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26.2 (Again): Chicago Marathon Recap

Posted Oct 16 2011 12:07am

This recap is a week in the making. So brace yourselves – it’s a doozy.

Sorry for making you wait – I had a lot to work through, and I had to decide how I wanted to tell the story of this race.

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So I’ll start at the beginning.

The morning started like any other race morning – early wakeup, get dressed, prepare my normal pre-race breakfast of bread, peanut butter and a banana. That morning was different though – I practically had to force myself to eat the banana and only had a bite of bread and peanut butter – my stomach was not having it. I knew something was off and it felt like more than just nerves. So I brought a Larabar with me hoping I could take it before the start and have a little more fuel in me before the race.

After watching this with my parents in their hotel room (and feeling so incredibly grateful for the amazing support of my family and friends, and so lucky to have this guy in my life) they walked me downstairs to the lobby and I headed out for the 20 minute walk to the start, following the dozens of other runners making their way down Michigan Avenue.  It was warm – in the 70s at 5:45AM.

*Sidenote: Not checking a bag is the best thing I’ve learned after doing so many races. It really just makes life so much easier. So does having family meet you after with everything you could need.

Anyway, I met up with my friend Megan who was also running and her friends, and we walked around and checked everyone’s bags and all visited the port-a-potties one last time before heading to our respective starts. During this time I was able to eat the Larabar and felt a little better having something in my stomach.

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I thought it was really interesting how different the start was from NYC, where everyone is assigned a start time/corral, in Chicago it was all one big start time organized by pace. The street was packed and runners were hopping the fence to get in – not wanting to fall on my face, as I definitely would have, I waited until the race had started and the massive group had started moving before I hopped in with the 10 minute milers right behind the 4:30 pace group. It took me about 10 minutes to cross the start line and I was off.

I immediately started thinking about how different I was feeling compared to last year . I remember feeling so excited and ready to start running at the beginning of NYC. This year, I just felt anxious and worried. I decided to listen to music from the start  (something I avoided until mile 15 in NYC) to help pump me up and distract me from my worries.

I had 3 different locations mapped out with my family: mile 3, mile 11, and mile 19. I loved having those spots to look forward to, and even though I was on the wrong side of the road at mile 3, seeing them definitely gave me a surge of energy that I really needed. After mile 3 I started feeling better and more confident. I continued to stay right around the 4:30 pace group and felt strong as I started ticking off the miles.  IMG_1888

Can you find me?

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Jono this would have been so much funnier if my stomach wasn’t actually upset

I had brought a water bottle with me so I wouldn’t really have to stop at all the water stations but with the heat I started taking Gatorade at every other station at least (and often took it at every station). Around mile 6 I started taking some fuel and took about 3 Honey Stinger chews before my stomach let me know that it wouldn’t take any more (I’ve been taking at least 5-10 every hour or so on my training runs). I still felt strong at mile 11 when I saw my family again.

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Mile 13 is where it started getting tough. Miles 13-17 were where mentally I started questioning what I was doing. I had only taken in a total of 5 chews (when I should have had at least twice that many) and it was getting really hot.

By mile 15 it started to freak me out that I hadn’t needed to pee yet since I had had two full bottles of water plus lots of Gatorade and it was so hot. Then I saw a guy literally collapse next to me – so that really shook me. I started taking Gatorade and water at every station and stopped at mile 17 to pee. It was after waiting in a short line and hopping back in the race that I realized I was behind the 4:30 pace group – not by much, I could still see them, but I decided at that point to keep my pace steady and speed up in the last few miles if I was feeling strong.

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I saw my family again at mile 19 and asked Nate to hop in to run a bit with me. He dropped his stuff and joined me, asking how I was feeling. At that point my foot had really started hurting, my legs and hips were cramping and I was starting to see that my goal time of 4:30 just wasn’t going to happen. Nate was awesome. He distracted me for a solid 2-3 miles by telling me about 3 episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia he had watched the night before (which got us some weird looks from other runners) and we stopped a few times to stretch and have water/Gatorade. I had 2 more chews around mile 20.

Miles 21-24 were an uncomfortable blur. My legs were so tight, my stomach was so uncomfortable and I was just out of steam. I starting having a hard time regulating my breathing and was just all around kind of a mess. I walked through water stations and Nate was awesome at distracting me. Finally at mile 24 I knew the end was close and was able to run the rest of the course. Nate exited at mile 26 and I knew the hill (the only one in the course and the one I had heard so much about all through my training) was coming up. I rounded a corner and there it was – and I’m sorry, but this was not a hill, it was a slope. I get that it’s the Midwest and it’s flat but really? That hill makes Cat Hill look like a mountain. Anway, being able to run up the hill while so many people stopped to walk gave me an extra surge of confidence and when I got to the top and rounded a corner and saw the finish line I definitely got a surge of emotion as I realized I was about to finish my second marathon. I picked it up and gave it everything I had to cross the finish in 4:49:23 – 12 minutes faster than last year.

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So many emotions passed through me after the race and over the next few days. I definitely felt a huge sense of accomplishment, even more so than last year. I trained really hard and really smart this year, and I earned that medal and that PR. I struggled mentally and physically – I ran on minimal fuel, through pain and through an upset stomach, and I finished.

But…I missed my time goal. In training I ran 20 miles at a pace faster than 4:30. I was on pace until mile 17 to hit 4:30 and then I lost it. Yes, it was hot, yes, I had stomach issues and muscle cramping (due to lack of fuel probably) but bottom line, I missed my goal after really thinking it was possible for 17 miles, and that sucks. This marathon was really, really hard. I was reminded a lot of my last 6-7 miles of New York and how I hit a similar mental wall and I was really discouraged.

So, for the next day or two I was pretty negative. On Monday I had a conversation with Nate that went something like this: “Maybe my body isn’t meant to run marathons. Maybe I’m not meant to run 4:30 marathons. Maybe I need to lose 10 pounds to run faster. Why can I run faster in training and not in the race?” I worried so much about what people would think when I told them I missed my goal time.

Nate, being awesome, calmed me down and reassured me that some days and some runs just suck. Some days you are just going to wake up and have stomach issues and not want to run. My body is absolutely meant to run marathons – I’ve run 2. I am absolutely capable of running a 4:30 marathon. I had a lot of pressure on me last weekend – I travelled for a race, I had family and friends watching, I had my run coaches watching me and I had told a bunch of people about my goal. I didn’t rest and eat and prepare the way I would for a race at home. So much goes into a single run and any one thing (or combination of things) can lead to a less than ideal run.

Friends this week have been beyond awesome too and helped me see a few things more clearly. First, I set a huge goal of knocking over 30 minutes off my marathon time, so cutting 12 minutes off is pretty great too. Second, maybe I should thank my body for what it did do last weekend (run 26.2 miles) instead of worry about what it didn’t do (run faster, cooperate more, etc).

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My run coach was awesome too – she pointed out that when we designed my original plan, my goal was to finish under 5 hours and finish injury free, and I accomplished both of those goals.

So, after lots of time and thought and ups and downs this week, I’m finally at a place where I feel comfortable with the race. It wasn’t my best, and it wasn’t the race I had hoped for, but I finished my second marathon.  I also recovered really well, and am feeling so good. I’m so excited to start running again for fun.

My favorite sign I saw during the race sums up how I’m feeling now, a week later: There will come a day when you can no longer do this – today is not that day.

And now the question I’ve gotten all week: will I run another marathon? After I crossed the finish line I really honestly thought I might be done. But now I’m not so sure Smile

*Also just another thank you to my amazing parents and Nate’s mom who came from Seattle to see me run, and to Jono, for putting up with all of us all weekend, for the signs, and the support, to all of my friends for all of your love, and to Nate– you are just a rockstar. Couldn’t have done it without any of you.

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