Let’s start with the end first – 4:39:29. It was my 2nd best marathon time in 2 years. It is my 5th best overall. So though I didn’t get a PR or even hit my 4:26 goal, I feel really great about my race. Here’s the skinny.
Friday: JD and I drove up to Chicago and met my brother, sister-in-law, niece and best friends at Millennium Park for a picnic. It was a gorgeous day and just the perfect way to spend a day off. My niece is so stinking adorable and the afternoon was lovely. Nathan and Hunter were leaving for the weekend so though I knew we’d do lunch after my race on Sunday, it was nice to spend a little time with them on Friday too.
We colored in the new book that Uncle JD got her
I got to see N & H before they left for Michigan for the weekend
From there, we went to the expo and JD and I made quick work of it. This being my 3rd Chicago, I didn’t really need to spend a lot of time walking through the booths. We took a few photos and then made our way back to Oak Park where my brother and family live.
That night, we had a nice dinner, ice cream and drinks with the family and got to bed at a decent hour.
Saturday: Everyone woke up pretty early and I went for a 3 mile run to shake out the legs. I used the MapMyRun app on my phone to give me distance and pace details. I am not sure how it compares to my GPS watch but it clocked my last 2 miles at a 8:30/mile pace which was definitely fast for me. Regardless of accuracy, it gave me the confidence necessary for the next day. We then went to the farmers market, got mani/pedis and just relaxed all afternoon. We met the whole crew for dinner that night including runners Meghan, Adam, Dana and all of our fans: Matthew, Nicki, Wynne, JD, Brian, Jake, Abby, Natalie and Ted. Pasta and bread and good conversation was exactly what we needed to calm nerves. I was in bed well before 10pm and somehow, slept amazingly. I had gotten a cold last week so was taking Thera-Flu every night which definitely helped knock me out. But normally, I wake up every hour on the hour before a race or long run. That night, I was calm. I didn’t have the nerves I normally do.
Sunday: Matthew and JD got up with me early to drive me down to the hotel where Meghan and Dana were staying. They dropped me off at 6:45am and you could tell that tension was high. All of us were tired, wired and anxious.
Early morning runners
We walked to the gate and said goodbye to Jake and Brian. They were meeting the rest of the fans for a day full of train hopping and spectating. Somehow, Adam found us girls the minute we walked into the start area. We took advantage of the gorgeous morning and view for a pre-race photo.
Adam, Dana, Meghan and I
As you can see, I opted for solid black with happy rainbow socks and arm bands. I had a couple of long sleeved shirts and gloves to keep warm at the start. Dana and I went immediately to the porta-potty line so we’d have plenty of time to get into the starting corral. The announcer for corral G was hilarious. He at one point said “Guys I know you all want to get up towards the front of the corral but if you are in G, then you aren’t going to win anyway.” I liked his honesty! Our friend Christi was in Corral D so started a full 30 minutes before we did. Dana edged forward as she was running this one solo and fast. Meg, Adam and I had pretty solid race plan: We would stay together as much as possible but would run our own race. If we needed to speed up, or fall back, we would. We all had the same pace band on our wrists and it had been modified since my last post. Instead of hovering in the 10:08 range for 26.2 miles, we decided to start at a 10:12 pace for the first 4 miles. Then increase to a 10/mile pace for the next 5 miles. Then 9:55/mile for the next five. We’d keep increasing until we maintained 9:40 for the last 5 miles. We liked the idea of negative splits and that if we didn’t feel like speeding up, we could maintain the current pace. It gave us a goal, and some flexibility.
When the gun went off, we started off right on pace. Running through the city means tall buildings and not the best GPS satellite so our watches were not giving us a good indication of current pace. We went off our mile splits and were in good shape all the way through mile 6. We saw our fans at mile 1 who were cheering loud and proud.
Abby took this picture of us coming through at mile 1!
We knew the fan group would be at miles 1, 4, 11, 21, and 25.2. Those first few miles flew by. We kept a solid pace and everything felt pretty good. We saw the cheerleaders at mile 4 – but barely. We thought they’d be on the left and they were on the right. We got to wave at them and hear their chants but kept moving. At mile 6, we all decided we had to go to the bathroom. There aren’t many places off the course where you can avoid the porta-potty lines so Lincoln Park was it. We, along with about a hundred other runners, ran into the park, picked a tree and dropped trou. Who needs modesty during a marathon?
We calculated our pit stop cost us about a minute but we weren’t concerned about making it up. We already had increased speed to a 10 min pace and 9:55 was coming up. Also during this mile, I took my first gel. I did it while running and even that small act of sucking down a gel was difficult while running. I started having trouble with my breathing and it lasted for the next couple miles. I kept telling Adam that my legs were green, my mind was green but my lungs were in the yellow. I was worried that my cold was affecting me but the minute I finally got distracted from my breathing issues, I started breathing normally again. I think I was just over- thinking it. Mile 8 is always my favorite. If Boystown could go ahead and sponsor the entire race, I’d be happy. The loud music, the dancers, the fans were just amazing. It was fun and energetic and my rainbow socks were a big hit in this neighborhood. Around mile 9, I told Adam that I wasn’t going to be able to keep increasing my pace. My legs were starting to feel it and though they weren’t hurting badly, I knew enough to know that going faster for the next 17 miles wasn’t going to happen. But also at this time, I looked down at my hand and saw the three lines JD had written on it at 6am earlier that day. He told me that they represented the 3 parts of the race: The first third was all about your mind. Stick to your strategy and run smart. Don’t go out too fast. The second third is about your body. This is when the pace gets hard and it’s all about your body and training taking you through. The last third is spirit. You have gotten this far, now it’s time to hold on. At mile 9, we had just gotten through the mind and I was happy that we ran it smart.
Then at mile 10 I ripped off my pace band. There was no way I could stick with that pace schedule so taking it off was somewhat freeing. Meghan had her headphones at this point so I was just talking with Adam when I told him that I was going to hold on to this pace until the half, and then I would increase my pace to a 10:12-10:15 and do whatever it took to get through the rest. He said he agreed, but his energy and form looked a lot better than mine and I kept telling him to go ahead. I told him countless times that he could leave me and I’d be fine and he had to run his race. I just didn’t want to slow him down. But he kept telling me that he knew he always crashes at the end and running with us girls was keeping him grounded. So we continued running together. At mile 11, we saw the fans! God love them, they were all at a bar having fun. Half the crew went on the left side of the road to make sure they spotted us and JD jumped into the course to run with me. I handed him my arm bands and told him my plan – that I was going to have to slow down and things were starting to hurt. He told me to keep going and he’d see me at mile 21. Ten miles seemed like a long time to not see our fans and it comes at the worst part of the race for me. It’s amazing how cheerleaders not only give you something to look forward to and give you that boost of energy with every passing. Did I mention that my amazing sister-in-law had tshirts made once again for this race? They said Team Meggie and JD, Matthew, Nicki and Wynne wore theirs all day in support of me. <3 them.
Ted, Brian, Matthew, Josh and Jake taking the train around town (Abby the photog)
The next two miles dragged on. I told myself I wouldn’t listen to my music until halfway and suprisingly wasn’t bothered by the lack of tunes. This course has so much going on at all times, it’s easy to be entertained. I kept telling myself “You can be happy or miserable. But you still have X amount of miles left.” If there was ever a time to choose my attitude this was the race. Now I won’t lie – there were plenty of times those negative thoughts creeped in. But I pushed them out every time. I thought of the Boston Marathon victim who was running her first marathon that same day. I thought about my dad and all those others I ran for in London who suffer from Parkinsons. I even told myself that this is just like a “chipper” in Crossfit. Just 26.2 miles that you have to chip away at, a little at a time. I tried to be as positive as possible.
At mile 16, we stopped for water and I jumped to the side of the road to stretch my hips (which are always bothering me). Meghan joined me. At this time, we lost Adam. He kept running and I was ok with that. I wanted him to go on and get a great race in without me holding him back. Meghan and I walked for a little bit and talked about strategy. I told her my game plan was to drink water when needed and walk through those stations but when we were running, we would try to stay under a 10:30. She agreed. We put on our headphones and ran beside each other through the boringest part of the race. During this time, I went through a lot of conversations in my head. A couple of times, I told myself “You aren’t going to PR so why not just relax and take these last 9-10 miles easy. Just enjoy it. Who cares?” But every time I had that thought, another one trumped it “I am NOT phoning this one it. I am going to be proud of this race because I am going to work for every mile.” And I did.
Around mile 18, I looked down at my watch and saw I was doing a 10:05/mile pace. I was thrilled with the speed and actually felt pretty good so pushed on. But this is also the point where I lost Meghan. I knew our plan was to stick together as much as possible but we were running individual races so I kept going. I created a little game out of it: I would run 7 minutes on and then take a minute of walking off. I figured this gave me something to look forward to every 7 minutes and I would be able to keep a good running pace with that minute of walking rest. One of my blogging friends ran a really fast race with a similar strategy so thought it couldn’t hurt to try.
But soon after, around mile 20, I hit the mental wall. My legs were tired – my knees ached, my achilles’ were tight and the bottom of my left foot felt like it was burning with each foot strike. It was also warming up outside. Though the day was gorgeous, when running in the sun, it was a little toasty. I went through every “cooling station” and every time that hose hit me, I felt a new breath of energy. So I started pouring water down my head every time I stopped at a water station. That little burst of coolness running down my neck gave me a push each time.
I texted JD during one of my walking breaks, “The wheels are off” and then at mile 21, right when I assumed I would see our fans, I called him “Where are you?” I begged. He promised me they were just up ahead and to keep to the left. As I approached, I saw Nathan and Hunter in their bright yellow Sussy sweatshirts. I had no idea they would make it back for part of the race and immediately started sobbing.
I hugged Nathan and then got to JD. He asked me what hurt and I told him everything. But I was honestly just being pretty dramatic. I wasn’t really feeling that bad physically. I just mentally was losing my will. I told him I didn’t want to do it anymore. I asked where everyone else is – Adam and Meghan. He told me he hadn’t seen anyone. I knew Adam was ahead of me so assumed they had missed him somehow. Then all of a sudden, Adam appeared. Just seeing him and knowing we could run together was the slap in the face I needed. I told JD I loved him and then Adam and I took off.
mile 22 with Adam
Adam was in bad shape. He was in a severe motorcycle accident many years ago that left him partially paralyzed in his left leg. As a result, he overcompensates with his right leg. And that one was cramping badly. I asked him if he had drank water (yes), eaten bananas (yes) and did he stretch (no). I told him of my game and counted down the minutes when we could stop for a walking break and stretch. When we did, he told me I had to go ahead. He said he would try to stick with me as much as possible but that he couldn’t guarantee how his leg would hold up. As much as I hated leaving him like that, I kept telling myself that we went out to run individual races so I carried on. Luckily, I had found a blue “Chicago runs for Boston” bracelet on the ground. He had wanted one all weekend. I told him it was his lucky bracelet.
Having that one mile with him and seeing my friends and family was exactly what I needed to turn that frown upside down. I picked up my pace and saw numbers in the 9:50 range. I kept my walking breaks to just a minute and grabbed a jolly rancher from some heavenly saint on the bridge. We were turning back toward the city at this point and I knew that meant only 3 more miles. So I took off. Though I kept my walking breaks in, every time I was running, I was doing 9:20 and 9:30 paces. I passed people left and right and when I took inventory of my muscles and joints, nothing was screaming.
During one of my walking breaks, I texted JD that I was running alone again. He told me to look at my hand – that this was all about spirit. And he was there with me for every mile. I then took the opportunity to take a selfie!
Not gonna lie. I am digging these new sunnies!
This part of the marathon is so great. You run straight toward the city and the street is wide so you aren’t bumping people’s elbows with every step. I knew the fans were around mile 25 so pushed forward. I was convinced they were right near the sign that said “1 mile to go!” so I was laser focused on getting to that spot when I saw Nathan and Josh sprinting down the sidewalk next to me! I had passed the bar they were all at and so stopped for a second to hand off my fuel belt and talk with them. They told me I looked strong and asked how I felt. They told me I looked like I had gotten angry and used that anger to fuel my speed. I liked that. And then I took off for the final mile.
As I ran towards the worst hill ever, I told myself I had to keep going. The one goal I wanted to get was to go under a 4:40. I hit that hill with determination. I pushed up that thing with all the gusto I had and the minute I got to the top, I took a 10 second walking break before sprinting to the finish.
this picture says it all (also note the 3 lines on my hand)
When I finished, my phone buzzed to tell me my finish time: 4:39:29. I was thrilled. Though the time wasn’t anything to write home about, I was happy about how I endured. I didn’t let the negative thoughts creep in. I had one breakdown moment but got out of it quickly. I used a run/walk strategy to keep myself moving. I had energy at the end. And at no point did I phone it in. I worked for every mile. Dana finished with a 4:26. Though she wanted a sub 4 and her first half was a 1:57, her wheels fell off at 16. She had been so sick the week before and that definitely hurt her time. But she went for it and I love that about her. Adam finished just 5 minutes behind me. The minute he crossed the finish line, both legs locked up and he had to be carried off. Christi did a PR of 3:54 which is just incredible. She will BQ before she knows it. Meghan twisted her ankle which slowed her down to a 4:53. She finished strong regardless.
As I walked through the finish area, I stopped by the 312 tent and got a delicious golden beer. And as I continued to walk, someone handed me a wet, cold towel. The combination of beer plus being able to wash the salt deposits off my face and cool down was pure bliss. Though I was hobbly and slow, I was grinning ear to ear.
I called JD and they were enroute to meet us at the finish. I sat down at letter “D” and within a minute or two, Adam was next to me. We talked about our stories and congratulated each other. He was just minutes from a PR! Meghan soon joined us, and then the rest of our cheerleaders. Ted had a backpack bar so we grabbed beers and sat in the sun, listening to an awesome cover band and relaying the goods and bads of the race. Meg brought me some cheese and beef jerky which hit the spot!
I also got a picture with my best marathon fans. They have been there for countless races and never disappoint with their amazing Meggie-inspired attire.
JD, Hunt, Nathan, Matthew and I
I can’t remember a race where I was that happy at the end, and yet didn’t PR. I think it’s because I know I stayed strong mentally. I fought for those last 8 miles by myself. I dug deep, I kept going. I never let off the accelerator and I never gave myself an out, and as a result, the finish time really didn’t matter. For the first time since the Illinois Marathon in 2012 (a year and a half ago), I was back to being the strong runner I used to be. I was determined and committed to this race and yet didn’t beat myself up for not hitting a goal. Those doubts I have about my ability, my speed, my commitment to running and those fears of “failure” were all trumped by guts, tenacity and a strong mental attitude.
At mile 14 I wanted to be done with marathons forever. And for weeks I have been saying that after this, I am going to focus just on crossfit. (Right now, I am still on that marathon high so I shouldn’t trust any feelings and thoughts in my head.) But though I know I am not doing a spring marathon and I am excited to dedicate myself to getting better at CF, I still have that Monumental Marathon looming in front of me. Whether I run the full, run the half or just cheer for JD is yet to be determined. But I can honestly say that I know that the girl who used to get up at 4:47am to hit the treadmill, who ran her 20s all by herself and who was passionate about running is still in there. She came out to play this Sunday.
Congrats to all the runners out there who raced on Sunday. No matter how many times you run 26.2, it’s still hard and a tremendous accomplishment. Wear that medal with pride.