So Monday we drove all day to get home, Tuesday was busy getting back to work, taking care of stuff at home, etc. Wednesdays are always crazy, so TODAY… I hope to finally get around to writing about the race weekend. Fair warning – this is gonna be a long one…
We got there earlier than we expected on Thursday, so we were actually able to make it to the Team World Vision team dinner, and we were all very glad that we did. Dinner was good, but more importantly it was a chance to be reminded about why we were doing it in the first place. A chance to hear some amazing stories of our teammates, get a real sense of being on a team, and be inspired by people like Michael Chitwood, who started Team World Vision.
#OWNCHICAGO – this was actually out on the course during the last stretch
Saturday morning, we slept in a bit and then headed into town for the expo. Talk about sensory overload – This was probably when the bigness of this event started to hit home. This was also where I started looking around and realizing that just about everyone here looked like runners, and I felt a little out of place in their company. But hey – they had a Chicago Marathon jacket my size, and since I won’t likely be getting a Boston jacket any time soon, I grabbed one. 🙂
We ran into Michael Chitwood, the Team World Vision founder on our way out of the expo
T-minus 18 hours until start time.
After the expo we headed up to the Navy pier for lunch and just to walk around a bit. The skyline was beautiful, and it was a fantastic day out. We walked around a little bit, but most of us didn’t want to be on our feet too much on Saturday, so we headed back to the hotel in Naperville, arranged all of our gear for the morning, and turned in to bed early since we’d be getting up super early.
all laid out and ready to go in the morning
Surprisingly, I slept quite well. Woke up, geared up, ate my power bars, hit the toilet (multiple times), and then we headed back in to Chicago where we got dropped off at Grant park before sunrise and walked over to the World Vision Tent. We checked our bags in with TWV, and sat for a while before getting our final pep talk from the coordinators and then having the entire tent standing and singing “amazing grace” together. That was a powerful moment.
We left the tent with our corral groups and marched up to the starting corrals where we made one last pit stop at the porta potties (or several last pit stops if you’re Andrea) and then stood in our corral to wait, taking pictures, chatting with other runners, and just bouncing off the walls wanting to get moving. It was supposed to get up to a high 77 that day, but before the race start it was only about 55, so we all had on an extra layer to get rid of at the start.
Still excited. Whoever Jessica is, did not seem to share our exuberance at the time.
An hour after the first runners crossed the started, we made it to the start line. Just to give you an idea of how many people there were and how fast the elite runners are, we literally were crossing the start line as Dickson Chumba (who won the marathon) was crossing the halfway mark. That is not an exaggeration at all.
The race was on!
I felt great on the first four or five miles. The crowds were amazing, and the energy was huge from all the runners and people cheering. My only problem during that stretch was that I had been planning on using my phone as a pacer, having it tell me every two minutes how fast I was going. I relied on that input during my training to keep me from going too fast and getting tired or too slow and getting lazy.
The problem in the first four miles was that the tall buildings of downtown Chicago wreaked havoc on my gps. the plot line of my run looks more like a heart monitor than a run map. Consequently, my pace information that it gave me was useless. Also, by mile 13 it had added an extra 2 miles to my distance from all the gps jumping, so I couldn’t trust my phone for how far I had gone either.
Honestly, though, the first 5 miles felt like they flew by. the adrenaline, the crowds, the excitement… it was just electric.
These felt pretty good as well. I remember getting to the turn where you start into Lincoln park and thinking “wow, we’re here already?” Still high-fiving people and enjoying the sights and sounds on the sides of the course. I remember seeing two guys on the side at one point… one wearing a Minnesota Vikings jersey and one wearing a Green Bay Packers jersey… I said “you are two brave men” and they got a laugh out of it.
And then I knew I was coming back into downtown to where we would cross the river again, and then once more to turn west. Instead of thinking “wow, I’m here already?”, it was more like “how am I not to the bridge yet?” I was getting winded. I was feeling tired by mile 12.
By 12.5 I was getting worried, and so I backed off a lot on my pace thinking I would rest a bit and then pick it back up. In hindsight, that was probably a bad idea. It didn’t rest me, and when it still felt hard to keep up 2/2, I started to panic and pointing out to myself that halfway is not the place you want to be feeling like you’re tired. Looking back, I think the newness of the course scared me. Had I been doing this same distance on the canal that I knew, maybe I wouldn’t have panicked as much. They were the same distances, but there is really something to be said for familiarity with the actual course itself.
So I dropped to a 2/2 run/walk pace. I wasn’t happy about it, but at the time I felt like it was necessary. Around then, Prentice (another Team World Vision Runner) came alongside me and asked if I was running an interval. I told her what my new plan was and she asked to run with me. This was a Godsend, because having someone to run with and talk to got me out of my head and helped me calm down and settle into my new (albeit much slower than I wanted) pace.
Me and my new running buddy
Prentice and I ran together for probably 5 miles before we got out of sync and parted ways. Around mile 14, I saw a Team World Vision runner on a stretcher off to the side of the road. Police cars eventually came along telling us to get over to the side, and then onto the sidewalks as they were opening the course to traffic again. This was one of my fears, that I’d be too slow to stay ahead of the opened course. Thankfully I wasn’t on the sidewalk for the remainder of the marathon, because the small section they had us on the sidewalk was incredibly annoying. Not only did you have to try to maneuver around other runners, but the people who weren’t running as well. I had to run up into some grass and around a tree at one point to get around a lady who was poking along with her stroller.
The aid stations, I am happy to say were still there, as were the occasional spray station. I think I hit every spray station on the course. I had started the race taking one cup of Gatorade at each station. By this point, I was taking two cups of Gatorade and washing it down with 2 cups of water.
One of my problems in this section was that I really didn’t know this part of the course very well, so I had no sense of where I was. Also, coming into mile 19 I was really starting to get tired, even when I was walking. I told myself that I couldn’t tired until mile 20, and just kept plodding along at my 2/2 until I finally reached the 20 mile marker.
I didn’t realize this at the time when I took this, but you can actually see them taking down the sign here.
Easily the hardest part of the course. Everyone says that, and it’s true. My feet were killing me by mile 20, I really felt like I was out of gas, and then to add insult to injury, my time had slipped too far. Crowds of fans had dwindled to a handful of people here and there. The Chinese dragon was gone from Chinatown. They had started tearing down the course. banners were coming off the fencing as we ran and walked by, and mile markers 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, & 26 were nowhere to be seen. Now, not only did I not know the course well enough by the roads, but I did not have the mile markers to tell me how much further I had to go. All of this was hugely demoralizing on top of being the hardest part of the run, anyway. I came up on a woman who was clearly in pain and asked her how she was doing. It was her hips and knees. There was literally nothing I could do to help her, not even run up ahead to tell the medic tent, since I had no leg left to run the 1/2 mile to the next aid station.
What got me through this stretch? I figure three things. First, I had trained for months to keep moving forward when I was already out of gas, so I was used to that… sort of. Second, there were so many other Team World Vision runners that it seemed like I was never out of sight of one of my teammates. sometimes we would come alongside each other and give each other a quick encouragement. Having people alongside you, even if you don’t talk or even acknowledge each other’s presence… is huge. It tells you that you aren’t alone out there, and even though they aren’t telling you a word, you know that they are going through the exact same struggle that you are right now. That helped me. The third thing is that when I came up alongside the expressway, I was finally back in an area of the course that I was somewhat familiar with, and knew that I was nearing the home stretch, the last 3 miles. Once I had an idea of where I was, and knew I only had a 5k left, I decided that either I was gong to keep moving forward and finish, or fall over trying. I threw every bit of will that I had into that commitment.
My run times were starting to fade. I couldn’t keep running the full 2 minutes. my walk pace slowed. It wasn’t all gloom and doom though. somewhere beside the expressway, someone had drawn a giant blerch and written “beat the blerch!”. That made me smile. Around mile 23ish(?) there was a random woman handing out pieces of ice. That was amazing. Around mile 24 (?), a group of 5 or 6 people came out to walk with a woman that was walking near me at the time to be an encouragement for her. It was touching, even though i did not know any of them.
Coming down the straightaway on Michigan Ave, I kept looking for the turn that told me I was almost done. I saw trees on the side of the road. I thought… parks have trees, maybe that’s … no, it’s not. Maybe that next bunch of trees is… no, it isn’t either.
The last .2 miles:
A couple times over the last .2 miles, I started to cry. My feet and ankles wanted to fall off, but I was close enough to the finish that there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to get there. The thought that “I am about to finish a marathon” was too emotional a thing for me to just set aside. well, except for the little problem that when I started crying, I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and was afraid I was going to hyperventilate. So for the last .2 miles i had this cycle going of getting emotional… starting to cry… then freaking out because I can’t breathe, and getting all stoic again until the next time it hit, then just repeat.
Then a block or so from the turn, Andrea’s sister and brother in law were there cheering for me and came out and ran with me. Seeing someone you know at that point, cheering for you, personally, is just … well, I’m just glad I was wearing mirrored sunglasses.
They had to leave the course at the turn on to Roosevelt, and I climbed up and over that bridge and turned into the final stretch toward the finish. One last fan shouted to me from a balcony overlooking the bridge, and it felt so good. I had done it. The final stretch, though, felt a bit anticlimactic. Instead of running under the finish arch, we were told to walk around it to where we would get our medals, water, bananas, etc.
I didn’t know what my time was, but right then I didn’t care. I figured I would be able to check it out on the results page later. Turns out I finished in about 6:50. I say about, because my finish time did not officially get recorded. My only guess as to why was that the 15 minute pace applies to when they shut down the timers, and somewhere between 40K and the finish, I fell behind the pace. What sucks is the knowledge that had I been in a different corral, and started just 14 minutes sooner, my time would have been recorded. There are lots of people who are recorded as finishers with times up to 7:30, but since they started in earlier corrals, they were able to finish within the window. The only reason i have the 6:50 time is from the course on the mapmyrun phone app. I have to admit, that left a bad taste in my mouth.
But I finished… and only 20 minutes behind my secondary goal.
After finishing and getting my medal I began what I affectionately call the death march – the 1.15 mile walk back to the World Vision tent. That was quite possibly more difficult than the last couple miles of the race, and it took me FOR EVER. I eventually made it back and was reunited with our team, had a coke, got my bag and sat there all weepy until it was time to get up and head to the car.
The heaviest pizza I have ever seen
We climbed in and ordered some pizza for when we got back to the hotel. Made a stop at Dunkin Donuts since we were going to be back before the pizza was ready, and waddled in and out. We got back to the hotel with our Giordano’s pizza, and then got comfortable in our beds, before Andrea talked us into going out for ice cream later on.
An Awesome experience with awesome people. unforgettable.
It was an unforgettable day. My short answer for when people ask how it was, is that “it was amazing and horrible all at the same time.” But definitely unforgettable.