The Chicago Marathon was my first on Oct. 7, 2007, and because it was during my first year of law school at John Marshall, I had very little physical and mental energy to devote to training. My race preparation consisted of a few long runs mixed in with my daily five to seven mile regime, and virtually no strength training. I finished with a time of 4:41:09 and did not revisit the marathon distance for ten years.

In April of this year, I decided to give 26.2 another shot and ran the Trailbreaker Marathon in Waukesha, Wisc. In much better shape and with a more focused training plan, I was able to drop my time to 3:40:36, a crushing 36 seconds short of a Boston Qualifying time.

It was after this race that I decided to focus in and nail a BQ time for my ten year anniversary of running the Chicago Marathon this October. With the help of Chicago Athlete and Nike, I’ve been paired with two of the best coaches in the field and have trained in the greatest gear in the industry.

I’ve spent the last seven weeks training harder than I ever have before. I am 37 years old, making my BQ time 3:40, however my coaches have me focusing on a finishing time of 3:37, which will not only be a PR, but will definitely hit my BQ goal time.

Incorporating Strength Training

I began this journey with Emily Hutchins, a Nike Master Trainer and Nike+ Run Coach. Emily leads Chicago area Nike classes and runs and is the owner of On Your Mark Coaching + Training.

When I first met with Coach Emily, she had me perform a series of movements and exercises as she assessed my overall flexibility and fitness level. At the conclusion of our first session, she correctly assessed that my hips were tight and, like most runners, I neglected strength training.

Emily put together a strength training regime that included kettlebells, resistance bands, hand weights, body weight and, my new obsession, foam rollers. Before each session, Coach Emily would ask how I felt both physically and mentally. Based on my body’s fatigue and stress levels, she would craft a workout that not only built strength, but also increased my flexibility.

I sported the Nike Grip shoes during my strength training and found them to help my stability and form. Unlike previous pairs of cross trainers I have worn, the Nike Grip provided support and helped to brace my foot, especially when doing exercises that required balance on a single leg.

‘Zooming’ and ‘Flying’ Through Runs

In addition to working with Coach Emily, I also received training from Robyn LaLonde, a USAT Level-1 Coach, Certified Level II Metabolic Efficiency Training Specialist and Head Coach for Nike+ Run Club. Coach Robyn is the owner and Head Coach of Edge Athletic Lounge, a fitness and recovery center in Chicago.

Coach Robyn led me through a weekly speed and tempo run. I trained in the Nike Zoom Fly Women’s Running shoe, which was designed for training and race day wear. This shoe held up to my toughest tempo, speed, and long runs, providing an extremely responsive and supportive foundation to my stride. I found the Nike Zoom Fly to be extremely versatile in performance, providing a smooth, seamless lift with any pace. It’s super lightweight even though it features a full-length carbon-infused nylon plate to enhance performance. I used the Nike Zoom Fly for both training and pre-marathon races and found it to be a great, dependable shoe.

One of my favorite moments was announcing to Robyn that although my training schedule required only a six-mile run, I had performed 10 because I “felt great.” Her face changed to a look of disapproval and she told me not to do that again. “Stick to the schedule, as written. You are performing specific training for a specific goal,” explained Robyn. “When you choose your distance based on how you feel, you are running unspecific training for an unspecific goal.” I learned quickly that there was no messing around with Coach Robyn.

Both Nike Coaches were beyond amazing in their skill and knowledge of the fitness field, made evident in their successful private fitness studios and remarkable careers. Robyn and Emily worked together to create the best training schedule for my overall BQ goal, providing immediate results in my race times and endurance levels. The Nike gear has enhanced and supported my training journey by providing added support and breathability in both the workout attire and shoes.

The Breaking2 Shoe

However, the Nike team didn’t stop with their forward thinking and strong commitment and support to quality athletic gear. Half way through my training, Nike announced the launch of its Zoom Vaporfly 4%, which paired a Nike ZoomX midsole (for responsive cushioning) with a full-length carbon plate (intended to minimize energy loss during toe bend without increasing demand for the calf). These features can make runners, on average, four percent more efficient than Nike’s previous fastest marathon shoe.

The Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4%, also known as the Breaking2 shoe, is already quite famous in its own right. On May 6, at 10:45 p.m. CST, three of the world’s greatest distance runners took to the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, one of Formula One’s most iconic racetracks, to attempt the ‘moonshot’ of the racing world, to run 26.2 miles in under two-hours.

“The Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% was born from the Breaking2 Attempt,” says Brian Deal, Product Line Manager, Nike Running. “With the clearly defined goal of putting a runner under the two-hour marathon mark, Nike’s innovation team concentrated their efforts on not only leveraging the world’s best science minds, but also listening to the voice of the athlete. The world’s best runners told Nike what they were looking for and potentially missing for their race day flat.”

Over two years of work went into this project as Nike consulted and recruited experts in biomechanics, coaching, design, engineering, materials development, nutrition and sports psychology and physiology to guide the development of the shoe and training of the athletes.

“The Vaporfly 4% is the first Nike shoe to leverage the revolutionary new ultra-responsive and lightweight ZoomX foam,” Deal explains. “Traditional racing flat construction places emphasis on ensuring the shoe is lightweight but at a compromise to cushioning. ZoomX maintains the lightweight construction, but has the highest measured energy return of any foam at Nike Running.”

Also, the Nike Zoom VaporFly 4% uses a full-length carbon fiber plate that acts as a stiffening element to limit flex and reduce energy loss. This no-compromise approach delivers on pushing fast forward.

“Runners are raving about the underfoot experience of the Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% and setting records and winning medals all across the world,” Deal adds.

Not surprisingly, the Breaking2 project generated a great deal of media attention and spotlight. As with all pop media, a slight controversy arose regarding limits of technological assistance on athletic performance. With all of the technology behind the shoe’s development, questions were raised whether the Breaking2 shoe would fall within the regulations of the International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF).

The IAAF’s Rule 143 states that shoes “must not be constructed so as to give an athlete any unfair additional assistance, including by the incorporation of any technology which will give the wearer any unfair advantage.” With the vague nature of this rule, Nike certainly adhered to the mandate, while providing athletes with a beneficial shoe.

Thankfully, this controversy did not damper the excitement and anticipation of the Breaking2 race, whose popularity skyrocketed during the weeks preceding the event.

In the end, Eliud Kipchoge took the lead, hovering right under the two hour mark until his last 5K. Kipchoge finished with a time of 2:00:25, faster than anyone has ever run a marathon. Although the time failed to break the 2 hour goal and was not eligible for a world record (the course was unsanctioned), the Breaking2 project certainly pushed the limits of endurance and pace beyond what was ever possible before, creating belief that the sub-2 hour marathon is a real possibility.

Race Day: The Truth Comes Out

The Nike team brought me a pair of the Zoom Vaporfly 4% shoes to try out during a speed workout with Coach Robyn. It took only about a mile for my mind to be blown; it is almost unheard of for all advertisement claims to be true, but in this case, Nike’s promises are fulfilled.

I immediately noticed the lightweight feel of the shoe and the strong similarity in fit to the Nike Zoom Fly. However, the Vaporfly 4% literally would not let me go slow. It propelled me forward throughout my training run, adding stability, bounce and a driving force to my stride. Somehow Nike has created a shoe that not only provides strong support, but also propulsion.

I told Coach Robyn that I was having a hard time running my marathon pace in the shoe. She bumped up the tread to my 10K pace and almost immediately, I fell into a strong cadence that the shoe supported. From my experience, this is a shoe that wants to go fast and promotes an efficient stride.

As I enter this last month of Chicago Marathon training, I can assure you that I will not be straying from my tried and true Nike gear. Oct. 8 is right around the corner and I can’t wait to put all of my training and innovative Nike gear to the test. If the 4% efficiency found in the Vapor Fly translates to speed, I should be able to finish with a time of 3:31, but I’ll sure be happy to be below 3:40.

Look for updates on Mandi’s experience online at



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Mandi has been running for over 25 years and has participated in the Chicago, Detroit, and Boston Marathons. Mandi regularly competes in regional events and enjoys being a part of several running groups including CARA and the Badgerland Striders. She is a co-host on the Ten Junk Miles podcast and looks forward to hosting the Chicago Athlete Podcast. An RRCA certified coach and Les Mills certified instructor, Mandi is also a coach with Chicago Athlete Coaching. Mandi is a local government attorney by weekday and race warrior by weekend.



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