Well, well, well… looks like you’re reading the words of a marathon finisher.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. You probably want to hear the whole story, don’t you? I’ll try to keep this recap brief, but really, it was 26.2 of the best miles of my life, so I really can’t make any promises.
The day started at 5:15am after a horrible night of sleep. But really, I was expecting about as much and was prepared by getting as much sleep as possible the entire week before. A+ planning on that aspect of race day.
I also expected to completely balk on my race day outfit. Although I spent the week fretting about forecasted rain, I woke to a brisk, high-40s with a promise to warm considerably (possibly high 50s?!) without a hint of precipitation predicted until evening. Even with this amazing weather, I wanted to put on capris instead of shorts. Or switch to a tee instead of my tank. But no, I’ve been training for months, running in all (non-rainy) conditions; the outfit I picked months ago is what I would wear. Of course, with a pair of old sweats and a forgotten long-sleeve T to cover and toss in the corrals.
After slathering on some sun screen (again, A+ planning) and choking down as much toast and blueberries as I could (almost an entire piece of toast and 6 blueberries- I am an AWFUL race day eater), John and I headed out. The cab we scheduled the night before (MORE A+ planning!) was a block away from our building when… it cancelled our ride out of the blue. I had a small panic attack while John simply asked our door man to turn the cab light on and, low and behold, within minutes we had a replacement cab (who was particularly cheery so early in the morning!). Crisis averted!
We arrived in Grant Park in no time at all, and I was literally clinging to John because I did NOT want to leave his side. This was the biggest race of my life both in distance and size and I was so nervous about everything, I literally felt like I might fall apart without him standing beside me. I don’t know what was with me (probably the looming 26.2…), but John talked me off my ledge (again!), gave me a good luck kiss, and directed me to the runner’s entrance…
The next hour was a blur of multiple bathroom visits punctuated by random jogging and stretching before retiring to my corral: G. Once inside, a fellow first timer turned to me and asked “Will you help me make a decision? When should I ditch my outer layer??” With that, I made a start line friend, Sarah, we traded training stories, decided to take off our sweats when our wave started (we were the second corral in our wave, so we would have plenty of time to shed our layers at the wave’s start!), and wished each other well when the clock finally struck 8 and our wave was underway.
About 10 minutes after the wave began, corral G was let loose on the streets of Chicago.
So, I knew I was going to get emotional at the Finish line, but I was also completely choking up /slash/ smiling like an idiot as I crossed the Start. Months and months of training were finally being put to the test, and I was so excited to see what the next hours would bring!
Here’s the course map, in case you want to follow along!
Also note that, to me, between the start and 1st mile marter is “Mile 1,” and the mile between, say, the 20th and 21st mile markers is “Mile 21”. I’m not sure if this is the standard, but it’s what makes sense to me and I don’t want anyone getting lost on my journey.
Mile 1: brought us down the path you see in the picture, and then briefly into the undercarriage of the city (around the place where Batman was filmed). It was low on fan support and heavy on dudes peeing against the side of the tunnels; that’s raceday for ya!
Mile 2-4: took us through our first round inside of Chicago’s Loop and out into Old Town. This piece of the course was filled with spectators and it was a pleasant way to start the race: in a part of the city I am familiar with, but always in awe over (I am a sucker for tall buildings and random cityscapes). Apparently John was at the 2nd mile marker, but I didn’t see him (and wasn’t looking too hard) and he didn’t see me, either. Oh well! I had a race to run!!
Mile 5: necessitated a bathroom break just before I hit the 5th mile marker (and Lincoln Park Zoo!). Yes, even though I went 3 times before the start of the race, hydration and nerves just got the best of me. Thankfully, the aid station I chose was not crowded (although one person felt the need to squat outside, in FULL VIEW of the race!) and I got in and out and on my way in minutes.
Mile 6-10: got me going. Not only is this part of the race a TON of fun (hello, Boystown!), but it’s my Chicago stomping grounds. This is where I go out at night, where I brunch, where I grocery shop and simply roam. This is where, one year ago, I fell out of bed, ran to the streets, and cheered the Chicago Marathon runners, inspired to one day become one. This piece of Chicago will always, always, have my heart, and to see the amount of support my neighbors were giving us runners was icing on an already decadant cake.
I tossed my gloves just past the 7th mile marker, which I thought was fitting, because so many of my training runs started from nearly that exact spot. I also gel’d at this point, a few miles before I planned to, because the lack of a proper breakfast was starting to make my stomach whine.
Not to mention, this was my first spectator meet up! My parents were waiting for me in matching red t-shirts and a rainbow umbrella aloft (not blocking anyone’s view!) just past the 9th mile mark on Fullerton. That gave me a boost like I never imagined possible!
Miles 11-13: sent us through Old Town, where crowd support was still there but waning. I absolutely loved being serenaded by Elvis (Suspicious Minds!) on North Avenue and passing all of the hot spots I frequent with friends who prefer a more southern locale than I. Around the 11th mile marker, I got a pretty ridiculous cramp in my stomach/side and that part of the race was a little lost to me because, well, I was kind of freaked out and doing everything I could think of to get rid of it. Luckily, all of my water sipping, deep breathing, and poking and prodding worked as I came up to the half.
Mile 14-I saw John just past the half mark (on Halsted, another beloved street of mine!). Well, I almost ran right past him, but I heard my name shouted from the crowd so I did what any sane marathoner would do: stopped in my tracks, backtracked to the voice, gave him a huge kiss, and ran away without a word. Endorphins!
I also saw John’s parents a little ways down the road! I absolutely did not plan to meet with them beforehand, so the fact that I was as into crowd-watching as I was and able to spot them was so lucky! I gave them both huge, sweaty hugs and ran away like a grinning crazy person.
Mile 15-17: drew a much more sparse crowd. Although this was charity row, I felt like a lot of the charities were only cheering for their own runners. I threw on my headphones for a bit and let my music cheer me on, which was especially helpful because I was starting to feel pretty gross. My back was aching (it’s never done that before?!) and my legs were getting really crampy. I stretched a tiny bit after the water station on mile 16, where I gel’d again (a course-supplied gel that tasted like a creamcicle.. I may need more of those)…
Mile 18: and saw my parents at the turn just after the 17the mile marker (again on Halsted!). John couldn’t hustle his way through the crowd to meet up with them, but even seeing one piece of my cheer squad helped me smile through my pain. Not to mention that I saw John’s parents a second time right after the 18th mile mark, and I seemed to be pretty chipper as I ran up to dump my headband on them (I bought it as a throwaway, but I actually grew pretty attached to it during the run and wanted to keep it- nothing like a good long run to make you nostalgic).
Just a happy little 18 miler…
Mile 19-20: Pilsen. I no longer needed my headphones because Spanish music, huge noisemakers, and people screaming “SI SE PUEDE, YOU GOT THIS, YOU ARE MY INSPIRATION” literally carried me through this piece of the course. I heard that Pilsen was the best part of the race, and I was NOT disappointed. Two entire miles packed with crowd support, free candy, and party music? I don’t think it could have come at a better part of the race. I also saw my parents and John again one last time just before the curve at the 20th milemarker
Mile 21: I had walked a few times until this point, but those times were preservation. Right after the the Pilsen crowd died down, so did I. I literally couldn’t make myself keep up any kind of running pace and stopped to a walk, only to stop completely for a good, 5-minute stretch. My back was still searing and now I was starting to have a hard time feeling my feet. I guess this is what we call the wall, huh?
Mile 22: was decent. There was a huge bang at the Chinatown entrance (complete with dancing dragons!), but that pittered out so quickly after the amazing Pilsen crowd that it was hard, once again, to keep my energy up.
Mile 23: brought a lot of walking and stretching. At this point, though only a 5k from the finish, I wasn’t sure I would make it. My back continued to ache, my feet were on fire, and I kept swearing I felt trickling down my legs (pee paranoia?!). I had to stop and stretch again because my calves were seizing up and, while I was bent over stretching, I had a coughing fit that brought several runners to my side making sure I was okay. I was super touched that people stopped their races to check on me, and was on my way again.
Mile 24-26: You would think this would be the easiest part of the race. But, despite the short distance between me and my final goal, despite all of the freebies (Smarties! Jolly Ranchers! bacon!) people were doling out, despite the cheers from the crowd and runners alike, this was the toughest. I probably alternated walking and jogging every 400 meters or so, telling myself to just KEEP MOVING. And keep moving, I did.
Coming up to the 25th mile marker, I noticed it was different. It didn’t read “25 Mile” like the others before it. It said “1 Mile Left”, and that’s when I started running.
Mile 26.2: At 800 meters, just before the second to last turn, the crowd was the thickest (and most shockingly quiet…) I had seen it the entire race. It was strange, so many people looking at you complete one of the biggest tasks of your life.
As I rounded the corner and made my way UP THE HILL, I saw the 400 meter mark and was, somehow, able to pick up my pace to the final turn. With the finish line in sight, and a much more sparse, but far more supportive crowd in the finishing bleachers, I broke into a full-on sprint. I don’t know where my pain went or where my energy came from, but I charged at that finish line with tears in my eyes and a smile plastered to my face and crossed, arms outstretched, in 4:56:27.
Completing my goal of finishing, and just reaching my goal of a sub 5, that… is the story of my first marathon.