The Second Race (Chicago 13.1 Marathon Giveaway)

Disclosure: I was contacted by the marketing arm of the Michelob Ultra Chicago 13.1 Marathon with an invitation to run the race and promote it via Dan’s Marathon.  I ran this race in 2009, when Chicago went from having two half marathons to four, and remember it quite fondly.  I accepted their generous offer and will be giving away one free registration at the end of this post.

131chicagoRecently, a friend told me they were thinking of running a half marathon and asked if I thought they should.  I said Yes, and will always say Yes, especially if it’s a distance they’ve never run before.  I can’t imagine ever discouraging anyone from challenging themselves to achieve what their body has evolved to do with such grace and economy.  Of course do it, and do it with dedication, purpose and alacrity.

Because everyone knows that the first race of any distance is special.  It marks the maiden journey into the unknown and brings with it a swarm of nerves.  Many a runner has reached the starting line with frenzied hands and a jittery body, darting looks left and right, letting out exasperated sighs in anticipation of answering the important questions.

Did I train enough for this?  How fast should I start?  Are my time goals reasonable?  Did I eat enough this morning?  Is this weather too cold or just perfect? 

It’s a collection of emotions that I remember very fondly of all my first races, but most notably my first half and full marathons.  There was no way to guarantee that I’d return to the starting line strong or a broken shell of a once confident runner.  But these nerves and even doubts are part of the magic.  In fact, I’m very easily drawn to posts titled “My First Marathon” because of that vicarious desire to re-live those restive moments of near panic as the 26.2-mile journey unfolds ahead of a debutant.

Running the 2009 Chicago 13.1 Marathon

Running the 2009 Chicago 13.1 Marathon

Of course, once you cross the finish line, you know you’ve done it.  The mystery is solved, questions answered and challenge achieved.  Most likely you won’t even think of anything because your thoughts are being drowned out by music and your own barbaric screams.  But though training may have felt like forever, the moment of triumph is fleeting.  The race is over, you did it, and you don’t get another first chance.

So now we make room for the second race, which I find equally important and just as momentous.

The first race gets all the glitz and glory.  The medal earned a larger space on our mantles, the story likely racked up a greater word count and certainly attracted more accolades from our peers at the inevitable post-race bar party.  The second race isn’t regaled with the same attention and fondness and is often simplified to our desire to “do it again.”

However, I think there’s much more to it.  The second race is the one where most of us have already vanquished our demons of uncertainty.  We know how to show up to the start line healthy, fit and hungry for a fast time because we’ve done it already.  A few tweaks may have happened along the way and our average run time may have changed slightly, and there’s very little doubt anymore that we’ll finish.  But there is a chance that we’ll come up short.  Our previous best might kick harder.  It might not be our day.  That’s the chance we take when we come back.

The second time around, it’s no longer about achievement, it’s about competition.

First broken PR.

First broken PR.

Competition is what fueled me in that second race.  I learned that my body could run 13.1 miles during my first half marathon, but this time I was there to see how fast I could do it.  Because the second race is the first I ran against myself.  Though there may have been thousands of other racers out there, I only cared about my performance and I was intimately dialed into my efforts.

There’s something remarkable and subtle about besting one’s self.  We run with the rabbit of our first run scuttling nearby, an undeniable testament to what we can do.  But this is the second race, and it’s no longer about what we did but how much faster we can do it.  We are not playing it safe, staying behind our delicate lactate threshold, but instead pushing the envelope.  Running faster and harder may push us past our abilities but we won’t know until the race is over.  It’s almost as if we long for those daunting feelings of unpredictable outcomes that might not haunt us the second time.  If we can’t get our fix of uncertainty one way, we’ll find it elsewhere by raising the stakes.

Therein rests the true appeal and significance of the second race.  It not only gives us a chance to test ourselves against what we’ve already achieved, but the way in which we attack that challenge may say a lot about who we are as athletes and people.  Do we take the measured, conservative approach and simply add a few seconds to our pace per mile?  Or do we bet it all and hope to delay a premature collapse?

Do we rest our hopes on small, incremental change, or audacious, explosive progress?

The Chicago South Shore Cultural Center, where the race begins and ends

The Chicago South Shore Cultural Center, where the race begins and ends

Much like my running exploits, the 13.1 Marathon series was new in 2009.  I was very much a naïf in running shoes at the time, completely unaware of proper form and unlikely to name any famous marathoners, but I was acutely tuned into one number: 1:49:34.  My fastest and only half marathon time – the original PR.  Weather conditions were near perfect and I held nothing back.

The course started at the South Shore Cultural Center on the shores of Lake Michigan.  Chicago’s iconic skyline kept watch on the horizon behind a thick canopy of green.  The course would be flat, very fast and quite scenic.

2009 13.1 Marathon Chicago Medal

2009 13.1 Marathon Chicago Medal

I put up quite a fight through Jackson Park, around the Museum of Science and Industry, and back on the lake path, improving my mark to 1:47:58.  But I struggled at the end.  Passion and drive were just barely enough to overcome my lack of experience, which I learned as I staggered through the finisher’s chute.  A friendly volunteer asked me a few questions about my experience as I strove to break out of the haze of fatigue.  I might have answered her questions far too quickly for her hand because Gatorade and rest were calling my name like sirens.

I would have to train for ten more months to beat that time.

Thirty-four half marathons later, I still remember that race very vividly.  It was the first time I had triumphed over my own achievement, left the rabbit in the dust and felt the rush of tangible improvement.  Since then, I have seen my personal bests improve by as little as six seconds to as much as four minutes.  Personal bests aren’t guaranteed – they require a mix of intense training and optimal conditions – but I’ve never felt more ravenous for a challenge than on that second race.

On June 7, I will return to the Chicago 13.1 Marathon to once again attack my PR, which now stands at 1:30:47.  I will be giving away complimentary registration courtesy of the 13.1 Marathon series to a random commenter, to be announced on March 31, 2014.  To participate:

1. Comment below with thoughts on your most memorable second attempt at a race of any distance and why it was meaningful to you.
2. Include your email or website so I know how to contact you.
3. You may comment more than once as long as it furthers the discussion.
4. If you want to comment but wouldn’t be able to make the race if you win, please let me know.

About Dan
Running a marathon in all 50 states because there's no better way to explore the world around you than on your own two feet, for as long as you can, until you hate yourself and everything around you. Then you stop, get a medal, and start over.

39 Responses to The Second Race (Chicago 13.1 Marathon Giveaway)

  1. Daun says:

    Great idea! I will be running my second half on May 3rd and can’t wait to go after my first PR. After my first 5k 3 years ago, much like this years 2nd half, I could not wait to train harder and beat my previous 5k PR. After harder training and more speed workouts I was able to beat my previous time by 2 minutes. This time around with my 2nd half I am planning on PR’ing by more than 10 minutes. I hope all my hard training will pay off.

    • Daun says: My 2nd half is the Wisconsin Half-Marathon.

    • Dan says:

      I ran the Wisconsin Half in 2010 and remember it vividly. Not only was it very pretty alongside Lake Michigan, but I managed a big PR thanks to its relatively flat course. And you can’t say no to those charming cheese medals. Best of luck leading up to it — though the goal is always to have fun, it’s great to challenge yourself and attack that PR. Thanks for the comment 🙂

  2. John says:

    My second half was also my first out of state half, and the first I traveled to specifically for the race. It was a good look at racing outside of my home area, and proved that runners are the nicest people, no matter where you go.

    • Dan says:

      My first out-of-town race was in California. It was a random 10k that I found a few days before we left for our long weekend getaway. I loved it so much that … well, you’ve seen the outcome.

  3. I’m trying to remember my second half marathon and for the life of me I can’t. I will have to go back and check my log books. I do remember my first though and feeling like a failure because I didn’t know what I was doing or realize just how fast my goal time actually was, let alone that I might actually need to train at that pace to get it done. Ah… to be a newb all over again…

    • Dan says:

      That sentiment, “to be a newb all over again” (though I would write it “n00b”), is part of why some of us chase bigger challenges. Why run a 50k? A 50-miler? Hell, a 100-miler? Because some of us want that feeling again — the uncertainty, the nerves, the n00b-ness. We lose some of the magic when we show up to a race knowing we’re going to finish it strong.

      Someone might read this and think “uh oh, that sounds like you’re chasing a bigger high” … and maybe we are. But how is that different from eating hotter chicken wings or riding faster roller coasters?

  4. jill yott says:

    I’ve only officially run one half marathon, even though I’ve covered that distance several times (and a lot recently because I am training for my first ever marathon). I can relate what your asking to a 5K. The first time I ran a 5K, I wanted to know if I could run three miles at once. The second time I ran one, five months later, I raced it. I beat that time by five minutes. It was amazing. I couldn’t believe what I can do. If I got this entry, I would race this half. I am doing a full on April 26, and a half on May 18. I would love to see what I can do. Thanks for hosting the giveaway. I hope you crush you PR.

    • Dan says:

      A five-minute improvement in a 5k is HUGE. The most I’ve ever improved at that distance was maybe two minutes, so that was a quantum leap for you. Well done! Glad to see you’re on your way to a full in almost exactly a month. Best of luck with the taper!

    • Dan says:

      Congratulations Jill, you are the winner of the 13.1 Marathon Chicago Giveaway! Here’s to running new races and potentially conquering old PRs!

  5. seemommyrace says:

    my second 1/2 marathon would be mine, I went in super confident and went faster than I should have, hit the wall and 10 miles, had to run/walk the rest. I learned to respect the distance! My email is Thanks!!!

    • Dan says:

      Some people think it’s better (and more courageous) to have given your all and bonked hard than to play it safe. Not everyone agrees, and I understand why others would want to slowly dial up the effort over time. To each their own, I say.

  6. Barbara Harling says:

    My second attempt at a half marathon was the Mill Race in Columbus, Indiana and it was a great course. Ran it with my daughter, as I have run all others and that’s special, and got my best PR. This one was more fun than the first as I knew what to expect and had more confidence….a great time!

    • Dan says:

      This does bring up the question of what makes a race “fun” for someone — is it the nerves and anxiety or the confidence and daring? I’m sure the answer is different for everyone, but it all comes together to make the sport such a rewarding activity. Thanks for the comment!

  7. Patty says:

    My second marathon was 2 years after my first (I swore I would never do another). It was the complete opposite of the first (weather was perfect, course was point to point and fast). I PRd by 27 minutes. It’s still one of my favorite experiences out of 52 marathons.
    I just wanted to comment, I won’t be able to run the half marathon.

  8. jmonstJulia says:

    The 13.1 is a great race! Ive done this half 2 times before and it’s a beautiful course. I hope to run it in under 1:30 and winning an entry would be awesome!

  9. Mike says:

    I would add one more word to what distinguishes the second time around: expectations. As you said, that inaugural race is all about getting to the finish line intact… no matter what else happens, as long as you cross the finish line under your own power, then congrats! on your new PR. Each subsequent race, though, comes with expectations… if not a particular time goal, then at least performance goals and the understanding that “I know what I’m doing now, no more first-timer excuses.” It’s a totally different mindset for me, and I have to admit I enjoy the “burden” of expectations. I prefer to line up for a race with greater confidence and fewer butterflies (though they’re always there), since no race is ever easy and there will always be plenty of variables that are out of my control.

    My most memorable second race so far has been my second 50K. After temps reached 90F at the 2012 Mount Diablo 50K, I figured the 2013 Harding Hustle 50K here in SoCal would provide an opportunity to improve on my sloooow finish time at Diablo. And it did, even though it was the hottest weekend of the year in the U.S. and temps peaked at over 100F on race day. So now I’m eager to run my third 50K (E.T. was supposed to be, until I sprained my ankle mid-race), maybe something up in the Pacific NW where I’m not stopping for ten minutes at a time to avoid overheating.

    Great finish line shot from Chicago 2009, by the way… love the fist pump. And if the Chicago 13.1 Marathon organizers are reading this, I might suggest that this year’s medal showcase the city more than the brand/distance. In any case, it’s an impressive memento of a race well run.

    Unfortunately I’ll have to excuse myself from the drawing, unless Transporters Inc. is also sponsoring your excellent giveaway… coincidentally, I’ll be running my own half marathon here in SoCal that same morning. Look forward to comparing notes!

    • Dan says:

      Expectations are definitely part of the second (and third, and twenty-third) attempt, and with them comes a spectrum with three options: you can hit your expectation right on the head, you can finish slower, or finish faster. With each one comes an emotional reaction that can also reveal many character traits that, in turn, determine how you continue.

      Everyone always tells a first-time marathoner to eschew expectations for that first race, which makes sense. You don’t want to tarnish the experience if you end up below the mark. But let’s face it, even the most diehard practitioner of this ethos has a number in his/her head on race day. It’s how we handle ourselves afterward that counts. I didn’t go under 4 hours until my THIRD marathon, almost two years after I started training for my first. I could have moped about it, but I kept on doing my thing until I made it happen.

      Now if only going under three hours were simply a matter of time …

  10. I love memories! My husband and I started running together so when one of my best girl friends asked me to run my first half marathon with her (in October 2011) I struggled to say yes. Afterwards I could tell my husbands feelings had been hurt, even though he had gladly approved.

    So it was no surprise that he suggested we almost immediately start training for his first and my second half marathon that December 2011.

    The memories are not so much about the race itself but the entire journey. I love running with my husband. We chat about life, work, solve all the problems of the worlds, discuss vacation plans, and life’s blessings.

    At the half marathon we were cheered on my family and friends, and even got to finish the race with our dog, Peaches. It was one of the best races ever!

    Thanks for encouraging me to remember such a great memory!

    • Dan says:

      Glad this post inspired a pleasant stroll down memory lane. Racing really is about the journey leading up to the start line, but for me, it’s also the reason to train in the first place. Without a payoff, I’d have a much harder time motivating myself to get out of bed on the weekends for a long run, or delay dinner on weeknights to hit up the treadmill first.

      Since I train alone 99% of the time, I don’t have the same conversations as you do during runs (though if I did, people might think I’m crazy). Instead, it’s my time to simply think on life and the world around me. Each training cycle comes with different thoughts and expectations.

      Thanks for chiming in 🙂

  11. Carly says:

    My second half marathon was 9 months after my first. It was in April in the very hot and humid state of Florida where I somehow managed to cut 7 minutes off my time! This year I have set a goal for myself to race a half every month for 2014 (with the exception of October where I’ll be tackling my first ever full!). I still need a race for June, and I really want it to be this race (it’s getting quite expensive though, so I really hope I can win this entry).

    • Dan says:

      A half marathon in Florida in April? That does sound pretty intense. I ran Miami in early February and even THAT was a little oppressive for my taste. Hope I can help you out with one of your twelve half marathons for the year. Best of luck!

  12. lauren says:

    I went into my marathon with a solid summer of long runs. Didn’t PR by much, but I felt strong going into it. lauren799 at

    • Dan says:

      PR’ing is as much personal effort as it is nature cooperating and luck. Many people have gotten sick right before the race, while others were met at the start by thunderstorms. Sometimes you just have to keep those fingers crossed.

  13. Liz says:

    The second time I attempted a 10K, I really put in the effort to get my time down from my first attempt which was just surviving. I didn’t make my goal of under an hour, but I was close, and proud of that.

    • Dan says:

      It’s all about your attitude afterwards. Having goals and expectations means you run the risk of not fulfilling or achieving them. But falling shy of your targets isn’t a bad thing — it just means you get another shot at them! The 10k distance can be tricky too — just long enough to demand endurance from you, but short enough that you trick yourself into going too fast.

  14. Amy says:

    (I’m excusing myself from the drawing as much as I would love to go to Chicago in June).

    With the exception of the 5-k, thus far all of my other “seconds” have been slower than my “firsts.” The seconds seem to be the real lesson learners for me.

    I ran my first half in what I consider to be a very respectable time (1:45), but it was basically a fluke…I didn’t have a timing device, I didn’t fuel, I drank lots of wine the night before, and I had no idea about pacing. So I figured if I became a “runner” in the 2 weeks between that race and my second half by buying a Garmin and incorporating ClifShots, then surely I would take 5 minutes off my time. I was also incredibly cocky about my running abilities (I ran a half marathon so I am the greatest runner IN THE WORLD).

    But, sadly, some combination of the hills of San Francisco and my overconfidence in thinking I was capable of running the first 4 miles at my 5-K pace resulted in a slower time and total bonking at the end. My second half is my most memorable because it broke my short-lived cocky runner streak and taught me that starting out too fast is a sure way to not have a good time later on (also memorable for good reasons like getting to run across the Golden Gate Bridge).

    • Dan says:

      That’s an interesting pattern. Maybe you’re overthinking things the second time around. I quantum leapt in my marathon time the day I ran one with a dead watch. Not knowing my pace let me run at whatever felt right, and I ended up killing my time.

      This might not be the case with you, but it’s still an interesting phenomenon worth exploring. Or you picked dastardly difficult second attempts. I’m sure if you were to run this race (the 13.1 Chicago) you’d smoke your half marathon time because it’s delightfully flat and at sea level, which I doubt characterizes your current training grounds.

      Any update on whether you’re doing Shiprock?

  15. Jennifer Harling says:

    My second half marathon felt like a redemption race. My first half I did,in lots of pain due to hip bursitis, and my time was horrible. Was able to PR my second half with about a 45 minute pr on the first attempt. Would love to run this one!

    • Dan says:

      Ouch! I can only imagine how painful that first attempt was. It says a lot about your character that you decided to go back at it. There are few distances where a 45-minute PR isn’t a huge deal, so well done 🙂 Here’s to hoping you break your current mark by an equally impressive margin.

  16. MedalSlut says:

    My second ever half marathon was definitely a ‘let’s see how quickly I can do this’, and remains my PB. I also got a penis-shaped medal, so it was doubly memorable, I guess. I wanted to make up for the stitch I got during my first, pretty much making a sub-2 debut a fantasy, and those last 3 miles H-U-R-T.

    Oh, and I’m probably too late anyway, but I can’t run in the giveaway race because of, well, geography. 🙂

  17. joshbrown1335 says:

    My most memorable second attempt at a race has been the Brooklyn marathon… first time around, it was my first marathon and I was definitely not prepared for it… second time around (last year), I was more seasoned and in much better shape… not only did I crush my timing from the first time around, but it was also a PR for me at that time.

    (btw, as much as I’d like to run the Chicago, won’t be in the area, so please don’t include this comment for consideration)

  18. theregans63 says:

    This will be my second most memorable I think. Ran my first half last April and I have some lessons learned. This time around, I have a big group of friends joining me on this journey. So I hope to win a free entry and that will just be icing on the cake!

  19. Pingback: To Feel Like an Elite (13.1 Marathon Chicago) | Dan's Marathon

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