(For the sake of “brevity,” [lulz. There's nothing short about this post.] we’ll keep this exclusively as a race recap. You can come back later this week for the rest of my musings from the weekend :) ).
Race morning dawned dark and early, as they tend to do.
One of our group leaders last year was famous for counting down our miles on a long run by saying, “X miles down, Y to go. That aiiiiiiiiin’t shit!” Though he didn’t run with us this year, we certainly kept his positive thinking going throughout the season, so this seemed like the most appropriate message to wake up to Sunday morning. I also set my alarm to Gonna Fly Now (the Rocky song), because is there a better way to wake up on the morning of a marathon? I think not.
After getting ready while blasting my marathon pump up playlist (thank you, Caitlin!!), I headed out to join the masses on the CTA making our pilgrimage downtown. There’s nothing quite like the CTA on marathon morning :) Like last year, I completely ignored the fact that I had access to Charity Village and instead opted to use the CARA Compound at the Hilton for gear check and face time with my CARA friends.
After chilling at the Hilton and taking approximately 23948237 pictures, we all headed over to our corral where we waited, and waited, and waited for Wave 2 to go off. When 8:00 finally rolled around, we started processing from Congress to Monroe, and then we were off!
I ditched the group instantly. Or rather, got ditched. Pete offered some good insight on my attempt to analyze what went wrong on my 20 miler and suggested that I may be going out too fast. With that in mind, I made a SUPER concentrated effort to go out slow in the marathon. I hit the first mile in 10:55, which was 15 seconds faster than I had hoped for, but still substantially less than 10:30. It also was probably the first time in my entire running life where my Garmin hit the mile exactly as I crossed the mile marker (this didn’t happen at any point for the rest of the marathon, so my remaining 25 splits are probably slightly off). It sucked to not run with my friends, especially since I hadn’t done a single long run without them all summer, but it didn’t seem worth it to me to risk blowing up at the end of the marathon for the sake of having company to start with.
My plan, per a suggestion I had read in Runner’s World a couple days before, was to go out at 40 seconds slower than goal pace (11:10), run the second mile at 20 seconds slower than goal pace (10:50), run the third mile ten seconds slower (10:40), and then attempt to run goal pace or faster for miles 5-20, and hang on for the last 10K. This…ended up not happening at all. Haha. But it was a nice thought!
I continued to force myself to run much slower than I felt capable of running as we wound through downtown to LaSalle. When I was heading up LaSalle, I passed a blind runner on crutches and his guide, which was arguably the most inspirational thing I’ve ever seen in a race.
One of my CARA friends had posted on Facebook Saturday night that they had painted a blue line on the course, in case anyone happened to need guidance. I don’t know why the marathon didn’t bother telling any of the runners this (or at least if they did, I definitely missed it), but as I was running up LaSalle, I realized that the blue line on the course followed the tangents. BEST REALIZATION EVER. I signed up to run 26.2 miles and not one step farther, thank you, so once I realized the marathon had made my life SUPER easy by literally showing me the most direct route on the course, I made every effort to stick to that blue line, even when it seemed to do weird things. There were points along the course where the line disappeared, but MAN was this a lifesaver, especially on super wide roads like LaSalle.
I was feeling all right headed up through Lincoln Park (and saw Katie! So exciting!), but not having my friends around made it tough for me to not focus on everything that felt slightly off. One of my coworkers who has run several marathons advised me earlier last week to only worry on the mile I was running, so I did my best to not think too far ahead and stay in the moment. I saw my old roommates on Addison and then headed down Broadway. I remember being slightly underwhelmed by Boystown last year, but this year it was ROCKIN. I loved it. So much fun and enthusiasm!
I saw my family just beyond Wellington, as expected, and then was quite pleasantly surprised to see a friend from church (who I had no idea was spectating the marathon) at Surf. My splits through this whole section were all over the place, but all fell between 10:30 and 11:10 (depending on aid stations, mostly, since I walked whenever I grabbed water at an aid station — but only where I was drinking water, not through the entire aid station), which was quite all right by me. I really wanted to try to speed up, but with so much of the race left to go, I was scared to push it, so I told myself I had to at least hang back until I made it to Damen and Van Buren at mile 15.
I saw a friend from college in Old Town (side note: I did not particularly like the crowds around Wells and Division. They had all gotten off the sidewalk and were closing in on Wells, making the course really crowded. This was the only point of the entire marathon where I felt like I couldn’t move.) and continued truckin’ along back to downtown. That whole stretch of Adams from the turn through Old St. Pat’s has SO much energy, and I loved it. I hit the halfway point in 2:23:40, which is just over a minute faster than last year, when I hit the halfway point in 2:24:53.
The funny thing to me about a marathon is that when you pass 13.1, mentally it seems like you’re basically done. You have less distance to cover than you’ve already covered, so it should be a piece of cake, right? (True life: I was actually disappointed I was halfway done with the race. I didn’t want the marathon to be over!) Physically, however, my body knew exactly what was up and responded appropriately. Though I felt all right, aside from sore legs, my times crept into the 11:00 territory. I had a 10:43 14th mile, but beyond that, it was all 11:00+ or slower basically for the remainder of the marathon.
I made it through the charity block party (though I didn’t see my charity anywhere, even though I know they were out there :( ), and then things got real quiet. There was no one out by the United Center in terms of spectators, and that was kind of a bummer. Fortunately, my disappointment over the lack of crowd support at that point quickly dissipated, because I had turned onto Damen, and then turned onto Van Buren, at which point I had hit my goal of running the first 15 miles :D I gave myself a very proud pep talk and continued running along. I saw my physical therapy company at Jackson and Halsted (though not my PT, sadly. I’m not sure if he came out to the race at all, actually. Some fake boyfriend he is! Hahaha :P ) and gave them a hearty thank you, and then enjoyed that beautiful stretch of Jackson between Halsted and Whitney Young. I LOVE that stretch of the course. It’s so different from everything else in the West Loop area, with all the trees and old houses. It feels much more like Lincoln Park than the West Loop, and I, for one, am a HUGE fan. MarathonFoto also sets up camp in this area, and I am oh-so happy to report that the pictures they got of me in there look AWESOME. No slouching, no look of death — man, if I didn’t know better, I wouldn’t have had a clue those pictures were at mile 16!
I was feeling REALLY good all the way down Jackson and even to Halsted. I saw my family by UIC, just like last year, and I was SO blown away by how much better I felt seeing them there this year than I did last year, when I was already dying. Soon after I passed UIC, though, things started to get rough. I began to have a bit of trouble breathing, which led to me having a LOT of trouble not panicking. I knew I was going to have to switch over to my run/walk plan soon, but I wanted to make it at least to Erin’s aid station before doing that. I did, but just barely. While I had been walking only the points in aid stations where I was taking water, I started walking a little earlier at this aid station and actually thought I was going to pass out. Fortunately with a little bit of walking through the aid station I got my situation under control, and once I got past the aid station began to employ my 4:1 plan.
Originally I thought I’d do three sets of 4:1 and then reevaluate, but since I still wasn’t feeling super stellar during set two, I decided I’d keep it up at least all the way down Ashland to Pilsen. When we were heading into Pilsen, I happened to reach up and touch my face and found that I was SUPER salty. This presented me with an interesting problem. I know I’m a bit of a salty sweater, but it’s never been enough of a problem that I’ve felt like I need to replace electrolytes. I felt so salty, though, that I started to worry I had gotten too dehydrated. I knew I needed salt, which meant I knew I needed Gatorade (or pretzels, but OF COURSE at the one point on the course where I need spectators with pretzels, I saw none. Lame.), but I’ve hadn’t taken Gatorade once during this ENTIRE training cycle, and the marathon itself was not exactly the time where I wanted to start experimenting. I didn’t think I had much of a choice, though, since I still had a solid seven miles left in the marathon, so I grabbed Gatorade in Pilsen and also took a cup of water to dilute the Gatorade a bit.
MIRACLES. Not only did I feel a lot better (well, actually I felt a bit nauseous, but I could at least breathe again), but I could suddenly run again. Granted, my Garmin splits are not an accurate representation of the actual course miles, but I went from having a 12:45 and a 12:49 at miles 19 and 20 (which realistically was probably more like miles 17.75-18.75 and miles 18.75-19.75) to having an 11:25 at mile 21 and then out of NOWHERE busting out a 10:48 in mile 22, all while still using my 4:1 run/walk plan. The 10:48 was actually the only split I happened to see on my watch, but that was more than enough to convince me to keep up with my run/walk plan.
Bridgeport was a bit of a struggle. Once we were along the highway, I started to have breathing trouble again, and I was in rough shape when I saw my family at mile 23 (though, terrifyingly enough, they said I looked better at mile 23 this year than I did at mile 23 last year, which means I must have looked really, really bad at mile 23 last year). I could feel myself starting to panic over my breathing, so instead of walking one minute I walked two at this point (even through the MarathonFoto stations! I told you I wouldn’t deviate from my plan no matter what :P ).
I was in bad shape rounding the corner from State Street to 35th. I had my name on my singlet this year, and as I was going around the corner, some woman I’ve never met before in my life yelled out, “AUTISM RESEARCH! BETHANY! YOU CAN DO IT!”
Tears. So many tears. (Guess I wasn’t that dehydrated after all ;) ). I waved a thank you to her and then felt motivated enough to pick up my 4:1 plan. Plus at this point we had all of one block to run to Michigan Ave., and once you get on Michigan — home stretch, baby.
Around Chinatown, I began to worry that I wouldn’t break five hours if I kept up my run/walk plan, but when I turned onto Michigan, I saw that I had more than enough time to cover the remaining couple of miles and make it to that finish line before my watch hit 5:00. I continued to run/walk until I got to mile 25, at which point I knew I was going to run all the way to the finish. I actually ran into one of my CARA friends around here, but she told me to go on without her, so I did. I was so tired and so ready to be done, but I kept repeating over and over again, “Round the corner, up the hill, round the corner, then you’re done.” This was basically the only thing keeping me going through that last mile haha. The hill on Roosevelt, once again, felt like absolutely nothing, and then there it was: my finish line.
I didn’t have much left in me for a kick, but I managed to run the last bit at a 10:33 pace (according to my Garmin stats, that is. My Garmin says I ran 26.54 miles, and that 10:33 is for the last .54). Most importantly, I crossed the finish line with a huge smile on my face and a 4:57:51 on my watch :D (Well, 4:57:52 on my watch, but a 4:57:51 on the marathon’s watch, which is the only one that matters).
Oh, I was just thrilled. I didn’t cry (what?!), but I was SO, SO, SO happy. I had some serious doubts when my breathing started to go downhill about the likelihood of me breaking 5:00, so to do it was just the most wonderful relief. I knew I’d have no trouble PRing, but to PR by 28 minutes…! (27:39, technically, but whatever. Close enough to 28.). Just. Thrilled.
I made my way through the finisher’s chute (with a bit of concern — I had taken my sunglasses off to cross the finish line so I could have good photos [priorities, people], but found that my vision was all sorts of funky. It took me a second, but I realized that my pupils weren’t contracting in response to increased light like they should, which made everything way too bright [especially with all those white space blankets everyone gets at the finish]. Eventually they started working again, but that was a scary moment for me), got some Gatorade, water, and food, and cringed as the post-run pain set in my legs. I hobbled oh-so slowly back to the Hilton and met up with my family, who was, once again, quite shocked by how much better I looked compared to the year before.
Overall, I am just beside myself with how the marathon went this year. I ran fairly even splits (2:23:40 first half, 2:34:11 second half. That’s a 10:31 [!!] difference, which is about 48 seconds/mile slower — not a bad average at all in my opinion, considering I ran/walked seven of the last 13.1 miles), which makes me feel like I ran a smart, smart race. Obviously there’s this whole breathing issue, which is something I intend to look into in the near future, and there’s the whole how-to-properly-hydrate thing, but other than that I think things went really, really well on Sunday. I achieved every single one of the goals I set out to achieve, and at the end of the day, I think that makes for a very successful marathon. And man oh man do I want to do it all again in 2015 :)