Grab your coffee and get cozy, kiddos. This is gonna be a long one.
Picking up after the expo…
Saturday consisted of catching up on So You Think You Can Dance before the episodes expire on Hulu, a quick trip to Salvation Army to pick up a throwaway for Sunday, and dinner with my family at my only pre-race restaurant, The Village at Italian Village.
I’ve eaten there before both my half marathons and now the marathon itself, and I’ve never had anything on their menu other than spaghetti with tomato sauce and minestrone soup. I need to start going there on nights that are not immediately before a race.
All things considered, I thought I slept quite well on Saturday night. I got in bed around 8:45 and probably slept straight from 10:30 to 2:30, which is not bad at all for a pre-race slumber in my book. My alarm went off at 5 (and then my backup alarm went off at 5:02…and my backup backup alarm went off at 5:04…haha paranoid much?). I definitely set my phone to wake me to to Gonna Fly Now, because duh. Blazed through my morning routine and was out the door at exactly 5:30 to head down to the Hilton (with only one emotional breakdown in that time, and it was over a good luck e-mail! I was very proud of myself for this).
I got to the Hilton just as they were bussing the elites and their entourages to the start line (with a POLICE ESCORT. New life goal: to be important enough to require a police escort when I travel to the start line of a race…or just in general). I said a quick hello to one of my friends who was working at the race and then headed down to the CARA Compound.
Man, CARA knows what’s up. I’m sure all the other training programs do similar things, but I was super impressed with the compound and would HIGHLY recommend it to anyone who ever trains for the marathon through CARA in the future. Plus, because we were in the Hilton, not Grant Park, we could check any bag we wanted, which meant I could use the same bag I’ve used for every race in my life. Ultimately not that huge of a deal, but it was nice to have a little familiarity.
After checking my gear and using the bathroom, I headed out to Michigan Ave. to get myself into Grant Park and ready for the race. As I was walking over there, I happened to see a girl wearing a shirt from the school district I grew up in (I went to Christian school for preschool through 12th grade, so I didn’t go to that school, but a lot of people I’ve worked with at camp went to that school, as did pretty much everyone in my area). I thought this was a nice small world moment until I saw the name on the back of this girl’s shirt and just about fell over. I went to church with this girl from the time I was born until, oh, about fourth grade or so, and legitimately have not seen her once in well over 10 years. Regardless, I went up and said hi, and wonder of all wonders, she actually knew who I was. Seriously. What are the chances that I would run into someone from my hometown who now lives in New York at the Chicago Marathon, amongst 45,000 runners?
So after that cool experience, I headed into Grant Park and pretty much waited around for an hour or so. I was in Wave 2, and we didn’t start the race until 8:00 (I, personally, did not start until slightly after 8:00), so there was a lot of time to stand around and FREAK. OUT.
Eventually we did start, though, and I’m just biding my time, trying to not run too fast to begin with, when we go under the tunnel at the very beginning of the race. About a quarter mile into the race, some total stranger comes up to me and says, “Team PAWS?” (Because I was wearing my Team PAWS singlet). I said, “Yep,” and that was the start of a 16 mile friendship. I kid you not. This totally random person who I had never once met in my life ran with me for the first 16 miles of the race, and probably would’ve run with me the entire 26.2…but we’ll get to that in a bit.
My stomach had hurt on and off pretty much since Wednesday or so, and I’d chalked this up to anxiety over the race and assumed it would go away once I began running. Unfortunately, I assumed wrong. I didn’t have any of the stereotypical runner’s stomach woes (i.e.: I did not spend one second in a portapotty on the course), but I just kind of felt generally nauseous and SUPER uncomfortable. Pro tip: this is not the ideal way to start a marathon. Because of this, though, I was happy to have my new friend Dennis keeping me company, because while he yakked on and on (and on…and on…and on…) for 16 miles, I had someone to distract me from my stomach pain, which was very helpful.
The first four or so miles of the race just flew by, and I was really surprised with how little time I felt like it took for us to get out of downtown/River Northish and into Lincoln Park. Mile 1-13 were all pretty familiar territory for me in terms of Chicago geography, and it was really cool to run up and down the streets I’ve traversed via bus many times in my year + change as a Chicagoan.
My roommate decided on Friday that she’d come out and see me run, and we planned for her to be on the north side of Addison. She was my first spectator of the race, and I saw her without trouble. Success #1.
We continued onto Broadway, where the crowds REALLY picked up. A couple weeks ago, I sent my parents an exhaustive e-mail, detailing their exact plan for spectating me at the marathon. Point #1 was at an alley just south of Broadway and Wellington, and not only did I see them, but my brother snapped some sweet photos of me running past them. Success #2.
(You can also see New Friend Dennis in the background, since we were still running together at this point).
My family also had these PHENOMENAL posters featuring my Bestest Fwend:
UGH. I’m dying. Bestest Fwend in da whole wide world ❤ ❤ ❤ And such an old man with his grey face! Anyway…
So we continue on down Broadway until it turns into Clark, and then turn on Webster briefly before heading down Sedgwick, which I think was one of the more beautiful sections of the course. This was somewhere in the ninth mile, and, just like in the 20 miler, this is where my times started to slip from 10:40s/10:50s, which I was very happy with, to 11:00s. Ah, 11:00s. Such speed! My stomach still wasn’t feeling too dandy, and my bursitis hip had been firing away for, oh, about 8.75 miles at this point. (My cranky hip flexor hip, for those of you interested, was basically 100% cooperative during the marathon, or at least until both of my legs were just two pillars of pain). Moral of the story: I’m surviving, but not thriving, and we’re not even halfway done. BUT mentally I’m still in the game, not getting too down on myself, etc. So we’ll chalk that up as win.
Once we got beyond the halfway point (which I ran in 2:24…not too shabby in my opinion, considering that my first half marathon was a 2:22), things kind of started to go downhill. I held it together through Mile 14, which featured the charity block party (including a Team PAWS section), and then kinda fell apart. I could feel myself coming up on the verge of a 16 miler breakdown what with the whole chest tightness/breathing difficulties thing, so I told Dennis I was struggling, and he suggested that we walk a block or two at the 15 mile mark and then start running again. We did this, and thus marked the first time in my two years of road race running that I’ve ever walked during a race (this didn’t even occur to me until much later on). We did the same thing at Mile 16, but this time when Dennis began to run, I just could not keep up with him, so he went on his merry way (to a huge PR! Hooray New Friend Dennis!) while I plodded along, knowing I should be seeing my family soon. And lo and behold! There they were at Halsted and Harrison, right where I told them to be. Success #3.
So by this point I’m dying. Or at least I thought I was dying. But there’s less than 10 miles to go! I’ll be fine, right? 10 miles is EASY. Child’s play!
Yeah, well, there was a lot of walking involved. At one point somewhere in the 17th mile, another total stranger came up to me and said, “We’re finishing this race together!” His name was Joe. That dream lasted about .5 miles, before Joe couldn’t keep up with me due to his own struggles with Achilles tendonitis. So then I focused on my new goal: the aid station at Mile 17.8, where I knew Katie, Kelsey, and Erin would be working. I also knew spotting them would be trickier than spotting my family, since they would all be dressed alike in the volunteer jacket/hat uniform. BUT since I was walking through the aid station anyway, I was able to pick all three of them out. Success #4.
Things continue to head south for me in the speed department, and now instead of knocking out 12:00s, I’m creeping into 13:00s. At this point, I DEFINITELY gave up on my dream of running a 4:40, and hoped that maybe I’d still be able to clock a finish in under 5:00. That dream lasted right up until the 4:55 pace group passed me…and then the 5:00 pace group…and then the 5:10 pace group. Fail x3. Although I’ve got to be honest: I really stopped caring a long time before that. All I wanted to do was finish, ideally alive, though I did set a new goal of finishing in 5:30 or less.
We get into Pilsen, which is really lovely and full of si se puede!’s, to which I responded in my head, “Si, yo puedo!”…but I’m progressively dying more and more. There is no longer any rhyme or reason to my walk breaks, other than aid stations always are an excuse to walk, and so is feeling like my legs are going to fall off. My 13:00s are turning into 14:00s, and man oh MAN was I happy to pass that 20 mile mark, because darn it, I CAN RUN A 10K.
Somewhere in this area I looked down at my watch and saw I had been running (“running.” “Moving” is the more accurate term) for just slightly over 4 hours. In a brief moment of delusion, I thought to myself, “I still have an hour to go to make my 5:00 goal! And only 6 more miles! I can TOTALLY do this!” Then reality kicked back in and I remembered that I run 10:00 miles on good training runs, and good HEAVENS was this not a good training run. Sigh.
To be honest, I really don’t think I ever hit the wall. My times may make it look that way, but from my understanding of the wall, you KNOW when you hit the wall, and I never really felt that way. There was never a point during the race where I felt like I had straight up run out of fuel. It was more that I was in a WORLD of pain in the leg department and had the whole can’t-breathe-that’s-scary thing for a bit, and though my leg pain distracted me from my stomach pain for the midsection of the race, by those last few miles, I felt so incredibly sick to my stomach that instead of being overshadowed by my leg pain, I just got to deal with both of them at the same time. Woohoo! Maybe that’s the wall, but it’s not how I ever envisioned the wall to feel.
Eventually, we get to Mile 22, and at this point I try to get my act together because I was BOUND AND DETERMINED to run this entire mile (save for the aid station, of course). Several weeks ago on a long run, I decided that I was dedicating Mile 22 to a person who was such a fixture in my life for all but a month of me being 22, and damn it, I was going to run that whole stupid mile. And I did 🙂
I expected to see my family for the last time at the IIT/Bronzeville/35th Street CTA station, but they ended up seeing me a little earlier on the course. I still saw them, though, which made that Success #5 of the day AND made me 5/5 on seeing people I had planned on seeing. To which I say, “Take that, haters,” because legit EVERYONE who asked me about my plan with my family was always so freaking patronizing when I told them my plan. All, “Right, yes, of course your family is going to see you at three different points on the course. How cute that you think that, innocent marathon virgin.” Doggone it, people, I KNOW I hadn’t run a marathon before, but I’ve worked Chicago twice, thank you very much, and you have NO IDEA how familiar I am with that course. The Chicago Marathon is a major fixture in my life whether I’m training for it or not, and I know what I’m talking about! SO THERE. That’s what everyone who doubted me gets for not trusting that my Type A planning could make up for my lack of running the race experience.
*dismounts soap box*
So anyway. I’m finally on Michigan Ave. and thinking, “All right, I CAN DO THIS.” The turn onto Michigan Ave. is right by De La Salle Institute, and the DJ playing music there just so happened to be playing Titanium as I ran by. This MADE. MY. LIFE. (Or at least made that moment). Titanium was part of my hip hop combo back in January or so, and to this day remains one of my favorite routines I’ve learned in my year of dance. Hearing that song under any circumstance fires me up, and let me tell you, it was exactly what I needed at mile 23.5. It also made me cry, but that is neither here nor there.
I continue chugging along, and now my stomach pain has increased from “discomfort” to “I literally feel like I could die at any moment.” Plus my legs are just miserable. I’ve crossed over into pain thresholds that heretofore had never been felt. I keep trying to run significant distances and keep failing, and at this point I’m not even entirely sure I’m going to hit 5:30, but I am in so. much. pain. that all I can think about is finishing the race (and how, even though my family and I had been planning on going out to eat after the race, I don’t think I could even handle Gatorade at this point, let alone real food).
Finally (finally, finally), I hit mile 25, and at this point I know that I’m going to run (read: shuffle) the whole way to the finish line. I skipped the last aid station entirely (and skipped fueling at mile 25, even though I normally fuel every five miles. My tummy could NOT have handled anything at that point, though) and am just so, so happy to see we’re past McCormick Place, because that means I’m almost home. The crowd was absolutely fantastic at this point on the course, but I was so exhausted and felt so sick that I couldn’t even manage to raise my arms above my head for every “Team PAWS!!” I heard. I keep saying, “Round the corner, up the hill, round the corner, and then you’re done,” to myself. The Roosevelt Hill, honestly, was nothing. I was so ready to be done at that point that I legitimately didn’t even notice I was running up a hill. I just. wanted. to. finish. Coming around the corner onto Columbus was the biggest relief, and even though I really would’ve liked to have sprinted (i.e.: run, ya know, like a 11:00 pace at that point…haha) to the finish, I just could not do it. But I crossed that finish line with my arms above my head and tears streaming down my face.
Final time: 5:25:30. The good news is I only need to take 30 seconds off my time and I’ll BQ…when I’m 80 or older. Ha.
I proceeded through the finishing chute, totally a blubbering mess. Acquired my space blanket, my medal, decided I should probably attempt to drink some Gatorade, and then considered skipping the food before I thought, “Ya know, I just ran 26.2 miles (26.5 by my Garmin) and have consumed all of two pieces of toast and 240 calories worth of Gatorade chews today. Maybe it would be a good idea to put food in my body even though I feel absolutely awful.”
While waiting for food, my legs totally seized up and made all the pain I felt during the race seem like nothing. I could not believe how much I hurt. I truly cannot remember any point in my life where my legs have felt that awful.
I waddled out of Grant Park and headed to the Hilton to meet up with my family and retrieve my bag from the CARA Compound. There were more tears, and, after much coaxing, my parents finally convinced me to eat the banana I had grabbed at the finish line. Once I felt capable of moving, we headed over to the Red Line, where several generous people offered me their seats, though I refused all of them because I was afraid if I sat down, I wouldn’t be able to get back up. We got my family’s car from where they had parked overnight, headed back up to apartment, took a couple pictures, and then I sent them on their way without taking me out for food, because I seriously did not want to eat anything at that point. (I did, eventually, have a Chobani, a cookie, and some pizza that my roommate and I ordered that night).
All things considered, I’m actually really all right with my time. Well, kind of. Okay, I’ll be honest: I’m embarrassed by my time. It’s not something I have any intention of bragging about, because I’m not particularly proud of it. BUT, I am incredibly proud of myself for training for a marathon and completing a marathon. The only thing that minorly irks me is that I don’t know why things went wrong, which makes it harder to identify what I need to do differently next time. Do I need to fuel better? Hydrate better? Learn to deal with pain better? Train better? I have absolutely no idea. That 5:00 or faster goal was kind of a worst case scenario sort of thing, and I really thought I’d be much more torn up about missing that goal (missing that goal by so. much.) than I actually am. I’m not disappointed in myself, not at all, and I think ultimately, that’s the most important thing. And, on the bright side, PR-ing should be a breeze next year 😉