And just like that, I ran another marathon.
Well, if only it had been that easy. Leading up to Sunday’s 26.2, I was nervous. I hadn’t run more than 14.5 miles in any single training run, topping off at 19 on a day I wound up doing a double (which I did a lot of), and with all of my GI issues, I wasn’t sure if I’d make it through the race without needing at least one pit-stop. So, all things were pointing to me struggling through the race and just being happy to finish. But as I said in my post last week, I know that I’m a much stronger runner than I was last year when I ran my first marathon, so I still had high hopes for a PR of some sort.
We arrived in Chicago on Friday night and headed right to the hotel to get a good night’s sleep. On Saturday, we were up early and off to the Expo. We had met a couple on the flight there who ran last year, and said we should get to the expo early if possible. I’m really glad we did, because on the way back the lines for the shuttle were really long! I didn’t buy anything (though I wanted all of the Nike gear), but I did score a sweet picture with Mike Ditka (boo to the blurry picture)!
There were plans to do touristy things on Saturday, but after roaming around the Expo for awhile, we realized it was probably best to save our legs for what we were about to put them through. So we stopped off at Target to get some throwaway gloves and long sleeve shirts, then headed back to the hotel to watch some TV and relax before dinner. Of course dinner was pasta, and we were back to the hotel and in bed by 8:30p.
Thankfully I had a great night’s sleep, and my 5am alarm wasn’t too jarring. We brought bread and peanut butter with us, so I was able to have my usual pre-race breakfast, and started our trek to the start line. Unfortunately Andy and I were in separate corrals (he was in the 7:30a start wave and I was in the 8a wave), so we said goodbye rather early, and I headed off on my own. I had enough time to stop at a port-a-pottie and stretch before making my way to corral J. I had plans to run with the 4:25 pace group, and I spent a solid 5 minutes trying to find them in a sea of people. Soon after I found the group, we were off!
As soon as the race started, I realized I needed to use the bathroom. The pacers took off (WAY faster than the pre-determined 10:06 pace average), and so I stayed behind. I read way too many blog posts about how energetic the first few miles of the race are, and how so many people get overwhelmed by the spectators and start too fast. Knowing all to well how awful a race can be if you go out too fast, I kept it as slow as possible (but still under goal pace). I knew I wasn’t going to make it much further without a bathroom break, so I veered off at the first stop. From that point on, I was good to go; the first half flew by. I kept my pace nice and comfortable, and was loving all of the crowd support. I stopped at every water station, and had a Clif shot at miles 5, 10, 15, and 20.
By the time I got to mile 16, I knew that friends were likely done. I took out my phone to check the runner tracking, and was thrilled with what I found. Andy was trying to qualify for Boston, and while he just missed it, his 3:08 was a 15 minute PR! And, even more thrilling was to see my friend’s 2:52. That’s right; she finished 10th in our age group and was the 29th woman OVERALL! Talk about inspiration for the last 10 miles! At that point I was feeling good, and decided to pick it up a little. I decided to run just under a 10 minute/mile pace, and was able to keep that for the next 5 or so miles. Unfortunately, my hips were tight almost the entire race, and by the time I hit mile 22, my IT band had enough.
As we turned into Chinatown, my left knee had a searing pain, to the point where I had trouble picking up my leg. It’s a pain I remember all too well from the end of the Philly marathon, and a pain I’d experienced when I first started running. Instead of walking, though, I slowed my pace down and tried to keep my legs as straight as possible. The pain seemed to go in and out (eventually both knees were hurting), and my plans to pick it up at mile 22 were dead in the water. Instead, miles 22-24 were my slowest. My per mile pace never hit 11, but there were definitely points where I felt like I was crawling. I started to slowly pick it up at mile 24, and by the time I hit 25, I knew that it was time to dig deep and just go – I knew the pain wasn’t going to get worse, and as long as I could keep one leg in front of the other, I’d be okay.
While mile 25 to 26 felt like forever (I even heard a woman exclaim, “this is the longest mile of my life!”), the crowd support was unbelievable, and I don’t know how anyone could have slowed down. As we closed in on mile 26, I was slowly lengthening my stride, and using my arms as much as possible. We turned the corner for the final stretch (uphill of course), and I gave it everything I had, passing as many people as I could powering through the slight incline. The entire course was flat, so even though the hill wasn’t much of anything, it felt like a mountain in those final meters. I crossed the finish with an official time of 4:26:10, a solid 11 minutes faster than my Philly marathon time.
My first order of business was to grab a mylar blanket, my medal, some water, and FREE BEER! I’ve always seen races that have beer at the finish, but this was the first race I’ve been to that had the luxury. While it may not have been the best idea, my very first post-marathon sip was some Goose Island 312. As I made my way through the finishing area, I met up with my husband and headed right for the massage tent; another first for me. After the massage, I realized that while the thought of hanging out at a “post race party” sounded fun, the barely 50 degree weather was enough to send me right back to the hotel. After a quick (relative to post-marathon moving abilities) shower, we headed right for deep dish pizza at Giordano’s.
This race was without a doubt the best race I’ve experienced. Not only was the course phenomenal and the spectators great throughout the entire city, but the race was so well organized, and all of the volunteers were amazing. Seeing everyone so excited to pass out water and gatorade was great – a little smile and a “you got this!” goes a long way when someone is out running a marathon. Even the people at the finish were great – the girls giving out water waved me down and shouted “hey! come and get your water – you deserve it! congratulations!!!”
I don’t know why, but I found myself tearing up at multiple points throughout the race, for no other reason than the fact that I was running a marathon; my third marathon. I know for a lot of people that isn’t much, while for others it sounds absolutely insane. For me, being able to run a marathon was something I always dreamed about, but never thought I would actually do. Even in those moments where my knees felt like they were going to explode, I realized why I run. Its for all of those seemingly insignificant moments that make up a marathon experience; seeing strangers on the course give you a thumbs up, hearing strangers cheer your name that you meticulously ironed onto your shirt, having that brief conversation with a fellow runner, and to feel that rush as you close in on those final meters of the race. I wouldn’t trade the way I felt on Sunday for anything – even the hobbling I’ve been doing since.
I can’t wait for the next one!