Lessons Learned from Running the Chicago Marathon

Megan Calcium and Bone Health Leave a Comment

And just like that, marathon number two is in the history books! On October 11th I ran and finished the 2015 Chicago Marathon after months of training and preparing for the big show (and two weeks of neurotically checking the weather and my race information during taper time!). My ultimate goal was simply to start the race healthy and to cross the finish line, but I did have underlying hopes of beating my NYC Marathon finish time from last year. Although I achieved my goal of finishing the race, unfortunately there were some factors that prevented me from completing the race with a better time in order to set a personal record (PR).


Instead of letting my missed PR bring me down and instead of getting consumed with regret over the mistakes I made, I’ve decided to use this experience to help me learn what I did right and what I did wrong in order to make my next marathon more successful. I know now I could have ran a little smarter to prevent my quads from cramping starting at mile 22, but the truth is that every race is an opportunity to learn. The Chicago Marathon taught me so many things about nutrition, preparing for races on unfamiliar terrain, managing weather issues, and just about myself in general.

 Things I learned during the Chicago Marathon:

– Listen to what your body needs in the moment: Check in with yourself every mile. Check your pace, slow down if you need to, walk a minute if you need to, hydrate, take your fuel, give yourself a pep talk…whatever you need to do. Don’t ignore your body and what it needs, and don’t become so engulfed in the atmosphere of the race that you forget about your body.

 –Take the weather into consideration: I had anticipated running in cool weather, but Chicago had other plans. There was a fluke warm day on the day of the race, resulting in some confusion on my part about fueling. For some reason, I forgot all about how I fueled during my summer runs and forgot to take in enough salt and electrolytes along the course despite feeling the salt on my skin. During warm weather running you have got to account for an increased loss of salt and what that can do to your muscles (hello cramps!).

water_cups – Don’t drink just water: This is something I did well. Be sure to alternate some kind of electrolyte drink such as Gatorade and water. By no means drink just water! Also, start drinking early in the race and drink it often (every water stop or every other stop).

– traveling to a race: If you’re traveling to a race from out of town, be sure to pack several outfit variations to account for weather changes. Also, don’t plan big sightseeing the days before – you’ll want to save your legs. You can explore the city after the race. I may or may not have spent too much time on my feet shopping at the expo (I’m a sucker for expos!).

 – Practice running on similar terrain to the course: In NYC I run on hilly terrain. Chicago is flat as a pancake. My mistake was not training on flat terrain as much as I should have. Hills give the opportunity for certain muscles to take a break while others work, but on flat terrain you use the same muscles over and over. For me, this lead to fatigue and cramping after mile 22 (in addition to my fueling errors); but training for the terrain may have better prepared my muscles for what was to come!

 – Get to the race start early: I was a little take getting to the race in the morning, and ended up having to beg a worker to let me into my correct start corral (whoops!). But especially for your first race, be sure you get there with enough time to use the toilet (the lines are always long), stretch, get into your corral, and get mentally ready. The mental aspect is most important – you need time to calm your mind before setting off across the start line or else the whole day seems like one frantic mess!

 – Use a mantra or a strategy for the tough miles: My strategy from mile 21 to the finish, when things got really tough for me, was to think of the rest of the race in one-mile segments. I told myself “its just one mile, anyone can run a mile” until I reached the next mile. Then, I did it again. All the way to the finish. Or you can use a mantra that calms and channels your energy – find what works for you and use it. Running a marathon becomes a mental game late in the race.


In addition to the above advice I shared based on my specific experience, here are some helpful tips for first-time marathoners, half marathoners, and runners of all distances:

– Pace yourself: It’s really easy to get excited by the race environment and start off too fast. Run your pace, not everyone else’s or else you’ll probably end up regretting it at mile 18.

– Live by the rule “nothing new on race day”: Simply, use only what you know works. Wear only clothes you’ve trialed, food you’ve used on training runs, and especially wear shoes you’ve broken in already. Buy that awesome expo shirt but save if for after the race.

– Trial out your gear: Test out your clothes, shoes, socks, fuel, etc. several times before race day, including on your long runs and in races.

– Don’t skip breakfast: The day of the race, you have to eat a smart breakfast. I typically eat a banana and oatmeal before long races.

HAVE FUN! Enjoy it – you paid to run these miles! 


Check out my next post for information on recovery after a marathon and how to get back into exercise and running again after 26.2!

Disclosure: Cal-EZ has compensated me for this post, but all opinions are my own and always will be my own. I use Cal-EZ daily not because I was asked to or have to, but because I love it. I am happy to be able to share it with you!