By Karen Bevan
From my first marathon in Cork 2014, I pretty much knew that I was hooked! Not because it was a good marathon, but because it was so very bad & hurt so much, I knew I could only do better the next time. So, with a lot of support from club mates & friends (you know who you are) I set about improving my marathon.
Some people love the speed and all out pain of a 5k or sprinting flat out on the track but for me it’s the marathon, that will always win out as my favourite race. I enjoy the training that it takes to get ready for the start line, the long runs, the long tempos and the friendships built along the way. In a strange way, I also like the unpredictability of the race itself. The first win is getting to the start line in good enough shape to reach your goal. The second win is getting to the finish line, knowing that there is a point that it’s going to hurt, but making the decision to keep on going. The third win is hopefully achieving your target!
I had to think about where and when did this all begin. That’s the strange thing about Eagle AC club nights out; you think you are heading out to catch up with club-mates, maybe celebrate after a race. However, over the course of the night the conversation turns to goals, someone plants a seed/target, someone else agrees it’s a good idea, and then before you know it you’re training for a marathon (hopefully this is not just me!)
That’s where it started, Ruairi Egan (as the above unnamed person who agreed to the crazy target) and I set about setting a ‘good base’ back in February. Ruairi had his sights set on Dublin, while my plan was to head to Chicago along with Derek Costello. We teased out a marathon program, with the help of some of the ‘pro’ runners in our club and got stuck into that training plan in early June. We had a great summer of training alongside many other Eagles, who I won’t name for fear of leaving people out, then suddenly it was taper time and time to put all the training to the test. Very disappointingly Derek got an injury and despite his ‘never give up’ attitude he was unable to travel to Chicago this year.
So, on my 8th Marathon I landed on the start line in Chicago, on October 13th, 2019. This was not only my first visit to Chicago but my first trip to America and travelling with me on this trip was my husband Danny & daughter Lily. I have to say I was a bit blown away by the scale of the place – huge buildings line the never-ending lake Michigan, with about 23 miles of running/ cycling paths along the shoreline. It is a magnificent and very beautiful city.
The two days leading up to race were very cold but race day itself was about 9 degrees, a bright & sunny autumn morning, perfect in my book. Yes, there was wind, I’m pretty sure there will always be wind in Chicago.
The Marathon itself is a monstrous undertaking. 45 000 runners line up to run, and I must say the organisation of such a large-scale event was amazing. It’s an early start, filling into ‘Millennium Park’ between 5:30 and 6am, on a cold & dark morning. On entering the park, it’s a bit like airport security, only sealed liquids allowed & any opened bottles must be discarded, bags checked and anything not clearly visible is dumped. It was freezing cold, despite several layers of clothes, but the stewards & participants alike are all so helpful and happy that you can’t help but feel excited. We were all directed to our various starting corrals and at 7:38 am our wave D was underway.
The best thing about the start of the Chicago marathon is the width of the road. There is plenty of space, once out of the corral I was on race pace from the very start. The worst thing about starting Chicago Marathon is the watch. Surrounded by tall buildings and running underneath the city through ‘Whacker Drive’, your watch has no idea what is going on. Despite promising you that it has GPS, when it starts beeping sub 5-minute miles you know that there is something up!
There’s no chance of getting thirsty in the Chicago marathon! There is a water/ Gatorade station every 1-2 miles with stewards lining the streets holding out cups for you. These are no ordinary stewards, they must be the most enthusiastic stewards in the world, they never stop telling you that ‘you got this’ or ‘you’re doing great’ and after a while you kind of start to believe them!
The support overall was amazing, I cannot remember any point of the race without crowds of people cheering you on, holding signs, telling you to ‘hustle’, or telling you that you are a crazy and wonderful human being!
Before I knew it, I was at the half- way point. This is where with the help of my watch, a pace band and some maths, I realized that at 1:34, I had gone out a bit too fast! After a decision not to panic, I ran on and convinced myself I was feeling good. This is where I spotted my chief supporters and after a boost with my ‘Go Mommy’ shout, I was back in action.
I carried on and felt pretty good up to mile 21. That’s when the end of marathon fatigue was setting in, so I distracted myself with important decisions like whether or not to have a gel, what would I order at the cheesecake factory when I finished or just taking my time through the water-stations, again soaking up some of the volunteers enthusiasm, and mile by mile made it through.
The last mile of Chicago throws a lot at you, there is the ‘Bio-freeze’ tent, which promises to take all your pain away if you just stop in for 20 seconds, followed by a truck serving beer, but I resisted both and carried on. Finally, there is the hill, well it’s more of an overpass/ bridge, on an average day this would not be a problem but at mile 26 with 400 meters to go, it’s tough. I have a vivid memory of one lovely man standing at the top of the hill shouting ‘this is it, the last turn!’. He was not lying, once we turned the corner there it was, downhill with the wind behind to the lovely finish line, made all the lovelier when there is a PB on the clock, 3:12:29.
Once across the finish line there are rows of volunteers again ready to help whoever needs it. They give you your medal, wrap you in a foil blanket, give you post race protein bars & fruit and a beer! Then you shuffle on to the ‘runners reunite area’ where you see the very welcome faces of your family & best supporters ever.
I would highly recommend the Chicago Marathon; it was a great experience. The course is good for runners and spectators, as there are long out and back sections where the supporters may only have to walk across a block or two to see you a second time. The city is amazing and the support along the way is like nothing I have ever experience before. If ever you get the chance, I’d suggest you make the trip!