Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Race Report: 2018 Bank of America Chicago Marathon

In 2014, I ran my very first marathon - the Chicago Marathon.  It was quite the emotional race for me - and the start of what would become an addiction to distance races (though you can call my half fanaticism really the beginning of it all).  I wouldn't run another marathon until about 13 months later when I ran the 2015 New York City Marathon. I'd do two more before the year ended, 20 in 2016, a whopping 35 in 2017, and had already completed 23 in 2018 by the time October came along.

In November 2017, I began to talk to my friend David, who I had met at the 2014 race, was involved with Frontrunners Chicago and also was close to the Chicago marathon race director, Carey Pinkowski.  Over the course of the next several months, he was a conduit in helping to communicate my interest in singing the national anthem at the start of the Chicago Marathon, sending Carey my YouTube videos and providing all my references to prove my talents as a reputable performer of the Star Spangled Banner for the race. Ultimately, I was not selected in the lottery for an entry into the race in December, but David assured me he would be able to secure me a legal bib for the race, nonetheless.  The gig for the anthem, though, was still up in the air.  While he presented me to Carey, and he was very interested to suggest me as the singer to Bank of America, who would make the final decision, no decision was made for several months.  It became 2018, spring turned to summer, and while I continued to follow up, there was still no news. I still had no entry for the race either, and by the time September rolled around, I began to be very anxious -- the weekend was a prime race weekend for races both in the US and internationally, and I had a few on my list, but if Chicago were to happen, it would obviously take precedence.

After Labor Day, I finally got word - Bank of America decided to choose someone else to perform the anthem, but as compensation and thank you to me for my diligence and interest, Carey offered me a complimentary bib to the 2018 Chicago Marathon.  It was an incredibly kind gesture, and I took him up on it, registering for the race through the comp code they provided on September 13, and officially receiving my approved entry six days later.  It was only 18 days away, but I secured my entry to the race, my four year anniversary of my first marathon. I quickly found flights to the Windy City, arriving on Friday night and leaving Monday night (as Columbus Day was a holiday for my office), and found accommodations with cousins who lived walking distance from the startline in Grant Park.

Me and my bib, in portrait mode.
Also back in 2017, my cousin Mico decided she'd tackle a marathon, initially asking me about good "first marathon" races that were mostly flat and in the fall.  I immediately told her about Chicago, and she ended up getting in through the lottery for the 2018 edition.  When I didn't, she was obviously sad, but I kept the hopes up that I might still make my way to the startline. What we both didn't realize was it would literally be less than three weeks before the race when I would confirm I would be there!  When I got my bib assignment, I was strangely assigned Wave 1 Corral D, a pace for a marathon completion time much faster than I would be capable - by well over an hour - while Mico was in the last corral, Corral L, in the third wave, not a surprise for this was her first marathon, and Corral L would be the largest of all the corrals, holding most first time marathoners. I told her I would be helping to pace her for the entirety of the race, and would start the race with her in her corral.  I'd make sure she would run this race smartly, and to help her progress further as we reached that finish line... together.

Forecast since the week before called for rain during pretty much the entirety of the weekend, and varied between percentage chance of showers and thunderstorms.  Obviously the latter would not be welcomed - any semblance of lightning could end up canceling races altogether.  I was to leave on an evening flight to Chicago after work, but ended up changing to a flight leaving some three hours earlier.  It was a smart move, as the flight I was originally on ended up getting diverted to Detroit due to thunderstorms that rolled into the area. I arrived to a foggy Chicago, rolling up to my cousin Mark and his girlfriend Hanna's beautiful condo in the South Loop, overlooking downtown, Soldier Field, and Lake Michigan.

We got to bed somewhat early, as we all planned to run the International Chicago 5K the following morning, but ended up waking up to lightning and thunder.  We were actually going to casually run it with my other cousin Dennis and his wife Ants, but they ended up contacting us race morning that they wouldn't be able to come in, partly due to a late night of the work the night before and partly due to weather. There was no word from any race officials about the start of the race until barely a half hour before, even as many folks questioned whether the race would go on on social media.  When we realized they were still planning on holding it, just with a delayed start, we ultimately decided  to stay home and continue sleeping instead, waking up a couple hours later and casually getting breakfast at The Spoke & Bird just down the block.  Afterward, I headed into the expo at McCormick Place, where I would ultimately spend four hours wandering the place (matching the amount of time I spent at the same expo four years earlier with my cousin Kaye!) running into many friends from all over the world who were coming to race Chicago!

Mico made it to the expo!
Mico got into Chicago from Newark after 12pm, and met up with me at the expo, as we went around and took lots of photos and took in all of the awesome sights and sounds to help keep her excited for her first marathon.  We stopped by my cousin's place so I could throw together my clothes for the night, as I agreed to stay with Mico at her hotel the night before to accompany her to the startline. We took a Lyft to her hotel, the Residence Inn by Marriott Chicago Downtown/Loop, conveniently located only a few blocks away from the park on LaSalle Street, and actually right alongside the marathon route, for her to officially check into her room, before we headed up to Lakeview to meet up with my friends who kindly added the two of us to their reservation for eight at Mia Francesca, an Italian restaurant, for a proper pre-marathon carb load.  There, I introduced Mico to my friends Brian (from Nashville), Jim (from Atlanta), Johannes (from Zurich, Switzerland), and George (from Glasgow, Scotland), and met Brian's friends Jonathan and Daniel (also from Nashville) as enjoyed the company of fellow runners getting ready to run the next morning's marathon. After dinner, we retired back to the Residence Inn, ready to get a good night's sleep before the big day. My friend Hollie stopped by to drop off an INKnBURN shirt she had ordered for me, and to offer me and Mico entrance wristbands for the Ronald McDonald House tent at the finish line.
Mico and the boys, pre-race dinner!
My race kit, all laid out and ready to go for the morning!
Breakfast of champions.
The two of us woke up at about 7am ready to go - Mico having woke up a bit earlier, feeling obviously nervous for her first 26.2 mile race - but both of us feeling nervous about how the weather would be for the day.  With our start not beginning until 8:35, we casually made our way downstairs to grab a quick bite to eat at the complimentary breakfast buffet, then headed out toward Grant Park.  Just outside the park, we met up with Mico's friend Aileen, also attempting her first marathon that morning.  With Mico and Aileen, we headed through our assigned gate and into Grant Park, eventually finding my friend Elaine.  The sidewalks were crowded as all of the runners trickled into Grant Park, individually making our way through tight security.

The startline!
We stopped into an area with long lines for portapotties while some of the corrals in our wave beginning to close. As we waited, we began to feel raindrops; when Mico and Aileen were ready, we made our way into corral L, as the crowds began to swell around us for our race start. I tried to locate my cousin Kaye, running her fifth Chicago Marathon (finishing today would make her a legacy runner and allowing her guaranteed entry in future years) as well as my college friend Drew, running his first ever marathon - but no luck, there were far too many people in the crowds.  We found my friend Ken, pacing 4:55 alongside Marie, and decided to start with them.  By then, the rain was starting to come down a bit steadier.  I gave my last pep talk and provided race-specific suggestions to my two marathon newcomers - namely, considering the rain, running on the carpets that are provided over the six open-grate bridges that pass over the Chicago River.  The crowds moved forward, and at approximately 8:49, we crossed the start line, embarking on a 26.2 mile journey through the streets of the Windy City!

Lower level streets
We made our way northward along Columbus Drive, a nice and steady clip, somewhere around 10-10:30 pace, eventually heading through the tunnels on the lower level of streets that define downtown Chicago, and a sight I was very familiar with having begun all of my distance races in the Windy City in the same way.  Almost immediately, my watch began to not enjoy the concrete and difficulty in paring down a proper signal, so my GPS was off practically by the get-go. 

The iconic Chicago Theatre
Mico and I started off by running the first 19 minutes of the race straight before taking a walk break, which took us nearly to mile two as we turned left onto Grand Avenue, then down State Street.  I shot a few photos, including one of the famed marquee of the Chicago Theatre, with perfect timing to hit the first aid station of the race right around our scheduled walk break.  After looping down along Jackson Boulevard, we headed back north along LaSalle Street and past our hotel, for the long route northward to neighborhoods due north of the downtown area.

Our pace stayed fairly consistent, staying between a 10:15 and 10:45 pace as we continued on, and as the rain continued to fall.  The 5K split was just over 33 minutes, a 10:39 pace.  We passed by my friend Monte, running his incredible 601st marathon that day, along LaSalle Street as we went from River North into the Old Town neighborhood, eventually making a right turn at the 8K mark into Lincoln Park, running along Stockton Drive, Fullerton Avenue, and Cannon Drive. Along the way, we ran into my friend, former Chicagoan and fellow Black Sheeper Hyalker, We hit the 10K mark at 1:06:38, only 26 seconds slower our split from the 5K mark, showing our strong consistency in our pace!

Corgi spotting!
Now that the first hour had passed, I decided to shorten our interval ever so slightly to a 14 minute run, 1 minute walk. Still, our pace stayed consistent as we continued northward along Sheridan Road through the neighborhood of Lakeview East.  Right near Belmont Avenue, I encountered a woman with a corgi, which I obviously had to stop for! We continued on alongside Inner Lake Shore Drive opposite Belmont Harbor, running along one of the windiest parts of the race, as we were exposed to the elements with no buildings to the east. Eventually we reached the northernmost point of the race, turning left onto Sheridan, as we then began our southward journey down Broadway, and the mile 8 mark of the race.

Heading up Belmont Ave
It was along Broadway after 8 mile mark that the rain finally let up, and it stayed dry, though humid for the remainder of the race. Just before the 9 mile mark, we reached the Frontrunners Chicago aid station in the heart of Boys Town! Each year, the club dresses to a certain theme as runners pass through one of the most remembered aid stations of the entire course, embracing the LGBT community who both make this place home and a center of life and commerce.  Four years ago, the theme was the Miss America Pageant; this year, it was Superheroes!  It was a thrill to pass by the stages on both sides of the street featuring Frontrunners Chicago members decked out in superhero drag!  We passed the 15K timing mat shortly thereafter at 1:39:33, clocking in our fastest 5K split yet, coming in 32:56 since the last timing mat at the 10K mark.

We spotted the Philippine flag!
Old Town Chicago
We continued on through Boys Town and Lakeview, as we progressed down Clark Street, and into Lincoln Park.  The course continued down Sedgwick Street and Wells Street, as we returned to River North and the tall buildings of the downtown coming near.  We slowed down a bit over the last few miles as we broke into the second hour of our race, shortening our pace once again, now to 9 minutes on and 1 minute off.  We reached the 20k mark a bit slower than the last several splits, and hit the halfway mark in officially 2:21:18, which Mico was comfortable with - not too fast, not too slow. This gave us some wiggle room in still managing a sub-5 hour marathon, but now the hard work began.

Finding De Moe in the West Loop!
We passed through the West Loop, now heading down Franklin Street, before turning right onto Monroe Street.  Just before turning left onto Jefferson Street, my friend Anna was there cheering, but I didn't hear her until we made another turn onto Adams Street and she found me again yelling out my name. Around the same time, Mico and I came across my friend De Moe, in his unmistakeable kilt, but decked out in all pink. We stopped for a quick selfie before continuing on, running down Adams Street westward as we passed through the Charity Mile, past tents housing the charities that many of my fellow runners raised thousands of dollars of money for.  We continued past mile 15, and at Damen Avenue near the United Center, we turned left, to run one block down to Jackson Boulevard.  Just as we were turning onto Damen, I hear a bunch of folks calling my name - and I spot my cousin Jose and his wife Malu and kids JJ and Ian. They were all out cheering for Jose and Malu's eldest child, Inna, who was running her first marathon that day! The 25K mat was on the block where we turned onto Damen, clocking a split of 2:50:54.
Champagne stop along the Charity Mile
Heading east on Jackson Blvd
Mico and I continued down Jackson Boulevard, passing miles 16 and 17, with the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) completely shrouded in clouds in the distance, before turning right onto Halsted Street, as we ran alongside a stretch of course next to University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). We turned right then on Taylor Street, as we passed by Chicago's Little Italy and University Village in the Near West Side. After turning left onto Loomis Street, we hit the 30K mark in 3:26:34, consistent with a 35 minute 5K, and just a hair faster than the last 5K split. We continued on with a manageable pace, doing the 9 minute/1 minute intervals with the water stations interspersed for shorter stops right up until we reached the 19 mile point. We then turned left once again, now heading into the lively neighborhood of Pilsen, where Latin music wofted through the atmosphere, giving us a little beat to groove to as we ran down 18th Street, as we slowed our intervals down to 4 minutes/1 minute, to give Mico's tired legs a bit more rest. We turned right on Halsted once again passing the 20 mile mark, then made a quick pitstop at some port-a-potties at the intersection with Canalport Ave, where we'd make a sharp u-turn at Cermak, past an artists' loft building that used to be home to the Chicago Macaroni Company, pumping out 82 varieties of pasta at the turn of the 20th century, as much as 150,000 pounds of pasta a day! The plant closed in 1968, and now houses the Lacuna Artist Lofts, which rents event space and work space for artists and other creative endeavors.

Passing through Pilsen
The Cermak Road Bridge
We made the turn onto left turn onto Cermak, and continued along the course as it made its way toward the imposing looking Cermak Road Bridge going over the Chicago River with a very slight uphill, the last real "hill" to encounter before the well known 26 mile mark hill on Roosevelt Road just before the finish. I kept on pushing us toward making our intervals, and Mico was doing quite well, considering we were now past the distance of her longest run in preparation of this race.  As we made our way through Chinatown (where was the dragon?!), we realized that Mico was now in "uncharted territory," and despite this, she was still feeling pretty good with the way the intervals gave her legs time to stave off the pain.  We turned right onto Wentworth Avenue, for a long straightaway section that took us southward and right alongside the Dan Ryan Expressway. Here, we encountered my friend Jim, struggling in the final miles of the race with leg cramps.  We also passed the 35K timing mat, clocking in at 4:06:00 (and our slowest 5K split) with 7k to go. We continued on south, as the course veered left on 33rd Street and into the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology, and just before turning once again on State, Mico had her first real test of fortitude, as her calves began to cramp, with only 5K left to go.
Continuing on through Chinatown, and well past Mico's longest run to date...

Only 1.2 miles to go! We can hit 5 hrs!
We stopped to massage the cramp away for a short period of time, then continued along the course on State Street, knowing the course ran only another 1/3 of a mile south to 35th Street, before turning left once more to run another 2/10 of a mile.  When we made the stop, I noted that my watch indicated we had been on course for 4 hours and 20 minutes, giving us roughly forty minutes to finish the last 5K to get us under 5 hours; easily doable if we kept on at this interval and this pace.  Surprised by that revelation, Mico at first wasn't so sure about needing to finish under a certain time - she was more concerned about finishing without injuries; but with only three miles to go, something kind of clicked - she felt ok, and pushing felt fine, maybe she could finish before the cramping came back (haha) - that "5 is doable." We began our last northward progression along Indiana Avenue, as we set our sights on the straight shot northward to the finish line back in Grant Park.  Ken passed us with his 4:55 pace group, which I knew was going to happen somewhere in these last three miles, but at least that way, Mico had visible proof that we were still within striking distance of that potential time goal. The course veered leftward one block back onto Michigan Avenue near 31st Street, and the 24 mile mark appeared, where my cousin Mark's girlfriend Hanna had told us she'd be to cheer us on.  Hers was a good face to see as we came upon the last two miles of the race!

Finishers! Mico is relieved. LOL...
The last two miles were a bit of a blur, but we crossed the 40K mark in 4:44:14, averaging a 12:19 mile for the last 5K, a slight improvement from the previous 5K split.  We were still some 1.36 miles from the finish, and with just over 15 minutes of time left before the 5:00 mark, we would be VERY close. The crowds thickened as we came up Michigan Avenue and inched our way closer and closer to Grant Park, then before long, we were at the turn onto Roosevelt Road, and the dreaded "Mount Roosevelt," the only real significant incline in the entire race.  Though it was tough, we climbed that sucker with as much gusto as we could in our legs as we passed the countdown banners indicating we had 800 and 400 meters left in the race... though the 5:00 hour clicked by, we made the turn onto Columbus Drive, and found ourselves crossing the finish line in 5:00:57.  Mico, thrilled that we were done, was now a marathoner!

A wet Victory Headstand!
Exhausted, we trudged through the finish line chute, grabbing photos with our well deserved medals, then exited out to find the Ronald McDonald House Tent, where hot food and a place to sit were waiting for us. Mico's friend Nathan, who was in town from Miami and also attending the conference in town later that week, came by to greet us and celebrate with us immediately following the race.  After Mico and I refilled our empty stomachs with food, we then headed back to the hotel to take much needed showers, then retired downstairs to the hotel bar to have a drink with Nathan. We then headed up to Boys Town to celebrate with fellow runners at Side Track Video Bar, one of my favorite places to relax and have drinks in the city - with delicious frozen alcoholic beverages! The three of us then got dinner at nearby New American spot, Wood.  Tired from a long day, Mico and I both began to grow lethargic after dinner, and we retired back downtown, as our Lyft stopped Nathan at his hotel before dropping Mico and I back at the Residence Inn, as the skies opened up to a heavy downpour.  We crashed bigtime that night, and slept well!
College friend Drew the next morning!
Monday was a holiday for me, and my flight wasn't until later in the day, so I made plans to grab brunch at Bongo Room in the South Loop with my college friend Drew, also now a first time marathon finisher (I never found him or my cousin Kaye on the course!) We had a fun time reminiscing about our college days and what we thought of the race, before heading downtown to get our medals engraved at the Nike Store! After dropping off my medal, I had plans to eat once again, this time with another college friend Mark, an attorney now living in Chicago who is also friends with my cousin Chrissy through an Filipino lawyers network.  We headed to a dimsum place not far from the Nike Store, where we also got a chance to reminisce about college life and catch up on our lives since the early 2000s!  After getting my medal and returning to my cousin's apartment to grab my suitcase, I headed out to O'Hare Airport for the trip home later that night.  Another Chicago Marathon done, another vivid memory made!

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