Race Report: 2017 Illinois Marathon

Cecelia didn’t want to take a group picture, but she did go ahead and help herself to cake

I had high hopes for this year’s race.  This would be the year that I hit 4:30:00, or at least I would make a significant PR over last year’s 4:41:37.  After running for almost four years I still feel like a newbie and with this being only my 3rd marathon I know that there are still so much opportunity for improvement.  My first marathon was the Chicago Marathon in 2015 and I ran the Illinois Marathon in 2016 with just under a 9 minute PR, so understandable how I had high hopes, right?  My official time this year was 4:42:15.  I didn’t quite make my goal though I came within 1:30 minutes of last year’s time and have learned a few things that I hope will make my next race better.

The Race

The weather forecast for this year’s race, on April 22nd, did not look well.  I was somewhat prepared for it after running last year with light rain the entire race.  Mother Nature decided to be nice to us all however and the rain evaporated from the forecast leaving us with slightly cool temps (50s) – pretty much perfect racing weather.  I was freaking out a little in the morning because I wasn’t sure if my tank top and shorts would work.  This is what happens when the race location is a pit stop on your way home after driving back from vacation – no capris or short sleeve packed…  I ended up wearing my light rain coat just in case but regretted it an hour into the race.  Next time – garbage bag/throwaway shirt to warm me beforehand and maybe some arm sleeves to wear during the race.

Kankakee River Running Club had a great showing! (Photo from KRRC Facebook page)

I timed it pretty close in the morning, so after meeting up with the KRRC team for a quick photo, dropping my bag off at gear check, meeting a couple of my Oiselle Volée teammates for a photo and a mad dash to the bathroom, I got to the starting line RIGHT before the race started.  Whew!

Volée teammates!

The course narrows quite a bit when it gets to the brief period you run on a trail but it wasn’t too bad.  Last year I felt like we practically came to a stop when we hit that but this year I didn’t have to slow very much at all – still wish they could out how to avoid that area.  Overall it’s a pretty flat race so you don’t have to worry about elevation affecting your time.  I’m not sure if I will run this one again next year, just because I want to try a few other races, but I would definitely run it again at some point in the future.

This year I decided not to run with music and just enjoy the race.  I’m so glad I did.  I feel like I was more in tune with how I felt and just noticed more of “everything” which made the race more enjoyable.  The crowd support was better this year, probably because it wasn’t raining, and there was plenty of music along on the way from bands and spectators’ radios to keep it interesting.  My favorite spectators were my littles – Natalya, Esteban, and Cecelia – who met me at mile 23 with a “Tap for Power” sign and “Run Like the Wind” on the other side.

Best pick me up near the end of a race!


What Went Well

I did an excellent job at tapering this year.  This is mainly because I was on vacation for spring break the week before the race.  We went to Indian Rocks Beach in Florida.  It was a nice, relaxing week of sleeping in until I felt like getting up, running in warm-ish (high 70s-80s) weather, and relaxing my legs in the ocean afterwards.  I highly recommend finding a way to get some vacation time pre-race to get all those zzzs.

last long run, running up over bridge into Clearwater

Last year at the same race I ran with a pace group and had a really bad experience.  The pacer was all over the place – running 9:00 miles at one point and 11:00 the next.  Not cool.  I think because I had run a little too fast in the beginning of the race I had a really hard time near the end and did a lot of walking (and lost the group at some point around miles 16-18 I think).  So this year I resolved not to run with a pace group but to pay attention to my heart rate and make sure I didn’t go out too fast.  I stayed behind a group in the beginning that was slower than my target pace to make sure that I didn’t start too fast.  Although in retrospect I think I held back a little too much at that point, the pacing I kept paid off near the end where I only had 2 very brief walking periods.  My heart rate graph shows a nice curve instead of being all over the place.  My effort got into the 190s right at the end, but I really think I could have taken it up more in the last mile.

I carried my own small water bottle in the pocket of my shorts, along with a tube of Nuun.  I refilled my water bottle at most aid stations and added in a Nuun tab, but was able to skip a few stations.  Gatorade does not sit well with me at all, so I always drink Nuun in training and in races if I can manage to carry it.  The effervescent quality of the tabs  I carried my own gels as well so that I wouldn’t be reliant on how the race decided to space out their fuel.  I wish I had capris with great pockets because I’m pretty sure carrying my own stuff for anything over a half is going to be my plan of action.

What I Would Change

As I’ve thought about what I did differently over the past year and what I would change, I needed to take a step back and look at how I approached my training.  First is that after my training had already begun I decided to sign up for my first ultra, which takes place in July.  This meant that the ultra became my focus race and I switched up my target work outs a bit to assist with that while still keeping my weekend long runs targeted towards the marathon.  I’m not sure if having a few more weeks of targeted race pace runs would have helped me to reach my goal.  Having two goal races in a short period of time though is probably not that realistic.  I want to get to a place where I can race well in the middle of a goal race but also be okay with using intermediate races as targeted training.  Blisters were another thing I had a problem with this year, as in went to the medical room afterwards to have them wrap my feet kind of blisters.  I’m not sure what happened but 2Toms didn’t do the trick and I will have to either wrap my feet or use moleskins next time.

The biggest training factor really has to do with my heart rate.  Near the middle of last year I switched over to heart rate training to train for a fall half and train myself to be more efficient when I run.  In heart rate training my easy runs were to stay around 140bpm, recovery runs at 120 and then some speed work and hills thrown in to keep one from going crazy.

Over the past year however, I’m not sure if I’ve gotten to the point where I am truly at a majority fat-burning rather than glycogen-burning place (though I can go a little longer without feeling like I need a GU for long runs) and the feeling like I’m holding myself back is starting to wear on me.  As I look at my easy runs lately where I didn’t slow down to stay at 140 even though they still felt really easy, my heart rate was closer to 150.  The theory is that you take 180 minus your age (40, for me) and that gives you an approximate easy pace.  Not everyone is the same and I know that my max has been into the low 200s during the end of a 5k so perhaps my easy doesn’t need to be with quite so low of a heart rate.

My goal for my upcoming training cycles: run by feel.  I will still watch my HR to judge how much I’m exerting myself but it won’t be a base for rigid limits in my training.  This ultra training cycle is the perfect opportunity for me to pay more attention to how I feel on the run as opposed to the numbers on my watch.


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