It still hasn’t really sunk in that I ran a marathon. Most runners would tell you that running is about so much more than just running, and that’s true for a marathon x100. Whether I never run another one of these again, or run 100 more, as cheesy as it sounds, October 11, 2015, is a day I always want to remember. You only get one first marathon, and I’m so glad this was mine.
A little context for anyone who stumbled across the post and doesn’t know me personally: 10 days before this race (after a couple days of shin pain after running) I was diagnosed with a stress reaction (potential precursor to stress fracture) in my tibia, and was recommended not to run. I spent a few days resting and coming to terms with all that that meant, and then, in a moment of clarity, gathered some other opinions and based on that decided that unless my pain significantly progressed, I’d at least give the race a go (but at a slower pace if needed). In the week before the race I only ran a couple miles and otherwise tried to rest and ice as much as possible, which I ultimately think contributed to having healed “enough” to get through the race healthy and sans broken bones.
We got into Chicago on Friday morning via Megabus and after a quick breakfast and dropping off our bags at the hotel, we made our way to the expo at McCormick Place. I wanted to get to the expo as early as possible (Friday vs. Saturday) to avoid crowds and have everything in hand for race day, which I knew would help calm my nerves.
The expo was overwhelmingly huge, but there was tons of signage for the different stations and plenty of volunteers around to redirect you if you got lost (we did). I got all of the essentials first – race packet and bib, t-shirt – and then we made our way to a few booths that we had decided ahead of time we wanted to visit for different reasons (Brooks, Grandma’s Marathon, Goose Island, KT Tape, etc.). I highly suggest using this strategy because it can be easy to get sucked in and spend hours there, which is likely too much time on your feet right before race day. There were plenty of photo opps, which we took advantage of. This is also where my plans to not drink for the week leading up to the race went out the window. #yolo
We stopped by the Runner’s World booth with our friend Vanessa and got to meet and get a photo with Bart Yasso! Pretty neat.
My friend Teresa from work arrived at the expo a little while after us, so we met up for a picture and walked around a bit together. After talking about this race nearly every day at work for the last six months (sorry coworkers!), it was so surreal to finally be in Chicago together. I’m so grateful to have been on this journey with Teresa.
We visited a few more booths at the expo — Although there was tons of stuff I loved, I was feeling weird about buying any marathon-specific apparel in case I didn’t start or finish the race. I got a couple of things that were more generic, including the softest hoodie ever, that just says “RUN” on the front, and told myself I’d buy something special if I did finish. I also picked up a 4:00-hour pace tattoo from the Nike Pace Team booth, and had Kevin grab a 4:30 (they were only allowing you to take one). I wasn’t sure if I’d be shooting for either of those times or if I’d even wear one, but wanted to have it just in case. Spoiler alert: glad I did.
Once we were done at the expo it was mid-afternoon, so we headed back toward our hotel, picked up a late lunch along the way, and pretty much hung out in our hotel/at the hotel bar for the rest of the evening. We got to bed super early as I know the night before the night before the race is the most important night of sleep, and we hadn’t slept much the night before on the overnight bus.
We had originally planned to go to a Runner’s World shakeout run where Bart Yasso, Deena Kastor, and Sara Hall would be, but we made the decision in the morning to skip it and instead give my leg an extra day of rest, icing, etc.
We went to an early breakfast, came back to relax for awhile in our hotel, and then spent lunchtime and most of the afternoon with our friends Jolie and T who were visiting T’s family for the weekend and also watching the race! Jolie and T ran Chicago last year, so it was great to talk to them more about it, which helped me feel more prepared and less anxious.
After a fun afternoon, we ended up back at our hotel around 5 and decided to forgo our dinner reservations and stay in and order a pizza instead. I wasn’t super hungry but knew I needed to eat something substantial the night before. We ordered a thin crust pizza from Lou Malnati’s and had it delivered, which was much less stressful than trying to go out to eat on a Saturday night in downtown Chicago. The pizza was delicious, and I finally was starting to feel pretty calm about the race and was able to eat a good amount.
I then got everything laid out for the morning. The week before, when I didn’t think I’d be running, I was so bummed for lots of reasons, among them the fact that I had spent a lot of time and money picking out my perfect outfit for the race. I ended up being really happy with everything I wore and used – in case you’re wondering, it’s these Athleta capris (large outer pockets on both sides – I carried chews on one side and my phone, in a ziploc, on the other side), this Lululemon top (really good at wicking moisture), a new pair of Brooks Glycerin 12s that I’d run about 25-30 miles in, and a basic Nike hat and sports bra. I even pinned my bib on ahead of time so I’d have one less thing to worry about in the morning. I knew I wouldn’t be able to rely on my Garmin for accurate distance, and therefore, pace, so I changed the screen to just show elapsed time.
We watched a little bit of TV (always helps me get sleepy) and I think I was asleep by 9:15. I slept fairly soundly until about 3:00, and then woke up and fell back asleep on and off until my alarm went off. Normally I get really anxious when I wake up the night before a race and can’t sleep, but I felt really calm and just tried to keep resting and not stare at the clock. Not the best night of sleep ever, but certainly not the worst.
SUNDAY (RACE DAY!)
We set about 10 different alarms between the two of us, and also got a hotel wake-up call, but I ended up waking up a few minutes before the first alarm at 4:45. I got up, stretched a little bit, and much to my surprise, realized that my leg didn’t hurt AT ALL for the first time in over 10 days. WEIRD, but I’ll take it.
I got ready fairly quickly, made sure I had everything I needed, and started eating my plain bagel (purchased the day beforehand at Dunkin’ Donuts) with peanut butter as we walked to the train station. Our hotel was only about a mile or so from the start line, but I wanted to keep resting my legs as much as possible so we opted to take the train and get a bit closer. I’m glad we got to the train early, because they weren’t running as frequently as we thought they’d be and we had to wait over 15 minutes for the next one.
I got to the race area just before 6, and wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Kevin yet, so we popped into a corner coffee shop. I happened to see that there were only two other people in line for their bathroom, so I was able to use the restroom there, which is approximately one million times better than the porta potties. I wasn’t sure how much time I would need to get through security and what the lines would be like to get into my corral, so we parted ways a few minutes past 6 and I made my way through Gate 1 toward Corral D.
There weren’t many runners around when I got to my area, so I stretched a bit, sat and rested and talked to a few other people, and had a banana and some water. Once I noticed it starting to get a little busier, I got in line for the bathrooms. I didn’t end up really needing to go again, but you never know, so for about half an hour or so I would stand in line, try to go, come out, and immediately get back in line. A much better strategy than waiting until race time when the lines are long and the corrals are closing. I went into my corral around 7:10, 10 minutes before it closed.
I took some time to take a few pictures (I wasn’t planning to have my phone, but ended up wanting to in case my leg acted up along the way and I had to DNF and find Kevin) and just soak it all in. It was an absolutely beautiful morning. I was a little chilly so I wore a cheap throwaway shirt until about 5 minutes before my corral started.
I was feeling really good and confident that morning so I decided I’d put on the 4:00-hour pace tattoo and see how long I could stick with it if things kept feeling good. I wasn’t putting a ton of pressure on myself but I wanted to have it just in case, since I knew my Garmin wouldn’t be reliable. On my other arm, I wrote the mantra I’ve been using a lot this training cycle: “I can do hard things.”
I typically am a ball of nerves leading up to race starts, but I was surprisingly calm standing and waiting in the sea of runners. I was so happy that I had decided to come to the start line and just so grateful to be a participant in this amazing event, no matter what happened. Deep down, I knew that I was really prepared for this and it was time to trust my training.
The race felt like four main parts to me so that’s how I’ve broken down the recap…
I was really surprised how fast we got started running after the 7:30 gun time – within 10 minutes. I felt really, really good for the first 10-11 miles, and was surprised how easy it felt to be running below my goal marathon pace (9:09). In the back of my mind I knew it was probably a little fast for my original race plan (to negative split), but I also knew my leg might start hurting and I’d need some time built in to get me through the back half and especially last few miles of the course. During the first 11 miles I got to see Jolie & T twice (mile 1, mile 6) and Kevin and our friend PJ twice (mile 4, mile 11) which was amazing and kept me really motivated. Here I am in the bottom left corner waving to Jolie & T!
These were undoubtedly (and surprisingly) the hardest miles of the race for me. I started to have pain in both of my ankles, and in my arches, and wasn’t sure if it was related to my tibia issue or not. I also got a massive cramp in my right quad. I slowed down but tried to keep moving because I knew it would be so hard to start up again once I stopped. I ended up pulling off to the side to stretch a couple times in hopes of loosening things up, which helped a bit. I was expecting to see friends twice during this stretch, but we ended up missing each other both times. I got pretty lonely (despite the 2 million people cheering) and just tried to focus on getting to Chinatown where I knew I’d at least see Kevin again.
Once I hit the 17-18 mile area and was well into single-digit territory, I got a second wind (I was still running slower than the first half, but felt much better mentally). This was probably my favorite part of the race because my mood had improved, I was paying closer attention to and really enjoying the neighborhoods, especially Pilsen and Chinatown, and I knew I’d see people I knew again. I started walking through aid stations and taking Gatorade at nearly every one, as it was getting warmer. Seeing Kevin, PJ, Jolie & T in Chinatown around mile 20 was amazing and a huge motivator, and was when I first felt for sure that I’d be able to finish the race (just wasn’t sure in what time). I tried hard to look happy (I was happy!) for all the pictures despite the fact that nearly everything in my body was starting to ache!
Around mile 23 someone was handing out small dixie cups of beer, and I wasn’t about to pass that up! The carbonation actually tasted pretty good and it was a fun thing to be able to say I’d done. Just before mile 24 I took an Otter Pop from someone which totally hit the spot and gave me a nice sugar boost!
All throughout the race I’d been manually hitting the lap button on my watch at every mile marker, and comparing where I was against the pace tattoo. I’d been under every mile so far but had gone from about 6 minutes under earlier in the race to 2-3 minutes under up to this point. At mile 24 I realized I had about 23 minutes left to finish under 4 hours and knew I could do that if I just kept moving forward. The last couple miles are a long stretch but I loved every part of it because I knew I was going to finish, and meet my time goal too! I saw Kevin and PJ at mile 25, and Jolie at 25.5 or so, and somehow managed to still be smiling and looking strong!
I didn’t have much of a sprint in me for the end, but I did try to pick up the pace in the last 400m or so once I realized I could break 3:58. Crossing that finish line was an incredible feeling of pride and accomplishment, and I’ll never forget it.
Official time: 3:57:34
One of my goals was to feel good enough after the race to drink the free Goose Island beer they give you pretty much immediately after finishing. Mission accomplished.
It took me quite awhile to make my way through the finish area and find Kevin in the reunite area, which made me really glad I’d brought my phone so we could communicate along the way and find a meeting spot. I had a protein recovery shake and some pretzels, and we (slowly) made our way to the train to try to catch our friend Vanessa at mile 25. We made it with about 30 seconds to spare, and it was so fun to cheer her on to a strong finish for her second year in Chicago!
After seeing Vanessa we headed over to Chinatown – at which point walking was becoming increasingly challenging – to see Teresa. We waited here for a bit and got to cheer on a ton of other runners, hold up our very popular “Beer misses you too” sign, and eventually spotted Teresa and chatted for a minute! It was so great to see her and encourage her in a pretty difficult part of the race. (She did amazing!)
Once Teresa passed we took the train back to our hotel, I took the best shower of my life, and rested for a few hours before dinner and drinks with Jolie and T for the rest of the evening. It’s still sinking in and I’m still feeling all the feels from this experience, and especially being able to share it with some of the most important people in my life.
I can do hard things, and I’m a marathoner.