Way back a year ago when I started to toy with the idea of running a marathon, I swore I would be one and done. Just to say I had done it. And I did. Then I turned around and signed up for another one, like some sort of lunatic. I know. Who does that? A crazy person, but I really wanted to run the Chicago marathon because it's a historic event, and I've lived in Chicagoland my whole life so what better way to see my city than by running through it?
This meant that the only month I didn't train for a marathon was May and that was because I had just run a marathon. This may come as a surprise to you, but that's actually really tiring. No, I take that back. This summer was great. Sure, I was running 5 days a week, but I didn't have to work. Still, there was an element of already being weary of the runs dictating my life, but I enjoyed it. Then I had to go back to work at the same time that my runs increased mileage wise and also, this has been a really tough school year. EXHAUSTED. My 4AM runs were not effortless. They hurt. I was so tired. I would lie in the dark and want to cry at the thought of getting up to run. I was super excited for taper week, then the morning after my last Saturday run, my body started to fall apart. When I got out of bed on Sunday, it hurt to step on my left foot. I iced it, stayed off of it and by Monday morning, it still hurt. It felt okay when I ran, but walking was pretty painful. I panicked about a possible stress fracture or serious strain (especially because I had just stopped taking Cipro and among other things, that can cause tendonitis), then on Wednesday morning, I stepped out of bed to knotted calves and foot pain all over. Ahh, hello plantar fasciitis flare-up. I skipped my Wednesday run (my last pre-race run) and taped my feet, along with all of my other magic tricks. It got slowly better as the week progressed, but my feet were still not 100% by race day. More than anything, the mental state that I was in drove me nuts. I felt like all of my training was for nothing because my feet and legs would not stop hurting.
All of my taper week stress aside, I trained with much of the same group that I trained with last time, plus some new people. Initially, it felt fragmented because we were all on different plans and different schedules, so I ran alone a lot. Then we got it figured out and started meeting before the actual group runs and that was great. It's rare to meet other people willing to run in the dark on a Saturday!
So, on to the actual race and surrounding events.
Chicago Marathon Expo
I've never been to an expo before a big race, but this was an event in itself. Barb went up with me, which was awesome because we spent a great afternoon together AND her head wasn't in taper fog like mine. The streamlining of the process was incredible. They scan you race ticket, then tell you which booth to go to, at which point your bib and everything is ready to be handed over. Then you get your shirt at the back of the expo and theoretically, you could leave after that... but with hundreds of running related booths to explore, who wants to do that?! I could have easily dropped hundreds of dollars there, but I kept it under $50 and only bought a Many Magnificient Miles shirt and a Goose Island commemorative pint glass. There was this incredibly tempting Northface sweatshirt with the marathon date on the sleeve and in hot pink and orange, but I told myself that I could not buy a $55 sweatshirt. Except that true to form, all I can think about now is how I should have bought that sweatshirt. Figures. After the expo, we went to Tufano's where I had delicious mushroom rigatoni. Oh, and on the way, we got stuck in a parade, which was hilarious. We also drove over part of the course and that was really cool, too. Then I hurried home and went to Luke's baseball game, where his team won the fall ball championship (a mother runner never gets to rest, right?).
The night before the race, we took the boys to Shane's parents' house, so I went to bed pretty early. Fortunately, since my alarm was set for 3:30 because the bus was leaving at 4:55 on the dot. So early, but so worth it to ride up with my running group and avoid the nightmare that would be driving into the city on race day. Everyone was pretty subdued on the bus ride up. I mostly just spent my time quietly thinking about the race and willing my feet to stop hurting. We got up there at 5:55, two hours before the race started. It took us a good hour to navigate from the museum campus to go through security checkpoints and finally get near our corral. We staked out an area near the portapotties and watched the sun rise over Lake Shore Drive. It was still pretty cool temperature wise at this point, and I kept reminding myself to embrace the cool because I knew it would be much warmer by the time I finished. As we were in line for the last bathroom break, the National Anthem was sung, signaling that the elites were about to start. This was a very neat moment. After that, we headed into corral J, which seemed so far back yet was somehow not even the last corral.
After this, we slowly started shuffling forward bit by agonizing bit, finally crossing the start line at about 8:20. And we were off! They say that Chicago is great because the crowds keep you from going out too fast, but I still felt like I was flying. Side note: the first tunnel is disgusting because every guy in the world stops to pee on the walls and dudes, just because you can pee anywhere you want doesn't mean that you NEED to pee everywhere you want because the river of urine was nasty. I'd been warned by a few people that you can't rely on your GPS early on due to the tunnels and tall buildings, so when my GPS told me I was running 4 minute miles to start with, I figured it would straighten out eventually (spoiler alert: it didn't). The early stages of the race were through the financial district, where it was shady and cool... and the streets were packed with spectators squeezed between the high rises. I was running with my friend Susan at this point and we were laughing over our favorite signs. At mile 2 or 3, I saw my friend Megan and then Sarah shortly afterward, followed by my running coach. In every case, I only saw them because they screamed my name--there are just so many people! I did not see Shane and found out later that he was on the opposite side of the street and only knew he missed me because he ran into Sarah and she told him.
My favorite part of the early race stages was definitely Wrigleyville and Boystown. I loved high-fiving all of the Cubs fan and laughed t the signs that read: "If the Cubs can make the playoffs, you can run a marathon." Boystown was like a party, featuring an all-male baton twirling troupe that made me want to just stop and hang out. After that, we looped back around into Lincoln Park which is very pretty--and which was the start of my first half marathon four years ago. Shortly after this, we ran past a nursing home where all the residents were lined up at the windows waving. This was super cool and I waved the whole way through. At Lincoln Park, I was still feeling pretty strong and hanging with the 4:40 pace group. The female pacer was really engaging, but I lost the group when I stopped for water at mile 10. At this point, my feet and legs were starting to hurt, which was a concern because it was still early in the race. My GPS was also still way off, showing that I was 2 miles ahead of the numbers on the course and not reflecting any sort of pace. At this point, I turned it so it was just a watch because it was stressing me out more than anything. Although I don't rely hugely on my watch, I had also trained in such a way that I was used to making sure I was sticking to my average pace and I couldn't do this. This was slightly frustrating and unnerving.
This part of the race is all a blur. At some point, I looked to my right and realized my friend Reggie was running next to me. He and I ended up running together until about mile 17 when we lost each other in the crowd. He was a huge help because we walked water stops together and regrouped, then pushed each other through those huge "hit the wall miles." I knew that Sarah would be joining me at mile 20, so I was chunking the race into the number of miles left until I met Sarah. She reassured me of this at mile 17, which was enough to make me smile.
I also saw Shane and my friend Megan right after mile 17, high-fiving everyone (and almost divorcing my husband on the spot for saying, "You're almost there!"). This was a boost. Shane claims I was somewhere in this crowd.
Shortly after this, I lost Reggie in the crowd and my back started to hurt. Badly. I was out of advil and knew I would have to power through, but it was uncomfortable with every step. It was also starting to get warm. There were workers on the course spraying people down with hoses and wet sponges available, too, but the sun was full on without any shade so you didn't stay cool for long. My favorite neighborhood in this section was definitely Pilsen, a heavily Latino section of the city. It was like a huge party, complete with giant dancing puppets. My back was really hurting at this point, so I ended up on a dirty sidewalk doing a quick yoga pose to try and loosen it. In the midst of this, some woman told me I was beautiful. Chicago really does have the best spectators!
By now, my back was really hurting. I was also starting to take all sorts of food from strangers. Pretzels? Swedish fish? Orange slices? If a stranger was handing it out, I was eating it. Sarah jumped in with me shortly after mile 20, and I immediately assured her that I could not finish. She immediately assured me I would finish. At some point, I know we ran through Chinatown and even though everyone swears it's the best race party location, all I remember is this elderly Chinese man trying to cross the street in the middle of the sea of runners. That's it. I don't remember one single other part of Chinatown. My back was really hurting at this time and Sarah was encouraging me by setting minor goals, telling me I was strong and promising me there was a surprise at mile 24. I asked her if the surprise was a stretcher to wheel me off the course, in case you're wondering what sort of joyful company I was at that point in the race. At mile 24, I spotted a woman with a bag of chips and I desperately needed those chips, except that suddenly Barb appeared in front of me cheering! This was a huge surprise and a good boost, and she didn't even care that I got her all wet when I hugged her (Sarah had been dumping a lot of water on me). After this, I literally remember nothing that we ran past except that I hurt and that I was so annoyed with the massive crowds of runners. Someone told me that you can expend a lot of energy dodging and weaving at Chicago and I believe this to be true. By the end, I no longer had that energy and I think I hit a lot of people with my elbows. Sorry, other runners. The course started to get really packed with spectators at this point and right before the 2nd to last turn, they made Sarah peel off the course (we were expecting this). Right after she left, I watched security actually chase and grab a guy who wouldn't leave the course, so that was entertaining. Then all that was left was the hill up Roosevelt (GOD, what sadistic person plans a marathon that ends at a solid uphill at mile 26?). I promised myself I would not walk the hill and even though the wind was blowing directly into my face and everyone around me was walking, I powered up the hill and grimaced at the sign at the top of the hill that said 200m left. I KNEW that was only half a lap around the track, but seriously? It seemed so far away, even after turning to the left and seeing the finish line. I knew from a few peaks at the timer on my watch (the only thing still working) that I was very close to finishing under the 5 hour mark, so I really pushed it into the finish line.
And then I did it, I WAS THERE. The elation I felt at this moment was pretty high--everyone around me was cheering. I will admit that I got a little teary at this moment because the energy was just so high.
The downside to big races became quickly apparent, as I couldn't see the end to the finisher chute. I also couldn't see the medals, which was making me crazy. GIVE ME MY BLING. Finally, I got to the medals and a volunteer put one around my neck along with a congratulations (I cannot say enough about the volunteers at this race--top notch amazing). I got a Gatorade refuel drink, a bag with a bunch of chips in it and some Powerade bars, then I stopped for a beer at the Goose Island table. The only problem here was that I was too tired to put the words, "What type of beer is this?" into a sentence and I knew they had 312 OR an IPA, which I definitely didn't want, so when I said, "What is this?" The woman behind the beer table said, "Uhh... BEER?" Yeah, no kidding, lady. Fortunately the woman next to hear was a more understanding soul and said, "This is the 312" because I couldn't even process a reply. After getting my beer, I saw Reggie and found out that he finished just two minutes ahead of me. Then we began the long walk together to runner reunite, which involves stairs. STAIRS. Every single person went down them sideways, wincing.
Finally, I found Shane and Megan.
After talking for awhile, Shane, Reggie and I began the long walk back to Field Museum to meet our bus to go home. The best part about the aftermath is that it's like an episode of The Walking Dead because NO ONE can walk properly. It was painful and hilarious all at once.
So, that's that. Once again, the true lesson of the marathon is how lucky I am, from my husband and friends spending their Sunday cheering me on, to Sarah giving away her whole Sunday to not only cheer me on but to almost literally carry me for the last six miles of a race, to Barb driving into the city on a busy Sunday just to surprise me. Will I run another marathon? Hmm... yeah, probably. Will I run one this spring? NO. My body and brain need a rest! That said, although it is expensive and crowded and the weather can go any way it wants to in early October, I really, really loved Chicago. I cannot say enough how cool it was to be cheered on by perfect strangers, to have little children standing on the side of the road giving out high fives, to feel pushed through by crowd energy and excitement. Chicago is one heck of a race!