I can finally say that I ran a marathon.
I ran it really poorly, but hey, I finished within the necessary time to be an official finisher, and that was what I was aiming for, so I'm pretty sure that I can call my efforts at the 2016 Bank of America Chicago Marathon a success.
I was terrified of this race from the moment I registered, but I can honestly say that I'm glad I ran it. It was an incredible challenge, and though it was painful and disheartening at times, I learned that I can really push myself when needed and that my body is capable of much more than I give it credit for. And hey, running through the streets of my city with 40,000 other runners was a pretty incredible experience.
Read on for my full Chicago Marathon recap, including training, expo, and race day.
This race was a big deal for me. I know...I know...the marathon is kind of a big deal for everyone, but I honestly wasn't sure if I was going to be able to finish.
My training didn't go very well. In fact, pretty much the entire year didn't go too well running wise for me. After last year's success with setting new PRs, improving both speed AND endurance, and generally being in the best shape of my life, I slowly slid backwards starting mid to late January - I dealt with a few injuries that I stupidly insisted on running on, gained a lot of weight, and generally lost my running mojo.
I was both terrified and excited at the thought of running a marathon, and was considering it for 2017. Then a friend approached me about taking a sponsored spot on the charity team she works with for the 2016 Chicago Marathon. A 100% free, guaranteed entry was just too good to turn down.
The marathon took over my life. From June until October, my days were spent thinking about running and nutrition and generally freaking out. My training schedule looked like this:
Monday - Rest/Stretch
Tuesday - Easy Run/Hills
Wednesday - Cross Train
Thursday - Speedwork
Friday - Cross Train
Saturday - Easy Run
Sunday - Long Run
I was generally exhausted all the time, and my small nagging pains in my hip and calves because large screaming pains. I saw my doctor and a physical therapist and was told that all my pain was due to weak hips and glutes, so I was given a series of exercises to help strengthen my problem areas as well as instructions to stretch and foam roll twice a day, even on non-running days.
Between the pain, my asthma, and the heat and humidity of summer, I was running more slowly than ever, experiencing terrible upset stomachs during every long run, and regretting even thinking I could complete a marathon. My long runs got longer and more difficult. Luckily, I had an amazing support system of other runners and Chicago Endurance Sports coaches and pacers who cheered me on and helped drown out my negative self talk so that I could finish even the most difficult of runs (my 16 mile long run was AWFUL).
My 20 miler was one of the most difficult things I've ever done (I think it was actually more difficult than the actual marathon). There was a lot of walking that day, a couple of bathroom breaks (my stomach was not happy), and one prolonged break to try to work out a giant knot in my calf. But the fact that I finished it at all gave me that little extra boost of confidence I needed.
I have never been so happy for taper! As everyone else worked through taper madness, I welcomed the shorter runs and less intense workouts. I was still afraid of the race, but I was finally starting to feel rested.
The expo was big. I've been to many race expos, but this was the biggest and most smoothly run expo I had ever seen.
I made the trek out to McCormick Place, aiming to get there on the first day of the expo, as soon as it opened, to try to avoid the lines as much as possible. Apparently I wasn't the only one with this strategy. There were already sooooooo many people there when I arrived. That being said, the folks working the expo had everything down to a science. I had my race bib and my shirt/race packet in my hands in under 10 minutes of arriving.
Yes, there was tons of shopping to be had at the expo, but, being rather cash poor at the time, I came in knowing what I wanted:
Although the line at the Nike shop was rather intimidating, it moved incredibly quickly. And I had my new favorite t-shirt to wear the day after the race.
Although there were a ton of booths, shops, etc. that I didn't visit, I'm glad that I went in with a plan, because the expo quickly became incredibly crowded and my anxiety kicked into high gear. The crowds were officially becoming a little too much for me to deal with.
I spent the rest of the relaxing, foam rolling, and generally trying to pretend that I wasn't running a marathon on Sunday. Saturday morning dawned, and I did a quick shake out run, treated myself to brunch, and spent the day packing and unpacking my gear check bag and generally freaking out.
I set multiple alarm clocks for Sunday morning, laid out my race clothes, charged my phone, and mentally prepared myself for what was to come.
The morning of the race, I woke, prepared my pre-race breakfast (bagel, almond butter, banana), got dressed, fed my cat, and headed out to meet my ride. Having very generous runner friends who have cars has proven to be pretty great this year. I was dropped off bright and early at Chicago Endurance Sport's Race Day Resort.
The Race Day Resort was one of the big perks of training with Chicago Endurance Sports. Private gear check, post race medal engraving, pre and post race food, and, best of all, INDOOR RESTROOMS. It was also nice being able to see all the coaches, pacers, and other runners who helped me get to that marathon starting line before the race.
I made myself comfortable and watched the sun rise as I ate my breakfast. I did my best to ignore the nagging voice in my head asking what I was doing and telling me that I was going to fail. I had one goal for the race: be an official finisher. That meant that I needed to finish in no more than 6 hours and 30 minutes.
I reviewed my race strategy: run/walk intervals of 5/1, keeping the pace slow and steady, taking in fuel regularly even if I felt that I didn't need it, etc.
Once it was time, I added one extra layer of sun screen, used the restroom one more time, and made my way to my start corral. I was really doing this! There was no turning back now! I was going to run a marathon!
Even though I was at the back of the pack (corral J, to be precise), there was a ton of excited energy flowing through that start corral as everyone prepared themselves to run 26.2 miles through the city streets. Once the wave started, we slowly began inching our way towards the start line.
We managed to have the perfect weather for a race. It was cool but not cold, there was a light breeze, the sun was shining. As we got closer to the start line, the butterflies in my stomach started trying to escape. I had my phone and earbuds with me, but I had promised myself not to listen to music unless I was really struggling during the race.
I checked that my watch was ready to go, made sure my shoes were tied, and told myself that I could and would finish this race. Then we were off!
Thankfully, as soon as I crossed the start line, my terror switched over to genuine excitement. I was running a marathon! I ran with a huge smile on my face for the first 10 miles or so. It felt great!
My pace was right where I wanted it to be, and I felt strong. I was happy to see so many other people doing run/walk intervals, so I didn't feel so alone. The spectators were amazing, the volunteers were awesome, and I was actually enjoying myself. I think the marathon may just be the best tour of the city!
I had a friend who told me she would be spectating near Elvis. I didn't quite know what she meant, but it became clear right around mile 10.
Sadly, my happy feelings began to dissipate shortly after the half way point. My calf started to cramp and I started to slow down. By mile 15, I was dragging and badly needed a bathroom. I made a pit stop as soon as I spotted some port-o-potties, refilled my water bottle at the aide station, and then tried to get back to business. I had to repeatedly tell myself to just keep moving forward. I had run 20 miles before, so why was I hurting so much at mile 15?!?
Thankfully, around mile 16, I was feeling better and was able to pick things up a little bit. Just 10 more miles to go? I can run 10 miles! I've done that plenty of times before! And I can really run/walk 10 miles!
I finally gave in and put one earbud in and turned on the Hamilton soundtrack. I was at the point where I needed any help I could get, it just happened a lot sooner than I was expecting.
Yes, I was hurting, but I was still moving forward and seemed to be faring better than some of the folks around me as I started to pass people who had passed me in some of the early miles of the race.
Soon, I was at mile 20 and only had a 10k left. I was proud to have made it this far, but that final 10k felt like an insurmountable obstacle. My stomach was not happy with me, my legs kept cramping, and I was starting to worry about not finishing.
Then I started doing the math. Even if I had to walk the next three miles, I should still be able to finish before the cut off. I started running again, though my intervals had changed to 4/2 by this point. Instead of thinking about the final 6.2 miles, I started focusing on getting to the next mile marker. "I only have to run one more mile," I told myself.
At mile 21, we entered Chinatown. The dragons and drums were great, the spectators and volunteers were still fantastic, but my stomach felt like it was trying to escape my body.
From mile marker 21 to mile mark 22, I slowly walked, trying not to throw up, as feelings of nausea and dizziness took over. As I worked to not allow myself to cry, I did a quick head to toe check in to try to figure out if there was a reason I felt so ill and if I needed to stop or could keep going.
I realized that I couldn't remember when I had last taken in any fuel. That had to be it! I hadn't been properly fueling, and I know from experience that I tend to feel sick when I'm running on empty. I needed to eat something, even if the thought of food made me want to vomit. As I walked, I slowly ate the Teddy Grahams I had with me (food works much better for me than gels or chews do - I learned this the hard way last year, so I usually carry pretzels or mini Teddy Grahams with me on long runs). Thankfully, by the time I hit that mile 22 marker, my nausea had passed and I was able to once again resume my run/walk intervals.
I was moving. I was moving slowly, but my pace was steady, and I no longer felt sick. Doing some more math made me realize that I could easily finish within the necessary time, and it was as thought a weight was lifted from my shoulders.
I saw several friends at mile 23, and they were the best friends a girl can ask for because they came stocked with supplies. Other runners know! They had water, pretzels, gummi bears, ice, pain killers, body glide, tissues, band aides...basically anything a runner might need or want at mile 23. I grabbed some pretzels, hugged my friends, and kept moving.
Before I knew it, I was turning onto Roosevelt. It may take me 6 hours to finish a marathon, but I was going to conquer Mount Roosevelt! Even though my watch told me it was time for a walk break, I charged up that hill! Then I was turning toward the finish line!
As soon as I saw the finish, I started to cry. I tried to hold back my tears, but there was no stopping them.
And crossing the finish line...well...that was one of the most emotional experiences of my life.
I did it!
As volunteers handed me water and bananas and placed a medal around my neck and a heat blanket on my shoulders, I was blubbering mess. I slowly walked back to the Race Day Resort, getting hugs and high fives from my coaches and pacers, and sat down, took my shoes off, and turned into a useless lump on the floor until I had time to collect myself. I turned off my phone's airplane mode (I turned it on to save the battery during the race) and saw the text messages congratulating me come flooding in.
Before I could get up to gather my things, I had various people offering to bring me food and drinks. I'm not going to lie, it was pretty great being waited on, even for just a little bit. While I stretched, someone brought me my bag, and then someone else brought me chocolate milk, someone else suggested I take off my shoes.
My trainer had offered to pick me up after the race and drive me home, and if I finished in 6 hours, she promised to bring her dog with her so I could meet him. My finish of 5 hours and 54 minutes meant that I got to hang out with Bubba while I got a ride home.
As soon as I was home, I showered, fixed a protein smoothie (I wasn't feeling up to real food, yet), and stretched some more. I attempted to foam roll, but my legs were already so tender that it felt like torture. As I drank my smoothie, I iced my legs. Once I no longer felt disgusting, I went for a very slow walk around my neighborhood because I knew that I needed to keep moving, even if all I wanted to do was curl up in bed and watch Netflix.
The next morning, my emotions were still running high. Yes, I was sore, but I didn't feel nearly as bad as I thought I would the day after the race. I had managed to get the day off from work, so after a leisurely breakfast, I made my way to Fleet Feet to get my medal engraved.
I also picked up a congratulatory gift for myself while I was there.
I am so happy that I followed through with my training and ran the race. Unlike most of the folks I know who ran, I'm not terribly excited about the thought of running another marathon. I didn't finish with the thought that I can't wait to do it again. I was just so happy to finish that nothing else really entered my mind. Yes, I was slow. But I did it.
It was a long, painful, and exhausting summer, but the experience of crossing that finish line was worth it. I don't know if I have another marathon in me or not, but I now feel like I can accomplish anything if I work hard enough.