How to finish the Chicago Marathon

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Will you be one of the runners finishing the Chicago Marathon on Sunday? | Sun-Times Media

You’ve been training for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon for months now.

In these last few days, what should you be doing to make sure you make it across the finish line on Sunday?

Kristen Heckert and her fiance, Mike Lucchesi, have done their share of races, so they’ve got a lot of solid advice for marathon newbies.

Kristen Heckert (No. 66) of Bolingbrook will run her fourth Chicago Marathon on Sunday. | SUBMITTED PHOTO

Kristen Heckert (No. 66) of Bolingbrook will run her fourth Chicago Marathon on Sunday. | SUBMITTED PHOTO

Heckert, a runner for 14 years, has completed three Chicago Marathons and was the top Illinois female finisher in 2013. With 21 years of running under his belt, Lucchesi has completed so many races, half-marathons and marathons he can’t quite remember if he’s done five or six Chicago Marathons. A manager of New Balance’s Hyde Park store, Lucchesi’s also the head of  New Balance’s marathon team (Heckert, too, is a member of that team).

Don’t stop running now so you’ll be ready for Sunday. “You’ve trained your body to have certain habits,” says Lucchesi, and running is one of them now. Keep going!

Heckert has taken the intensity down, but continues to run. “I don’t want my legs to feel heavy on race day,” and the high school math teacher says that’s what will happen if she stops running.

A lot of newbies think hydration starts the morning of the marathon. Nope. Getting the proper amount of fluids in the days leading up to the marathon is vital, Heckert says.

When it comes to eating, Lucchesi sees carb-loading as a myth and not a good one at that. Think about it. As he says, your body can only hold 2,000 calories of carbs. Do you really want to start 26.2 miles feeling weighted down?

“Fuel yourself, but you don’t want to overdo it, either,” Lucchesi says.

Eat enough “to sustain yourself” Heckert agrees. For Heckert it’s peanut butter on two slices of bread that morning. One thing she avoids the day of the marathon: fiber. To be blunt, you don’t want to need to poop.

The night before the marathon, runners are giddy with anticipation, and so a lot of sleep might not be possible. That’s why getting a really good night’s sleep on Friday night is such a good idea, according to Lucchesi.

Right now the weather and conditions look ideal for Sunday’s marathon. But still, it could be in the 30s while runners wait to begin. That’s why Heckert and Lucchesi advice dressing in the oldest sweatshirt and pants you can find, even if, as Heckert suggests, you have to go to a resale shop and buy them. Wear what you want to race in closest to your body and shuck the rest when it’s time to line up, Lucchesi says.

It’s not a good idea to switch right now to new socks or shoes, according to Heckert.

“Consistency,” is key, Lucchesi says.

During marathon training, runners are out alone or with at most a small training team. Then comes the Chicago Marathon, with its 45,000 expected runners. It’s easy to start out racing instead of running.

“From my experience it is really hard NOT to go too fast,” says Heckert.

Find a runner who is going at your regular speed or look for the Nike+ Pacers, veteran marathoners who will be there to help novices succeed at meeting personal performance goals. Stick with your speed. Your goal is to finish.

“If you are straining even a little bit, you are not going to have a good day.” says Lucchesi. “Go out easy and comfortable.”

Don’t go overboard on the water and Gatorade, either. Heckert says she alternates between the two, sometimes just sipping at the stations.

On the other hand, you also don’t want to run 15 miles or so without some sort of hydration. Just like your speed, it’s a delicate balance, Lucchesi says.

It’s a good idea to carry a couple packs of energy gel for sustenance during the 26.2 miles.  (If it were me, I’d be sure I was wearing sunscreen and I’d have a tube of lip balm tucked in, too.)

But most of all, savor the moment. Heckert praises how the route takes the runners through so many of Chicago’s neighborhoods. Lucchesi talks about the “incredible crowd support.”

Be yourself the day of the race, Lucchesi recommends, and then …

“Take a deep breath; enjoy it.”

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