Chicago Marathon 2015 Race Recap

Why is it so much harder to write a race recap about a run that didn’t go to plan? I think it’s easy to give excuses as to why it didn’t go right, however let me just say that it wasn’t my day.

But lets start at the beginning.
Our hotel was a 10 minute walk to the start line, so I didn’t have a horribly early start despite the 7.30am race start. I ate a bagel with peanut butter, coffee and some Nuun in out hotel lobby with hundreds of other runners before walking towards the start corrals. It was a little disorganised to get into the park, with enormous queues for the loos. With 20 minutes to spare before my corral closed, I got in line however the slow moving queue meant that I was running out of time. I made the fairly gross decision to do a wild wee along with a number of other women (and loads of men) – thank god for a running skirt!
Chicago marathon start 2015
After weaving my way to the front of corral C I found the 3.35 pace group and nervously chatted with a few other girls all going for their BQ. I fiddled around with my Garmin to switch the screen options, and crossed the start line…but my Garmin didn’t register. 5 mins of running whilst messing around with my watch before it finally started to pick up satellites.
The pace felt fast but good and I slipped in just behind the pacers. They were really helpful, shouting out the pace after each mile, and encouraging us to use the aid stations- Gatorade first, water second. The aid stations were huge and among the best organised of all those in races I’ve run. I saw my Mum and Tom at mile 2, feeling pretty good.
Chicago marathon mile 2
Chicago marathon mile 2
By mile 4 I knew this was going to be a tough day, and I made it my goal to stick with the pace group until at least mile 13.
At mile 5 I had adjusted this goal to be with the group until the 10K mark. We ran through 10K at 50.40 and in all honesty it was too fast for me on the day. I’ve run plenty of miles at 8.10 and faster in training but it felt harder than it should have done at this point in the race.
I watched the pace group run into the distance and pulled off my pace bib around the 7 mile mark- the first low point of the day. My knee was hurting but actually I just felt really sick. I choked down a gel with some water and hoped the nausea would pass. I was finding it hard to drink from the cups on the go, and ended up swallowing a whole lot of air and not a lot else.
(P.S the sunglasses are really cheap last minute glasses from Forever 21 and about the furthest you can get from ‘sports sunnies’ – I really need a decent pair!)
Chicago marathon mile 13
chicago marathon spectators
Seeing Tom and my Mum again at the halfway point was bittersweet, I stopped to speak to them, drank some water and cried a little. I’d already started to walk through each water stop, taking in as much water as I could before running again and I knew for good that my BQ goal was gone. I handed over my watch to Tom, not wanting the constant reminder of just how much my pace had slowed. We had come all this way to run Chicago and I didn’t want to ruin it completely by feeling miserable that I hadn’t reached my time goal. I wanted to try to enjoy the race as much as I could, 3.35 was over but it wasn’t the end. I hit halfway at 1.51.57 – very similar to my pace in Berlin.
The next 4 miles passed in a blur of running when I could, and walking when I needed. I knew I was seeing Tom at 17, and when I did I was walking. He gave me a huge hug and told me to ‘just go for your own run, just go for a little jog’ which I would normally hate, but needed to hear. Taking all pressure off, I just had to get to the end even if it took me all day. I forced down another gel and small bottle of water and headed off.
I finally vommed at mile 21, and thought I’d feel better.
I didn’t.
I had no idea of my pace, but just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Looking around I could see a number of other runners who were walking, along with many that were clearly also missing their time goals. I cried, I walked, I stretched, I retched.
By the time I saw my Mum after mile 23 I was done. I just wanted to stop. 3 miles isn’t far but it felt like an ultra marathon. Everything hurt, I kept getting stitches and I had very little energy left but I forced a smile to show how happy I was to see her along the course! I drank some more Nuun and had another hug.
Chicago marathon 2015 mile 23
Just 3 more miles, I couldn’t even run for the entire 3 miles. I threw up again at mile 24 behind a tree with more retching causing really sore stomach muscles. The final 2 miles were an absolute slog, walking along the road a man ran passed me and shouted – ‘just jump in and run alongside me, come on we’ll finish’. I hobbled along with him, my arms chafed, a blister forming on my foot, my knee aching and yet I was going to finish this marathon. Head down, music up, arms pumping.
And then I had to walk again through the 25 mile water station.
The final mile was lined with huge crowds and I was pleased to be so nearly done. 800m to go and we turned the corner up the final hill (the biggest of the day, how mean is that!), 400m and the finish line came into sight. I pride myself on my sprint finish but even that didn’t happen this time. I stumbled over the line in 4.10.33 actually surprised that it wasn’t 2+ hours slower.
I grabbed some water and my medal before waddling over to another bin to be sick again. A lovely medical lady came to see if I was OK and once she was sure I wasn’t going to pass out, I was allowed to go and meet Tom. I was still feeling sick, so sat down on a bench in the shade and iced my knee for a while before walking back to our hotel.
Chicago Marathon Finish line 2015
A shower confirmed that I had chafed badly in the heat, despite 3 applications of Vaseline, and I yelped in pain. Chafing is like sunburn, the full effects aren’t realised until you apply hot water. After a micro-nap the hunger suddenly hit me and I wanted fries immediately. Luckily our hotel was a short walk to Shake Shack where I, along with hundreds of other marathon runners, tucked into a burger, fries & a diet coke; honestly one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. After collecting our free marathon runners Garrett’s popcorn mix of cheese & caramel (apparently a Chicago must-do) we went to enjoy a celebratory drink on the roof at Trump towers where the two cocktails went straight to my head.
Chicago marathon finisher 2015
As I was running on Sunday I kept thinking about how much I’ve talked about running a BQ, and how embarrassing it was to have failed so completely, but the amazing messages I’ve had have completely changed my thinking on this. I’m glad I share my goals, my triumphs and my failures. All too often we only see the good things, the ‘best life’. I’ve achieved 4 marathon PBs in four consecutive races, and this terrible race puts those into perspective. I’m proud of running my fifth marathon, I’m proud of not giving up, and I am amazed at what my body can do. The fact that I can run a 4.10 marathon with so many walking breaks shows me that my running pace is near to where it should be, and the more I work on it, the easier an 8.10 pace will be.
Thank you for all your words of encouragement along the past 16 weeks, and especially those in the last 2 days, they honestly mean the world to me! I will have a redemption race someday, although right now the thought of running fills me with dread! Taking a few days off to explore Washington DC!
Also a huge, huge congratulations to my step-dad, Dave, who finished his first marathon in 4.15 looking strong! Apparently as he was running he was telling himself to keep moving to get a good time so that he didn’t ever have to run another marathon again!
dave finishing chicago marathon

65 Comments

  1. Karen McHale
    13th October 2015 / 12:51 pm

    Congratulations Charlie, it may not be an easy few days, but remember what you have achieved!! You really are an inspiration to me and many others, don’t give up and that time will come!

    • charlotte
      13th October 2015 / 12:58 pm

      Thank you so much Karen!

  2. 13th October 2015 / 12:56 pm

    Reading this brings back so many memories of my 2014 London marathon – I was after 3:30, had told everyone about this goal and I hobbled over the line in 4:19. I can honestly tell you that the bad bits will fade and you’ll learn from this race. And you’ll get the itch to try again eventually. Look after yourself this week.

    • charlotte
      13th October 2015 / 12:57 pm

      Thanks so much, I’m sorry to hear about your experience too but it does make me feel a little better that I’m not the only one!

  3. 13th October 2015 / 1:08 pm

    First, that’s still a great finishing time!! Congrats. It’s also a really tough review to write, and I give you so much credit for putting it all out there. What I loved about your story is how you adjusted so quickly knowing how you felt and knowing that Sunday just wasn’t your day. You didn’t quit though!!!! Sometimes we fight so badly that we end up crushing ourselves. While you still pushed, you knew your limits and kept pushing as hard as you could within a realistic boundary. We all have days like this, but there’s always another race to run! Congrats again on an incredible finish. Sometimes I think these kinds of runs teach us more about ourselves than a PR does.

  4. LSN
    13th October 2015 / 1:14 pm

    I think as multiple marathons runners we all probably know that at some point our race won’t go to plan. 2015 has been a write off year for me but I’m determined that 2016 will be my year! I ran Bournemouth marathon 10 days ago and it was horrid, my slowest marathon in 4 years and almost 40 mins off where I was aiming for, however with a rubbish summer of training with every long run being a really hard slog I knew it was a run to try and enjoy and to forget about the time. Congratulations on completing it, it shows how mentally strong you are and you got more race bling to be proud of !

  5. 13th October 2015 / 1:37 pm

    This was a really thoughtful post. I’m so sorry you got sick during the race. You are incredible that even with all of that you did a 4:10. Pace a side, running 26.2 miles is a huge deal! Anyway, you’re already signed up for Tokyo, so there will be a next time 🙂 Enjoy DC! I used to live there, let me know if you’d like any tips!

  6. Annie
    13th October 2015 / 1:42 pm

    I honestly teared up reading this post because it reminded me so much of my attempt at my third marathon earlier this year. First half went well, second half, nothing went as planned and it was one of the most disappointing experiences of my life. I cried like a fool in the med tent after getting picked up along the course (I tripped in a pot hole and couldn’t finish) and decided I didn’t want to think about another marathon anytime soon. I think it’s amazing that you powered through and still finished in a very respectable (I’d dream of hitting that time!) manner. You rock!

  7. Ashleigh
    13th October 2015 / 1:55 pm

    Congratulations on finishing and thanks so much for sharing your story. I know it’s really hard when you feel disappointed in your race.

    I also got a really disappointing time in Chicago and am trying to learn from the experience, but also to remember that I completed the Chicago marathon, and however long it took that’s an amazing achievement!

    My training had gone really well and I was on track for a 4:30 but everything seemed to go wrong – my Garmin freaked out downtown and recorded 3 minute then 20 minute miles, I lost the pacers at a loo stop at mile 5 which was really demoralising, really struggled in the heat of the second half and for some reason had a horrible stitch for the whole last 10 miles which meant I had to walk loads – something that’s never happened to me before.

    I was massively disappointed in myself when I finished nearly an hour later than hoped, but I think sometimes it’s just not your day. I had to have a stern word with myself around Pilsen to remind myself to look up, enjoy the view, the crowds and the atmosphere and not obsess about time.

    Our day will come! And as my amazing friends and supporters kept reminding me we still completed the Chicago marathon! The fact it was so physically and mentally tough makes that even more of an achievement to be proud of!

  8. 13th October 2015 / 1:59 pm

    I’m sorry to hear you got sick in the race, but huge congratulations for battling through to the end. Following your training has been really inspiring and I know that BQ will be yours soon enough. xx

  9. 13th October 2015 / 2:27 pm

    Huge congratulations to him on his first marathon and at a great pace. It’s too bad you two didn’t run into each other on the course! I know how you feel as I’ve been there. A marathon is such a long distance that we never know what our body will do. Enjoy the time off, enjoy the road trip and you’ll come back in Japan!!

  10. 13th October 2015 / 3:03 pm

    Marathons are so tough because it’s a freakin marathon, but you never know how the day will go with weather, health, etc. Way to keep sticking with it and finishing when you wanted to give up! I know you’ll that BQ! It took a few marathons for me to get there, to keep slowly chipping at the time with each race – but once you do…it’s an amazing feeling! Have fun in DC! I live there and if you’re looking for a running tour – feel free to email me! But you might want to just recover…I can give great suggestions of places to eat to get all those calories back! 🙂

  11. 13th October 2015 / 3:05 pm

    Well done Charlie! I found your blog a few months ago I’m currently training for 11 races over 10 months for charity. You’re blog was just what I needed for motivation and inspiration to get me through the training, so thank you for that! I think your time was brilliant and hope you’re recovering well!

  12. 13th October 2015 / 3:08 pm

    Congratulations to finishing despite all you went through. It’s horrible when a marathon doesn’t go right. I had a similar marathon fail at Bournemouth the other week. It was just supposed to be a ‘fun’ marathon as well, which was laughable by the end after having to walk the ENTIRE two miles at the end – even through the finish and finishing a good half an hour longer than I wanted to (incidentally, 4:11 – very close to yours!). I had such a painful knee it was dreadful. But these things happen. Like you, my previous four marathons have been great and I’ve absolutely loved every second, but this one was hell. I think you always need a bad race now and again to put things into perspective and make you appreciate the good ones. Chin up, on to the next one.

    • 13th October 2015 / 3:19 pm

      Sorry, I just reread that comment and it sounded awful. I didn’t mean to imply your marathon failed – I thought MY marathon failed. You still did awesome (I’ll stop digging now…).

      • charlotte
        23rd October 2015 / 5:27 pm

        Don’t worry, I took it in the good way. Thanks so much 🙂

  13. 13th October 2015 / 3:32 pm

    I think pretty much everyone has had a race like this at one point or another. I ended my day at IM Wales this year about 70 miles into the bike in the back of an ambulance. I was gutted – and to make matters worse, I had booked a hotel right on the finish line so all I could hear all night was “so-and-so, you are an Ironman”.

    I posted a picture from the med tent on the IM Wales FB group and it cheered me up that so many people came up to me the rest of the weekend to make sure that I was ok. Strangers on the internet really do care! After the 50th time explaining what had happened, the DNF started to hurt a little bit less and I was ready to sign up to get my revenge the next morning 🙂

    It’s OK to take some time off, regroup and then make your plan of attack. Talk about it, talk about what went wrong and what you can learn from this experience. You got this, even if it does take a little bit longer than you planned to get there.

    • charlotte
      23rd October 2015 / 5:26 pm

      Poor you, that sounds brutal but kudos for even getting to the start line of an IronMan!

  14. 13th October 2015 / 4:00 pm

    Ahh I’ve been following your journey to Chicago for a few months now, and felt so bad for you when I read the first paragraph of this. However, I was so impressed with you taking your watch off… that was a really brave thing to do! I love that your mind changed soon after the marathon, this always happens to me when I think I have bad race and within an hour I’m on top of the world. You’re a huge inspiration to ladies who one day hope to be as speedy as you! 🙂 Looking forward to your next adventure xx

    • charlotte
      23rd October 2015 / 5:18 pm

      Thank you so much- who knows what the next adventure will be, haven’t decided yet!!

  15. 13th October 2015 / 5:18 pm

    I like your step dad’s philosophy!! LOL! I really enjoy all of your training updates. I know it didn’t happen the way you wanted & it’s certainly okay to be disappointed but at the same time what you’ve done is something only a tiny percentage of people have ever done! I’m on the fence about training for my first marathon. I always said no way & I’d stick to Half’s but lately there’s a little voice telling me to try. I think you did awesome!!!

    • charlotte
      23rd October 2015 / 5:26 pm

      DO it 😉

  16. 13th October 2015 / 5:19 pm

    Congrats on Chicago even though it didn’t turn out how you would have liked! You still conquered those 26.2 miles like a champ!

    • charlotte
      23rd October 2015 / 5:25 pm

      Thank you, finishing a marathon is a win in my book any day of the week!

  17. 13th October 2015 / 5:26 pm

    love your perspective! congrats on marathon number 5. and hope you are enjoying my city – fall is great in dc 🙂

    • charlotte
      23rd October 2015 / 5:25 pm

      I LOVED DC, I want to move there!

  18. 13th October 2015 / 5:31 pm

    Congratulations on finishing a really tough race. I know all too well the crushing disappointment you can feel after training hard and not meeting your goal. But the reality is, you ran a marathon!! You were sick and sore and you STILL finished it, with a pretty decent time all things considered. I’m sorry it wasn’t your day, but don’t beat yourself up. There will be another marathon 🙂 I enjoyed reading about your training and your journey to get there. Thanks for being an inspiration!

  19. 13th October 2015 / 5:33 pm

    Way to push through an obviously tough race. You definitely need to be proud not only that you finished, but that time is awesome!

    • charlotte
      23rd October 2015 / 5:24 pm

      Thanks so much!

  20. 13th October 2015 / 5:37 pm

    Charlie- you did incredible. All the training, planning, blogging, working, traveling- you are one amazing lady. You did the best you could but some things are out of our control no matter how much we plan. Take a year off from marathons & then come back blazing!

  21. 13th October 2015 / 5:38 pm

    Well done Charlie, I have no doubt that you will reach that goal one day.

  22. 13th October 2015 / 5:46 pm

    I’m proud of you Charlie! I love your attitude. You finished the race and you should hold your head up high! I know how disappointing it is to talk up a race and then to have it fall apart on the day. There will be another race. Great job!!

  23. 13th October 2015 / 5:57 pm

    I am truly amazed that you achieved that time given how ill you were- you should be really proud of yourself. Marathons are horrid because you put so much into a single race that it can be heart breaking when it goes wrong. Well done for keeping a positive outlook- you know you have it in you and hopefully you’ll acheive it soon- maybe in Tokyo! Also do you think the heat had anything to do with it? I’ve done a few marathons in hot weather and none of them have gone well! It’s hard to run in conditions that are so different to what you’re used to. Anyway- well done! It’s still a fantastic achievement and you should feel so proud of yourself for completing the race in the face of such adversity!!

  24. 13th October 2015 / 6:28 pm

    Oh I’m so sorry you were so sick and the race did not go at all as planned. But you ran a marathon!!! That makes you superwoman in my book!

  25. 13th October 2015 / 6:51 pm

    Wow! Well done. Really gutting it out to the finish line is kind of the position you hope you aren’t in on race day but I’d say most marathoners experience that more often than not and you are one tough cookie!

  26. Jo Smyth
    13th October 2015 / 6:53 pm

    Well done!! So proud of you for finishing no matter what, you are incredible and an inspiration! Enjoy the rest of your time over there 🙂 xxx

  27. 13th October 2015 / 7:40 pm

    You’re some woman! What a fighter you are to just keep on going the way you did. You did battle and you won. It may not have been the battle you were expecting but you can save that for another day, because there will be another day, another race and another chance. Massive effort, well done Charlie.

    • charlotte
      23rd October 2015 / 5:24 pm

      Haha thank you!

  28. 13th October 2015 / 8:21 pm

    Washington! Any chance of you doing a reader meet up while you’re here? I’d love to congratulate in person!

    • charlotte
      23rd October 2015 / 5:23 pm

      So sorry I didn’t do a meet up, hoping to come back in June so will definitely let you know 🙂

  29. Linda Wright
    13th October 2015 / 9:35 pm

    Hi Charlie, I have being following your blogs since your week 13 training and I think you have done amazing. I am training for Paris marathon next year after finishing London my first in 4:12. Your posts are both inspiring and motivated so have a week earned break then get back to running so me and others can feel we turn to our little running community.
    A massive well done and theta still an awesome time. Enjoy your holidays!

    • charlotte
      23rd October 2015 / 5:22 pm

      Thank you and good luck with your Paris training!

  30. 14th October 2015 / 1:20 am

    I was hoping to get a BQ as well, but once I saw the forecast, I revised my goals. I didn’t get anywhere near my BQ (4:00) but I finished under 4:30 which was my B goal. As crummy as I felt during the second half of the race, I did a lot of smiling–so much to enjoy–and crossing that finish line was a win!

    • charlotte
      23rd October 2015 / 5:22 pm

      Congratulations!! Smiling is the best way to finish a marathon, you did great!

  31. 14th October 2015 / 1:51 am

    Oh Charlie, I’m so disappointed for you… but not disappointed IN you and that’s such a massive difference. I hope you’re able to also be disappointed FOR yourself but not IN yourself. One of the bad things about blogging is the laying bare of your goals and your dreams. Plans often fail but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t aim big and shouldn’t be honest and public about them. I wish you’d got that BQ because you trained so hard. You have nothing to be ashamed of – you worked your socks off and you should take pride in that. You’ll get to Boston one day!!

    • charlotte
      23rd October 2015 / 5:21 pm

      Thank you- I’m actually not as disappointed as I thought I would be. I worked hard but on the day things didn’t work out. There will be a next time though!

      • 24th October 2015 / 2:07 am

        I think the loss of your friend reminded you what’s important and what’s fun but ultimately not important. I’m so sorry about your loss.

  32. 14th October 2015 / 9:32 am

    I’m really sorry to hear that you didn’t achieve your goal and I understand how hard it was to write this as you’re confronting all your emotions again. A couple of things though that you should bear in mind, first is that you still completed the race despite everything that didn’t go your way. The second is that every runner goes through races like this, I had a bad one in London in 2012, and you will become a better runner for having gone through it. The best thing you can do is take some time out to allow yourself to recover, mentally as well as physically, and think about what you would do differently next time and begin to work on doing that when you feel ready. A good thing to try when you start back is to run naked (without your Garmin, not without clothes!), go with how you feel and learn to fall in love with running again. It’s great for the soul!

  33. 14th October 2015 / 1:33 pm

    I know how hard you worked for your time goal, so I can’t imagine how it must hurt to have had a race like this, but that unfortunately that is marathon running. Somedays are just like that, with no reason as to why, but ultimately days like this make the good days all the more satisfying. I have no doubt you will come back even stronger from this experience, and you will get your BQ. Rest up and come back stronger.

    • charlotte
      18th October 2015 / 3:13 pm

      Thanks Lauren, I think so much of marathon running is mental and I don’t think I was confident or positive enough at the start!

  34. 14th October 2015 / 6:58 pm

    Congratulations. Believe it or not that is a great race time!!!. You should be proud. Thanks for sharing your experience.
    bakingrunner.blogspot.com

    • charlotte
      18th October 2015 / 3:09 pm

      Thank you – I am still really proud of the time- a few years ago I couldn’t dream of running a 4.10 marathon but speed work has paid off!

  35. Erin
    15th October 2015 / 6:02 pm

    I’m proud of you for telling your story. During my bad race two weeks ago, I tossed my Garmin to the ground, then, after a moment of clarity, hobbled back to pick it up. You are awesome for finishing.

    • charlotte
      18th October 2015 / 3:08 pm

      Thanks Erin. Probably a good thing to go back for that Garmin!

  36. 15th October 2015 / 11:47 pm

    Thank you for writing a recap even when the race go wrong – often feels like people get PRs every time they run a race but we all know thats really not the case! You should still be very proud of yourself, well done and gold star for finishing!

    • charlotte
      18th October 2015 / 3:05 pm

      Thank you, I do think it’s really important to share the downs along with the ups! They can’t all be PRs/PBs!

  37. Chris Oddy
    16th October 2015 / 10:05 pm

    Excellent blog article Charlie. Similar to you, I had a tough run in Chicago and was way off my PB. However in a strange way, I’m glad it happened and its left me feeling more determined for next year.
    I can’t see myself finding another marathon as hard, and it’s made me want to prepare even better!
    Well done for getting round. I think Chicago will make you even stronger for the future.
    Enjoy DC & great bumping into you.

    Chris

    • charlotte
      18th October 2015 / 3:04 pm

      Thanks Chris, sorry you had a tough day too. Lovely to bump into you!!

  38. 24th October 2015 / 10:11 pm

    Sorry to hear that things didn’t go your way, and having experienced a tough marathon I can understand the emotions you will have gone through. Well done for carrying on and finishing. When I had a tough race, a very wise runner told me that regardless of our goals, sometimes when it comes down to it, just finishing the race is the biggest success. You finished when many others might not have done and you should be proud.
    Enjoy some time out to recover then, when you’re ready, start to think about your next goal.

  39. 6th March 2016 / 8:35 pm

    This is super super inspiring to me. I am sooooo terrified to register for my first marathon – mostly because I am afraid of failure. I know I can put in the work and have the dedication – but not meeting the goal I may have set for myself is scary. a 4:10 is something I can only dream of as my first half was 2:15 and my next half is in May and I am hoping for like a 2:10 or less.

    • charlotte
      7th March 2016 / 7:49 am

      Aww thank you so much! It doesn’t matter how fast you go, just that you go!! Before I ran my first marathon (in 4.54) my half marathon time was around between a 2.12-2.17!!Enjoy your Mary half and I hope you do sign up for a full!!