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.
I’ve never seen one of the bridges in downtown Chicago go up before!
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.
The Chicago Tribune prints the finish times of all runners who complete the marathon with a 6:30 or faster time!
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.