-focus. You got this!”. And that was super helpful. We really encouraged each other to push and fight through the aches.

By mile 16 the crowds died down a bit and my hip flexors were starting to hurt like crazy. So for the first time I used my headphones to listen to a Rich Roll podcast episode. For longer runs I don’t typically like the pump-up, high-intensity music. I much prefer the deeper content from a podcast to let my brain sink into the words and the topic. Especially when the topic is something that I’m passionate about — plant-based nutrition! By mile 23 I was in quite a bit of pain but Michael and I just kept running (albeit at a slower pace) and that’s when I knew I was going to be able to finish. I knew that I only had a 5K left, which is a distance I’ve done a thousand times. So I just had to push through! By the time we turned the final corner and could see the finish line I was all smiles, and a little teary-eyed. It was an emotional time and I was so elated to cross that finish line next to my brother. Very special indeed, and something we will remember forever.

Finished!! Beer time!

We grabbed a banana, and a 312 beer and hobbled to the finish party to meet our parents. They were there with signs, hugs, and the camera. We hobbled back downtown and had a perfect meal at Native Foods (yes, again!). I couldn’t believe they were open on a Sunday! Most of the downtown restaurants were closed since it’s such a business district. I was a little nauseous so kept it simple with a raw salad and a hot cup of coffee. I figured I could indulge a little later when I felt better. Sitting and standing were proving very difficult 🙂 After a wonderful meal I got a quick 15 minute massage at fitness center at the hotel and then said goodbye to our parents.

For dinner, Michael and I had heard that Matt Frazier, the creator of No Meat Athlete, was going to be at a vegan restaurant called the Chicago Diner signing books as part of his nationwide book tour.  We definitely wanted the chance to meet him and also pick up a copy of his book. Matt could not have been nicer! He’s such a relatable and down-to-earth guy and we enjoyed chatting with him. He started the blog as a way to document his experience going vegetarian, and now he is an ultramarathon vegan with a book, downloadable roadmaps for aspiring athletes, and thousands of followers. Chicago Diner is definitely where we celebrated our marathon. I had avocado tostadas and a vegan milkshake! It was sooo good and such a nice treat after such a long morning of running.

Meeting Matt Frazier, the No Meat Athlete

On Monday I could barely move I was so sore! But walking around and a little massage stick helped a lot. We only had a few hours before my flight so we drove down to Montrose Harbor for a  wonderful view of the city and the lake. And then had literally the best sandwich I think I’ve ever had. It was the tempeh sandwich from Upton’s which had tempeh, spinach, vegan pesto, all on a tomato ciabatta roll. OMG. Get there immediately. It was the perfect way to wrap up an epic weekend full of healthy plant-food, vegan celebrities and lots of running!

Stairs are the hardest!

On my flight home I saw Jenna who had crushed her first marathon (so proud!) And random strangers came up to me and congratulated me on the race, which was unexpected and pretty neat. Next year I think we’ll do either Chicago again or maybe Detroit. We’ll see!

Thanks everyone. Swim. Bike. Run. Eat Plants.

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