Warning this is the longest race report ever. I apologize in advance for any typos, but my eyes are crossed just re-reading this. If I say bears, I mean beers. If I say bowels, I mean bowls. Now grab a glass of your favorite beverage and get ready for an epic tale, funny thing is we all know how it ended.
Pre-race fun: We arrived in Chicago early Friday morning and I am so happy we did. After paying an early check –in fee we headed straight to the Marathon Expo. Honestly after seeing Boston’s expo I expected a bit more, but it was still large with plenty to see. We took a few turns and I stopped by the Hall Steps booth to introduce myself and I chatted with Sarah Hall for a bit. After that we began to stock up on some very over priced race gear, but heck it’s my first so why not. I was disappointed in the women’s colors (not a peach/blue color combo girl). Others wise I grabbed a few shirts and pull over.
The best part of the day was running into some of the 3:20 gang (Nick with his cute son and wife, Walter, Ron and Paul) and getting in a few “how are you” and “are your excited”. Paul’s lovely wife and daughter were there too and Isla was just a doll (could have taken her home with me, but only for a few hours then back to mom and dad of course). After saying goodbye we went or another round and found my long time blog friend Christine and her hubby Rob. We have both been chatting for over a year so it was if we always knew each other. Sadly we didn’t get a chance to meet up again during the weekend, but I am sure we will arrange something soon. After we settled back into the hotel we got in a few easy miles of running, and then headed to dinner.
Saturday I had promised Chris that we would plan nothing but dinner with our 3:20 gang. Although our hotel room had some crazy noise coming from an air vent (hotel staff kept saying it would stop), we both slept like babies thanks in part to Tylenol PM. We hit the Lakeshore path for a few easy miles again; however I spent a good portion of my time star struck when I first saw Deriba Merga run past me in a full body warm-up suit (I was sweating in my tank). Then a little further down the path I see Irina Mikitenko and Liliya Shobukhova doing strides past each other with very hard looks on their faces. I jumped out-of-the-way for one of Irina’s strides and did the dorky thing of grabbing this pic.
Before I knew it Saturday was done and it was time to go to bed for the big day.
The Day: Of course I didn’t sleep that great but I got roughly 6-7 hours in bed. I woke up just fine to our two Iphone alarms and had our coffee and water. We cut out all drinking a little after 4:30 to try to prevent any last-minute potty stops. My morning routine went off without a hitch until I went to put my tough-strip bandaids on my feet where I normally get blisters. No matter how many I pulled from the new box they wouldn’t stick to my feet. I was sort of flipping out since I have always put bandaids on my feet and toes. After a while I got what I could on and then lube the rest up with lots of body glide. I was surprised by how unnerves I was this morning, and I think I owe it to all the races I did this summer that helped me just go with the flow. We headed out the door a little before 6 am and when we hit the outside air I knew this was going to be a rough day. I dare not say anything to Chris, because I didn’t want him to think I was panicking and I didn’t want him to panic either. I simply hoped the weather gods would provide some cloud cover and wind to keep us a bit cooler.
We walked the streets hand in hand and I was feeling pretty darn good. On the way to the bag check we hit the first set of port-a-potties and then proceeded to drop my bag off and then his. In between that time some photographers were getting shots of people so of course we said cheese. After dropping his bag off we jumped into another pretty short port-a-potty line and systems appeared to be a go. I had decided to walk Chris to his corral (he likes to be in his spot pretty early) and then I would head back to the open area. It was time to kiss him good-bye and it was all I could do but try not to cry. It didn’t work. I was so happy to see him at the start line healthy (maybe not as trained as he would like), but we were both going to run a major marathon and it meant a lot to me.
After leaving him I cried a bit and then headed back to my area. No one was in the corral area, and the bathroom lines were manageable so I jumped in for one last go. Again no issues and at about 6:50 sat on the grass and waited for people to head into the corral area. When it was 7 am and still few people were jumping in I figured I better go now and avoid the rush. So I picked a spot and had a seat until it was time for the long walk to the start. It took about 18 minutes for me to cross the start line and the one thing I could say I wasn’t a fan of was missing the excitement of knowing the race had started. I heard the Star Spangle Banner performed and then they listed off the elite runners, and then nothing. I was looking at my watch and knew they had to of started, but I never heard a horn or anything. I figured they could have at least put that on the PA system too. Awww well I guess this is what happens for the back of the packers. OK so I am terrible at recalling where I was at during certain parts of the race and how I was feeling. So this will be a progression of how things started.
So I had lined up with the 4:30 pace group, but dang it if they didn’t bolt out of the gates like lions. I know my body well enough to know we were not running at a 10:18 pace. My watch said 9-9:30, but I also know that I couldn’t rely on my watch. A little girl I was chatting with took off to catch the group and I followed for a little bit, but I knew it was not smart to waive through everyone the way she was so I backed down. I figured if the pace was going to feel easy then I would meet up with the pace group later. Plus I could see them ahead of me, and with such a large group I just followed along with the rest of them.
All systems were good through the 10k and although I never caught up to the 4:30 group I had settled in at 10:30ish pace and felt good. Then we had our first taste of the sun beating down on us, and I knew that I was going to be lucky to stay ahead of the 4:45 group. My legs were feeling fine (although my big toe had a blister on it I could feel since mile 5), but the minute we were in the sun for longer than a few minutes you could just feel it zap out your energy. I had yet to see the 4:45 pace group at all and lots of 4:30 pace group people were still around so I kept on. I also found some Ohio runners (they will be known as the “group”), that I started chatting with around mile 4 or so and decided to hang with them. It may not have been the smartest move to make if I was looking out for only myself and my own race time, but that is not what this experience was about. So instead I figured as long as they were moving and we were chatting and I was having a good time with them I would stick with the “group”. I should also note a member of the group was seriously sick with a horrible cold. The other members were so supportive and were always looking for him and slowing down through water stops to make sure he was ok. These pics are with one of the group members. During this first half I for whatever reason wanted to stick with a group of people who were interested chatting, so I tossed out tracking my splits and just went with them.
My friend Walter had mentioned the fun of Boystown around mile 8 and I was eager to get to that spot. Somehow I missed most of the fun; I blame it on my shortness. I was running on the left side so I got a good view of the guys flipping the rifles (very cool), but I kept looking for some drag queens or singers and couldn’t see anything. I have been told I must have been blind because they were there, but I swear I was let down because I didn’t see anything at all. I thought to myself surly the rifle boys couldn’t have been the big show (they were good, don’t get me wrong). So I will say that somehow I missed one of the most exciting portions of the course, ugh. The rest of the miles were a blur, as the “group” kept trying to hang on to their sick runner and I kept thinking I really had to pee. Oh but I mile 12.5ish I had my first near face plant on the bridge. I was warned to watch for the carpet and I managed that all well enough, but I didn’t manage the seam of bridge and road to well and took some giant nose dive steps to catch myself from falling. A nice runner came up and asked if I was ok, and I laughed that I am better at not falling then I am at running. OK back to my needing to pee. I checked out the lines each time we passed a bathroom area, and promised myself I would stop if it looked like I could get in an out quickly. At mile 13 I finally saw my chance and I took it.
It was around the half way mark that I also let the “group” go. I knew I had been slowing down a lot, and although I was covered in salt and could feel the heat, I was still able to keep moving and that’s what I had to do. This also managed to be right about the time that I was doomed to be in full sun for the remainder of the race. I could actually see it shining down ahead and I thought to myself please do not let this be the end of me. I put my IPod on for the first time and said just make it to mile 18 and I would bargain with what to do then. Yes I did a lot of talking to myself…I wasn’t losing my mind yet though.
I had kept a sponge with me for a while and so as I stopped at the water stops I would fill up and then soak my sponge to get the burning salt out of my eyes. I must say I was really puzzled by the amount of salt on my face, because I never have been a salty sweater. It had me very concerned with possible cramping issues later in the race so I began to do a lot of system checking. By Mile 15ish my mental game lost, I started walking through the water stops and a little beyond them. Although my legs were ok (even with my blisters), I just couldn’t help but feel totally zapped of energy. Sometime between 16-17 I think is where I saw the bank clock that read 95 degrees, and I sort of felt better knowing it wasn’t all in my head. Now the clock was in full sun so that was not the real temp, but it explained why I then saw the dreaded RED FLAGS. Earlier we saw the alert system moved to yellow (around the 10k mark), and now at red I made a pack with myself. I didn’t care about time; all I cared about was not ending up in a med tent not finishing this race. Maybe I acted overly cautious; maybe I let my mental games get to me too much. Whatever it was my goal turned to hitting each of the timing mats so everyone following at home knew I was still moving I hadn’t given up. When I touched the 20 mile timing mat I cried. Never had I felt so drained, and so happy at one time. I knew if I was smart I would finish this race, and the time didn’t matter anymore to me. What mattered was following my husband’s advice and to keep moving forward.
I soon ran into one of the runners from the “group”. I was in a pretty bad way mentally and was taking a longer than needed walk break. When he came up on me I said mind if I tag along. We both kept each other moving at a better clip than before and I think having someone alongside each other gave us both a boost. It soon died out too and I found miles 21-24 the toughest miles ever. Never did I feel so far away from the finish, and the SUN OMG was I having dreams of hibernating in Alaska for months after this race was over. No where could we get out of the sun, it was everywhere so I just had to do what I could to keep going forward. Before 22 my then running pal from the “group” stop suddenly and said he couldn’t move his legs. He said they locked up on him and I could tell he was really scared. We pulled over to the side for a few minutes and I told him to take some shot bloks he had with him. After what felt like 5 mins we started to shuffle again. As we were moving I was doing my own system check, because the sudden onset of his lock up had me scared I could face my own. He had seemed to be in good shape prior to that and was the one towing me in. Now I was towing him and I wondered how that happened.
Out of all the miles I remember mile 24 the most, sadly not with fond memories. I really hated mile 24 and the guy announcing you are almost there. I felt so far away and I was somewhat lost in my direction of where I was at on the course. My running pal at this time said when we got to 24 he wanted to be able to run it in (or shuffle). I agreed and hoped together we would be able to do it. Sadly I we both didn’t, but I lasted longer. I made it to mile 25 and couldn’t overcome the urge to walk. Looking at my watch tell me I was nearly at mile 26 actually made me sort of mad. It was a sad cruel joke being played seeing my watch say one thing and the road sign says something else. I had kept jogging along when I knew the running pal wasn’t staying with me. We didn’t say good-bye, but I think we knew we had to do our own thing. Then a miracle happened, I saw the 800 meter sign and joy….pure joy came over me. I started to think of the many times I saw Deena Kastor make that final turn onto Columbus Drive and I knew now was the time to not stop for anything. I may not have found the ability to dig deep the last mile, but dang it I could dig for 800 meters.
I started picking random people off ahead of me and my legs felt like they could fly (although I am sure they weren’t). I made that turn up the only sort of hill on the course and laid it down as I passed people. Then I saw it, what I had been waiting over 5 hours to see, the finish line was in front of me. I had my Ipod on at that time, and a local friend had told someone to take in the crowd at the finish, so I turned the music off and let the roar bring me in. I saw the clocking ticking away and I tried to move as fast as I could to save as many seconds as possible. In the end I didn’t care about the time, all I cared about was hitting that final timing mat. When my foot came down I yelled “I did it” and thought of the amazing friends and family that have showered me with so much love and support through this whole journey. I knew they would all be waiting (a bit longer than anyone had thought), and all I could do was shout out with happiness, “YES”.
I was ripped apart and torn upside down in the 5 plus hours I was on the course. I went through all the emotions of failure and success one person can put themselves through, but in the end rawness I felt was just what I was looking for. I was a new person, a stronger person, a survivor.
Post-race: Quickly, well as quickly as I could move, I looked around with tears in my eyes wanting to find my gear check to call Chris. After two photos and my arms full of food I finally found the gear check. What I was not prepared for was not t being able to make a phone call. I pulled my phone out, and although I had a perfect signal the call wouldn’t dial. When it finally did it went to voice mail. Now one thing I learned after a marathon your brain has pretty much shut down, so something that otherwise would have been inconvenient was a full-blown disaster. I then attempted to send a text message and then I proceeded t o walk to the meet up area. Wouldn’t you know it text messages had a 5 min delay and by the time I got to the other end of the area I got my message saying they were back where I just was, I collapsed and cried. My feet burned and I just wanted the arms of my husband. I nice man stopped asked if I was ok and I felt like a ten-year old lost. I stood up acted my age and proceeded back to the spot I just came from. Of course getting there I saw a mass of people and had no clue where they were. A few more delayed texts and finally I see a bright orange shirt coming right at me and I melted right in his arms. I cried from exhaustion, and I cried for finally finding him. I did it; I actually finished my first marathon. It wasn’t how I had dreamt it would turn out, and with my training going so well it was a lot harder than I thought it would be, but when it was all said and done, I did it.
Quickly I then grabbed a hold of our great friend Amy (Queen Endurasoak herself) and gave her a massive hug. Amy and Chris had stuck it out in the heat and after their own races to be there when I finished. Having both of them there to share this moment with me will always be the best moment of the day. The tears dried up and we headed back to the hotel. Naps where no longer on the agenda. I got to go back read through a zillion messages and then prepare for an evening of dinner, drinks and fun with an amazing support system.
We chatted for a long time, I had my favorite drink Raspberry Beer, and I tried to eat what I could. I found my stomach just didn’t want anything. Later we said good-bye to most and then a few of us headed to the Signature Room for a few more drinks and desert.
The evening ended with a massive smile on my face and a new reality that today I had become a marathoner.