Alright, so my jaw just dropped when I realized that this race recap is two weeks late…BUT, better late than never??
The Last Chance BQ.2 Marathon-Chicagoland was September 12. And it was AWESOME. It’s not a cheap race, especially when I saw the lack of real food afterwards, but it will get you to BQ!
It’s an interesting premise. A race that is solely set on getting you to Boston. You actually have to submit a qualifying time to get IN the race. In other words, Boston has got to be more than just a bucket list to “one day” cross off. You had to be within 10 minutes of your qualifying time at marathon from 2014 or 2015, a half marathon at your qualifying pace in 2014 or 2015, or a marathon at qualifying time in 2013. This is only the second year of the race, but last year 60% of the field BQ’ed and last year’s reviews online were glowing.
The registration process was easy via their website and communication was good.
Geneva isn’t super-close to me for a quick roundtrip drive, but I decided I didn’t want to mess around with race day packet pick-up so I got it done in just under 1.5 hours. Packet pick-up was at Geneva Running Outfitters, and the race director was actually there helping with packet pick-up. There was only one person in front of me, a guy from Georgia, and the director was super-nice and personable. There was a long-sleeve, gender-specific tech shirt in the Boston colors, a water bottle, and a chapstick, all in a bright yellow drawstring bag.
I hemmed and hawed about what to eat for dinner the night before. I went with a white pizza and picked some of the cheese off. I had been drinking alot of water that week and eating pretty mildly, so I figured I’d be ok.
Here’s my race outfit, although I ended up changing out my shorts. I was also torn about wearing the old Kinvara’s, but the new ones still felt stiffer than I wanted and I was afraid of it rubbing on the run.
Race morning was a bit rough. I got to bed fine, but a 4:30 am wake up is no fun. I had treated myself to a piece of Momentum jewelry. I wrestled with which motivational statement to get. “Make it happen” seemed like a good one. I made a mapping error and was a bit rushed getting to the parking lot. Good thing I left early enough! We parked in a business lot across the street from where the race was starting. It actually helped me get a little shakeout/warmup in, running towards the start/race village. The sun was barely coming up.
Things were pretty quiet at the start. I made sure to get my bottles in my “elite” table. One of the coolest features of this race was that every runner had an elite-style set up. They had 10 tables that were taped off with runners’ numbers. You were given two numbers that matched your bib to tape to your bottles. Since you were doing 8 loops, you had 8 shots at your own hydration (although there was water and gatorade at two places on the course also). You’d grab the bottle off the table and a bit of the way down the course, they had a “drop zone,” a target you threw your bottle at. They would then get your bottles back to the table before you came back around. It was the perfect amount of time to grab and drink.
The weather was absolutely perfect. Well, it was misting a tiny bit when I left the house, but it cleared up before I got to the start. It was in the 50s for most of the race. There was a little bit of wind later in the race, but barely noticeable for most of it.
As we got ready to line up, I had a small moment of panic because I couldn’t find the pacers. My plan was to stick with the pacer for the 3:37 group. They purposely had pacers 3 minutes under each of the qualifying times. Perfect. I realized, though, the pacers were wearing bibs with their times on their backs and not carrying the sticks you usually see.
Patty and Jen were trying to see me at the start, but they were late. Probably because they were doing selfies….
I’ll be honest. I didn’t have a clear plan of attack for the race. I was thinking I’d try to stick with the pace group as long as possible, but I wasn’t sure how the pacing would go. I’d never run with a pace group, and this one was supposedly 40-50 deep. I wasn’t super-close to the pacer (it wast just one guy, Tom?, who we’d swap out for another guy, Scott?, halfway through), but I made sure I could alway see him. I’m really glad I decided to stick with the pacing group because by the second lap, I’d already lost count of the laps. Ha. It was actually a relief to mentally let go of keeping aware of the pace and just get pulled along by the group.
The first lap was good. I felt a little nervous but also strong. Little did I know that these fools were getting ready to cheer me on each of the laps. I had made threats about not coming to see me possibly fail, but thankfully they didn’t listen. Seeing them all their different signs, and hearing Swati on her crazy megaphone, made me look forward to each lap. It was seriously amazing.
This sign made me laugh out loud. I yelled, “Classy, ladies” as I ran by. This next shot is one from the official race photos. These ding-dongs were doing some laps to get their training miles in (well, not Jenny, she’s just crazy), and were mistaken for runners in the race.
I had been nervous going into the race that the 8 loops of the same route would make me crazy. It actually helped me pace myself better. I knew different landmarks along the route and knew how to break down each loop. The fact that each loop was just over three miles helped make the marathon much more manageable and “bite-sized” without being overly micro-managing in feel. There were some route features that were annoying though. We ran over some weird construction bits and over a ramp that was a tiny bit slick the first couple loops. There were two bridges also that were picturesque, but one bridge was super-bouncy as we ran over it. Every time, I kept thinking of “shake shake bridge” from a Dora the Explorer episode. I kept envisioning myself bouncing on the bridge and then flying into the air.
The mix of running by some houses, woods, and under a bridge all helped keep the landscape from being monotonous. And even the tiny shifts in elevation helped keep me focused on what I was doing and not drifting off too much. I cannot believe how strong I felt almost the entire run. There was no point where I began to doubt the existence of God like I do at almost every marathon. My pace was solid and I was following the pacer well. There was a tiny bit of chit-chat with some other runners, but most of us ran in cheerful, mostly quiet camaraderie. People wore earphones but alot of people elected to keep one out. Since the course was on a trail and they couldn’t completely close the course, we had to keep our wits about us to watch and listen for cyclists, walkers, and other runners. As we got further along in mileage, we also started getting passed by some of the speedsters.
Patty actually joined me for part of the loop, but it was still early enough that our group was a bit crowded. She could also tell that I was doing ok and didn’t need anyone encouraging or scolding me. A cyclist almost clipped her with a side mirror, though!
The aid stations were helpful for grabbing water in between the sips from our “elite” bottles, particularly as it was placed about halfway through the loop. I grabbed Gu from the table a couple of times, although I couldn’t manage the chocolate one. I kept grabbing the fruity ones, which was annoying.
My GI was pretty happy most of the race as well. There was a moment where I thought it was going to try and give me trouble, but it settled down. I really feel like the diet from the week before helped alot. I always eat without abandon, and I’m beginning to think that strategy wasn’t working for me…
One point that made me cuss up a storm was losing a hair band. I had decided to wear braided pig tails. It had briefly crossed my mind that it was possible I would lose a hairband, but I thought that sounded paranoid and ridiculous. Well, exactly halfway through the race, I felt a sudden loosening of one braid and the wind rippling through my long hair. I quickly snagged it before the braid completely came out and got it tied up with the other hair band and prayed that one wouldn’t go. I did decide that I could use my headband to tie it all together in the worst case scenario. Thankfully, I didn’t have to do it. Jen and Jenny ran in the last loop with me (psst, I love those ding-dongs). At first I thought I was going to have to chase them off, but they ended up being really helpful. By the last loop, the pace group had broken up mostly. What had been a tight pack before was a loose glob of people. I could feel myself starting to lose the gravitational pull of the group to keep up. Having those two along kept me moving. They cracked jokes, scoped out the half-naked speedsters, and kept my mind off how tired I was. As we crossed the last bridge, about a quarter mile out, the pacer told us to kick it in if we had a kick. I did. And in retrospect, it makes me wonder if I could have pushed a little harder earlier on or overall because it was a big kick…but you can never tell. Even when Jen and Jenny kept telling me that I totally had it, I wasn’t ready to believe them until I actually saw the finish line. Anything can happen those last 3 miles of a marathon.
But I kicked it in and gave it everything I got. I almost wept in joy and exhaustion. Then I slapped myself and got myself together…just kidding.
The post-race was a blur of hugs, congratulations, and sheer joy. They did have Mylar heat sheets for us, although I was rather warm by then. I was so moved by the friends that came out, and even my husband bringing the cranky ankle-biters. Thankfully the cheer crew brought food, because there wasn’t much in the way of post-race food. They had m&m’s, generic cookies, and chocolate milk. I drank the chocolate milk and the kids fought for the m&m’s.
There were QR codes on our bibs so we could scan them ourselves to get the unofficial times. 3:36:16. Of course, I berated myself for not pushing 16 second harder and getting under 3:36. Ha.
When I got home, I treated myself to an awesome (NOT!) ice-bath. I debated skipping it, but I had a work event that night. YUP. After a marathon. Yes, a work event that required formal wear and heels. I chose to wear my medal as appropriate formal wear accoutrement. Finally, because the girls hadn’t tortured me enough, Swati took it upon herself to TP my house that night. As someone who didn’t grow up in the US, she missed out on the great joys of trashing someone else’s house as a way to “celebrate” something they’ve done. I know, I don’t get it either. She was actually quite considerate in the way she TP’ed. It was draped for easy removal. Mr. UnRunner may have scoffed at how “inadequate” he thought it was.
All in all, it was a great race and a great experience. Multiple people said they were planning on running this race next fall if they wanted to qualify. Between the pacing, cheering, and general well-run aspects of it, it was a fantastic experience (although better post-race food please!).
Now, my dear friends, is the great wait. For those unawares, QUALIFYING for Boston is one thing. Getting IN is another. Boston registration deadlines are contingent on how much “buffer time” you have from your qualifying time. First couple days are for those with more than 20 minutes, then 10 minutes, then 5, and then everyone else–although the “everyone else” is sorted again by those with more or less time. The last couple of years, the “cutoff time” has been 90 seconds. Meaning, if you had a time that wasn’t more than 90 second faster than the qualifying time for your age group, you didn’t get into the race. Hence the BQ versus getting in.
Last week they made the announcement that only 5000 spots were left after the 5+ minutes registered. Which leaves the rest of us biting our nails. Supposedly we find out tonight…Wish me luck!