We're marathoners! We did it!! What an experience! But to really get a feel for it we have to start from the beginning...
(Very long race report after the jump--thanks for reading!)
Sunday was the running of the 2017 Bank of America Chicago Marathon, the 40th anniversary of the race. And I finished the course, made it through each and every one of the 26.2 miles.
I am a marathoner!
I was up and out of bed by 4:15 am. Having worked at 5am the previous day, I was already on a rather early schedule and even though I was a little groggy, I didn’t have a whole lot of trouble getting up. I had an iced vanilla latte from Aldi to get some caffeine in my system. For breakfast, I had 2 hard boiled eggs, nonfat vanilla greek yogurt and oats and dark chocolate granola, and some water. I had been hydrating for the few days beforehand so I wasn’t worried about it too much on race morning. This breakfast was a winner for me (I had done something similar for the morning of my 20 miler with granola, yogurt, and scrambled eggs). My stomach felt good, settled and calm.
After eating, I got dressed with the outfit I’d set out the night before. I made sure to liberally apply Body Glide to places I was worried might chafe during the course of the run. Though I’d never used it before, and it’s generally not advised to introduce anything new on race day, I figured this was an okay thing to take a chance with and I was right--I didn’t end up with any chafing which I’ll consider a miracle! I took the opportunity to double check my gear bag, which I’d filled with all the essentials: change of clothes, Oofos sandals (only the most comfortable shoes I own!), a pouch with my wallet/lens cloth/lip balm, a little toiletry bag that Tom made up with naproxen sodium, tylenol, Wet Wipes packs, and a plastic bag for dirty clothes, my running belt (which contained 4 Gu packages), a little flat bottle of sunscreen, a smaller bottle of water to drink in the corral before the start, and the envelope with my bib. I felt very prepared and I don’t think I’d change anything about my gear bag except for the sunscreen, which I’ll get into later.
We left right on schedule, around 5:15 am. Our plan was to take the red line down to the Jackson stop and walk on over. Except that when we got up to the station, we discovered that our train was delayed. I also had forgotten my Ventra card in my purse, which was moderately annoying because then I had to buy a 1 day ticket. It turned out that the 1 day ticket ended up being a wasted one because while one train was delayed, the other disappeared from the CTA tracker. This was pointed out to us by another hopeful marathoner who was waiting for the train. While we chatted briefly with him, Tom pulled up Lyft to queue a ride downtown. We asked our fellow runner if he’d like to join us downtown. He told us he he only had Uber and couldn’t split, but we insisted, and our ride arrived in no time.
On the way down, we chatted with our new friend, who was also named Tom, from Boston. Tom was going to be running his third Abbott World Marathon Majors race, having already done Boston and the Virgin Money London Marathon. He was friendly enough, and it was a nice distraction on the way down. I drank a smaller bottle of electrolyte water on the ride as well. We had our Lyft driver drop us off near Grant Park on Lake Shore Drive and ended up having to walk up to Michigan to get to our entry gates. As we approached the gates, we split up from Tom and continued onward. I was in wave 3, so I needed to enter through the orange entry gates. He was in the second wave, which required entry from the blue gates. We made plans to try and meet up after getting checked in, knowing we were going to do our best but that it might not happen.
I got up to the orange gate entrance and had to put my bib on before they let me in (pulling it out of the envelope in front of them wasn’t good enough). After that, they searched my gear bag. From there, I was released to enter the runner area. I decided I would take advantage of the super short porta potty line, knowing I’d probably need to go one more time prior to the start of the race, before dropping off my stuff at the gear tent. Beforehand, though, I grabbed a few things out of the bag, such as my running belt and Gu’s, which is where I realized that the sunscreen pouch had come open all over the bottom of my bag. I’m not sure when it happened, if it was somewhere en route or if it was when my bag was getting searched. It was quite a mess! However, I had no time to deal with it at that moment, so I bagged up a few things to isolate them from the sunscreen (I’d brought my sandals in a plastic TJ’s bag so everything else pretty much ended up with them).
I left gear check and walked around inside Grant Park a little bit. I felt such a strange mixture of things--happy, excited, terrified, anxious, and more. When I came across the CNA building lit up on the skyline with a huge 26.2, I nearly cried. I was just so glad to be there, no matter how it ended up. I walked around to keep warm, as it was a little chilly and breezy still without the sun having come up yet. I gave Tom a call, and eventually figured out how to get over to him in the blue runner area.
I was glad we got to spend a little more time together before the race started. We were both working towards the same goal but for different reasons and motivations, inspired by one another. It made me feel a little less nervous, at least for the time being, anyway. We were sure to get a few photos together by Buckingham Fountain and watched the sun come up. It was getting closer to that time, and we didn’t want to rush getting into our corrals. We soon parted ways, and I made my way back over to the orange runner area. Before getting into my corral, I decided to make one more stop at the restroom. This time, the lines were much longer. Fortunately, they moved quickly enough and before long I was heading to my corral.
When I first entered, it was empty enough that I had plenty of room to do my resistance band side steps. I had to laugh a little bit about the ridiculousness of it… there I was, side stepping like I was in my living room, in the corral for the Chicago Marathon. It all felt so surreal and even a little terrifying. I had given Tom my thermal hoodie and I wished instead that I had brought something I could just toss to the side instead as it was quite chilly. I felt like my legs staying loose enough, from the waist up I was cold and shivering, complete with teeth chattering. I decided to take my first gel, which was a free Gatorade Endurance gel from the tent next to gear check. I had the vanilla flavored gel with a tiny bottle of water. After that, it was just a waiting game.
Soon the pace groups had entered the corral. Through talking with Tom and my good friend/running buddy Vicky, I had decided to try and keep up with a pace group. I figured this was the best way of making sure I kept a good time. There was a 5:45 pace group, which would put me at about 13:10 min/mile, a pace I definitely thought I could keep up with. There were three pace runners, one of which was planning on following intervals of 4 minutes running/1 minute walking. This was perfect! Post injury in July, I had started training at these very intervals so I felt like it would be a perfect fit. Vicky reminded me not to be discouraged if I lost the pace group, and that it wasn’t a reflection of my abilities as a runner if I did. I was grateful for this advice and planned to take it to heart, as I am occasionally hard on myself when it comes to comparing myself to others. I was getting colder and I felt like the race would never start; I hopped around on one foot and soaked up the energy from others around me.
Before long, though, it was time! The Grant Park/Buckingham Fountain area is completely separated from spectators so it was a different energy. Even though there was still music playing to hype us up, and an announcer really playing up the crowd, it seemed quiet. Regardless, the general vibe was that we were happy to be heading up Columbus and getting this thing started. Tom was in the first wave, which stepped off at 8:10, while mine started at 8:35. I was really impressed with the crowd control and the prompt speed at which they got this giant crowd of runners moving. At the time we started making our way towards the starting line, I tried pushing doubts out of my head. And then, there I was, crossing the starting line for the Chicago Marathon.
Mile 1-5: Just across the starting line, I realized my head was hurting. Later, I realized it was likely because I was so tense through my neck and shoulders from being cold. I thought I had turned off the run/walk intervals on my watch, since I was going to be sticking with a bigger group, but it chirped almost immediately. I kept running but I had to pause the watch, go into the settings, and turn it off, then start it up again. This was kind of annoying and did slow me down a little bit. The first few miles of the course were familiar to me from past races but it never ever gets old to run through downtown, on Grand, State, and Jackson.
The pace group seemed like they were pacing faster than 13:10, and I crossed the first mile mark in under 13 minutes. I was keeping up but it seemed faster than it should have been. Additionally, the crowd was still pretty densely populated and hadn’t quite spread out yet, so I kept losing the pace group leader in the crowd. I found a rhythm, but it was kind of tough. And then, right around mile 3, I realized I needed to make a restroom stop. I was very well hydrated… too much so, in fact. I knew this meant I would inevitably lose the pace group. I also knew I would be more comfortable if I just took care of it… especially since I was going to be out there for the long haul. And just as predicted, I lost the pace group.
But in a way, it was better. I turned the intervals back on on my watch and set my own pace. The pack of runners seemed less crowded, and now that I was more comfortable (my head had also stopped hurting) I felt a lot more at ease and confident. At least for the moment, this felt a lot more doable for over 20 more miles. I continued north up LaSalle to Lincoln Park.
Mile 6-10: The Lincoln Park/Boystown/Old Town portion of the run! During the early part of the course the spectators were sparse, and it seemed like they thinned out a lot on Sheridan. However, it was super neat to run past the Lincoln Park Conservatory, a gorgeous building, and through some pretty nice neighborhoods. Right around mile 6 I took my first Gu of the race. It was pretty hot and sunny and I wished there was a little more shade. Up near the north end, there was an assisted living facility that had made signs for the runners and stuck them in the windows, and a few of the residents were waving to the runners down below. This made me a little teary and I made sure to wave back.
Last year when Tom and I watched the marathon, we hung out in Boystown on Broadway. This area seemed a little more energetic then, but there were still plenty of people spectating and cheering on the runners this year. I struggled a little bit running south on Broadway and Clark; it was starting to get warm out and there was very little shade and I was thirsty. It was right around this point where I hit my first mental wall… I was starting to doubt whether or not I could keep this up because I still hadn’t even hit the halfway point. There was a spectator handing out bottles of water to runners and I gladly and gratefully took one. The aid stations weren’t any more spread out than usual, but I just felt like it had been a long time between them. At one of the aid stations in this area, they were handing out sponges soaked with ice water and I was grateful for that. I tried to stay positive and soon enough, I was running down Sedgwick getting closer to downtown again. I knew once I got down there, there would be more shade and hoped that would give me a chance to regroup. I also ran into Tom from Boston on this part of the course; he appeared to be struggling and I wished him luck as I continued on.
By the way, just in case you were wondering--Elvis lives, and on Sunday, he was singing at the corner of Clark and North.
Mile 11-16: It was nice to be back downtown again but I was still really struggling. I had definitely hit a wall and I was trying to get myself over it. My legs actually still felt pretty good; I was sticking with the intervals, and walking through aid stations. I had stopped at every one so far and I got water and Gatorade at both. I ended up having to make stop number 2; it was getting warmer still, and I did not want to risk dehydration. Overall I knew I needed to find the wherewithal to keep going.
I tried to pick up the pace and keep going. And then, I came down a straightaway and came across my mom, dad, and aunt at the corner of Monroe and Franklin. I cannot overstate the importance of this moment. It was incredible. As soon as I saw them, I immediately sprinted their way. It ended up being a pretty emotional moment, with me ending up in tears, but I was able to get huge hugs from all three of them. This was an amazing confidence boost and just what I needed. I suddenly felt like I could do it, that I was almost to halfway. I had already run almost 13.1 miles, could I do that again? I was certainly going to try.
Right before the halfway point, I ran through the aid station with the Gatorade Endurance energy chews. I took a package, but ended up just sticking them in my belt. It was a pretty liberating thing to finally get to 13.1 miles, and I set forth with a new resolve. At that point, the course heads west on Adams into Greektown and the West Loop. At Damen, you head south for about two blocks block, then start heading east again via Jackson. In this portion of the course, I also made stop number 3. Even though I could tell I was definitely hydrated, I was still feeling thirsty so I decided to just keep up with my hydration.
Mile 17-22: I was getting closer and closer to uncharted territory. 20 miles was the farthest I had run in training and it was pretty intense not knowing what was looking on the horizon. Running down Halsted onto Taylor Street, running away from the finish line again, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I was doing it, I was running a marathon, I had struggled but I was sticking with it. It was a very powerful thing. I could tell my legs were starting to get tired, but I knew I needed to just stick with it. Luckily, the aid station just before mile 18 was handing out Gatorade Endurance gels, which was gel number 3 for me.
The run on Halsted, Taylor, and Ashland may not be the most scenic of the course, but it’s still an important part of the framework that is Chicago. This is another part of the course with little shade and especially while running down Ashland, I was starting to feel a little overheated. This part of the course is pretty sparse when it comes to spectators so I definitely had to dig deep to keep pushing, keep going. Halfway between mile 18 and 19 there were these girls sitting on a front porch, listening to “Sexyback” by Justin Timberlake really loudly on a speaker, and so I danced along when I ran past, which they loved and responded with in cheers. I knew if I could keep pushing through these tough parts of the race that it would be worth it.
Turning from Ashland onto 18th meant I was heading into Pilsen. I could feel the energy and electric excitement from the crowd before I approached and I was happy for it. Sure enough, it was like running into a big old party! Between 19 and 20 there was a rogue “aid” station that was handing out small servings of mimosas and beers. My stomach had been behaving up until that point and I figured a small amount couldn’t hurt. Except they were in between cups when I came by, so instead they just handed me a can of Bud Light that was half full. “I can’t drink all of this!” I exclaimed as I took the can. “Drink what you want and toss the rest, just don’t lose your pace!” I did just that and continued on. My foot started bothering me a bit through here and this kept on until I got through Chinatown; it wasn’t that it was in pain, but that it just felt incredibly tight. When it got bad, I tried to focus on maintaining my stride and also having a stable footfall. This seemed to help a little bit but I had to work on it. I was glad that up until that point, nothing else had really bothered me all that much; it had just been general soreness from moving so far for so long. I had worried about this before the marathon so to be lucky in this respect made it easier to keep going.
The anticipation built as I approached mile 20. And then I passed it, each step further into the unknown. As I ran down 18th, I passed by some familiar sights (such as one of our favorite BBQ joints in the city). I knew where I was at that point, but as I ran back down Halsted again and over to Cermak, I was heading into the unknown. Cermak brought me over to Wentworth Avenue and Chinatown, a new neighborhood for me. There were quite a few spectators through here, but not nearly as much as in Pilsen. My legs were definitely starting to get tired, but I knew I could keep going; I wasn’t in any sort of pain, really, just sore from having run over 20 miles already. “I can and I will” became my mantra and I felt emotional knowing that I was accomplishing a great task, something I had been working towards for a very long time. I kept going, kept pushing. At that point, I had been on the course for just over 5 hours, and a few miles still left to go. During this part of the course, I also consumed my last Gu energy gel. While I was passing through these few miles of the course, Tom finished the race with a time of 4:32:18, a personal best and an impressive time for his first marathon!
Mile 23-26.2: I ran down Wentworth to 33rd street and turned east toward State. I was right before mile 23 and as I ran over the Dan Ryan, I turned my gaze to the north and promptly burst into tears. There was the skyline of the city that I love, in all its glory, sparkling in the afternoon sunlight. I had come so far--I had run all over--and here I was, in the last 3 miles of my first marathon. What an incredible feeling. To think of how far I had come over the course of that morning and early afternoon--how far I had come in my running journey up until that point--it was so overwhelming and so gratifying. I just felt so damn happy. I had been so worried that I wasn’t going to finish, but not finishing was not going to be an option… I would be a marathoner at the end of it all.
I ran south (holy cow, was I ever going to start actually running towards the finish line?) on State, headed to 35th by Guaranteed Rate Field, then finally started making my way north on Michigan. This was it, the last long stretch of the marathon. My legs were tired but I was still moving. Actually, the thought that I had was that I kind of felt like I felt too good to be in mile 23 of a marathon. I was still keeping up with the run/walk intervals, though I was moving more slowly. I still had a smile on my face, too--even though it hurt, and it was the hardest thing I had ever done, I was just so glad to be out there doing one of the things I love most, putting one foot in front of the other. There was a period of time during my training where I didn’t actually know if I’d be able to do the marathon, so to be so close to the finish was amazing.
Around mile 24, I stopped at a porta potty for the 4th and final time. I’m not sure if there’s anything about that in the future as I definitely feel like I needed to drink as many fluids as I did if not moreso. I also think that it’s maybe an inevitable fact of being out on the course for such a long time. Either way, I felt really good about the last few miles. I had another moment of emotion when I passed a woman who was encouraging runners in a loud, booming voice, assuring us that she had been where we were, that she had gotten through it and we would as well. Truthfully, it was a little intense but also pretty good motivation. As we got closer and closer to the loop, the crowds started to grow and grow. And then we were at mile 25.
The last mile of my first marathon. Though I teared up a little, I also made sure to take it all in, to soak it all up. I had run around the entire city, I had seen things entirely brand new to me, I had tried to keep my eyes up the entire time and I felt like I had been through an experience unlike any other. It felt so amazing. I felt almost deliriously happy and tired, but I ran almost the entirety of the last mile, ignoring the interval beeps from my watch. I wanted to remember every step of that last mile, I wanted to give it my all. I stayed strong through the last half of the mile, getting closer and closer to the end until I turned right and found found myself face to face with the famed “Mount Roosevelt.”
And what do you know, but I ran on up, determined and strong and, okay, maybe with eyes blurred by tears. This was it, I had done it. I made that last left, ran down Columbus and crossed the finish line with arms raised triumphantly. With a time of 6:15:03, I had earned my place as a finisher of the Chicago Marathon. And not only that, but I got to participate in the 40th anniversary of this special race. What a cool experience be a part of. I think I was probably in tears before I crossed the line, but as I slowly moved through the finish line chute, I was pretty much sobbing. I was so incredibly happy, so proud, so relieved, so sore, so everything all at once. I had done it--I had accomplished a goal I had been working towards really since April of 2016 when I signed up for the marathon. I was--I am--a marathoner! I happily received my medal and got my picture taken, my face red with exertion and tears, a proud smile on my lips. How could I possibly put all of that feeling and emotion into words? It’s been a few days now and I still don’t know how to describe it. It was wonderful, it was powerful, it was and is incredibly gratifying. I am a marathoner.
After getting an apple (the best apple of my life), a space blanket wrapped around my shoulders (to help regulate my body temperature), a bag of goodies sponsored by Mariano’s, and an ice cold glass of 312 (the very best beer I’ve ever had!), I finally made my way out of the finish chute and back into the orange runner area. It had taken a little bit to get over there and I was pretty close to gear check closing. Fortunately, I picked up my gear without a problem. After that, I got in touch with Tom to try and figure out where he was waiting with my family. I was a little disoriented and had a little bit of a tough time finding them in the Runner Reunite area. I did eventually figure out where I was going and after chugging the rest of my beer, headed up to Columbus Drive.
Tom said they were waiting near the A-B area and so I hurried over there as quickly as I could which, at that point, wasn’t terribly quickly because I was already starting to feel super sore. I got there and looked around for a few moments before seeing Tom and Vicky sitting over on the sidewalk. I was so happy to see them both. Shortly thereafter I saw my mom and dad and aunt, who came over and gave me huge hugs. My mom also gave me an adorable Chicago Marathon teddy bear. We took a few photos and I caught my breath and filled everyone in on how the race went. It was so good to have done it; being on the other side of the finish line felt better than I could have imagined. To see Tom and Vicky be successful in their marathon goals was also very inspiring and they were very encouraging of me as well. I think I was still kind of in shock that I had done it, but I was also so very happy.
We didn’t spend too long here, eventually making our way west towards our respective train stations--Vicky to the brown line, my parents and aunt to the blue line, and Tom and I to the red line. The other marathoners and I were already feeling pretty sore and tired, so we were ready to head back home. We are still recovering a few days later, but I can confidently say that I hope to run this race again next year. To become a marathoner has changed me in ways I’m still discovering and now that I know what I’m capable of, I want to see what else I can do. I want to give it another shot and hopefully I’ll be lucky enough to get the chance.
What a race, what an experience! Thank you, Chicago, for a beautiful, magical day. Thanks for reminding me that I’m capable of so much more than I realize, for reminding me to trust myself. Remember how earlier in training I was struggling with my identity? Well, there’s no doubt about it now--I am a runner; I am a marathoner.