The Road to Chicago

10 weeks from now and four thousand miles away, I will be shivering in the cold dawn light alongside 45,000 other runners at the start of the Chicago marathon, preparing to spend hours pounding the flat city streets for a shiny piece of hardware, an inflated sense of self, and enough Instagram content to last me a solid three days.

Chicago will be my second bite at the marathon cherry. And if London 2017 was the warm-up, the taster, the guaranteed PB, then Chicago is laying on a little more pressure. Even if the only one putting on that pressure is me, it’s still real enough to know that I won’t be happy unless I hobble across the finish line having shaved away a few minutes from my time.

Which is why I found myself, on a balmy June evening, sidling into the Waterstones in Trafalgar Square to pay for a copy of Advanced Marathoning by Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas, hoping the staff member who rang it up wouldn’t snort with amusement as she compared me to the elite athletes sprinting across the cover (she didn’t, of course – bookshop staff are, in my experience, fabulously imperturbable and non-judgemental).

Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

Now, I hasten to explain that “advanced marathoning” as defined by these writers isn’t about time, but intention. There’s a difference between wanting to finish a marathon, and wanting to finish it as fast as you are able. Racing (even though you’re only really racing yourself) needs a different approach to simply being fit enough to complete your 26.2 miles.

The way I see it, this approach can be divided into two categories: Planning and Tracking. The Doing is pretty important too, I’ll admit, but I reckon the race is lost or won in the spaces in between.

Planning is reading around, choosing your training schedule, putting that schedule in your diary, and changing that schedule last minute when you know your hardest-drinking friend is going to be in town that night.

It’s cooking a stupid amount of food on a Sunday and squirreling it into separate plastic containers; it’s being realistic about how early you’ll get up to avoid the August heat; it’s packing the Vaseline for that sweaty long run.

Tracking, on the other hand, is being honest with yourself – and taking care of yourself. How fast did you actually take that first 5km this morning? How did you really feel? Have you been sleeping well this week? Listen to your body and, essentially, vitally, don’t beat yourself up when it doesn’t all go to plan (and it won’t – you’re not a robot).

As part of my own tracking for my journey to Chicago, I’m going to write a few pieces here, partly so I can look back and remember after I’ve succeeded or failed at my PB attempt, and also because perhaps I can be a help or motivation for any other marathoners going through their first or second or third go at this crazy distance.

I’ll pass on any useful advice I might have picked up, any pitfalls or mistakes. I’ll avoid overloading you with details, like some boring, lycra-clad equivalent of Bridget Jones (Monday. Miles run 10, heart rate intensity 81%, carbohydrate consumed 53g…), and I’ll try to be honest. Instagram is for the shiny, happy post-run photos with ice cream. This can be a little more gritty.

And I’ll try to remember that it is supposed to be fun. As amateur runners, we’re not in it for the money. We’re not even in it for the glory. For us, it has to be about the journey.

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