I have been itching to write this post. Because Sunday’s marathon was by far one of my favorite running days of all time.
A little background….
As you all know, from previous posts, this training season has just been different for me. In the beginning, I justified feeling a little slow and pokey because it was the beginning of training and it’s always hard to get back into the swing of things. But unlike previous training seasons, as the weeks dragged on, I never felt like I got my stride. And it was all my fault.
To say that life has been busy is an understatement. And though that is always the case in my life, this time, I let running fall to the back burner. I didn’t miss many long runs, but I am not sure I ever ran more than 30 miles in one week. If I made it 3x a week, that was a feat!
And though this lack of commitment stressed me out in the beginning, I finally was able to let it go. As I have said before, this wasn’t going to be my last marathon. And if I choose to do 2-3 marathons a year, some will be good (Illinois Marathon) and some will be bad.
Last week I didn’t even think about the race. In previous years, I would blog every day in the week preceding the race. In the past, I planned my meals, my runs, my hydration. I made bracelets with my race plan. I created playlists days before and I had my outfit picked well in advance. This year, not even close. On Thursday, I met the girls to talk race plans. Goody bags of socks, gels, etc were passed out (my friends are the best) and Kel was there to cheer us all on. Bri said something that calmed my nerves and I held on to until I crossed the finish line: No Perfect Stranger left behind.
On Friday I built a new playlist. And on Saturday, Josh, Meghan, Jake and I headed up to Chicago. With two bags of Halloween candy with us and more luggage than ever necessary for just one night, we trekked up to the windy city to get this party started.
Karen, Bri and Christi carpooled up and we just missed them at the expo. We saw Dana from afar and Adam was a late arrival, so it was just us four exploring the fun booths and free samples. We stopped for the requisite photo opportunities and found our names on the big wall of runners.
Meg and I on the podium
say my name, say my name
From there, we went up to the Half Acre Beer Company to meet my brother and taste some beer. And then we went to lunch at Bad Apple (seriously delicious) with my BFF Nathan. The six of us ate burgers and drank beer. I laughed about how I typically don’t drink the week before a race, no less a day before. But this race was different.
From there we went across the street and had additional beverages with Meg and Jake before they headed back downtown to meet the rest of the crew. They had a huge group going to dinner but given I wanted to see Nathan and my brother, I opted out. So instead, the four of us went to this adorable Italian restaurant which even served “The Marathon” pasta dish!
Nathan and Matthew
When we got back to Nathan’s, he showed me his race sign. He even made it for all the Perfect Strangers! As a former University of Iowa cheerleader, Nathan takes these duties very seriously.
I woke up to nerves. My brain was finally wrapping itself around the fact that I had 26.2 miles to run that day. I tried on various outfits (I brought my entire wardrobe essentially) and opted for capris, the matching socks Dana bought us all, a neon yellow tee and my black arm warmers. I sent Bri a picture of my outfit since she was debating hers as well and she responded with, “Please take one of you smiling next time.” And so I did.
By 6:20, the three of us (Nathan, JD and I) were out the door looking for a cab. The plan was to meet at the girls’ hotel and all walk together to the start. But cab after cab drove by – none of them stopping. As the corners started to populate with more runners, I looked at Nathan and said “I think we have to drive.” So action man that he is, he ran back to his place and barreled towards us in my car. We jumped in and were at Grant Park within minutes. He took the car back and took the train back to the first cheering point to meet the guys while JD and I walked into the starting area. We had an hour before the start so I waited in line 25 minutes for the porta potty. The rest of the crew were on their way but our cell signals were so bad that we couldn’t find them. I did some stretching while waiting to hear from them. My nerves were at an all time high and I was pushing back the tears.
A text from Jake finally got through to JD and so we raced through the corrals to find all the guys. But where were the runners? They had to enter the starting zone before 7:45am and so did I. So there I was, in Corral J all by myself. The tears came. I kept looking at the guys (Jake, Josh, Ted, Sean, Nick) and asking if they could see the girls. FINALLY, they spotted them. As I ran towards Bri, Meghan and Dana I was crying in relief. I knew I wasn’t mentally prepared to run that race alone. I needed them.
bundled up in our "Throw away" clothes
Unfortunately, Becker was in the corral behind us so though we had planned on running with him, he’d have to catch up to us. He did take this great pic of us with the skyline behind us.
It only took us about 10 minutes to get to the start line after the gun went off and before we knew it, we were running. Within seconds I said aloud “Oh hey Plantar Fasciitis! There you are!” There was a guy in front of us who was super obnoxious as he explained the importance of negative splits so as we bobbed and weaved our group around him, Becker caught up to us. We were a group of 5 strong – 4 of which wearing the same crazy socks.
The weather was cold, but actually turned out to be perfect running weather. A few wind gusts that I could have lived without but SO much better than last year. By mile one, I had stripped off the orange “throw away” shirt just in time to see our fans! (And yes, it landed on a runners head when I heaved it across the mass of people). Nathan and Matthew had joined the crew and they were screaming loud and proud.
If you compared the first few miles on Sunday to a typical Saturday long run, the biggest thing you’d notice is the lack of conversation. We were just quietly running next to each other. Our miles were fast – 9:40/mile or so. We’d point out people we saw or if we lost sight of one another, but otherwise, we just ran silently next to each other. I know that Bri and I both were on the verge of tears at any given second. We didn’t discuss why, but she is my equal when it comes to emotions. It was her that grabbed my hand at the Bellagio in Vegas when I was just overcome with how beautiful things were. So though I wanted to hug her and calm her emotions, I knew it would only bring them out in full force for us both.
We entered Lincoln Park around mile 5 and Meg and Adam had bursting bladders. As they ran behind a tree and did their business, we waited for them as we surveyed all the other bare-assed runners we saw in the field. It only took a minute before we were running again and it wasn’t something I was concerned about. In fact, I welcomed the break. I knew already how that my legs were pretty weak. It wasn’t going to be an easy race.
Up until mile 6, I was in a bad spot mentally. I was nervous, grumpy and had plenty of doubt. But then everything changed during that sixth mile….that’s where I found my happy. First, we saw Bri’s family. Holding up a huge yellow sign for her, I ran up to them and high-fived them all as she hugged her dad. Right after, I heard someone yell “MEGGIE DIALS!!!!!” and to my left was my long-time college friend, Eddie. I haven’t seen him in years and he spotted me amongst the crowd. My heart started to lift. Then, in a sea of orange tshirts, I spot my friend Stacey (also a college friend) who was screaming for her little brother who just so happened to be right in front of me! As I yelled for her attention, she introduced me to Alex who I fist-bumped and wished him well on his first marathon. My heart moved another inch north.
me yelling, Alex running
And then, same mile, I noticed most of the herd of runners waving upward at the brownstone to our right. And there, on the 3rd floor of the building, was what had to be a nursing home. All the elderly people living there, some still in their robes, were sitting at the window watching the race. They had the biggest smiles on their faces and were waving like mad at the mass of people running below them. As I waved at them, I laughed out loud. It was just the happiest sight. I choked back the tears and when Bri looked back at me with glassy eyes I said “Don’t you look at me, Bri. Don’t you do it!” I knew it wouldn’t take much to get us to full on crying. But it was those people in the window that gave me my happy. And I carried it on for the next 20 miles.
At mile 7.5, we found the guys and stopped for hugs. Matthew had to hop on a plane for a work trip but I was able to hug him and give a smooch to my niece’s best little friend Elsa, who was with her parents and the crew. I handed my gloves to Ted. I hugged JD who had a gel ready and waiting for me. It’s pretty awesome that my biggest fan is also a runner, as he knows exactly what I need. And then I asked if they’d take a picture of us. Never before, in all my marathons, have I stopped to talk to fans. I wave and blow kisses but have never wanted to lose a minute of race time. On Sunday? We stopped every single time.
Approaching our fans
Meghan was our task master the entire day. She had a schedule of our miles: when we saw the boys, when we did water stops, when we took our gels. She called this “chunking” and I have used the concept in past races too. We didn’t think about eating the entire elephant (running all 26.2) but instead we took one bite at a time. At our next water stop, we lost Dana and Adam. At this point, we were still tracking around a 10/mile pace but knew we were slipping. Bathroom and “fan” breaks were going to slow us down even if we could continue running that pace. I pulled out my pace calculator on my phone and said that if we could do 10:30′s, we would finish in the 4:30s which would give Meg a PR. At the time, even though we weren’t taking the race super seriously, we were still trying to do our best, time wise.
But Dana and Adam fell behind when they thought we breaked for water. And when they caught up to us, we all agreed that they should go on. Both had energy we did not and the last thing I wanted to do was slow anyone down.
Adam took one final race pic and off they went.
A quick note about the fans. First of all, Chicago? You know how to churn out a fan base. Everyone screamed and yelled. Some people were so sincere and forceful that I wanted to shrink them into a Polly Pocket and take them with me. And our fans? Damn they were good. They saw us 6 times! Jumping all over the “L” system, running to catch us, texting us along the way. And with signs and screams, it refilled our energy time after time.
By the time we got to halfway, I needed to stop and stretch my hips. Damn piriformis issues means they get super tight but a quick stretch can make all the difference. When we started back up again, I snapped a picture of us three.
First half complete. Second half with our hearts.
At the next stop with the guys, our spirits were a little down. I know at least Meg and I hurt. She said her legs had never hurt like that before in a race. And for me, it was my hips. They just ached and ached. But the guys, after taking a sake bomb at a nearby bar, were fully spirited (pun intended). They told us they had seen all the other runners and our friends were doing great. JD also told me that he had given away my gel to Becker as he thought it was an extra. So with no more gels to go, I stuffed as many Jolly Ranchers in my fuel belt hoping they would suffice. And so with a few hugs, hard candies and a lot of well wishes, we started up again.
At one point when I was complaining about my hips, little Miss Boppy Fairy (Bri) suggested that the Medic tent could have medicine so I asked them for Tylenol and a spare hip. They could help with the former. It was the first time I have ever stopped at a medical tent but Sunday was a day of race firsts for me. Bri was in good shape throughout and often I told her to go on as I didn’t want to slow her down. But it was her motto that kept us together – No Perfect Stranger left behind.
At mile 18, we decided we would run straight to mile 20 and then take a break. At mile 21 we would see the guys. We’d figure out the next chunk then. Somehow, we were already within single digits of the finish line.
Also at this time, I turned to the girls and said “Ladies, we aren’t going to get a good time today. Plain and simple. So we need to make this damn fun. Let’s have a story to tell.” And so we did. From that point on, we talked nonstop. At one water stop, we sang at the top of our lungs “Let’s hear it for the boys” as it played through the speakers. And no lie, our legs followed this burst of energy. When wee were running, it was at a healthy clip between 9:50-10:15/mile.
And one of my favorite points was when Bri asked why there were tamales all over the ground. They were banana peels! I guess Bri thinks tamales would be a nice mid-race snack to hand out. (WHO’S BRI!?)
At mile 21, we saw the boys and I stopped to stretch. JD asked me why my hips hurt so badly (“Because they don’t lie) and was quite concerned. I just told him I was out of shape. Truth hurts – my body really wasn’t trained to run when tired like in years past. But I was getting through it. Nathan, the ever so helpful cheerleader reached down and started massaging my leg which felt equally awful and amazing.
making nice with the photogs
When we reached mile 23, I saw the familiar point where a group of people were handing out Busch Light. JD drank two of them with this group last year (and still finished with an incredible time). As Bri suggested we stop, I said “I’ll do it if you guys do” and before we knew it, we were walking along the course, drinking Busch Light out of a paper cup and laughing hysterically. Let me tell you – this BL was the best beer I think I have ever tasted. And at the very same time, Meg spotted a man with a whole tarp full of medical supplies, one of which being a roller. He told us to get in line and he first rolled the outside of her hips and legs and then I asked him if he could roll my ass. He knew what I meant – piriformis. So there I was, drinking a beer in the middle of a marathon while our medical angel rolled my hip. It felt glorious.
The next mile was the Gatorade mile and they handed out delicious chews (thank gosh both Clif and Gatorade had fuel so I never even needed that gel JD gave away!) And right after, a lovely woman handed us small packets of Wild Berry skittles. I don’t mind if I do.
We were running pretty damn fast when we were running. I just had so much energy. My legs felt fine as long as they were moving and at one point I told Bri I felt like I could fly through those last 3 miles. I have no idea where it came from, but it felt good to feel good.
speedy and happy
Trust me, we did our fair share of PJ (pretentious jogging) but those last 5 miles or so, we looked and felt strong. We just took breaks.
As we approached mile 25, we scanned the edges of the course around for the guys and low and behold, there they were drinking Bloody Marys and eating chips and salsa at a bar. We ran up to them and while I ate a chip and sipped Ted’s beer, we chatted with all of them. They told us that everyone else was finished: Christi at a 4:04, Karen a 4:06, Dana a 4:35, Adam a 4:41. They all killed it with huge PRs. We were thrilled for them.
As we started to depart, we decided to sing “Let’s Hear it for the Boys” for them since they were such amazing cheerleaders. They got some good pictures of our tomfoolery.
dance it out
Mile 25. Typically I am crying at this point. On Sunday? I danced.
Our final mile was tough. Maybe it was the dancing or the chips or the beer. Maybe it was the fact that with only one mile to go it always feels like forever. But we trudged through and ran up the worst and final hill of the race (which happens to be within .2 of the finish line). As we approached the finish, we grabbed hands and wore the biggest smiles of the day on our faces.
The clock said 5:04. It’s my worst time of all 9 marathons. But there hasn’t been a single minute where that mattered to me.
The After Party….
After we crossed that line we wrapped our then frigid bodies in a space blanket and went straight to the 312 tent for a post-race beer. Becker was waiting for us and the four of us hobbled toward the family meeting area.
all smiles after the race
Becker, Meg, Meggie and Bri
The family meeting area feels like another 26.2 miles away so as we slowly made our way there, Bri stopped to finally relieve her bladder at a porta-potty. The poor girl had to go for 5+ hours! While she used the facility, I decided I needed a little rest.
space blanket + rest + beer = happiness
When we finally met up with the fans we all just sat in the grass in the sun and told stories. The boys told us about all the crazy stuff they saw like someone wiping vaseline in a private area out in the public. We laughed about the costumes we saw (One guy dressed as Queen Elizabeth including a handbag, mauve women’s suit and a mask!). We went for multiple beer runs. We danced. We ate beef sticks and craved more of them.
Ted me and Becker
jack line, what?!
The Hotel Lobby….
I got the race I trained for. My body wasn’t in good enough shape to run this nonstop, with any hope of a PR. My head wasn’t right until mile 6. But I had the BEST time. In fact, we kept calling it our BR instead of a PR – it’s our best race. I was able to relax and forget about the pressure of a specific time. I was with two of my absolute favorites. We felt so loved by all of our fans who worked hard to see us at every stop. I drank a beer, I ate skittles, I danced, I sang. I crossed the line holding hands with best friends. And the minute it was over, I wasn’t obsessing over my finish time. I wasn’t doing math to determine the per/mile pace. I was just blissfully happy.
We took what could have been a frustrating, depressing day and made it a great one. Marathon #9 goes down in the books as a pretty monumental one.