After having to defer my entry for two years on the trot thanks to COVID 🦠, I was glad to finally get the chance to take up my 2020 Chicago marathon place this year. I'd have loved to have run it in 2020 when I'd originally entered in 2019 as I was flying then and in brilliant shape and chasing another sub-2:45 marathon. However, I'm glad I didn't get the chance as it wouldn't have been a very comfortable or enjoyable affair due to the lower leg pain that appeared in October in 2019 that had persisted right up until the early part of this year. Going into this race build-up, I was fearful I'd end up having to hobble Chicago this year, but thanks to a change in my diet, fueling and training plan, I managed a good solid training build-up, without any pain, and went into the marathon in great shape.
The race itself was brilliant and went way better than expected resulting in a sub-3 (and thus BQ and London GfA), my second fastest marathon major, my fastest marathon as a V40, and sixth fastest of all time.
I'm trying something new with this race report by borrowing inspiration for the format from race reportr which is used to generate the reports peeps write on r/AdvancedRunning on Reddit to try and add a bit more structure and uniformity to my reports in future. Read on for all the gory details on my training and the race itself.
As with all my previous attempts to get back into running, things didn't start off too well this year. I'd start off slowly, build up and then when my weekly distance got to about 50km, the leg pain would return and I'd be back to relying on rowing and cycling to keep fit until the pain subsided. Rinse and repeat. It was during all of this forced layoff from running that I really got back into cycling and started listening to the TrainerRoad podcast – I was using TrainerRoad to build my cycling fitness in a structured way so I didn't get bored or aimlessly waste my time on the bike. TrainerRoad really push the benefits of maximizing carbohydrate consumption and the effects it would have on training and racing and regularly referred to recent studies about the topic. They, and several other podcasts I listen to, also mentioned the low-carb-high-fat approach, which I'd been following for several years, and the pros and cons of that approach, including several studies which found it far from ideal for high volume endurance athletes, with a common side effect being severe under fueling which could lead to things like RED-S. Whilst I didn't have many of the symptoms of RED-S, I did have this recurring leg pain and the only thing I hadn't tried was switching back to fueling my training with carbs, so that's what I did.
It was just about 16 weeks out from Chicago that I decided I'd give this a go. I wasn't going to switch my general way of eating much as we tend to eat quite clean and well on a relatively low carb diet and I've gone off pasta big-time, but I did introduce a high carb drink (homemade recipe, deets coming soon) to my harder rides, all rowing sessions, and started fueling my longer runs with a breakfast of plain oats and running with my carb drink in bottles tucked into my hydration vest. This turned out to be a game changer. I had loads of energy, which is to be expected, but more importantly, my leg pain didn't come back as I crept up to and passed 50km a week of running.
I can't give all the credit to fueling. I also took a completely different approach to training with a bigger emphasis on cross-training and rest to give my legs a break so they'd be in good form for each running session.
The general structure of my 16 week build up was as follows:
- Monday: 60-75mins TrainerRoad cycle workout with a very easy hour on the rower in the evening.
- Tuesday: Hard rowing session from the Pete Plan, followed immediately by an easy run starting at 30mins building up to 90mins. As I got closer to race day and my runs crossed the 75min mark, I dropped the rowing session entirely.
- Wednesday: TrainerRoad cycle workout with a very easy 30-60mins on the rower in the evening, depending on how I felt.
- Thursday: Same as Tuesday.
- Friday: 90-120mins TrainerRoad cycle workout.
- Saturday: Medium long run until I got to 120mins. I then switched to this being a rest day.
- Sunday: Rest, but then long run when my runs got to 120mins. Maxed out at 165mins 3 weeks out from race day.
- A rest week every four or five weeks where I backed off the volume on everything. This tended to be dictated by the TrainerRoad schedule.
I also threw in a few kettlebell workouts a week for general strength.
All running was done based on power. I started off with all runs below 80% of my critical power (CP) and as I built my endurance started running these at 80-85% CP. I then introduced surges when I felt good, making the run a lightish fartlek, which ended up being pretty much every run in the final weeks of the build-up.
This more rounded approach to training really paid off. I gained fitness steadily consistently, enjoyed almost every session and felt full of energy. I didn't have a single run where I'd get home feeling totally knackered and was then useless for the rest of the day. And best of all, no leg pain, even on my biggest week in which I ran 86km - this was also the only week I ran four times as I didn't fancy a row on the Monday evening.
I'll definitely be keeping this approach up over the winter to see how it plays out over a longer period.
With all that great training under my belt, it was time to get to Chicago.
The Mrs and I flew in on the Thursday before. Landed on time, fought with the Ventra app to pay for the train into town for about 30mins before giving up and just using my AMEX card to pay at the barrier, and then headed to the hotel. Turns out the Ventra app was borked for the whole weekend so now we have $20 each on a transit app we can't use 😞. We had a chilled early night with a few beers and hit the expo nice and early on Friday morning, which thanks to jet-lag turned out to be perfect timing as the queue wasn't too bad when we got there – it was manic when we left a few hours later.
We spent the rest of the day and most of Saturday wondering around and exploring the city and visiting Whole Foods and Trader Joe's waaay too many times. I'm not a big fan of pasta anymore so fueled my race on Saturday by eating a massive salad with rice and sweet potatoes from Sweetgreen for lunch, and a big plate of chicken & kale salad with broccoli and potato salad and a few beers from Whole Foods for dinner.
Race morning I was up at 4:30am primarily to eat and have it digested before I started running. I ate a pot of Trader Joe's pre-made overnight oats, a banana and two cups of coffee before heading down to the second floor to "drop the kids off at the pool" before walking to the start at 6am. I'd read there was a chance of long queues getting into Grant Park, which turned out not to be the case when I got there at about 6:20am – I waltzed in barely slowed by queues or security. I then milled around, took photos, went for a squeezy wee, stripped off and dropped my bag off at about 7am and made my way to corral A for the start which had an ever-growing group of runner running in a big circle to warm-up.
This is the moment all of the above has built up to. I was in corral A on the red wave and ready to go.
I'd planned to run this race by power from the beginning of this build up as that's what I'd be training with. It's also useful because Chicago is notorious for bad GPS in some parts. This would also be my first attempt at proper racing by power. I ran Boston with my Stryd, but used pace not power and I hobbled Lisbon and Valencia by power just to finish as I went into both with sore and strapped up legs.
Stryd's race calculator suggested I run at 87% CP (~307W) with a predicted time of 3:00:18 – Come on!! Who's going to run that close to a sub-3‽ I'd read somewhere, I can't remember where, that marathon power is generally around 90% CP (~320W) which Stryd predicted would give me a time of 2:52:37. I went for a happy medium and set my watch to keep me in the 88-91% CP (310-320W) range in the knowledge that I shouldn't worry too much if my power is a little lower than 310W but should definitely not spend too much time over 320W.
With my watch all set, it was time to go. The gun went off at 7:30am so I started my watch only to discover that they weren't sending the peeps directly behind the elites off at the same time as the elites. Us "slow-pokes" in corral A had to wait another two minutes before we were set off. Thankfully it didn't take long for me to reset my watch in those two minutes.
At 7:32am we were finally sent after the elites. Things started with a slight uphill, into the tunnel, and then out into the crowded streets. The spectators were plentiful which was incredibly motivating, possibly too motivating for this early in the race, but I held back and took in the crowds and enjoyed the buzz and the sights. It took me a few k's to getting into the groove and find a happy comfortable pace around about 318W which allowed me to tick over nicely. The first 5k's were a little quick, which can be expected, but the rest were then pretty metronomic, with a few exceptions I can't explain, as you can see from the splits below.
Along with a pacing plan, I also went into this race with a proper fueling plan. I carried three SiS Beta Fuel gels (two normal and one with "nootropics", aka caffeine and taurine and a few other chemicals) containing 40g of carbs each which I took at 50mins, 1h45 and 2h30 with the nootropic one saved for last in the hopes the extra boost would help… I can't say I noticed anything other than the chemical taste which I didn't notice when training. I also sipped/slooshed the provided Gatorade at every other water station and sipped/slooshed water when I didn't take on Gatorade based on thirst.
This combined strategy of consistent pacing by power and fueling worked a treat. I ticked over half way bang on 1:28 and ran the second half two seconds quicker in 1:27:58, which included a slight detour off the racing line to give the Mrs a smooch at ~38km much to the enjoyment of the crowd and embarrassment of my wife, and a good push over the 41st km, giving me a very very respectable finishing time of 2:55:58. This is my second fastest marathon major, my fastest marathon as a V40, and sixth fastest of all time.
I went into this training cycle aiming just to get to Chicago pain-free and finish the race and in the end had an absolute blinder of a race. It's races like this that make me love running so much.
Once across the line, I walked for about 20m before my lower back started to twitch like it was going to cramp. I moved to the side and bent over which immediately prompted the spectators next to the barrier to jump back a few metres – they though I was going to 🤮 – and for a few race aides to rush over. All were quite pleased to know it was just a tight back 😂.
Once my back eased I carried on down the finishing area picking up a space blanket, a banana, an apple and a can of Goose Island 312 beer. I love beer and thought this would be the perfect treat to help me down the finishing area to baggage collection and onto meeting the Mrs but it turns out I'm not a fan of a wheat beer which taste a bit like a lager immediately after a race… I nearly 🤮 on the third sip; the Mrs enjoyed the beer though.
Picking up my bag was a bit of a PITA… it took forever. I've never had to queue for more than a few minutes to collect my bag at the end of the race, especially when finishing at the pointy end of things, but it seems everyone around me finished at the same time as I ended up queuing for over 15mins. With bag finally in hand, I made my way over to the 27th mile meeting area to meet the Mrs and use my beer token, which I used to get a much tastier 7% hazy IPA which went down a treat 😋. We sat in the sunshine discussing the race and enjoying the sunshine before I wet-wiped myself down, changed my shirt and headed back to the hotel for a shower.
We finished the day off with pizza and a few more beers at Whole Foods, before crashing for the night. ProTip: Whole Foods bars are generally $1-$3 cheaper than surrounding bars and they have a great changing selection of draft beers. Draft beers and wine by the glass are also $1 cheaper on weekdays between 4pm and 6pm.
Monday was spent wondering more of the city, a visit to a different Whole Foods for happy hour and then chilling in our hotel room. We jetted our way back to the UK on Tuesday evening.
All in all, a fabulous long weekend with a great race.
- Race Date: 9 October 2022
- Gun time: 2:56:01
- Chip time: 2:55:58
- Position Overall: 1428
- Age Group Position: 219
- Weather: ⛅ Few clouds | 🌡 7–14°C | 👌 6°C | 💦 64–49% | 💨 15–17km/h ↗ | AQI 77 💛
- Links: Strava Activity | Official Results