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4hrs Pacing the Chicago Marathon

On the 13th October 2019 I took part in the Chicago Marathon, and as always this is my review of the experience. I was the sub 4 pacer, and this was my second time pacing Chicago Marathon after pacing 3:55 in 2018 (take a look at last years wet run HERE).

This was my 51st official marathon and 60th for the 100 marathon club. It was also the 80th event I have been an official pacer, 24th for a marathon. I started the weekend with the Chicago 5k, and wrote a separate review HERE.

Last year I came for a family holiday to Chicago, and we all had a fantastic time. With our trip to New York at the end of the month we could not afford to do both, so decided I would do a short trip alone. I flew out Friday afternoon, with a return trip on Sunday evening. I was hosted by the wonderful Julian Gordan, we lives in Lake Bluff, and I’m very grateful for him looking after me.

On the Saturday I took part in the Chicago 5k and it was one hell of a cold event. Fortunately it warmed up slightly, so marathon race day was not as cold. After the 5k, I made my way to the expo early, after a lovely breakfast at Yolk. I had a 12:00 shift at the expo, but I knew Gary Dixon was talking on the main stage, so I wanted to show a friendly face, and offer support.

Gary was on the stage with some really knowledgeable people, and he was a pleasure to listen to. After listening to his talk I had to leave for my slot at the expo, talking as a Nike Pacer, to lots of marathon runners.

I then met Suman and we made our way to Julian’s in Lake Bluff for a pasta meal. It wasn’t a long sleep because we had to leave at 04:30 to make it to the start line on time. I didn’t have much sleep anyway owing to the time difference, so was awake for most of the night, so it didn’t really matter to me. In the morning we had an hour drive, and needed to be at the Pacers tent before 06:00.

I said it last year, but the organisation of the Pacers for Chicago Marathon is slick. We have a nice place to rest and leave our things, with snacks and the organiser, Paul, gives such a motivational speech which is inspiring.

There are a lot of Pacers for Chicago, and after our group photo we go to the start line in waves. I was in F which was in wave 2, so we left at 07:15 to get in our corral in time for an 08:00 start. We made our way to the back of the corral, and it soon filled up ready for the sub 4 #funbus.

Although it was cold, it was relatively mild compared to Saturday morning. As we made our way to the start more and more people joined us. We had a group of 4 pacers, and I was joined by Matt, Charles and Melissa. I gave a talk to everyone at the start as I always do to explain race strategy, and what was great was Matt (who is a coach in Chicago) chipped in with his own tips, an between us we covered it all.

At 08:00 we started to make our way forward, and within 5 minutes we crossed the start, we were off, we had started Chicago Marathon. Chicago is an amazing place to run. To put things in perspective, the roads at London just do not compare, it makes London feel small in comparison. The roads are wider than Berlin, and although it is very busy, it does not have the same congested feel that you have in Berlin (take a look at my review from Berlin marathon 2019 HERE). Unfortunately the roads were full of potholes.

A key bit of advice for anyone running Chicago marathon is to ignore your watch for the first 5 miles. This is what the Pacers are for. I don’t know if it’s the tall buildings or something else, but the GPS goes wild. So my desired pace for a sub 4 marathon is 9:09 per mile. I know from experience that I need to be hitting around 9 – 9:05. On my current watch (Garmin 945) at the first mile marker it recorded 0.90, it also had me running an 11 minute mile. My older watch, on my other wrist (Garmin 235) recorded 2 miles at the 1 mile marker, it also had a 6 minute mile. Clearly both were very wrong, but we ran through mile 1 after 9 minutes, mile 2 in 09:02 and mile 3 in 09:05, keeping the pace nice and steady, despite having no GPS.

We had a fantastic time as such a close group of runners, and after about 5 miles the GPS starts working again. But I wasn’t questioned once about the pace. There were 4 pacers, but I mostly ran with Matt and between the two of us there was no need for anyone to ask us any questions. We bounced off each other so well, and every mile we were letting people know how we were getting on.

We kept on track from start to finish, and despite some slight delays and poor GPS response, we maintained pace between bang on time, and 30 seconds ahead of schedule. There was no point throughout the course we were not on target. We lost Melissa at around 15 miles, and Charles dropped behind us fo much of the race, catching us up towards the final miles. This would have helped spread our group out, and im so pleased with how we all worked together.

We were crowded with runners aiming for sub 4, and the group was so engaged. Often the group starts off enthusiastic but this soon fades. In Chicago the enthusiasm stayed and this just encouraged me more. I enjoyed shouting out to the spectators “let’s hear some noise for the sub 4 runners” and it got a great response every time.

Matt was a superstar and it was a pleasure to run with him. He is local so he had a few points with spectators waiting to give us a cheer. Chicago is the only marathon I’ve ran so far that can rival Lodon Marathon for support. The roads aren’t as deep with runners, so there certainly feels like London has more spectator support, but this comes close. There were supporters pretty much the whole route, and the city and suburbs embrace the event, coming out to show support.

There were some great sections and even better signs. I dont know where it was, but there is one neighbourhood which is clearly like a Soho equivalent. There were transvestite’s on stage cheering, and as we passed one said “come get some water, don’t worry, I don’t think you’re a little butch because you want water”. Then there is Chinatown, and so many more sections that wee just so full of support and culture, it was fantastic.

Towards the end Charles joined Matt and I, and we brought everyone home with the final few miles. The atmosphere in the last couple of miles is amazing, and the crowds were out on force. We were on target, but it’s nice to have courses that countdown from 1 mile, which makes it easier to measure pace on the final stages.

I’m so happy to have finished in an Official time of 3:59:42, but most of all to deliver with consistent splits. We had a good group with us, many of who that stayed with us from start to finish. There were others we were able to get to pick up the pace towards the end and join us for sub 4.

At the finish we made our way to the Pacer Tent for some food. On the way there I picked up a couple of cans of Goose Island.

I then went to the bio freeze after party and had another 4 pints of Goose Island, and soaked up the atmosphere. After a lovely day, I ended it with same friendly faces. It was great to catch up with the guys, before heading to the airport.


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Paul Addicott
Paul Addicott
Pacer – 72 and counting. Motivator. Running blog award winner. Iron Man.

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