Sunday: 26.2 miles at the Chicago Marathon. Read the recap.
Rest of week: NOTHING. Absolute rest.
That’s the one word that comes to mind when I think of Sunday’s Chicago Marathon — my first 26.2.
It took four months of training, a ton of doubt and some great runs that boosted my confidence for me to finally get to the start line of a marathon. Along the way, I hit the 3 year mark since my first 5K in August 2013. At that point three years ago, I had yet to run for 30 minutes outside without stopping. Running 26.2 miles seemed impossible.
My training plan for Chicago mirrored my goal of finishing feeling strong. It was the best plan for me — I needed one that slowly increased my mileage and incorporated those extra long runs without stressing me out.
As I mentioned in my pre-race post, a sub-5 hour time goal sneaked it’s way into my brain early on, later becoming more ingrained as I conquered long runs of 16, 18 and 20 miles close to or faster than the pace I’d need to finish 26.2 miles under 5 hours.
I’ll tell you now: I crushed that goal. My official time — 4:52:33.
Now I’ll let you know how I got there.
As I mentioned in the pre-race post, I flew into Chicago on Friday afternoon. The expo was my first stop after checking into the hotel. Everything took forever and a day because traffic was horrible. I got my packet and plenty of extra souvenirs from Nike, New Balance and the official commemorative merchandise booth. Essentially: Here’s my credit card, I want all the things.
On the way back to the hotel — Sheraton Grand Chicago — I got to see the city buildings shining in blue and red — the colors of the Chicago Cubs, who were playing their first playoff game that night. One building was lit up with a little Go Cubs! sign and the ferris wheel on Navy Pier beamed with a Cubs logo!
With family in the Chicago suburbs, there’s always been a soft spot in my heart for the Cubs.
I grabbed a bite to eat and a beer at the hotel bar, then spent a hour+ lounging in bed (P.S. I LOVE Sheraton beds), watching the Cubs game before it was lights out.
The benefit of flying in Friday versus Saturday was I got to sleep in, lounge around and basically relax and chill all day. I took a quick trip back to the expo in the morning to exchange my race day T-shirt — it was too small — then spent the rest of the day in the room. I set out all my race day clothes and other gear I’d need and took my flat Kat photo. Then, I rented The Secret Life of Pets for some laughs.
My stomach was a little off all day, and I equated that to nerves. I was dealing well with pre-race anxiety until the afternoon, when I started to get more nervous. Watching the movie and going out for dinner helped ease that.
A couple months ago, I set up a restaurant reservation for dinner to be on the safe side. I headed over to Sweetwater Tavern and Grille — what’s become my go-to pre-race dinner restaurant in Chicago — a little after 5. A buffalo chicken wrap and sweet potato fries hit the spot, and I was back at the hotel by 6:30. Time for more chilling in bed and watching game 2 of the Cubs in the playoffs.
I started to feel tired and it was lights out around 9:30 or so, with an alarm set just a few minutes before 6. I tossed and turned for a good long while, but finally got to sleep, and actually slept quite well!
SUNDAY — RACE DAY
I woke up and it was go time. There were some pre-race butterflies in my stomach but nothing too bad and I definitely wasn’t as anxious as I had been Saturday afternoon. I jumped into my race clothes and ate my normal race breakfast — a bowl of Cheerios and a bagel. I left the hotel room around 6:30 for the walk over to the start line at Grant Park.
I spent all my spare time that morning leading up to the race to focus on my strategy, reminding myself to take it slow in the first miles, to not speed up to fast after mile 5 and above all to get my gummies in so I didn’t bonk.
Normally, I’m not into getting to the start line so early, but with a race this size — some 40,000 runners — I needed to do it. As I got closer and closer to Grant Park while walking down Michigan Avenue, it got more and more crowded. The security lines were super quick. I didn’t need to do gear check, so I headed straight for the porta potty lines. I got there around 7, and was done by 7:15. The race officially started at 7:20 with the wheelchair division and 7:30 with the elite runners. I found a place to sit for the next 30 minutes before my wave would start to move up to the start line ahead of its official 8 a.m. start time.
I wore lightweight capris and a T-shirt for the race, which started with a temperature around 50 and ended around 60. On the walk from my hotel, with a throw-away sweatshirt wrapped around me, I worried I’d dressed too warmly and maybe should have worn shorts, but it must have just been the crowds and excitement. By the time I was done with the porta potty, I knew I’d dressed correctly. I was a bit chilly at the start, even with my sweatshirt. Overall, the weather ended up being absolutely perfect for running throughout the entire race — 50s with a light breeze!
My friend Natalie, who has been so amazingly encouraging during my training and leading up to race day and during the race itself — and I texted back and forth, which helped pass the time. She was running the Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis, her 14th marathon.
Finally, it was time for the race! We slowly shuffled up to the start line, and it was 8:10 when I crossed the start mat.
Miles 1-5: 10:34, 11:01, 11:02, 10:58, 10:47
I struggled to keep my pace slow and kept reeling myself back. My legs felt good and the crowd support was so awesome. I couldn’t help but have a smile plastered on my face. My Garmin quickly stopped being accurate for pace or mileage with the tall skyscrapers. I manually hit my lap button for each mile marker. Once I started hitting the water stops — I walked through all of them — that helped slow my overall pace down a bit.
My plan called for taking my Glukos gummies at mile 5, but I felt like taking them earlier, so I ate my first half pack around mile 4. I got water at a few of the water stops and at least one Gatorade cup.
I felt amazing. It was like I wasn’t even running because the pace I was at felt so comfortable.
I knew I’d need to hit up a porta potty during the race — I had taken in enough water pre-race. The lines for the first few toilets at the water stops were insane. I finally found a huge row of potties right before mile 6 without many runners lined up.
Miles 6-10: 12:55, 10:33, 10:46, 11:04, 11:16
I lost 2 minutes with the porta potty stop, and hoped no one tracking me would worry when they saw my 10K split. The crowds were still great in these miles and I sped up a bit. I took in more gummies around miles 8 and 9. I focused on getting nutrition in here, when I knew it was key this early in the race, including grabbing a couple Gatorade cups at a couple of the water stops. I saw that focus was resulting in slightly slower splits at mile 9 and 10, but I knew it was more important to get as much carbs as I could handle in before the halfway point or mile 15 so I could avoid bonking.
I was still feeling great energy wise and having just a grand time with the race.
Miles 11-15: 10:44, 10:40, 10:47, 11:00, 10:18
With my nutrition handled for a few miles, I was able to focus on picking up the pace slightly and keeping my walks through water stops to 1 minute each. It had taken me awhile to get into the rhythm of the stops because they were 2-3 city blocks long. If I literally walked them from start to finish, it would have been a 2-minute or so walk.
At this point, I began figuring out ahead of time whether I would take only Gatorade or water or both at the stops and planning appropriately. It was also just in general hard to run through the stops, especially quickly, because there were so many runners and so many cups littering the roadway — the last thing I wanted to do was slip and fall.
My cousin’s wife texted me around mile 12 with some encouragement that I was almost halfway there and my splits were looking great. My cousin and her would meet me later in the final mile of the race.
Crossing the half way point was both exciting and scary. I felt great and knew I still had a lot left in me, but it’s crazy to think the race is only halfway over and I need to run for another 2 hours and 25 minutes to finish!
I took my second set of gummies at around mile 14. Then, mile 15 ended up being my fastest of the race! There were no water stops to walk through for that entire mile, and I was feeling good, even though I could tell my legs were starting to get tired.
Not too long after the water stop a little after mile 15, I realized I would need another porta potty. ASAP. My stomach wasn’t upset or anything, it just needed to go, and soon. I couldn’t remember exactly where the next stop was, but I knew it wasn’t much more than a mile or so away. I kept my eyes peeled for anything earlier and found it right before mile 16. Two porta potties near a medical tent, which ended up being a good half mile away from the next water stop. No lines = perfect.
Miles 16-20: 13:25, 10:51, 11:36, 10:22, 10:56
The porta potty stop cost me at least 2.5 minutes, and it felt like a little rest for my legs. My legs slowly had been getting more and more tired and I began focusing on making it to mile 20 without any extra walk breaks beyond the water stops. I once again hoped no one who saw my next split would be worried because they wouldn’t know I’d taken a bathroom break.
The race was getting harder, but I knew I could make it to that point before needing to go to a run/walk split. My pace was still going pretty well, and that bolstered my confidence. Mile 18 ended a little slower as I took in a full half pack of gummies all at once, and my jaw locked up. I needed to get them down, though. I knew at that point I might not be able to get in a ton of gummies for the rest of the race — or I’d have to stick to just 2 per water stop going forward.
Natalie had also texted me as I was coming up on the 18-mile sign to see how I was feeling and I wrote her a quick note back to say I was starting to feel it and focusing on the water stops. Two miles later, I felt ecstatic hitting the mile 20 sign, even if my legs were tiring — I’d made it to the last 10K!
Miles 21-25: 12:11, 11:25, 11:17, 11:21, 10:58
When you take out the potty breaks, mile 21 ended up being my slowest of the race. I think that happened mainly because I switched to a 4:1 run/walk after the first water stop after mile 20 and there were two water stops in that mile. There was some extra walking time because I wanted my 4:1s to hit on the 4s and 9s in terms of the minutes because that’s what I was used to. I think I ate a couple more gummies, and took a couple more salt tabs — which I’d been good about taking all race long, and got myself focused on the miles ahead. I knew this was my last chance to get some fuel in that would help for the next 5.2 miles.
Switching to the 4:1 run/walk was the smartest thing I did. I definitely slowed slightly as a result, but I felt like I was running faster than I would have if I’d stuck to only walking through water stops. I’m also just so so thankful I ran into those two running buddies months ago who introduced me to the 4:1. Without it, I wouldn’t have known how to go about my walk breaks with some sort of structured timing in these final miles.
The bottoms of my feet hurt the most, and as the mile markers ticked on, I felt more and more sore all through my legs — from calves to quads. Mile 24 was when it started to get really, really hard — my legs just plain hurt. But I only had 2.2 miles to go and I was enjoying the race and spectators, so there was no stopping me. I was certainly looking forward to my walk breaks at that point, but I never felt like taking more — that’d only delay getting me to the finish line.
At this point, I also knew a sub-5 was totally in the bag. I’d been on track for it all race, but didn’t want to get too far ahead of myself in case something out of the blue happened.
Around the same time, I also realized I hadn’t hit the wall I’d heard so much about. My legs were certainly tired, but it never felt like I couldn’t take another step or needed to walk the rest of the way.
Natalie texted me somewhere between mile 23 and 24, but I didn’t text her back, even during the walk breaks or at the water stops. I was focused on getting to the finish line and making sure I saw my cousin and his wife, who came downtown to cheer me on.
They told me when I was around mile 20 or 21 that they’d be at mile 25. I got a text a little after 24 to look for them on the left side closer to mile 25.5. That helped me focus and combined with all the cheering crowds, I was able to pick the pace up slightly through mile 25. I was beginning to feel a little hungry, so I ate a couple more gummies.
Mile 26: 11:23
I almost missed my cousin and wife at mile 25.5, but caught them at the last second. I gave them a huge hug and left immediately. I was so close to the finish line and so happy, but also so ready to be done. As I gave them a hug, I was on the tippy toe of one foot and felt my leg shake a little — I was definitely pushing my body into a place it’d never been physically before.
I let the crowd carry me in the final bit, and rocked out to the music playing.
Last 0.2: 9:24
I thought about skipping my final walk break, but my legs were just so tired and I saw that hill at the end, so I took it. I think I cut it a little short because I was just so close to the finish and I recognized Kevin, a race-walker I’d met through all the Rock ‘n’ Roll races I’ve been doing up ahead. I propelled myself to get up to him and felt a surge of energy that carried me past him and to the finish line.
Crossing the finish line felt amazing. I’d done it. I’d overcome all the doubts in my mind and finished a marathon. Not only that, I’d finished strong, with a smile on my face.
AFTER THE FINISH LINE
I’ve never felt more sore immediately after a race. Usually it takes hours or a day for the soreness to settle in. Not with the marathon — it was there, immediately. My thought then, and during the last 3 or so miles, was never again — not doing 26.2 another time, nope, no way.
I couldn’t wait to sit down. I kept looking behind for Kevin so I could congratulate him. He found me first. We got some water and were walking to get our medals when I came across a woman who was just putting her hands on her knees, head down and not moving forward. I tried to get her to walk, or drink some water, but it wasn’t working. She wasn’t talking to us either, and after a minute I flagged down a spotter to help her.
Then finally it was time to get my medal! I beamed as the race volunteer placed it over my head. I got a quick photo with my medal to send to my family and friends so they’d know I was doing fine after finishing. Then I continued walking through the chute, which seemed like the longest ever. I grabbed a free beer from Goose Island Brewing Co., and let me tell you, beer has never tasted so good. Eventually, I got over to Buckingham Fountain, where I got another photo and finally sat. It felt amazing. Along the way, I’d been catching up with all the tweets and Facebook posts my family and friends had done while I was running. It was so incredible to know so many people were watching and supporting me out on the course.
After a few minutes, my revere was broken when I got a text from my cousin and his wife. I totally had forgotten I said I’d meet them in the runner reunite area and the fountain area was closed off to non-runners. Time to get up. I’d heard how much getting up could hurt and be difficult, and it was a bit, but not too bad — maybe because I hadn’t been down that long.
The bottom of my feet were killing me as I walked to find my gang. We finally met up after the slowest crawl through the end of the finisher’s chute. My cousin suggested we grab an Uber back to my hotel, about a mile away, but it was such chaos I decided we should just walk. I regretted that decision about half way through — again it was the bottom of my feet hurting like no one’s business. It took awhile — there were so many people packed downtown and one staircase set I needed to go down — but we made it back to the hotel. I went up to my room to shower and change. I didn’t want to get off the bed it felt so great to sit. Showering felt amazing too.
I wanted to check out Wrigleyville, and with my two family members hanging out downstairs, I didn’t want to leave them waiting. So there was no time for sitting still. I got ready as quickly as I could and we got an Uber out to Wrigleyville. First stop — bar with food. I ate a pulled pork sandwich, and more beer was had. We spent 3-4 hours hanging out, going around to a few bars and getting a photo in front of the stadium. And then, it was a little after 7 and I was done. My lower back was really starting to hurt. Time to sit in a plush bed. I got an Uber back to my hotel.
Sitting in my hotel room bed felt amazing. I elevated my legs a little and tried to watch some of the debate, but just couldn’t. Lights out time: 8:30 p.m.
I definitely was sore Monday and Tuesday, but I had expected it to be a lot worse given how I felt Sunday after the race. Luckily, my legs felt just a bit worse than when I ran a sub-2 half. My back on the other hand was hurting more — lower back and now upper. I had talked to my cousin’s wife about going to yoga Tuesday night, and I ended up canceling on her. I was still so sore and didn’t want to risk tweaking or hurting something in the class.
Today, I woke up feeling a lot better. I can tell my legs are still tired — especially when I walk quickly or up a couple flights of stairs, but the major soreness is gone, and my back is only hurting a very minimal amount. My trainer doesn’t want me to run the rest of the week, and that’s going to be hard. I am excited to hit the pavement again.
I’m still at my grandma’s house through tomorrow, but I will finally be back at work, albeit remotely. I haven’t worked since Sept. 24 because of the west trip and this marathon! My flight takes off late Thursday and it’s back to the office on Friday.
I went out today to get my final marathon purchase: A 26.2 magnet. I can’t wait to slap it on my car.
As for that thought when I finished of never running another marathon again? Well, that’s faded. I certainly don’t plan to become a runner who does several a year or anything of that nature, but I’d like to do another one … someday.
Well I meant write this up 3 weeks ago but things got crazy with work and vacation. So here we go, best I can remember it!
I drove up to Philly on Friday after sleeping in and arrived in town in the early afternoon. When I checked in, I found out I’d somehow booked a club room. I had no idea what that was.
Apparently it gives you access to a higher level floor, a club room with free drinks and fruit, and a free breakfast each morning — sweet!
I settled into the room and waited for Steff, my buddy and roomie, to arrive. She finally got there a little after 3 after dealing with insane traffic. We chatted a bit, then it was off to the expo for bib pickup!
After going too far down to enter the convention center — that thing is huge — we backtracked and found what we needed. It was a quick in and out with a couple stops at the Pro Compression and Sparkly Soul booths.
Next up: Reading Terminal!
I did this race last year, when it was moved to Halloween weekend because of the pope’s visit in September, but I never got into Reading Terminal — it was closed by the time I got there one evening.
So it was super cool to walk around and experience. I was hungry and hankering for some soft pretzels after Steff raved about them in Virginia Beach, so we found an Amish booth selling them.
We walked back to the hotel to indulge — and Steff rightly talked me into also getting a couple cheese whiz tubs to dip the pretzels into — then relaxed a bit before heading out to dinner. We met up with 4 other people — two of whom are also Rock ‘n’ Bloggers, and had a great time chatting and eating.
We made it back to the hotel around 9 or maybe a little before — I lost track. Steff and I quickly laid out our flat runners, and we were in bed by 9:30, with a 6:30 alarm set for the 5K.
SATURDAY — 5K
We met up with the group in the lobby at 7 and walked over to the race start. The weather was nice, almost “chilly” with temperatures around 60 and dew points in the 50s. Maybe fall is finally coming?
When we got to the start line, I hit up the porta potty, then the group walked over to the corrals. I split off about three minutes before the start. I wanted to start in my corral because I was planning to target a sub-30 time and I needed to work after the race.
Straight out of the gate, I could tell my legs were tired from the week’s workouts. So I decided to take it easy the first mile to warm up, then focus on speeding up the last two.
The first mile ticked off at 9:44, better than expected, and I pushed to pick up the pace slightly for a 9:29 second mile. I wanted to push to finish under a 9-minute mile for the final mile and got that in with a 8:53. I was able to pull out a little bit of a finishing kick — not much, but I was impressed I had any left.
Official time: 29:04.
After the race, I met up with Steff and some others, then basically hightailed it back to the hotel to shower and sign on for work. Steff got back to the room in the late afternoon after I finished and we spent time just lounging and chatting before going out for dinner.
When we got back to the room, I noticed a work email suggesting that something may be happening in New York’s Chelsea area. I turned on CNN, but it was too early for anyone to know anything — they weren’t even showing anything.
By that time it was 9:30 and time for bed. There was nothing I could do at that point to help with work — it would be another 2-3 hours before the dust settled and we knew what actually happened.
SUNDAY — HALF MARATHON
We set our alarms for 6, and both Steff and I woke up a bit earlier than that. I called the front desk to see if the little Starbucks kiosk — which I could pick up anything I wanted for free because of the Club status — was open yet, and it was. I dashed downstairs to get milk for my usual race day cereal and grabbed a muffin and slice of coffee cake for after the race.
Pretty soon, we were walking to the race start. Albeit a little late for the scheduled 7 a.m. We Run Social meetup — and we had the flag. No worries, though. We got there about 7:10 and folks were still waiting for us. Walking to the start it was clear the humidity and temperature had taken a not-so-nice-turn overnight, but I didn’t think too much of it. At least it was cloudy.
The We Run Social meetup was at the top of the Rocky Steps. I got there with Briana ahead of the rest of the group and said, “We have to run up it.” And so we did.
I split off quickly from the group after a quick photo op because I needed to get to a porta potty. The lines were still a little long, but starting to wane with the race start only 10 minutes away. The race officially kicked off while I was still in line, but I cared 0%. I got my business done and tried to make it to my corral before it went off, but I ended up a corral or two back. Totally fine.
I actually ended up at the back of that corral too, and I was trying to run slower to simulate Chicago Marathon race day, so I found myself quickly not dealing with a pack. In fact, as we got to the fountain at the circle not too far from the start, a motorcycle came up beside me. It was the Rock ‘n’ Roll vehicle looking to grab some video of runners during the race. I did a quick cheer and was on my way.
I struggled to hit my pace. I set out to run no faster than 10:30 and kept coming in faster. Not a bad problem to have, but I knew with the heat and humidity of this race day that it meant running the first few miles of the Chicago Marathon slower would be incredibly difficult. I finally hit target pace at mile 4 — thanks to an uphill.
I loved the drums around that point and felt I was getting in a groove. Mile 5 dinged on my watch faster again, but it was a downhill, so I didn’t worry.
As we went into the more unpopulated Fairmount Park, I felt like I was running at the same effort, but my watch told me I was slowing down. I figured it meant there was either a slight uphill or the humidity was starting to get to me. By mile 6.5, I realized I was thoroughly soaked through, probably worse than during any of my summer long runs, even those in the sun! Usually I didn’t feel drenched until mile 8 of those long runs.
It was obvious lots of runners were taking more water than usual — some of the stations between miles 5 and 9 were having trouble keeping the first water tables filled with cups, but there was always a cup to grab, so it wasn’t an issue.
At this point, I knew I just needed to run by effort — which was equating to 11:00-11:10 minute miles at that point, including walk breaks through the water stops. I had figured I’d finish at 2:20 or a little faster, but that didn’t happen. Between mile 8 and the end of the race, I ended up dumping 3 water cups over my head — which I’ve never done before — as well as stuffing some ice down the back of my bra. It was just. so. humid. I can’t even describe it.
After the bridge at mile 9, I felt we were going a little bit more downhill, and my pace picked up a bit. I wanted to finish strong, so I pushed for a faster final full mile and made it. Less than a mile from the finish line, though, I saw a collapsed runner. By the time I got to her position, there were already a dozen other runners surrounding her and help was on the way, so there was nothing more I could do. Only after the race, did I hear other runners talking about other folks they saw collapse on course. It was a hard day in the humidity.
At the finish line, I did the stupidest thing anyone could ever do 3 weeks out from a marathon — let alone their very first. I jumped at the finish line. And this wasn’t my normal little leap over the line. I had dreams of an epic race day photo of my heels all the way up in the air. I was thinking of those great shots you get when you jump in the air — while standing still.
While moving, it’s a totally different story.
And so I fell. And immediately thought, that was the absolute dumbest thing I’ve ever done. And then immediately thought, I need to get up immediately so no one thinks I’m really hurt and so I don’t impede other runners.
In the split second all this happened, I prayed I hadn’t really hurt anything. A sprained ankle was the last thing I needed. I got up and brushed myself off — it was simply some bruised knees. Well, one was lightly bleeding.
I met up with Steff and another runner friend, got all my extra medals, and then we chatted for a bit waiting for the other runner friends to finish. At this point, I was done. I was ready to get back to the hotel and get a shower. Everything was so thoroughly soaked in sweat that it was gross. And on top of it, I wanted to make sure to clean my knees. After a little bit of waiting, Steff and I called it — we both had to drive back to our respective homes, and had a checkout time of noon.
Showering felt amazing.
At the end of the day, this half reminded me it was still technically summer. And you have to plan for that. And it also reminded me just how hard it would be to slow my pace for Chicago — which promised to be in better, fall weather. (Oh, and I also found out, via Steff, that two of my running shoes were dead!)
And three weeks later, my left knee is still slightly scraped up — not yet fully healed. It doesn’t hurt, but it goes to show just how stupid a move that leap was at the finish line.
This is it. After 4 months of training, the Chicago Marathon is TOMORROW.
I can’t believe how fast the time has flown. I’m feeling good about race day, but I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I’m a little nervous and intimated by the distance. But that’s something I expected — this is my first marathon afterall.
I got into town Friday afternoon and immediately hit up the expo. Traffic was horrible so everything took longer, both getting to the hotel from the airport and getting to the expo. I didn’t get back to the hotel from the expo until a bit after 7.
I originally was scheduled for an 8 a.m. flight out of Reagan today, but I changed it earlier in the week when it looked like Matthew could impact the D.C. region. That ended up being a great call. I was able to sleep in, and now I get to relax all day.
My alarm is already set for the morning. I am in the second set of corrals that takes off at 8 a.m. I suspect I’ll officially cross the start line around 8:10 or so. The weather is looking fabulous. Low humidity with temperatures around 50 at the start line and in the low 60s when I finish.
When I started training for this race, I told myself my solitary goal would be just to finish. That’s still true — but only partially. Secretly, I always had a sub-5 hour time in the back of my mind. Why? I know that’s doable for me, barring any issues that could crop up race day.
As my training progressed, I saw I was more than capable of keeping 11:25 pace needed for a sub-5. My long runs were faster or very close to that pace, and that was with a 4:1 run/walk and in the heat and humidity of summer.
Still, I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, and above all, I want to ENJOY this race. If that means slowing down, especially in the later miles, then so be it.
I saw my trainer for one last session Wednesday and we came up with a plan. My biggest issue will be not going out too fast. It’s incredibly easy for me at any race, and with the marathon that’s not something you want to do.
We settled on a starting pace for the first 5 miles of 11-minute miles. This is going to be hard. I’ve tried to run 10:30 or slower in races and 11:00 in my final run before the race, and it didn’t happen — I was 20 seconds or so too fast per miles both times.
Adding to the challenge will be that my watch pace will not be accurate pretty early on — the tall skyscrapers of Chicago cause the signal to bounce back and forth. I’ve already taken off my auto lap and auto pause to help deal with this, and I am going to try to hit my lap button every official mile marker.
Without further ado here’s my plan and goals for this race:
— Walk through all the water stops, even if I’m not grabbing any water. Take in some water every other stop at a minimum and make sure to get in at least a few Gatorade cups throughout the whole race, more if I can.
— Enjoy the race, the atmosphere, the spectators, the signs, soak it all up.
— Make sure I get in my gummies starting at mile 5 at 5 mile increments, or sooner if I feel like it. I am taking an extra pack.
— Try to remember to take salt tabs. The weather will be good so I shouldn’t need these much, and I often forgot about them even on my long runs in the heat, but they do seem to give me an extra kick.
— Start at a 11-minute pace for first 5 miles, then 10:45 for miles 5-10, then 10:30 for miles 10-15, 10:15 for miles 15-20 and 10:00 for final miles. Honestly, I’m just focusing on the first 10-15 miles for hitting the paces my trainer and I discussed to ensure I don’t go out too fast and don’t speed up too quickly. After that (or even earlier if I need to!) I will listen to my body. I am guessing if everything goes well, I will end up settling into a 10:30 pace — which usually feels comfortable — and try to keep that into the later miles, not worrying about trying to speed up.
— If I need extra walk breaks, especially in last 10K, keep them to one minute each. Try a 9:1 run/walk and go to a 4:1 if needed. Don’t be ashamed to add extra walks!
— Finish under 5 hours, but don’t focus on that time. Anything can happen race day, and if something does happen, I am just going to be super pleased to finish!
Sunday: 5 miles in Zion National Park, then 3 short hikes, 20-60 minutes each.
Monday: Rest. Travel day back to Phoenix
Tuesday: 3 miles at 10:37 on hotel treadmill. Boy, this felt easier now that I wasn’t dealing with altitude! Travel day back home to D.C.
Wednesday: Strength. A light final strength session with my trainer, focusing mostly on stretching and light upper body weights.
Thursday: 3 miles at 10:37. Final run before Chicago!
Friday: Rest. Travel day. Afternoon flight to Chicago and expo.
Total mileage: 11
Sunday: Rest. Travel day to Phoenix.
Monday: 3 at 10:34 in Sedona, Ariz. + 3 mile/2 hour hike
Wednesday: Rest. My right quad/IT band area was bugging me, so I took a rest day.
Thursday: 4 at 11:02 outside Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Saturday: 40+ minute hike into Bryce Canyon to “Wall Street” and back up top.
Weekly mileage: 7
I had planned to get two 4-milers in this week, but my right quad/IT band was sore beginning later Tuesday, so I decided to add in an extra rest day.
Sunday: 13.1 at 10:40. Rock ‘n’ Roll Philly Half Marathon. So. Much. Humid.
Monday: Rest. I needed to wake up early for a doctor’s appointment. I got back around 10 and promptly fell asleep for another 4 hours.
Wednesday: 5 at 10:17. Can we just talk for a minute about how dark it is before 7 outside. My alarm went off at 6:25 and it was just. so. dark. Makes waking up harder, especially when you know it’s still hot out. Where is fall!?
Thursday: 5 at 9:33. Tempo run on the treadmill. Last speed workout before Chicago Marathon.
Saturday: 10 at 11:45. 4:1 run/walk.
Weekly mileage: 33.1
Sunday: 20 miles at 11:19. 4:1 run/walk.
Thursday: Rest. I set out to do 4 miles, but a quarter mile in I called it quits. My hamstrings were too tight/sore from overstretching on Tuesday. Normally, I’d just push through, but with the marathon right around the corner and Philly literally two days away, it didn’t seem worth the risk of injury.
Saturday: Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia 5K. 3.1 at 9:17. I had a great race and race progressively faster with each mile. More to come on the recap later!
Total weekly mileage: 23.1
I officially started training for my first marathon — Chicago on Oct. 9 — three months ago.
I never expected jumping up into marathon training would be easy — I’d read enough and talked to enough runners that I knew that wasn’t true. Yet, I also never expected it would be so hard, either.
The 20-mile marker represented another turning point, and the end of the bulk of training. My mom met me at the end of that longest of long runs. I smiled, absolutely radiant. I’d done it.
At the outset of this marathon journey, I promised myself to be flexible. To not force myself to do any single run — especially the shorter ones — if it made more sense to rest or ease back on the mileage for any given day. Something my trainer said stuck in my mind: “You can’t run a marathon if you don’t make it to the start line.”
I also knew the long runs were the most important of this training cycle — you can move those around, you can adjust for heat and humidity, but you can’t cheat and skip them entirely.
And, I also told myself: one and done. That’s one 26.2 race and never again.
Sometime after my 3-week “what am I doing” freakout and the rebound several weeks later, that “never again” turned into well, maybe for Boston on a charity bib. Which turned into well, maybe for London … which turned into well, maybe for the world marathon major races. And somehow that turned into, well 18 miles wasn’t ridiculously hard, maybe I’ll do that length of run in the fall and spring when I feel like it and pick a corresponding marathon to go along with it.
Truth: I haven’t yet run 26.2 miles. And somehow there’s a part of me already contemplating what could be marathon No. 2.
When I get too far ahead of myself like that, I attempt reel myself back in. I remind myself of how much work it was to get to this point. Of how many Sundays I woke up at 5 or even earlier to run a ridiculous amount of miles in the heat and humidity that equals summer in D.C. Of how many days I ran 6-8 miles before work.
During my 20-mile long run, I struggled a little bit around the 12-15 mile mark. I told myself that my “it would be great to finish under 5 hours” in Chicago notion was ridiculous, and I should change that to 5 1/2 hours or 6 hours.
By the end of the run, I’d clocked an overall average pace of 11:19, faster than any long run I’d done in training using the 4:1 run/walk method. My final mile chimed in at 10:20. I took two one-minute walk breaks in that mile.
When I find myself thinking of the next challenge after this marathon, I pull myself back quickly, to just focus on Chicago.
Yet, two half marathons a week apart no longer seems like a big deal. Marathon training seems to have taught my body that 12 miles is now a minimum long run. And doing a 5k before a half marathon — something I once worried about sapping too much energy from my legs — also no longer seems like anything.
I’ve signed up for 3 half marathons in the 5 weeks post-marathon, including one two weeks after Chicago. I’m honestly not sure I’ll go to the half two weeks after my first 26.2 — I want to listen to my body and ensure I don’t get injured.
At the same time, I can’t imagine not being able to finish that half, and the two others, so long as I take them easy.
In the past 15 weeks, I’ve given a lot. I’ve woken up insanely early, and gone to bed even earlier. I’ve dealt with that weird always-hungry feeling that seems to accompany marathon training, especially at first.
I’ve legitimately gained a few pounds, and my level of caring about that 3 pound difference on the scale is tiny compared to what it would have been a few years ago — or even earlier this year. I mostly ditched the scale for the bulk of marathon training, going up to 4 weeks without weighing myself.
I’ve picked back up strength training with a personal trainer and wondered why I ever left in the first place. I’ve kept up with yoga and wondered how, again, I ever did without it. I’ve largely nixed additional cross-training — cycle and swim — on my calendar and wondered how the hell I ever fit them in.
I’ve pushed my body to the limits, and found it can handle more than I thought.
There’s an often-quoted marathon quote: “I dare you to run a marathon and have it not change you.”
I haven’t yet run 26.2 miles, and so I say — I challenge you to train for a marathon and have it not change you.
So will I run another marathon after Chicago? Honestly, I don’t know.
This training cycle showed me just how time-consuming marathon training is. I’m not sure I want to deal with that again, and even if I decide it is worth it, I’m not sure it’s worth dealing with on a regular, annual basis — let alone multiple 26.2 races each year.
What I do know is I want to keep running. And I want to keep running toward something.
Whether that’s a new number of half marathons completed in a single year or running in all 50 states or a new PR at any given distance, I don’t know. Yet.
I ran 20 miles this morning. A distance that once seemed completely and totally impossible. And it felt that way, in part, only today, at 5 a.m. when my alarm went off.
I was a little anxious off and on Saturday, but I slept well overnight — thank you, Advil PM.
My alarm went off at 5 a.m., and it was go time. I looked at my Weather app and was disappointed to see the temperatures hadn’t fallen as much as originally predicted, but I reminded myself that I was heat acclimated, that a few degrees doesn’t matter that much, and I’d largely be running with a breeze in my face, all while the dew point was dropping throughout the run.
I started out with a 76 degree temperature and 71 degree dew point.
I told myself I wasn’t running 20 miles, I was only running 12 miles. And I focused on 5 mile increments.
I knew the sun wasn’t rising until 6:45 a.m. now, but I’d forgotten how dark that would make a 6 a.m. start. I was running solo, and I wasn’t really comfortable the first couple miles, even after I got to the trail from my parents place about a 3/4 mile in.
The recent assaults on the W&OD and murders of runners elsewhere made me uneasy. I found myself thinking, especially until I got to the main trail, what I’d do if a car that was coming by stopped, or if someone tried to grab me as I passed by. I kept myself on high alert, and didn’t run with headphones. It was enough to tense up my legs and make the first 1.5 miles feel rougher than usual.
I felt a little better once the sun started rising around mile 2, and a lot better after I reached somewhere around the 4-mile mark. Enough folks were coming out to the trail now that I was seeing someone every tenth to quarter mile.
Finally, I could relax.
I began focusing on those 5-mile increments, where I’d take in my gummies. I wanted to make nutrition a huge focus of this run since I hadn’t taken as much as I should have during my 18-miler two weeks ago. I decided I didn’t care about pace and tried to take it as slow as possible. (In actuality, this ended up being my fastest overall pace during marathon training using the 4:1 run/walk.)
The first few miles — the first 2 in particular — were very muggy. When I reached the only turnaround point at mile 2, I immediately started feeling relief with a nice breeze on my face. I also knew the temperature would pretty much stay the same during my run, but with — thankfully — dropping dew points.
To make a sort of game out of my run and have a little fun, I decided to Snapchat as much as I could, focusing on water fountain stops to refill my bottles and gummy stops. I ended up not Snapchatting as much as I thought I would — it just seemed too time consuming when I was already eating up a lot of time refilling water bottles and eating gummies.
I’d asked my mom to meet me at the end of this run at a Starbucks in a Target at the Dulles 28 Center because I really didn’t want to deal with an out and back. I knew this way the wind would cool me off a bit, and I wouldn’t have to deal with the slow, long uphill on the way back, nor would I have to deal with any sun on my face or the (relative) lack of water fountains on the W&OD. And, I’d have something to look forward to. Plus, I figured I’d still be able to get my chocolate milk.
My legs started to feel a little tired around mile 7, and I thought, “well, that’s not good.” But there was a decent bit of downhill after that and I just focused on staying steady. A little after mile 9, I realized I would need a pit stop at a porta potty. I prayed the one I’d remembered from a couple years ago at Hunter Mill Road was still there, and luckily it was!
That was also my halfway marker. And I was entering uncharted territory on the W&OD. I’d never been out past Hunter Mill. I focused on the next water stop around mile 11.5, then onto mile 15, the next water stop and gummy station. In between, there was a slow and steady incline.
I took a brief break at the 15-mile water stop. I decided to change out my socks because I worried about blisters. At that point I had a little less than 5 miles to go. I was a little sore, and part of my mind was going: “Well, 26.2 is going to hurt,” but I focused on staying present and looking toward mile 18. I’d run that distance twice before, and I knew once I reached it again that the last 2 miles would fly by. I was starting to feel good.
At mile 18.4, I hit a walk break and saw a woman standing on the opposite side of the trail. I quickly realized that it was Dorothy! I couldn’t believe I’d run into her while, well, out running. We chatted for a while before parting ways. It was so great to catch up with her a bit and have a little bit of a mental break.
Only 1.6 to go. I knew it was in the bag. I stuck to the 4:1 run/walk plan, and yet my pace quickened — a lot. The last two miles were the fastest of my run, and by a lot.
I felt amazing ending the run strong, and then it was time to find my mom. I’d texted her I was going to be later than planned, and found her sitting on a bench outside Target. I’d left her a bag to bring to me with a change of clothing. I quickly switched out of my sweaty clothes in the restroom and realized I hadn’t stretched, so I tried to do a few here and there.
Refreshed, I left the restroom to hit up the Starbucks. Sadly, there was what ended up being a long line. Please, folks, can we separate out the folks who need like two quick things from the fancy drinks?
My mom mentioned a couple times — even before we entered the store — that we could maybe go elsewhere, but I knew I needed something stat. We got in line after my clothing change so no sense in going somewhere else that will take just as long or longer.
I got a chocolate milk, banana bread and water. I absolutely inhaled them as my mom drove back home.
Once back at my parents’ place, I got a heavenly shower, then it was coffee time. Thank God. Less than a half hour later I was starved, again. I ate an entire muffin — one of those big ones from the grocery store. I left a little after noon and went home for a nap.
But I didn’t nap well. I was too hyped from the run and the fact that it was 9/11 kept me tossing and turning. I’d thought about that cool, clear day 15 years earlier on and off again during the run, and it felt surreal. How did we get to 15 years from that date so quickly? How did we get to the point where so many entering the workforce, fresh out of college, barely or don’t remember that day so distinctly?
When I reached Dorothy, she remarked how weird of a day it was. She’d just run her mile 11 in 9:11. That stuck with me through the later half of the run, and allowed me to reflect on how much had changed in 15 years — not only focusing on American history, but also, just who I was at that time — a sophomore in high school — and where I am today.
So, what now?
Well, basically, marathon training is done. No more super long runs. It’s all downhill from here.
Next weekend is the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philly Half and 5K the day before, and I can’t wait.