I remember laying in bed on Saturday night, unable to sleep. I had done the work. I was true to the training plan. I had done everything I was supposed to do. So why was I so afraid? I stared at the hotel ceiling thinking of the words a friend told me just hours before, “You’re about to do something great. Enjoy the end of this journey.” I drifted off, and before I knew it, my 4:30am alarm was going off.
I don’t why, but I was assigned to the final corral, K, which was Wave 2. Wave 2 had an 8am start time, but we were all advised to arrive by 6:30 to allow enough time to get through security. It was still dark and cold as we made our way out of the hotel. I was fortunate enough to book a stay about a mile from Grant Park, so we didn’t have to worry about driving or transportation. There were already a lot of people headed to the start. We made it to the Congress Hotel at 6:30 where I was able to finally meet and chat with IG friend, Myrna, who was running her first marathon. I chatted with her and her family for a bit, and were able to share in a few laughs and hugs before having to head out to our gates.
I made my way to Gate 5. After some final words of encouragement from the family, I said my tearful goodbyes, and off I went.
With no gear to check, I went through security pretty quickly. Maybe 5 minutes? All the porta potty lines were long, and since I didn’t feel the need to go, I made my way to Corral K by 7:25. I had no cell phone reception standing and waiting among the tall buildings. This meant I couldn’t get on social media, nor could I call or text anyone.
I really didn’t know where to line up. My fastest marathon had been 5:39, and I had really wanted to hit 5:20. But after sustaining a knee injury earlier in the year, and being advised I shouldn’t run this race, I knew I couldn’t hit 5:20 and that this race wasn’t going to be about a time goal. So maybe somewhere with the 6 hour pace group? While I debated about where I needed to be, I had the urge to go to the bathroom, but knew it was probably just the cold wind…and the nerves. So I ignored it, and lined up, ready to go.
Finally, 8 o’clock came around, and the corrals in front of us started moving. I eyed the porta potties, but the lines were still long, and the corrals really started moving quickly. Afraid to miss my start, I just kept moving. It was cold, I was starting to feel stiff, so I just wanted to keep moving. Finally, at 8:30, Corral K was at the front. I took my sweatshirt off, tossed it onto the pile of other sweatshirts on the sidewalk, and off we went. Official start time: 8:35am.
I was cold, and I immediately regretted not going to the bathroom. I pushed it out of my mind, and tried to get into a groove. Somewhere around the first mile, we went through a tunnel. When I got to the other end of the tunnel, my Garmin stated I was at mile 4. WHAT?! Clearly, that was wrong. So I was going to have to pay attention to the mile markers to keep track of my fuel.
I saw my family for the first time at mile 2. Excited and overwhelmed, I started to cry at the sight of my daughter jumping up and down. Hugs and kisses, and I was off again. The porta potties at mile 3 had some insanely long lines, but I was hurting and knew there was no way I could continue like this. I stopped and jumped in line. TEN minutes later, I was back on the road.
I was feeling good, too good. I told myself there was no way I could keep this up for 26.2 miles. I knew I had to run smart, and that I needed to slow down if I wanted to avoid the meltdown I had at my last marathon. I took the sights in, read spectator signs, and kept repeating to myself that I had to stick to my plan. I saw my family again shortly before mile 10. They had water, Tylenol, Kleenex, and Chapstick waiting for me. More hugs and kisses, and off I went.
Before I knew it, I was at the halfway mark, and still feeling really good.
My daughter texted me to tell me she would be at the Merrill Lynch cheer station at Mile 16. That would be great, as I had some more IG friends at the same cheer station. I kept trucking along, listening to music, reading signs, just really enjoying the race.
Things got kind of crazy as I approached mile 16. Crazy, as in, the crowd noise level was incredibly loud. I could no longer hear my music. So, I turned it off, and enjoyed running without it. So many people. So, so, so many people with noisemakers, bells, horns, screaming and cheering. I couldn’t find my family anywhere. I couldn’t find my friends anywhere. I was sad about that, but the crowd support was the absolute best!
I met the family for the final time at mile 18, and I exchanged looks with my daughter. She knew exactly what I was thinking, and simply said, “No. You’re not going to hit the wall. See you at the finish line.” Off I went, with just one goal in mind: You will not fall apart.
Mile 20 came, and the discomfort started. Mile 21 came, and I was in Chinatown, fighting back tears.
Approaching mile 22, and I started to unravel. I was tired. I was sunburned. My calves started to quiver. I had some serious nausea. I wanted to stop. At this point, my phone was buzzing with notifications. My daughter texted me stating she found a spot, she was waiting for me at mile 26, and I needed to hurry up and get to her. That was when I started to go fishing: I focused on someone ahead of me, reached said person, and then worked on roping the next person. I continued to do this up and down the only hill of the entire race. I kept repeating to myself, “Stick to the plan. You are so close, just stick to the plan.” Mile 24 brought some calf cramps, and I kept telling myself to just stick to the plan.
I approached mile 26 and, exhausted, I could not find my family. I’m sure I couldn’t find them even if they held a sign flashing my name! So many people! I couldn’t stop running at this point. I was hurting entirely way too much. So I pushed forward. I saw a sign ahead reading: 1200 meters. “I can do this.” I told myself. “That’s 3 laps on the track. This is your final track workout. You can do this.” 800 meters. 2 more laps. 400 meters. The final lap. I turned the corner. 200 meters. “Just half a lap on the track. Go.” I caught sight of the finish line, and let out an audible sob. I cried. A race volunteer ran beside me and asked if I needed medical attention. I shook my head, no. I ran. I cried. I crossed the finish line at 1:42pm.
In a daze, I walked through the finishers chute. I remember a volunteer placing my medal around my neck, giving me a hug and saying, “You made it.” I received my mylar blanket, and took my finishers photo.
I made my way to the Mile 27 finishers party. That was when I received about 8 consecutive text messages from my dear friend, Angela, back at home telling me that I finished in 5:06.33!! No. That can’t be right. I wasn’t planning on hitting 5:20, let alone 5:06! I looked at my Garmin. It was reading that I ran over 28 miles, so that unreliable. I didn’t believe her. I made my way to the timing tent, and they confirmed my time. Oh my word! That means I just ran a 33 minute personal best. My family had caught up to me at this time, and that was when the real crying started.
We walked, and we talked, and I cried, and I finally had to sit to digest everything. I was no longer tired. I was confused. I was overwhelmed. After a while, I got up, and we made the long walk back to our room. Talking, and laughing, and crying some more. We got back to the room, I showered, and we were off to dinner with my new friend.
We decided to avoid the long lines at the neighboring restaurants, and dined at the hotel restaurant instead. To be honest, after 5 hours of energy gel, water, gatorade, and a piece of a banana, I had more nausea than I did hunger. I ate a little, but just wanted to lay down. After dinner, we went back to the room where I was able to foam roll and get into bed. I was able to finally chat with friends and family about my experience before I drifted off to sleep.
I was up bright and early the next morning to get a short run in. I knew the key to reducing muscle soreness was to keep moving. Besides, I was still on cloud 9, and wanted to get out there and run this city one more time.
After 3 miles, I headed back to the room, where the family had already gone and put our names in for brunch. By the time I arrived, the wait was 40 minutes for us, 2.5 hours for people just walking through the door. This morning was a completely different story. I. Was. HUNGRY. We ate, I ate some more, and then headed to our architectural boat tour. If you are in Chicago, this is a MUST.
After our boat tour, we made our way back to NikeTown so I can have my medal engraved.
Lunch was, once again, Shake Shack, where I had a burger the size of my face. Afterwards, we headed over to Millennium Park to visit Cloud Gate, AKA, The Bean.
I spent the rest of the day eating before heading back to our room to pack, sleep, and head home on Tuesday.
Now, the follow part of this blog entry is the reason it has take me over 2 months to recap this race:
In the days following the race, I received an email with my race pictures. Some were good, others were not, but there was one picture in particular that made me gasp. When I first saw this picture, I thought, “OMG. Is that how I look?” All I could zero in on were what I considered to be my flaws. I showed this picture to my trainer, who asked me why haven’t I posted it. I immediately said, “Do you see what I look like?” He asked me about my reaction in the picture. “Well, this was when I saw the finish line for the first time. I know this because that was when I began to cry.” “Well, why were you crying?”
“I was tired. My stomach was hurting. I was in a lot of physical pain. But when I saw the finish line, that no longer matter. I felt an overwhelming amount of pride. I was about to complete one of the hardest things I will ever do. It made all the gym sessions, speed workouts, early morning long runs, 100 degree heat worth it. I was in amazement of what I able to accomplish.” “Post it,” he said. So I did.
In the days and weeks that followed, this picture was shared over and over on different social media platforms. Even last week, it was shared by Women’s Running Magazine. No one saw what I saw when I first looked at this picture. Everyone saw what I felt: A woman on her way to completing a freaking marathon! I am completely in awe and humbled by the number of messages and emails I’ve received from people thanking me for my vulnerability, congratulating me on my race, and messages of women letting me know that I’ve inspired them to step out of their comfort zones. I am ashamed when I think about how hard I was on myself. Who cares what I look like? I’m about to do something that not many people can say they have! I am about to complete a 26.2 mile race. What I look like does not matter. I fought and overcame obstacles to get to this race. I pushed on when I thought I couldn’t. I ignored that voice in my head that begged me to stop. I became a marathoner.
I want to thank the countless number of people who left me a kind note, word of encouragement, sent a message my way, for opening up my eyes that the only requirement to being a runner, is that I run. Running doesn’t know weight, or measurements, or speed, or distance. I am a runner. I am grateful that this body of mine is strong and healthy and has allowed me to get to where I am. This race set the foundation for a pretty amazing fall racing season for me. Since this race, I was able to PR the 5K, 10K, and half marathon distance twice!
If there’s one image that sums up my race experience, it is this one. I fought hard. But it was so worth it. I had so much doubt of what I could do. I learned so much about myself in training for, and running this race. I know that I am capable of so much more than I give myself credit for.
If there’s one marathon you must run, I hope that you make it the Chicago Marathon, and I hope that, like me, you have the race of your life! I can’t wait to return in October 2017.
Thank you for following in my journey.