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Running, walking, and peeing the Chicago Marathon

Running, walking, and peeing the Chicago Marathon is an odd title, but pretty much captures the essence of my race. When last I left you I had finally passed the starting line of the Chicago Marathon. The training and the waiting were now over. It was me, 40,000 other runners, and 26.2 miles of Chicago streets to run over to finish my goal and become a marathoner. There was also a nagging feel of already having to go to the bathroom.

Related: 25 things to do in Chicago

Peeing the Chicago Marathon

Beautiful shot of the start of the Chicago Marathon – Photo purchased from Marathon foto

Related: Chicago Marathon Long Run

Had to pee from the beginning

As I started to run my bladder started to shake and the sensation only intensified. A panicky feel began to emerge. I had no idea when the first set of port-o-potties would appear. I imagined it might be awhile. This only made my anxiety increase.

Chicago Marathon

Peeing the Chicago Marathon – I am in there somewhere, and I have to pee – Photo purchased from Marathon Foto

Peeing the Chicago Marathon

After passing an open stretch past the starting line, the course went under a large bridge. There were no spectators under the bridge. The person running next to me pointed to the edge of the road and said “look at the pee-ers.” I looked and saw the edge of the wall under the bridge lined with men letting it loose on the walls. It was like the cover of the Who’s Next album on a large scale. Click on the link to see a photo if you are unfamiliar with the famous album cover.

I did not blink and left the rank of the runners and soon I was peeing the Chicago Marathon. It is not something I was proud of, but at least I had company. This is the beauty of running the Chicago Marathon. With 40,000 other runners you will always have company. If you are feeling like you have to pee, there will likely be hundreds of others feeling the same way. If you can’t take it anymore and need to walk, there will be someone right next to you walking. Misery and people peeing love company.

Running and peeing the Chicago Marathon

Running and peeing the Chicago Marathon

I had hoped to run the whole 26.2 miles, but here I was on the side of the course, and I had not even run a mile. Relieved, I joined the ranks of the runners again. I am so glad I broke ranks when I did because the first bathroom stop was 4 miles into the run and there was a line at this row of port-o-potties. This is my best tip about running the Marathon. Make you sure you pee before your start or hit the wall under the bridge. Sorry ladies.

Locking in on the four hour pace

I had hoped to run a sub four hour race. I quickly locked on to the four hour pace group. Three runners carried little signs that read “4 hour.” All I had to do was follow these people, and I was fine. This was easier said than done as the crowd was tight.

Chicago Marathon pace clubs

Pacing clubs led by experienced marathon runners would run holding signs like these

The crowds were absolutely electric and amazing. I have never run a race where so many people cheered on the sideline. I ran cross-country in high school and the only people that cheered at these races were other runners from our team, our coaches, and parents and an occasional friend.

This was amazing to have over a million spectators over the 26.2 mile. Most often these people were there to cheer for their friends or family member, but they yelled encouragement to everyone. It was great to be supported by so many random people that I did not know and did not know me. One touching moment was passing a retirement home on Sheridan Avenue. The retirees waved and smiled from their wheelchairs out their window. I waved and smiled to these elderly viewers.

Chicago Marathon

As I was approaching the midway point, this crew was near the finish – I doubt there was any peeing the Chicago Marathon from this bunch – Photo purchased from Marathon Foto

I passed the midway mark at over 2 hours. The official time was for the people that started the race at 7:30. It took me about ten minutes to reach the starting line. Your official time does not begin until you pass the starting line. A computer chip in our bib activated once we passed the starting line.

Half mile split right on schedule

I did not know that my split was exactly 2 hours, but I figured I was right on target. Plus, I had the bobbing 4 hour club mark in my sight. I had to use the port-o-potties at mile 8, so I lost them for awhile, but caught back up to them a few miles later.

I kept track of each mile and noticed I was under a 9 minute pace. This was great news, but with each mile after the 13 mile mark I began to tire. The 4 hour pace mark signs gradually gained on me. I knew I could do 20 miles without stopping, or at least I thought I could, as I did a 20 mile run three weeks prior. Today though I could only muster 16 without stopping. My legs became absolute bricks at the 16 mile mark. It was a sad moment when I saw the 4 hour sign disappear in the distance for good.

running Chicago Marathon

Peeing the Chicago Marathon – A look of a man saying fuck this – Photo purchased from Marathon Foto

Hitting the wall at mile 16

My first thought at the 16 mile mark was “fuck this” (excuse my language, but “forget this” or “screw this” does not capture the feeling of the moment). I walked for a minute and then started to run again. I only could go about a half mile before walking again.

This was the pattern for the rest of the race. I would feel like quitting, walk for about a minute or two, grab a Gatorade, find the will to run a half mile or so, then stop again. I did not run another continuous mile the rest of the race. It seemed by some cruel twist of fate that the mile markers were now placed two miles apart. This of course was accentuated by the fact I was walking and it was taking longer, which only prolonged the misery.

Running the Chicago Marathon

Peeing the Chicago Marathon – I was not alone nor was I ever alone with 40,000 other runners, walkers (and pee-ers)

I was very disappointed in myself, but I began to be resigned to the fact that this was how it was going to be. I had no choice. My legs were toast. Also, I was not alone as there were plenty of other walkers.

Time to grit it out

The miles slowly and painfully melted away. I soon hit the 24 mile mark. To my shock, I noticed if I continued at this pace, I would beat the 5 hour mark. I thought I was heading for a 6 hour time. I gritted it out and ran/walked forward.

Chicago Marathon

Peeing the Chicago Marathon – Some determined but slow moving runners nearing the finish line

Soon I hit the 25 mile mark and then the mark for one mile to go. I hoped I could run one mile without stopping. A half mile later I started to walk again. I walked about a minute and began to run again. Soon there was the 800 meter left to go followed by the 400M, and 300M mark. We turned a corner off Michigan Avenue and went uphill for a stretch. Then the finish line was in sight and it was over. The official time over the finish line read over five hours, but I knew with the lag time I had gone under five hours.

Running Chicago Marathon

Peeing the Chicago Marathon – Only 2.2 miles to go

It was not what I wanted, but  I was pleased just to finish. After passing the finish line they gave us Chicago Marathon thin blankets. There was an army of volunteers passing out Gatorade, water, bananas, medals, and then beer. Each one said “congratulations,” with the utmost sincerity. It was an emotional moment.

Chicago Marathon

What a relief to cross the finish line at mile 26.2 – Photo purchased from Marathon Foto

Happy to finish and already planning future races

Although I did not run the whole race, I completed the course and could be called a marathoner. I am already thinking about next year. It is time to consider what went wrong with my race and training in order to find a way to improve next year.

Chicago Marathon finish

Tired but not too tired to hold up the medal and a 312 beer

Again, with so many other runners running this race and marathons in general, my experience is very common for first time marathon runners. Until you have gone through the training and the race, you do not know what to expect. I hope to analyze, learn, and improve.

Adventure on!

The goal of Traveling Ted is to inspire people to outdoor adventure travel and then provide tips on where and how to go. If you liked this post then sign up for the email newsletter. Notifications are sent out once or twice a month with what is new with Traveling Ted’s adventures. There is no spam and email information will not be shared. Other e-follow options include Facebook (click on the like box to the right) or twitter (click on the pretty bird on the rainbow above).


34 Responses to Running, walking, and peeing the Chicago Marathon

  1. Jess October 21, 2013 at 8:12 pm #

    Congratulations on finishing!

    I have had the ‘really needing to pee’ experience when I rowed marathons. Except being on a boat – and female – complicates the situation even more. At least the pain in my bladder almost distracted me from all the other pains?
    Jess recently posted..Robb’s Farm: Apple fritters and Angry Emus

    • Ted Nelson October 22, 2013 at 3:19 am #

      I did feel very sorry for all the female runners when I bolted for the peeing wall. Not only did they have to view this disgusting sight, but they could not participate.

  2. Maria October 22, 2013 at 12:53 am #

    Ted, Congratulations! You made it to the end, and even if you walked for those last 10 miles, you did something that so many people will never get close to. Thanks for sharing and for the honesty.

    Re: the peeing, I’ve seen many unfortunate photos of runners crossing the finish who had bodily issues of a different sort. A little pee ain’t so bad 😉
    Maria recently posted..Spectating at a mile before the finish line. The other side of…

    • Ted Nelson October 22, 2013 at 3:21 am #

      Thank you Maria,

      One of the great things about running the race is the heartfelt warm wishes by thousands of people. Some I know well, but many I have never met. I am grateful I was able to do my peeing on something other than myself.

  3. Kevin Revolinski October 22, 2013 at 1:13 am #

    Whew, not knowing much about marathons, so I was afraid this was going to be a post about peeing yourself while you were still running! Super congrats on your accomplishment. Can’t even dream of doing that myself. Walking in the first mile. Bent over in the second. Having a beer down a side street in the… second. Don’t judge.
    Kevin Revolinski recently posted..My Bangkok ‘Hood: Bangchak Market

    • Ted Nelson October 22, 2013 at 3:23 am #

      Thanks Kevin,

      That sounds like a great plan actually. There was one group of dudes handing out beer. I was so tempted to grab a glass. I wish I did looking back on it as it would not have mattered much.

      At the straightaway at the end of the Birkie I did a shot of jagr with a dude in a gorilla suit. That was a great time.

  4. Leigh October 22, 2013 at 3:12 am #

    I can totally relate to the fuck it comment. Sometimes that is the only word that captures the emotion
    Interesting that you did 20 miles a few weeks earlier. Wonder if it was a case of nerves combined with God knows what? I have had that feeling a few times always at inopportune moments. Several years ago I was hiking alone when I heard a cougar – you know on an instinctual level what it is. I had been training for a half marathon but I hear that wild animal sound and my legs went to lead. I think it was eating so it left me alone but the dog and I ran/walked back to teh trailhead as fast as my leaden legs would take me.
    So is an Ironman on the horizon?
    Leigh recently posted..Hiking the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park

    • Ted Nelson October 22, 2013 at 3:28 am #

      I think two issues with my training that hurt me was I did the 20 mile run too close to the actual marathon. You are supposed to do it a month, and I did it 3 weeks. Another problem was leaving for Isle Royale and hiking for a week during a critical time in my training. Next year I will wait till after the race to go hiking.

      Scary story about the cougar. I have never heard or seen one. I have only hiked in a few places where they live: Big Bend, Grand Canyon, Zion, and Black Hills.

      No Iron Man for me. The only swimming I am going to ever do is to cool off with a beer in hand. I could handle the running and the biking, but no competitive swimming for me.

  5. Casey @ A Cruising Couple October 22, 2013 at 3:21 am #

    It is so true that you don’t know what to expect until race day is upon you. I can’t believe that it has been nearly a year since I ran my first marathon! The last mile is the worst in my opinion… Especially if you are running the Taipei marathon and the last bit is all up hill! Good luck training for your next marathon!
    Casey @ A Cruising Couple recently posted..Giveaway: Win a FREE Hoboroll!

    • Ted Nelson October 22, 2013 at 3:32 am #

      Thanks Casey,

      I am sure if you run the whole race the last mile is the toughest. For me it was somewhere in the middle of the last ten miles. Perhaps even mile 16 when it ended. I knew I was going to have a tough time finishing, and since I had started to walk it was going to be a long 10 miles. Congrats on running Taipei. What a great place to run a marathon although the last mile uphill does not sound fun. There was a stretch towards the end of Chicago that was uphill, but it was not the whole mile.

  6. Katie October 22, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

    Congrats on finishing! I definitely know that “fuck it” feeling as I had that the last time I ran Chicago in 2010. My training had gone perfectly and I was sure I was headed for a new PR (which for me would’ve been under 4:30). Then the stupid weather ended up hot and humid and all bets were off. Around mile 14, I turned off my watch and tote off my pacing band and said “fuck it.”

    Without knowing anything about your training, I would guess one issue may have just been you went out a little fast. I think it’s generally best to run a negative split, conserving some of your energy for the end.
    Katie recently posted..Trekking in the Himalayas: A Quick Recap

    • Ted Nelson October 23, 2013 at 12:22 am #

      Thanks Katie,

      I don’t feel like I went out too fast, but apparently I did. I think the problem was more due to flaws in my training. I think I ran the 20 mile run too close to the actual race and other mistakes.

      I am so glad I did not run the hot humid race. I hate hot weather unless I am in a pool or near a place I can swim. Running in that weather is my nightmare.

  7. Craig Zabransky October 22, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

    Ted, congrats. Seriously, an impressive hall of fame type accomplishment. Bravo for finishing.

    My only suggestion would be wearing a different T-Shirt, I can send in a Stay one for next or year maybe you can just put TED across the front of a Ts-hirt and have people cheer your name… I know plenty of ladies who would cheer for Ted and that might be the fuel you need to reach your goals. That or maybe the fanny pack?

    stay adventurous, Craig
    Craig Zabransky recently posted..the Five-Exploring Ciudad Juarez, Mexico in 5 Photos

    • Ted Nelson October 23, 2013 at 12:27 am #

      I was thinking of putting the Traveling sticker on like I have on the bumper sticker of my car, but I am glad I did not after my slow finish. Perhaps next year.

  8. Trips By Lance October 22, 2013 at 8:17 pm #

    Yes, you finished. The most important thing. It was at 16 miles where I crashed. My right leg wouldn’t lift. But I finished. It’s very dispiriting to hurt so badly and realize you still have 10 miles to go. I can’t relate to the lack of port o potties. At the Memphis marathon there are several port o potties at every mile. And there are only 16,000 entrants, so much easier to pee.
    Trips By Lance recently posted..Santa Fe Hiking Experiences

    • Ted Nelson October 23, 2013 at 12:28 am #

      Once the race started it was fine Lance. I don’t think there is a solution to this except for peeing on the wall in the first mile. There is only so much space at Grant Park to fit port-o-potties. I think if the park was wall-to-wall potties, there would still be lines and no once would be able to move.

  9. @mrsoaroundworld October 23, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

    The most important thing is that you got to finish. And that needs to be celebrated!
    @mrsoaroundworld recently posted..My hOtel: The Kensington Hotel, London @hotelkensington @doylecollection

    • Ted Nelson October 27, 2013 at 5:35 pm #

      Thanks Mrs. O,

      I plan to celebrate in style 🙂

  10. Captain and Clark October 23, 2013 at 9:21 pm #

    Ted, you are BAD.ASS. Don’t feel defeated about not running the entire time. Celebrate that you ran a f*cking marathon. We are so proud of you. First round of drink on us the next TBEX. Also, what happens to the people that desperately need to #2 while running the marathon?
    Captain and Clark recently posted..One of the most haunted spots in WA

    • Ted Nelson October 27, 2013 at 5:37 pm #

      There are port-o-potties situated about every four miles. In a pinch you could always stop at a business like a bar or restaurant. I am sure people along the way would be accommodating to the emergency.

      Thanks so much. I am proud of the accomplishment. I hope to train better for next year’s race to get a better time.

  11. Mary Anne October 25, 2013 at 2:34 am #

    You finished and that is all that matters! Way to go. Congratulations.

  12. Raul (@ilivetotravel) October 25, 2013 at 9:40 pm #

    As a fellow runner, I understand most of what you went through except I never have done more than a half-marathon. Question: under that bridge where you peed, were there women peeing to? Also, did you wear your fanny pack or did you cheat on it? Regardless, con-gra-tu-la-tions. A marathon is a feat of human will and you have it!
    Raul (@ilivetotravel) recently posted..Out, Up, and Down in Chile’s Valparaíso

    • Ted Nelson October 27, 2013 at 5:39 pm #

      I did not see any women peers there. I think women are better at holding their pee then men.

      I did not wear a fanny pack. When I run I do not like to be holding anything or have anything dangling off of me. The only exception is I got an arm band for my phone, so I could take pictures.

  13. Kieu Nguyen October 26, 2013 at 2:24 am #

    LOL… ‘at least you had company”. haha. Did you also peed into the wind? I’m with C&C, were there a line of squaters #2ing it somewhere you just didn’t know about? I’d hate to paint that picture but now I’m curious. hehe.. Congrats by the way – I envy you for doing something I can’t.. won’t. Running is not my forte. 😛
    Kieu Nguyen recently posted..Exploring the ruins of Angkor, in photos

    • Ted Nelson October 27, 2013 at 5:41 pm #

      The place where I peed was under a bridge and protected. I did not see any squatters. I am sure they held it till the four mile mark where the first line of port-o-potties were located.

  14. Leah October 26, 2013 at 5:52 pm #

    OK, so you don’t look like you even broke a sweat. What’s up with that? And, did they have free beer at the finish line or did you bring your own?
    Leah recently posted..10 Great Spas from Around the World

    • Ted Nelson October 27, 2013 at 5:42 pm #

      It was a cool day, and the last ten miles I was run/walking, so I was not sweating all that much. The first 16 miles I did sweat, but that had mostly dried.

      They had all sorts of goodies at the finish line including a free beer. They also gave us a second free beer at the after race party.

  15. lola dimarco October 27, 2013 at 5:32 pm #

    BRAVO! .At least one thing I can relate to here is what is sometimes the most difficult question of the night.. when to break the seal! Congrats on finishing! We are all so proud of you! MUAH!
    lola dimarco recently posted..Hotel Le Germain, #Montreal – by @JETSETextra @TheWrldWanderer & @loladimarco

    • Ted Nelson October 27, 2013 at 5:42 pm #

      Thanks Lola,

      I figured that would be a good analogy for most readers.

  16. Erin at The World Wanderer October 27, 2013 at 7:58 pm #

    Wow, Ted. I am seriously so proud and impressed. A marathon is no easy business and walking or running, (or peeing? haha) you crossed that finish line and I am so proud of you for that. I cannot even imagine running a marathon. Maybe one day, with you as my inspiration, but I’m not ready for such a feat yet.
    Erin at The World Wanderer recently posted..Map Nails.

    • Ted Nelson October 27, 2013 at 9:34 pm #

      Thanks Erin,

      I appreciate all the support.

  17. Pola (@jettingaround) November 16, 2013 at 10:44 pm #

    I still don’t get why or how people do this. Congrats, Ted!!
    Pola (@jettingaround) recently posted..Photo(s) of the Week: Fall in the Chicago Botanic Garden

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