Wow, what a race! The City of Chicago really goes all out to produce a good race! The crowds were AMAZING! The volunteers were AMAZING! The weather was AMAZING! Oh and my friends are AMAZING for putting up with my Facebook posts for months about this race. And did I mention that my twin is AMAZING because she and friend Erica spent the day running around Chicago yelling encouragement for me on different parts of the course? The only thing missing? I didn't have an AMAZING race.
What happened? I certainly put in the miles training for it including a 16 mile long run, an 18 mile long run and 2 - 20 mile long runs. I even did a 5k the week before race day and ran a 10:30 pace without trying to push the pace (11:30 was my goal pace for Chicago). I thought I was ready for Chicago! It just didn't turn out to be a good day for me. I probably should have known when I missed the gear check that it wasn't going to be my day (I missed gear check because I was waiting in line at the port-a-potty. It wouldn't be my only trip to the port-a-potty). Because I missed gear check my sweatpants and long sleeved t-shirt that I wore to the start (to keep warm but didn't plan on wearing for the race) got donated to charity along with a water bottle I had carried with me. That didn't really bother me though as I knew that was a possibility and when I had to choose between entering the start corral before they shut it or going to gear check and then having to start at the back, I chose to enter the start corral and lose my gear. I felt fine about the decision and I physically felt fine while in the start corral. I wasn't terribly nervous and was really trying to just enjoy the moment. It was exciting! I didn't even mind when I get hit with a flying Powebar Gel somebody was discarding. So when did things go wrong? I didn't feel good from the first step to the last. I don't really know how to explain it other than my legs felt like lead and I hurt - my legs, my back, my head. I think part of my problem was that I didn't wear a watch nor did I take my phone with me so I had no idea what my pace was early on. I usually run with my phone during training runs so I can listen to music and have an app running such as Nike+ or MayMyRun to provide me with my time, distance and pace. I knew from my training runs though that my phone would die (battery) before I finished the marathon, plus I didn't want to run with headphones. I personally would prefer headphones be banned from races but that's a topic for a different day. I like to race without music so I can experience the atmosphere of the race. And if you haven't done the Chicago Marathon before trust me when I say it has atmosphere! More than 50,000+ people started the race. Not everyone finished but most did (40,802 runners finished the race). There were a few bandits pulled off the course. One man even tried to use the marathon as a way to escape police. It didn't work. Police tackled him and put him in handcuffs. I didn't get to see that but I'm sure it was probably good entertainment. But then again so were other parts of the course...
Along the course you run through many different Burroughs of Chicago. You pretty much knew where you were by the music and dancing of the spectators. I don't remember all 29 neighborhoods we ran through but here's a recap of what I do remember... The course starts in Grant Park and heads north in to Streeterville which is home to luxury hotels and shopping and what's referred to as the Magnificent Mile because of all the shops. Next was the Loop which is home to world class architecture. I would take some time the next day touring some of this area a little closer because I honestly wasn't paying much attention while running by it and well... architecture is cool! We then ran in to Lincoln Park. I remember seeing a sign about the zoo. This is actually when I started paying a wee bit more attention to the atmosphere and less about my time as I was already slowing down and knew it wasn't going to be a PR day for me. The next section that I remember entering is Boystown - a locally recognized gay, lesbian and bisexual community. Loved seeing the outfits and if I recall there was a band playing Eye of the Tiger! There were several bands throughout the course which was cool. There were also cheerleaders around this section of the course. Must have been around 8 miles or so as I recall we hadn't quite reached 10 miles yet. It was also around here somewhere I saw my sister and Erica for the first time. I was even aware enough to run to the side of the road and high five them! Next up was Old Town Triangle. I only remember that because there was a band playing old time rock and roll. Did I mention there were several bands on the course? It was pretty cool and exactly why I don't like to wear headphones when running a race. I'm not sure of all the neighborhoods we passed through but recall passing through Little Italy shortly after Old Town. The theme from Rocky was playing! There were several Italian flags and runners from Italy in the race got a little extra love through this section. Then the course passed through an area with a couple medical centers. How fitting was it that there were medical tents through here (they were actually throughout the entire race but I noticed them more here than other areas). This is also where I had to make one of my unscheduled port-a-potty breaks. I said I wasn't feeling well... Next up was the Latino district. And if you were Latino you got some extra love through here. All the spectators throughout were great, in no way am I complaining about the different groups getting some extra love. It was fun to see the excitement! There was lots of music and dancing and since this was late in the race it was nice to see and hear! And not to be out done was Chinatown. There were dragons dancing in the streets! Lot's of cowbells and one of the largest crowds! Don't ask me what came after Chinatown though. I couldn't tell you other than the finish! It was a whirlwind tour of the city and it was AMAZING!!!
Did I mention the crowds were AMAZING? Thank you spectators!!!
Okay, back to my race and what went wrong. I somehow managed to not see the first several mile markers. Mile 4 is the first one I saw. How I missed the BIG mile markers is beyond me! I think that shows that I was not having a good day right from the start. Anyhoo... without knowing for certain what time it was when I crossed the starting line I just had to estimate where I was pace wise. I knew that my wave started at 8am so I could add 30 minutes to the clock time since the first wave started at 7:30am. (The Race Director had mentioned in the pre-race instructions at the expo that the clock would start with the first wave and all clocks would follow suit.) I also remembered seeing the clock in the starting corral showing 8:23am so I could add at least another 23 minutes to the clock time. I also know it took a few more minutes from the time I saw that clock in the corral to the time I actually crossed the starting line. (I now know that I crossed the starting line at 08:22:14AM according to the official results so apparently the clock in the starting corral wasn't correct.) Math is usually my strong point but apparently not when I am tired. I was way off on my estimated finish time. I did finally look at the clock at mile 4 and at the next mile marker figure out what pace I was running. I was on target pace through 5 miles (I was shooting for a 5 hour finish) but by 10k I was already slowing down and by the half marathon point I knew for sure I was way off pace and wouldn't be getting a sub 5 hour marathon finish.
It was around the 10k point I decided to just try and enjoy the day (should have done the from the beginning, duh!). I wasn't paying much attention to the crowd or atmosphere and really wanted to experience it. I made a point to start looking at the signs spectators were holding. Some of the more popular ones were: Run Like You Stole Something; Press Here for Power; There's Beer at the Finish Line; Hurry Up, the Kenyans are Drinking All Your Beer!; Run Now, Beer Later; (I was sensing a theme...) Worst Parade Ever; Chase the Cute Ones; Smile if You Pee'd a Little (who thought of this one?); Run Fast I Just Farted; Toenails are for Sissys! and my favorite... You're All Crazy! Yep, have to agree with that one!
Their's a term in marathon running called "hitting the wall". That's basically when your body says enough. It generally happens after 20 miles. For me it happened at 22 miles. Up until that point I had actually stuck to my plan of only walking the aid stations. So even though my pace was off, I was still doing okay following my plan. I had only walked the aid stations but when I hit 22 miles my legs said "enough already!" I had just gone through an aid station and started running again and my legs were in sheer agony. I plodded along as best I could but my quads were screaming at me. Each step felt like pure hell. It literally felt like I had buckets of cement attached to my feet. Each step was harder than the previous. I got to the point where my feet weren't leaving the ground and walking became the only option. I wasn't happy about it but I wanted to finish and it this point I wasn't sure I would finish. One of my favorite quotes about the marathon is this one: "At mile 20, I thought I was dead. At mile 22, I wished I was dead. At mile 24, I knew I was dead. At mile 26.2, I realized I had become too tough to kill." ~Unknown And this is a pretty accurate quote of how I felt at this point in the race. I was determined to get to the finish line though!
The road to the finish is deceiving. At just over 23 miles you are on Michigan Avenue heading for the finish. And why do they take pictures around mile 23? I had already hit the wall and was walking but when I saw there were designated picture areas I had no choice but to run through those. You don't want the camera to catch you walking! These are fuzzy (because they want you to buy the pics not steal them like I am doing here!) but I wanted to prove that I was running through these points:
Back to the course... You know you are heading towards the finish because you see the skyscrapers looming ahead. You see the buildings and think you are getting close but it's just a mirage. And wouldn't you know it, my sister appears and takes a picture of me during this portion! Um... next marathon could you take the picture earlier in the race? Maybe before I look like death warmed over??? Yep, I look as bad as I feel...
You still have a mile to go... and just when you are about to reach the finish there's a hill. Who the hell puts a hill at the end of a marathon??? There aren't many hills and really I'm not sure you can call the bridges hills but that's pretty much the only thing resembling a hill until you get to mile 25. As we turn off of Michigan Ave a hill that resembles a molehill (but feels like Everest!) greets you. It reduced many people to a walk. I was determined to get up this damn hill and to the finish! Plus I was pretty sure if I walked up it I wouldn't be able to resume running again and I really wanted to cross the finish line running not walking so run up the hill I did! Straight to the finish! And just to prove that I DID run up that hill there's a picture thanks to the many camera crews throughout the course:
and yep... I made it across the finish line RUNNING!
I don't want to forget about the volunteers. Did I mention the volunteers were AMAZING?
Thank you volunteers!!!
So I didn't have an AMAZING race but I am glad I did it. Less than 5% of people in the world can say they finished a marathon. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. I am a marathoner! Will I do another one? If you had asked me right after the marathon I probably would have said I don't know. Matter of fact, Pete did ask me shortly after the race and I said I didn't know. (I really wasn't feeling well after the race). Now that a few days have passed, the soreness has subsided and I've had a chance to reflect on the race and the journey that led to it, I can say YES, yes I will run another marathon. Maybe Chicago again? Maybe Marine Corps Marathon? Or maybe even New York? I don't know...they are all lottery entries so I'll have to try my luck with the lottery again next year and see if I win an entry and the right to register, train for and finish another prestigious race. Until then I'll take a few minutes to savor this one. :)
“Few things in life match the thrill of a marathon.” ~Fred Lebow
“Few things in life match the thrill of a marathon.” ~Fred Lebow