I was surprised to wake up Sunday morning wayyyyy before my alarm around 5:15 am (I'll blame the time difference) and immediately heard the faint echo of race announcements coming from Grant Park. Enter: race day excitement! There's always a mix of anxiety, nausea and joy that hits me on the morning of a marathon. This being my 4th go around at the 26.2 distance, I have come to be very familiar with this mix. The "oh crap I have to run for soooooo long today!" paired with "I'm so excited! I love running! I can't believe this day is finally here!"
After my pre-race breakfast of bagel + PB + jelly + coffee I quickly got dressed and headed across the street to meet the other 45,000 (!!!!!!) people who were also running! Aunt Marie left me at Gate 2 with a good luck hug and headed north to set up at Mile 4. I decided not to check a bag since I had decided to carry my phone during the race and our hotel was only a couple minutes walk from the finish line where we had planned to meet after the race. Grant Park was buzzing with activity when I got there around 6:30 - I could feel all the nervous/excited/adrenaline in the air. I had lost one safety pin from my bib so headed over to the "pre-race essential" tent (Seriously. This race was so well organized, I can't get over it). After securing my bib fully to my FHR singlet (woot!) I headed to the porta-potties and barely waited 5 minutes before one opened up. Around 7:10 I was in Corral F doing some pre-race stretches on the pavement and trying to rest my legs by sitting with the thousands of other runners. Around 7:15 I decided to pee one last time since I had drank A TON of water the day before and figured I had enough time before the corrals closed at 7:45.
Fast forward to 7:58 am.
The first wave had started at 7:30, I was in the first corral of wave 2, and feeling ready to this marathon thing to finally begin (again)!
^^Corral F ready to go!
And suddenly we were running! Recently I've found myself liking listening to music while running so I decided for the first time in a marathon that I would listen to it during the race. My plan was to change Pandora stations every 6.5 miles to keep things interesting and make sure I didn't get bored. It became clear early on that bored is one thing I would not be during this race.
I was worried that with 45,000 runners I was going to feel very squished and held back during the first few miles, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had plenty of "space" around me. Almost instantly I realized that I had to pee, and began to contemplate when to bite the bullet and wait in line for a porta potty. Besides admiring the number of fans in the first few miles, I pretty much thought about how much I had to pee and where I could pull off to relieve myself (I saw one runner head into a Starbucks to use the bathroom around Mile 1)! Luckily, just after hitting the 5K mark I spotted a row of porta-potties with a short line and decided this was my chance. I probably only lost around 45 seconds and definitely made it up after my comfort level increased x10000000.
^^perk of carrying your Iphone during a race: race photos (albeit very blurry)!
The first few miles passed quickly and soon enough I was at Mile 4 where Aunt Marie was cheering loudly and high-five ready as I passed by. I knew the next time I could expect to see her wasn't until Mile 11 so I tried to settle in and keep a "controlled" pace until then. My pace ranged from 9:40's to 9:00's over the first half, which shows that settling in was more difficult than I imagined. Part of this was my indecisiveness between attempting a 4:00 finish, and wanting to enjoy the race and take the pressure off of finish times and really just enjoy myself out there on the course. Having not followed a strict training plan, I realized that 4:00 was probably pretty ambitious, considering I hadn't really done any speed work over the last few months. That being said, I knew Chicago was flat and I had completed a 21 miler a few weeks prior without much difficulty and thought that maybe today the stars would align and keeping a 9:09 pace would seem effortless (ha. silly me for thinking that).
^^all smiles early on in the race
The course took us north along the lake before turning left and returning Downtown through Old Town and a few other cute neighborhoods full of tree lined streets full of brownstones and cheering fans. I think this was my favorite part of the course, and definitely the quintessential "Chicago" that I hadn't yet experienced. Soon enough I passed by Mile 10 and knew that Marie would be just a mile ahead. Turns out she was cheering from just after 10 and I almost missed her since I wasn't expecting to see her that early! Luckily I saw her right at the last second and gave a wave before heading towards the halfway point.
^^crossing back into Downtown around Mile 12.
I crossed the 13.1 in 2:03 feeling good, but if I'm being honest I knew the fatigue was about to set in. After checking my splits after the race this might have been since Mile 13 clocked in at 8:24 (what the heck happened, I don't know).
The second half of the race was definitely tougher, and I started to feel that around Mile 15/16. After crossing the halfway mark, my legs felt alright, my breathing was controlled, but for some reason my pace slowed. I soon realized that 4 hours probably wasn't going to happen, and feeling okay about that tried to find a pace that was comfortable and that I'd be able to hold for the next 10 miles. I made it to Mile 16 feeling alright, but shortly after my pace slowed again and I started to feel not so great. Just before Mile 17 I heard my name and turned just in time to see Cousin Mick, Ellie and John waving at me from the sideline. I mustered a wave and smile, but knew that I was beginning to hurt and even waving felt like it took too much energy. Shortly after Mile 17 I decided to walk. I realized I needed a readjustment and to really try and get in the zone.
^^Can't decide if that is pain or concentration. Notice how sunny and hot it is in this photo.
After changing my music, putting my phone in my SpiBelt, having a honeystinger waffle and taking a short walk I felt much better and decided to just take it easy and try and run the rest of the race, no matter what pace. After passing Mile 19 I realized just how warm it had gotten and started running through sprinklers that many fans had brought out to the course after the sun had been shining all day. Unfortunately, I was a little ambitious with the strength of my headphones and after two hoses I could no longer hear my music and had to tuck my headphones away and run music-less for the last 6 miles.
Luckily I knew that Chinatown was coming up and had heard that it was one of the best spots on the race. Sure enough, I hit Mile 22 and felt a burst of energy from the Chinatown crowds and began to remember why I love running marathons so much, especially BIG marathons! It was also at this point that I got passed by the 4:10 pacers. Not only did I get passed by them, but I got passed at what felt like a lightening pace. I guess I had slowed down a LOT more than I thought. I thought to myself "oh well, just keep running, you'll get there eventually".
Mile 23 came and went and honestly, I don't remember much from this portion of the race. What comes to mind is hot, slow, industrial and what seemed like we were millions of miles away from Grant Park. Finally we crossed back over the river and turned left on Michigan Avenue and headed down the final stretch (2.5 mile stretch) to the finish line. The crowds started to thicken at this point and although my lower back was killing me (I think my SpiBelt bruised it), I was extremely happy to be running on such a beautiful day with so many people around me not only running but cheering us on. I knew my support team was planning to be around Mile 25 and sure enough when I hit the last aid station I heard them screaming my name from the left and I ran over to give a few high fives before heading towards the finish!
^^Thanks Ellie for this gem.
Soon enough I passed the "1 mile to go", "800 meters to go" and then we were turning right towards the finish. The only thing standing between me and everlasting glory was a GIANT hill. There's really nothing like passing the 26 mile marker at a snail's pace while thousands of people are watching you struggle not to walk in the last .2 miles of a race. Oh Chicago, thanks for that one.
Before I knew it the finish line was right in front of me and I was all smiles and waves to
all my fans, errhmm I mean, actually no one I knew. I stopped my watch and smiled as I saw 4:17:51. My slowest marathon time yet, but somehow I was still overwhelmingly proud of 4:17:51 after the extreme lack of stritct training schedule/IT band syndrome/life upheaval I've had since the last time I ran 26.2 back in May. A good friend wrote to me the night before the race and reminded me that the hardest part of training for a marathon is making it to the start healthy and ready to run. Finishing is just the icing on the cake. And on Sunday, I was overjoyed to have finished. I just kept remembering a slogan I've heard over and over again when referring to marathons - "Respect the distance". I have never felt this to be so true than after running Chicago. The marathon is a loooooong race, and really anything can happen at any point along the course. If anything, I'd say that finishing my slowest marathon made me that much more excited and motivated to really train and be prepared for a sub - 4 hour finish next spring.
^^the face of pure joy. ha. this is terrible.
^^Thanks to the volunteer who snapped this one.
After grabbing a water, protein shake and beer(!) I made my way towards the exit, called my sistah and plopped onto a grassy spot to revel in what I had just accomplished.
Thank you to everyone who sent messages of encouragement, congratulations and especially thank you to Marie, Mick, Ellie and John who came out on the course to wave and cheer, you have no idea how much that helps even if it's only for a couple of seconds out of the whole race!! Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!