Chicago Marathon 2017: My World Major Debut

THE CHICAGO MARATHON, which celebrated its 40th Anniversary, is one of the six prestigious World Major Marathons. Many recreational runners, including yours truly, had the impression that only elite international athletes can join because of the qualification time, unless if we have huge money to donate to their charity partners for us to join the race.

I understand that many Filipino runners are quite hesitant to join because it’s too expensive. My advice to all my fellow recreational runners who also have the zest of traveling: WHY DON’T YOU GUYS GIVE IT A SHOT? Join the lottery a year before the marathon and let’s see how it goes if we get picked or not.

I signed up at the lottery not just because I’ve been dreaming of having a Six Star medal, also to spend time with my sister Amie, who moved to Chicago in 2010. Luckily, I received an email that I am going to run the Chicago Marathon 2017 and forwarded it to Amie as a surprise.

TRAINING:

It took almost six months for me to train for the marathon. Alongside, I was working overtime, booking flights and such. I even trained during my week-long vacation in Singapore last September. Although, I was still worried about committing the same mistakes again from Osaka Marathon 2016 because, I join marathons just once a year and my offseason is usually prolonged, I’m ready to take the risk.

ARRIVING IN THE U.S.:

I arrived at the O’Hare International Airport in Chicago on October 4 where my sister Amie, her husband Kuya Raffy, and their lovely daughter Andi picked me up. It was probably the longest flight I’ve ever had which took approximately 16 hours excluding the five-hour layover at Taoyuan Airport. We ate dinner at IHOP before driving to their home, which is a mere fifteen-minute drive from the airport and a 45-minute drive to Downtown Chicago.

During my first few days, I focused on training, acclimatizing, and bonding with her family. I didn’t worry much about the food because my sister cooked for us and rarely dined out. She prepared eggs, chicken broccoli, tomatoes and rice for me. The only difference though is chicken portions in the States are HUGE! But, I usually slept late at night because of jet lag, which was resolved a few days later.

SHAKE-OUT RUN AND KIT REDEMPTION DAY:

On the morning of October 6, I went back to Downtown Chicago to meet-up my fellow Filipino and a few Filipino-American participants for a shake-out run lead by our good friends Ben Tanner and Stacy Mendez of the FilAmTri Team. We ran along the streets near Millennium Park, where the famous Cloud Gate is located.

Representing the Philippines!

We also passed by at famous landmarks in Chicago such as Willis Tower, the Magnificent Mile, John Shedd Aquarium, and more. We even tried to pass by at the Starting Line of the marathon but the security in-charge politely prevented us to go nearby. We ate our brunch at Yolk South Loop after the five-kilometer shake-out run.

L-R: Nick from New York, Tisha, Erin from Boston, Chloe, and yours truly

After the brunch at Yolk, we claimed our race kits at the nearby McCormick Place. We already knew that the race exhibit is so huge so we didn’t waste time to claim our race kits and checked other stuff within the exhibit. It’s like a party for marathoners but we stayed there for only a few hours. My friends and I needed to go home ASAP and get quality rest before the big day.

DJ Lani Love playing house music!
Photo by Tisha Hidalgo

THE MAIN EVENT

October 8, 6:00 AM— Participants remain their composure while entering the race venue at Grant Park. It took us more almost an hour to enter the starting line due to the volume of runners. While we are waiting for the gun start, we are pumped up by the alternative music played by the marathon’s official radio station.

At exactly 7:30 AM, the gun fired and the competition started. During the first few kilometers, everybody was like running to shatter their records. I expected that because I’m participating in one of the most prestigious marathons in the world. Instead, I just kept my pace slow and enjoy the beauty of the Chicago skyscrapers and the people’s support at the sidewalk during the first few kilometers.

Entering Grant Park via Michigan Avenue entrance

After passing by The Chicago Theater on North Street, I saw my sister and her family cheering for me. I regret that I wasn’t able to go the sidewalk to take some selfies with them because almost everyone in the race route was way too fast and overtaking me. From Mile 5, I started using my tried and tested Jeff Galloway Technique with an interval of 3.5 minutes run and 45 seconds walk with an average pace of 6.5 kilometers per minute. There were a few racers who asked me what running technique I was using.

I also enjoyed looking at those old houses and condominiums surrounded by trees along the Old Town and Park West. There were also comic shops, vintage record stores, artisan barber shops, and third-wave coffee shops.

During the race, I have met several Filipinos and Filipino-American kids who volunteered in the race. Some of the young race volunteers affectionately caught my attention in Tagalog “Kuya, tubig/Gatorade” while offering me hydration. I also had a chance to bump in with Mina at Mile 10 (Kilometer 16) whom I met at the shake our run last Friday. We traded amusing storied while running. In Manila, chatting with our buddies while running is called “chika pace.”

Mina and I “chika pacing” in Chinatown

There were a bunch of musicians nearby playing some great blues and singing praises to the participants found in one of the troubled areas of Chicago. I forgot where exactly it was. But, the highlight of the marathon happened on the streets of the colorful community of Pilsen where the Latino community was having fiesta like Cinco de Mayo.

At around 1:00 PM, the heat starts to build up near the New Comiskey Park. I started to slow down to avoid hitting the wall. The heat was something I can compare to the desert scenes of any action movie. Along Chinatown, the weather became desert-hot and many runners slowed down. Good thing that my pace mate Mina and I took advantage of overtaking them. We took it as an advantage since we are used to training in hot weather. We also saw Stacy (from FilAmTri Team) wearing a cute pink donut costume and gave away donuts to runners. We ate some, of course.

Suddenly, I felt weird on my left knee after passing Mile 23 marker. I became too conscious and slowed down to prevent getting injured. Good thing that the people of Chicago gave their full support for us to finish the race. I pushed my self hard from Mile 24 to the very last mile. All the months of hard work paid off.

Finally, I reached the finish line really strong and achieved my personal best of 5:15:49. Almost twenty minutes better my finish in Osaka a year ago.

We went to a Japanese Fusion restaurant along Michigan Avenue for recovery food and celebration. Arland Macasieb of the Philippine national triathlon team was also there to congratulate and mingle with us.

One Star down, five to go! #sixstarmedalchaser
With Arland Macasieb and Stacy Mendez of FilAmTri team

THE VERDICT:

So far, this is the best marathon I’ve ran not just because my family witnessed it, but also the local people’s all-out support. I’d love to come back and run another Chicago Marathon in the future because Chicago is now like a second home to me.