Race Report: “Do Epic Sh*t”- Whippets Take the Bank of America Chicago Marathon

“I run… because I can learn more about myself through running!”  OL

Long time Whippet Emily Raisch has been a member since March of 2011.  A graduate of Johns Hopkins, Emily is a public health and emergency management expert currently working as the Executive Director- Center for Pediatric Emergency Medicine at Maimonides Medical Center.  

 As Emily tells us: “I started running by following my dad on a jog at age 8, and have loved it ever since.  I do most of my runs in Prospect Park but wish I was able to get out to trails more often.  I like to plan long runs with talkative friends that end at bagel shops.”   

One of those always involved at the forefront of DWRT activities, Emily is a tenacious athlete, competitor, and a great friend to all.  Congrats on your big PR, Em! 


Athlete: Emily Raisch

Name of Race/Event: Bank of America Chicago Marathon

Date: 10/13/2013

Time: 7:30 AM start

Weather: Hotter than you’d think. The thermometer read around 48 degrees at the start, but due to the humidity it felt a lot warmer.

Course: Chicago is advertised as “flat as a pancake” but it’s not quite so simple.  There are small gentle hills which are no problem, but the course was surprisingly technical due to crowding at the start, wide grating on a number of bridges and a bunch of tricky potholes.

My Objectives:  Stick with the 3:20 pace group, break out of my racing rut.  While it was still a big PR, my last marathon felt like a big mess at the end.  I walked away really discouraged and it made me doubt many of my subsequent races.  I trained my butt off for this race but wasn’t at all confident in my ability to hit my goal until the race started.

Time Goals: 3:20ish was my goal (7:38 min/miles), but I would’ve been happy with anything around 3:23.  Going sub 3:20 was not even on my radar.

Notable Carbohydrates: 5 different types of pretzel (including a Bretzel!) in the hotel room I shared with Sky and some fine ramen.  Also, finisher beers from Goose Island hit the spot.

Race Recap:

The First Half

I got to my corral just before it closed and fought through crowds to join the 3:20 pace groups, meeting Sky on the way.  We started out together but barely saw each other after that – the crowds were so thick that it was a challenge to stay upright and stick with the pace group.  I quickly figured out that things got really crowded right next to and behind pace leaders, so I settled in just ahead of them and looked back often.  I did some chatting with the pace leaders and my fellow runners.

The crowds were great.  I felt great. After being incredibly nervous for the past few weeks, my legs were light and it felt great to be out there and running. My clearest memory from the first half or so was a guy holding a big sign saying “DO EPIC SH*T”.  This immediately became my motto for the race.  I seriously ran 2/3 of this race with a huge grin on my face.

I’d practiced my fueling strategy enough that, aside from pouring Gatorade all over my self (sticky!), it went pretty smoothly.  Aid stations here are massive – volunteers line both sides of the course for about two city blocks and hand cups of water or Gatorade directly to the runners. I took fluids at almost every station and since I’m a klutz the best strategy seemed to be taking a small sip each time while keeping speed up.  I took a gel every 5 miles (even when I didn’t want one) and which helped keep my energy up.

I had a serious runner’s high starting pretty early on and couldn’t stop grinning.  This got even bigger as we passed different bands and boom boxes with music lining the course. I got a big boost seeing Annette and Atsede, our resident cheerleader and photographer, around mile 12. I  know Andrea was in there around mile 13 but missed her in the crowd. My pace group passed the half way mark with 40 seconds “in the bank” and we were feeling great!

The Second Half

The course was much sunnier after mile 16.  I was still feeling great as the miles went on and by mile 18 got a little tired of looking back for the pace group and slowing down to match them.  Maybe, I thought, maybe I can do this even faster than I thought! Imagine if I break 3:19!  Imagine if I break 3:18!  Really, I knew better, but I felt so good that I let myself take off just after the 18 mile mark.  I made a deal with myself that no matter what, if I slowed down enough that the 3:20 group caught me I would not let them pass me.  I decided to run on effort and when I occasionally did look down at my watch I was busting out times in the low 7:20’s, far faster than my goal 7:38 pace.  The course also started to get lonelier – fewer spectators, lonelier neighborhoods, even the runners around me seemed to disappear.

Things started to get tougher around mile 20 and by mile 21 I could tell I was slowing from my “surge” pace.  I felt like I was pushing just as hard, but my watch started showing slower and slower paces.  I started taking it mile by mile, focusing on each aid station and keeping my form from falling apart. 21-25 were slog.  Things seemed to slow down, and finally I saw the 25 mile mark coming up. Right around then I heard someone yell “EMILY!!!!” and Annette Vega, cheerleader extraordinaire, jumped out of the sidelines at me.  I can’t remember what she said to me, but it gave me the extra kick I needed.  Just after that, I hit the 25.2 mark and knew I had just a mile to go.

I heard a voice yell, “Go 3:20!” and saw a 3:20 pacer pull up beside me.  I remembered my promise to myself, said hello to him and latched on.  The pacer remembered me and encouraged me, telling me much of the group had dropped off.  Reduced to a group of 4 or so, we pounded through the last mile, finally turning at the “one big hill” that leads to mile 26.  The pacer told me it was time to sprint it in.  Thanks to my NYC training, I took one look at the hill and thought, “Let’s just FINISH this thing!”  I powered over, made a left and used everything I had left to make the final surge to the finish.  Checking my watch, I knew that I could get it in in 3:19 if I pushed and that thought got me over the finish!  In 3:19:34 – a PR by over 8 minutes!

Staggering to a stop after finishing, I heard a yell on my left.  Sky, who had finished about 20 seconds ahead of me, had heard my name from the announcer and waited for me!  She gave me a big hug and we both started grinning and realized that we’d done it! We’d broken 3:20!

As we walked through the finish chute, getting space blankets, fluids and finally a big beer from Goose Island, I couldn’t believe we had done it.  As I ran into other Whippets at the finish I found out that nearly everyone had PR’ed!

Lessons Learned:

  1. Stay engaged.  Marathons are long, but one piece of advice that really stuck with me was an elite talking about the need to stay in tune with your body and what it’s doing.  If you drift off mentally, you’ll often find your pace drifting – I definitely found this during workouts.  During the race I made it a bit of a game to find ways to stay engaged.  I looked for funny signs, listened to music along the course, waved to kids, grinned at bystanders.  I also did this very silly thing where I pretended everyone who yelled was yelling for me – it was awesome.  I was worried about muscle cramps (Chicago is so flat!) so every once in a while I’d vary my stride/form a bit to use different muscles and change things up.
  2. Plan “Check ins.” This goes with being engaged – planning mini “check ins” with myself made me feel more in control of the race, and helped split it up.  Every few miles or so I’d take a minute to think, “Hey, how’s it going, how am I feeling, how is my body feeling, what do I do about it?”
  3. Pace Groups are awesome. Until I left them, I didn’t look at my watch more than once a mile.  Talk about taking the stress out of racing!
  4. Know it’s going to hurt. There’s this great quote by Lauren Fleshman saying basically,  “You don’t train so that it doesn’t hurt, you train so that when it hurts, you can keep going.”  If having a plan for how to keep going when that happens (i.e. stick with the group) helps make it less scary.
  5. Know your gear, and pack last minute options. At the last minute, gauging the humidity and a piece of advice from a local runner I swallowed my pride and ran in a sports bra and shorts.  I made this decision on the way to baggage, and along with my impulse purchase sunglasses I’m convinced dressing cooler saved me at least a minute.  Bring options to the start, just in case!
  6. Do the last mile for yourself. I promised myself that no matter how crappy I was feeling at mile 25, I was going to kick it in because I worked too damn hard not to.
  7. Two week tapers work!  I was scared of mine but followed the group plan and it worked out!

Shout Out’s:

There were some AMAZING PR’s out there!  Every Whippet I saw post-race had PR’d!

In order of when I saw them, this includes Sky Canaves ( 3:19:11 on her birthday!), David Parkinson (a badass 2:58:13), Meredith Tinkham (3:34:11-her first BQ!), Beth Schizzle (huge PR at 4:44:19).  There were many others I didn’t get to see post race, but congrats to everyone!

A special thank you to Atsede for coming out to take photos , Annette Vega who not only cheered but jumped in to pace Beth the last couple of miles, and Andrea, for dragging her non runner friends to a race to cheer! You guys are all awesome.

Reasons to Run Chicago:

For those of you now thinking about it, I walked away with a ton of reasons to run Chicago again. Just a few include:

  1. Gorgeous Course
  2. Great Crowd Support
  3. Pace groups from Nike!
  4. You are handed a Goose Island Beer as part of the finish chute (immediately after receiving your goody bag)
  5. Best finisher festival ever- live music, more free beers, free massages for runners
  6. Sweet finisher gear (best I’ve seen at any race)
  7. Gorgeous, friendly, happy city
  8. Lots of easy to use public transportation!
  9. FAST course (if the weather cooperates)
  10. Best expo ever- ask anyone.
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This post is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Dashing Whippets Running Team, its board, or its captains.

More about Dashing Whippets Running Team

The Dashing Whippets Running Team is a New York based running team that is founded on, and driven by, the diversity of our team members. With team members from all over the city, the country and the world, and with greatly different running goals, we find unity in recognizing and appreciating each others differences and our mutual enjoyment of running and participating in the New York running community and beyond.

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