I remember in 2012, my best friend and running partner Tammy (yes, we have the same first name and actually even the same middle name) and I were discussing what big races we would like to do in the future. At that point we had run a handful of half marathons and by no means felt we were ready to tackle the marathon distance yet. But bucket list races are built on dreams that become reality.
As the next couple of years went by, she ran her first marathon in our hometown of Tallahassee at the Tallahassee Marathon with an amazing finish in just under 5 hours. Then just a few short weeks later I (now give her so many props) talked her into running the Donna Marathon in Jacksonville to benefit Breast Cancer research. Sadly, that was not to be our race to finish as we were escorted off the course at mile 24 due to what they thought was impending weather and a tornado warning. Crushed, was were I found myself for a few weeks. Admittedly, that was not to be my marathon. I had not put in the proper time or energy into training that I did for this race. Nevertheless, crushing is to get to mile 24 and be told you are not allowed to go on.
So we fast forward to 2015 and I put in for the lottery drawing for the Chicago Marathon. My thinking, “I’ll never get in” though I really hoped that I would. As emails began going out from the race directors, I felt so sad that I had not received a notification. I figured that I would be on the sad list of “thank you for your entry, but you were not chosen” list of recipients. As the evening went on, I checked my phone one last time and the email was there! HOLY CRAPOLA!!!
So I set out to make a plan to train. I knew what I wanted to train to finish at and I knew I had plenty of time to pull it together. What I had forgotten was just how brutal it was to train in the Florida heat and humidity. Even getting up at 5:00 am for crack-o-dawn runs, we were still welcomed to the run with horrible temps and sometimes brutally awful runs. We got it done though, months and months of runs, and some amazing miles with some wonderful ladies along the way. Tammy had been sidelined due to pregnancy and had chosen to take a hiatus from running until she gave birth. But I did not lack in Sole Sisters to get me through! Melissa, Allyce, Liz, Jocelyn, Monica, Desiree, Aidan and so many more helped pave my way through the 550+ miles of training runs it took to get me to Chicago.
I decided a few months ago that I really wanted to run my marathon in support of my Mom who battled Ovarian Cancer from Christmas 2014 through the beginning of my training in May. I found a friend who made a vinyl for me and the last week before the race Mom asked if I would wear her teal bandanna, which she had worn to her last few chemo treatments, while I ran. I felt so privileged to run for her and even more so to run with the same head wrap she had used through the toughest part of this year.
My hubs traveled with me to Chicago, I was so thankful to have him there to help calm my nerves, support me through the weekend and ultimately be my rock on race day, before and after. As we made our way over to the race Expo to pick up my packet, he patiently walked through with me, never pushing me to leave because he was bored. Such a patient man he is, I’m so thankful. I picked up my bib, grabbed my gear check bag and a couple of last-minute race day items I needed and then we headed back to the hotel. My only complaint about the Expo, the bus line . . . though it moved pretty quick at probably just a 30 minute wait, it seemed a little more chaotic that I would have l though a race of this size would have to shuttle runners. Nevertheless, we made it back to downtown and resumed our day.
The second day in Chicago we wanted to sight see, so I chose something I really wanted to do and then Harley chose something he wanted to do and we made a day of it. The Field Museum was his choice, so we grabbed some breakfast and a taxi and made our way over to the Museum. What an amazing place it was to see. He got to see his other favorite “girl” Sue at the museum and so much more! Here are a couple of pictures of him in all his awe . . .
So race day was upon me . . .
I started my day by trying to keep my nerves calm. I had struggled so much the day before to get calories in and hydrate. Truly, I knew I had put all the training in that I was supposed to, but I was terrified!
We left the hotel about 6:30 and walked the almost 2 miles down Michigan to the gate that I was allowed to enter through. I think I must have cried like 3-4 times before I finally said suck it up and go in. Harley was always there with a shoulder though and reassuring me that everything was going to be perfect.
Party in the back, as they say, my corral for the race was the very last, Corral K. There were realistic runners back there with me. Excited for their first race or to tackle the marathon to beat their first experience. There was no lack of heart in that corral, it was great not to over hear times or paces, just be there to run your race. I met a nice lady that was from the Chicago area that was running the marathon for the first time. We exchanged a few stories and I told her I had traveled from Florida to run this and I was excited because it had been so hot, to have a little cooler temps to run in. Oh my how that changed about 3 hours in. I asked if she had planned to try to run the whole race or try to do a pace group or intervals, she promptly stated she wanted to run the entire race. I was really excited for her as she seemed very confident in her answer.
As I started out I found my way over to the 5:10 pace group and ran with them until I had to stop for a potty break at mile 5. Holy 12 minutes, it seemed like forever before I could get back onto the course. Funny things happen in the potty line and this race made no exception. I found myself with a couple of issues of my own (like OMG did I just pee on my own leg!!!??), but quickly pulled it together and got back on track. As I started out again I found that I accidentally stopped my GPS watch all together . . . . SHITTTTTT! And I had opted to run without my Nike app running to save my phone and especially since the coverage is questionable through most of the course. So I pulled myself together and started my GPS watch YET AGAIN and found the 5:30 pace group just ahead of me. I pushed on with them for a bit, but I swear it felt like they were running way faster than the pace to finish at 5:30. I fell off the group and started my interval trainer that I had used for training the last couple of months. As I pushed on I crossed the half marathon check point and thought to myself, this is where you are usually pushing to get to, WHAT WERE YOU THINKING, you’ve got a whole nother half to go!!!!! I pushed forward.
Leading up to the marathon, as we arrived Friday about midday, the weather was perfect. Breezy and cool without the horrible Florida humidity that I trained through the summer in. It was perfect temp to wear a wind jacket, but not too cool for a heavy coat. But come Sunday, race day, it was a completely different scenario. The race began after the sun came up, which I had trained all summer before the sun, so I never had to deal with racing against the sunshine. This was probably the hardest part for everyone. As the sun came out after the race started and we made our way through the building covered roads of Chicago out to the more open areas, the sun became a problem. For some a huge problem. After about mile 15 I began to see more and more runners succumbing to cramps and extreme fatigue. Even the event volunteers encouraged us to find shade anytime that we could to get out of the sun. Thankfully, in my opinion for where I was on the course, there were plenty of hydration options available. So much so that I could probably have run the race without my water bottles and just my belt to hold my nutrition.
Truly, a flat and fast course in all respects coming from the rolling hills of Tallahassee. There were a couple of inclines that made me say a few choice words in my head, but nothing that was too unbearable. Crowd support was amazing, except for in between miles 18-21 (in my opinion) where you kinda felt like the race was wrapping up and no one cared anymore. But then when we made our way to mile 23, the support picked back up and it was great. I was slightly worried through some of the later miles as I felt little twinges in my feet that maybe I could get a blister (thankfully I never did) because I trained on the concrete sidewalks instead of the asphalt that the race took us on the entire mileage. There were a couple of bridges that had grating, but they race coordinators had that covered by putting down carpet to keep runners from tripping. Certainly the late mileage foot drag could have certainly gotten me had they not made that little accommodation for us.
As I reached mile 15 I began to feel the familiar twinges in my right hamstring that I had struggled with on my last 3 long runs before taper. I thought ok, you need to make sure you are timing your Salt Stick capsules and stay on top of your nutrition. As I reached mile 18 my leg was done, I mean done done! Like to the point that I wanted to quit the whole race done. I kept going. I made sure to grab a couple of Gatorade’s when I passed through the water stations (Ummm yeah, I officially HATE lemon lime Gatorade!) and kept running at the start of my interval until I couldn’t go any farther and then walked through to the rest and started again. As I made my way to mile 22, almost in tears and in the full sun, I knew 4 miles . . . 4 more miles to the finish line and my husband was waiting for me. I messaged him and pushed on. As I reached mile 23 all the “it’s just a 5K from here” signs were appearing and the “you don’t have far to go now” cheers came from the crowd. I’ve never wanted to cry and scream so much in my life! As I thought this was the point that I had to stop before I got injured I thought back to my Mom, pushing through the first part of the year as she battled Ovarian Cancer and her Chemo treatments. How much pain those treatments were and how much she didnt’ want to go either. I pushed on . . . Mile 25 came and O-M-G I never though we would get to the finish. 800 Meters to go . . . 400 Meters to go . . . 200 Meters to go . . . Where’s the DAMN finish line! We rounded the corner and it appeared like all those movies when angels sing and stars light up. I was so happy. I had made it through 26.2 miles of sheer will to finish.
My official finish time was 6:05:17. About an hour longer than I wanted to run it, but ultimately I told myself half way through when I was struggling, all that matters is that you finish and finish is precisely what I did. No matter how much I struggled through the last 8 miles, nothing can take the feeling of actually crossing that finish line away. I was so sad to hear that not too far behind me, those runners never got to finish. The finish line closed early and runners were escorted past the mats and not allowed an official time. Some said they had to walk at least another mile to even get their medal. I was very thankful that I pushed myself those last few miles.
My final takeaway from the marathon as a whole . . . Don’t use a pace group, stick with how you trained. I tried to run with 3 different pace groups through my race and I think ultimately that was my downfall. STICK WITH WHAT YOU KNOW about your body and your training. Trust it, believe in it. Don’t push outside your training zone. Hydrate since it’s a day run instead of an early morning run, but be mindful not to only drink water. You still need electrolytes to get you through the mileage. And when you hit your wall know that the 26.2 is waiting for you.