Rich Ferguson at the Chicago Marathon

The Bank of America Chicago Marathon: a great experience. This was only my third marathon, but for me it was the best, from excellent communications in the weeks running up to the race, to the great expo, organisation of the pre-race morning, finishing area and family reunion area, not to mention the brilliant on course organisation of drinks and feed stations.

The organizers had this year tried a new 2 wave start to alleviate congestion associated with 45,000 runners all setting off at the same time. The first wave were organised into corrals depending on their expected finish time and set off at 7.30am. The second wave was similarly organised into corrals and set off 30 minutes later at 8am - funnily enough. This seemed to work well and we quickly got into our stride taking only 2 minutes to cross the start line. The weather was near perfect: cool with a light breeze. Soon enough though, we caught up with those in wave 1 who had no intention of running at the pace they claimed when applying to line up in the faster corrals. Waking 4 abreast in the middle of the road was a bit of an annoyance at times, but by mile 10 most of them were left behind and the whole field seemed to be flowing along nicely.

The mainly American crowd lined the route right from the start and were really loud, enthusiastic and encouraging, providing an electric, almost stadium like atmosphere. So much so in fact, that it actually made me feel a little emotional at the start.

Feed and water stations had been well thought out, with each following the same format - sports drinks followed by water - and in the latter part of the race bananas preceded the drinks. This was always down both sides of the road and well spread out over maybe 200 meters, avoiding bottlenecks of everyone diving in to a short run of tables. This allowed for the collection of a drink by running along the stations finding a quiet area and receiving a drink without slowing too much.

As I mentioned earlier, this was my third marathon, having previously ran New York in 2007. I did that for charity and had no intention of continuing to run once it was completed. I finished in a time of 4 hours 56 minutes but loved it so much I carried on running. In 2009 I decided I was going to try and complete the 5 World Majors and entered Berlin with the intention of getting closer to four hours than five. I ran it in 4 hours 36 minutes, which was a twenty minute improvement but disappointing as I felt I could have done better. After Berlin I left it a couple of years and in June 2011 I joined LERC and started really enjoying running and racing.

Watching lots of the club members training for Edinburgh, Manchester and London Marathons (amongst other races), I was re-inspired to try again at the Marathon distance. I applied for and was accepted into Chicago, USA.
I had the intention of beating four hours this time and asked around about different training plans. After much deliberation I decided upon one requiring running 5 days out of 7. I had learnt a great deal running and racing with LERC and this time I managed to complete the training plan successfully. I went into the race not feeling confident I could keep up the pace required to get under four hours. Although I had read the rather detailed training plan, I still did not have confidence in it, and how certain aspects of it could work. Nevertheless, I set off at 3 hours 50 pace (8.48 / mile) with the intention of building up a buffer and slowing down when I reached halfway. The course was mainly flat, made up of long wide straights and 90 degree corners, lined each side by enthusiastic spectators, and cutting through 29 districts of Chicago. Famous landmarks such as the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) were in sight most of the way.

At half marathon distance I felt really good and decided to carry on at the same pace, although in the back of my mind I knew this could come back and bite me later. I carried six energy gels around with me, slowly taking them every so often. At twenty miles I finished off my last gel and still felt good and decided to give it another couple of miles then push for home.
By mile 21 the dreaded wall started to show its ugly head and from here on it was a real slog. I was having to push as hard as I could just to stay under 9 minute miles. In the last couple of miles there started to be a large number of walkers and I was determined not to be one of them, although every ounce of me was screaming for a break. With just under 800 meters to go there was a right turn onto an railway overpass which felt like climbing a mountain after 26 miles but then came the glorious sight of the finish line just a few hundred meters away. I gave it everything I had left and with the sun beaming down I crossed the finish line with my lungs feeling like they were about to burst in a personal best time of 3 hours 51 minutes 14 seconds, a full 45 minutes faster than my Berlin time.

The finishers area was also really well organised, being well spread out with lots of assistants to help you, handing out drinks, food and medals with a good distance between each allowing you to keep moving. Spotters were positioned on raised platforms at regular intervals watching for people in trouble and directing medical teams in their direction. At the 27th mile was a bar handing out pints of lovely wheat beer. Iím not sure thatís the right thing to be drinking after a marathon, but it tasted great.

In summary, it was brilliant and worth every mile of training and every penny it cost. I would recommend it to anyone!

Rich Ferguson


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