I’ve been emailing with BFF Vera for suggestions on my race strategy for the Chicago Marathon. We’ve mostly been talking about heart rate, since she also runs by HR and we’re the same age so we can target the same zones (even if her zones yield faster paces). Anyway, she’s a wealth of knowledge, and has run the Chicago Marathon a few times, so here is her advice that anyone can use, whether you are running by HR or pace.

My recommendation on strategy would be to cut up the race in pieces. The Chicago course is very easy to do this because of the linear up/down/right/left of the course. Here are my thoughts:

Keep the pace easy up until you hit the northern-most point of the course (Addison St). Up until then it will be VERY VERY crowded and it is easy to get caught up. I would just focus on staying calm and not do anything with pace … just stay relaxed.

I would try to get into your rhythm once you turn south from Addison. You will be going through Boystown and running back down into the Loop. This is a long stretch (mile 8-13). You will see people start to lose it because they went out too fast. Stay steady. Run your race and stay focused. I wouldn’t waste energy weaving and I wouldn’t waste energy going left to right. Run the tangents on the curves and don’t even think. This is the part of the race you want to forget because there is a lot more in front of you.

When you turn right, near mile 12.5, you are heading west towards Greek Town and UIC.  Once you hit mile 13.1 (right after the Chicago River), the race has begun. These miles after 13.1 are toughest … it is a out and back sort of loop to the west before you turn through Greek Town towards Pilsen. It is ugly and the crowds have diminished. You really need to nail your nutrition in this part.  My recommendation for any spectators is to take the L to mile 18. There is a stretch before Pilsen that is lonely.

Now, you need to break it up until you get to Comisky Park (US Cellular Field), because this is the toughest part. Miles 17/18 to 21. Don’t get caught up in the madness in Pilsen. Stay in the middle. Chinatown should be a blur too … just try to stay in the middle and don’t waste energy. You’ll need it for the last 6.

Once you get toward the expressway (Day Ryan aka 90/94) and you cross the bridge near IIT, you are CLOSE. This is when you just need to try to NOT count blocks. It can be mind numbing because you are literally counting DOWN blocks to Grant Park. I play a game with myself on NOT looking at the street signs. And seeing how many miles I can go without looking at the number. Remember – pump your arms, DO NOT stop, and just pass people and encourage them. Your heart rate should be high and you should feel like you gave it your all.

Sprint up the Roosevelt Street Bridge. [Sure, Vera, whatever you say … I assume “sprint” is relative.]

Look good for the finish 🙂   [As Vera would say … photo awareness!]

She also reminded me to take it easy this week. Get lots of sleep. Don’t eat anything new.

Photo Awareness
Photo Awareness

Anyway, all of that being said … I still don’t have a time goal. I am still planning to run this purely by heart rate. I am not chasing down a certain finish time or pace. I will be happy just to cross the finish line with a smile on my face. Now, of course I have a general idea, based on my training and previous races, of my possible finish times, and I’m only admitting the very conservative end of that when people ask about my goal time. But I’ve never run a marathon before. It took me a couple tries to get a feel for the half marathon distance. I don’t expect to figure out the marathon on my first attempt. So just finishing is the goal.

But, per Vera’s advice, I plan to run really easy for the first eight miles, not worry about my pace or heart rate, and NOT get caught up in the crowd and go too fast. This won’t be too hard for me, as that is how I start every race, and I’m used to being passed in the first few miles. But I’m not worried about the first few miles in a race of 26.2. I’m worried about the last six. So, the first eight or so will be my “warm up” and then I can start working on getting “on pace” by getting my HR up into the low end of my target zone. After the half-way point, then I will start thinking about it as a “race.” And maybe I will be the one passing people. My attitude for the past year-ish has been that I’d rather pass people at the end of a race than the beginning.