I wasn’t sure if I’d write about my Chicago Marathon experience, I mean we haven’t really written a recap for any race in quite a while anyway, but I didn’t think I could bring myself to relive this one. I’m writing this now in hopes that it brings me some relief to get it out and move on. And who am I kidding? I’ve already been reliving it constantly since Sunday. I know it all sounds a bit dramatic, especially to someone who doesn’t run, it’s just a race after all.
I’m not going to lie, I was certain I was going to crush this. I wasn’t happy with my New York City Marathon time but had a blast, it was my first, and since then I’ve found many ways to improve, etc. so Chicago was my redemption race. I trained 5 days a week for 16 weeks, less time overall than NYC but more days a week with more intentional runs. I researched the shit out of everything. The course, strategies, pacing, nutrition, everything!! I was rested, I had 2 good night sleeps + a nap leading up to race day. I didn’t walk too much the day before, we ate well, all of it. I was confident.
After seeing Brian and Susan off to their earlier start time, I finished getting ready. I didn’t eat as much as I’d hoped, I have a hard time eating in the morning. I waited on Janeese to arrive, a friend who would be walking to the start with me. She arrived in tears, it was her first marathon and she worried she’d struggle to finish. I assured her she would finish, of course she would! I gave her the very pep talk I didn’t know I would need for myself in a few hours. We probably left too late and this was my first mistake. I waited in line for the toilet and while I’m waiting I can see the corrals already moving forward. Panic! I had to pee, there was no choice. In hindsight, I should’ve went in a bush. I wished Janeese well and sprinted to my corral. A volunteer directed me to my corral area and I collided head on with another runner mid-sprint. My corral was gone. I ran back and was let in 3 corrals behind where I was meant to be. In the end, this didn’t matter but it was my first mindfuck.
As I waited in my new corral, I just watched the little sign of my assigned corral bobbing up and down off in the distance ahead. I was held back by hand locked volunteers, doing their jobs to keep us separated. We finally started at 8:35am. Brian and Sue had been running for an hour and I wondered how they were. I had heard that the tunnel may make my Garmin go crazy and sure enough it did. When I came out of the tunnel my pace was at some Kenyan speed each time I glanced down. My distance was clocking about .75 miles ahead of where I actually was on the course. I had no clue what my pace was but I did see the blue line. I was shocked at how many were already walking not even ½ mile in and they were walking right on the blue line!! Another mindfuck.
I ran by feel as my watch didn’t seem to be improving. It would eventually clock me 2 miles further along than I was, it was pretty useless. To give myself some indication of pace I had to use the elapsed time clocks on the course. And then do the math as to how far after the official start time I actually started and then figure pace. The more I thought about it, the crazier my brain would be. I purposely slowed myself down multiple times as I read the first half was fast and I was trying to conserve energy. My whole strategy was to run conservatively and hope I could do so consistently.
I thought about Brian every time I passed a clock, I’d calculate how much longer to 3 hours, I KNEW he’d meet his goal. This sounds insane, but I asked him to call me when he finished to tell me his time. I already run with my phone and my music is on my phone. My earbuds allow me to press a button on the cord without having to take my phone out so really it wasn’t a big deal. Brian calls me and tells me he just ran that bitch in 2 hours and 58 minutes!!!! (Maybe he will write a recap, but he hasn’t even written one for Boston last year, so don’t wait too long!) I was so damn happy! I wished I was closer to the finish for a celebration but I was only about half way.
By this time my legs and feet were already hurting. I stopped to walk around Mile 14. That was not good. I could barely walk, my legs just tightened up immediately. This set off a wave of panic, frustration, sadness and feelings of failure. NOT what you need in your head half way through a marathon.
At some point before I walked (I think), my friend Alex called me to bark some things I can’t really say! He means well with his barking, I don’t expect anything less. I could talk to him easily as I ran, I had zero issue running at a conversational pace and I thought that was good as it meant I was being conservative.
When I did stop to walk though, I just couldn’t get moving again quickly. Rather than turn over a quick interval, I probably walked for 2 miles. I used the bathroom and stretched and started running again. Alex calls me back to bark some more at my pace since he was tracking me. I was walking again at this point. The shade was not as abundant as it was in the first half of the course. Full sun and wind, the wind actually felt good and cooled me down, but when we turned I did feel I had to work harder. I answered Alex’s words with sobbing. I broke down like an absolute baby. I was so frustrated, this is not what I worked so hard for. Most every single long run I had in training went 1 million times better than where I was on Sunday with less miles under my belt. Alex turned into a big softie and actually made me feel like less of a loser. We bonded so much over this race, running a marathon is such a personal thing and if someone is front and center to your demise, you can’t help but bond.
At this time, I feel a hand on my back and there is Janeese! The relief I felt when I saw her was so enormous. I can’t describe it. Ironically, she gave me that pep talk like I gave her that morning. I realized later that I felt so lonely on the course. My support network was either running ahead of me or was at home. The spectators are fantastic in Chicago but I felt like they were all there for their own runner. I made eye contact with as many as I could and a few smiles took me a long way, but what I didn’t know I wanted was a partner. Someone that would take my mind off what was happening. Janeese seemed to have a good run/walk thing going. She’d point out a landmark where we’d start running and then another when we’d walk and over and over. This was much better than just walking for 2 straight miles and feeling sorry for myself.
The crazy thing was, when I was running, I hurt but I could keep running because I had someone doing it with me. I didn’t want to be the one to slow her down so I kept going. This may be proof that my problem is a lot mental. But we knew that!
This course was tough the last 6 miles. The turning away from the city multiple times in those late miles, it was mentally tough. I was so happy when we got to the final stretch. I actually felt energy. I had no clue where I was for time, my watch had shut off miles back due to low battery. I thought if I pushed hard I could at least beat my NYCM time. Janeese told me to go on but there was no way we weren’t finishing together after all this. There was a series of “Come on Girl, you’ve got this! “, and we were finishing strong. I saw the famous Mount Roosevelt. Holy crap, not what I expected or needed!
We finished 26.2 miles and the relief was GREAT!! I am telling you that I contemplated dropping out dozens of times on this course. I looked for any reason to visit the medical tent, I thought about hopping on the train and just riding it anywhere, I dreamed of cutting the course, it was BAAAAAAAD. I would never ever be able to live with myself if I did this and luckily I knew it.
I write this now and remember how many times I was going to give in. I might actually realize it WAS a big deal ‘just to finish’ even though I was so far off my goal. I have cried for 2 straight days over this because I feel like I worked harder than my result. I dedicated so much of my time to this but it’s done. I thought I’d give up on the full marathon. I don’t think I have much natural ability for this distance and every time I think I will give up on it, I have this voice in my head that says otherwise. It tells me to just try harder. Not to quit. There was a quote written by a woman (@trialsoflovelifeandfitness) on Instagram who completed the Ironman Kona World Championships this weekend, she had a rough race and also thought about quitting. We are clearly not even close to having the same athletic ability but her words spoke to me. I couldn’t finish reading them without crying. They were: “When things were hard though, I reminded myself that I was going to finish for the girl who used to quit. It wasn’t pretty, but it’s not about it being pretty. Nor is it about a time or a medal. At the end of the day it is about making forward progress and the prevailing will of the mind and spirit.”
I was for sure the girl who used to quit. When the going got tough I’d give up on everything. I liked instant gratification and things I could obtain easily. With age, I’ve become almost the opposite. I am ok with waiting for the result, working hard for months and I don’t like to give in. Mostly because I hate the feeling it leaves me.
So who knows, maybe it’s not over.
I regret not being able to celebrate myself at the finish. I didn’t take one photo of my medal. I hated seeing Brian and Sue come meet me afterwards with their heartbroken faces. They couldn’t show their happiness for their own amazing accomplishments because they were sad for me. I’m glad I have this photo and now I may need to order it, thank you for making me take it, Janeese.:
Yes, I cried for the following 2 days still, but it’s all part of the process. And after writing this I do feel better. I’m going to make an effort to be happy for the finish of my 2nd marathon now.