It's been one week and I won't even mince my words: Last Sunday was the best run of my life. I cannot express how fortunate I feel that my first marathon was an absolutely amazing experience from start to finish. I honestly cannot believe I am a marathoner. I mean...I DID IT!
This is such a long post, so here's the short version: I never hit "The Wall". I never stopped loving that I was running so many miles through such an amazing city. I had family and friends there to support me. I was able to truly enjoy every neighborhood I went through and ever sign I saw (the Loop was my favorite!). I ran the whole way through (minus drinking at aid stations). I had near perfect 5k splits and a consistent pace the entire time, and felt like this was one of the strongest and most consistent runs of my life.
I loved running the Chicago Marathon...and I'm going to do it again next year!
Now for a real recap!
Saturday - Home, Hotel, Expo
My marathon weekend started on Saturday with an amazing breakfast that Anthony and I cooked up together (note to self, get a non-stick skillet so omelettes can be a real thing!):
|High protein pancakes (and maple syrup) and eggs with steak, broccoli, onion, and jalapeno.|
|My first ever time cooking steak on the grill and it turned out perfectly!|
Anyways...when Anthony left on Saturday morning, I made a run to Michael's to grab some iron on letters for my singlet, and I put them on as soon as I got home:
|I struggled with what color to use for this, and I'm so glad I chose yellow because it came out perfectly!|
I'll throw in here: A lot of people find/found out I live in the suburbs and seem kind of surprised that I stay in the city overnight for these races, especially if it means staying at a hotel. The truth is...the suburb I live in is not really that close. It takes a fairly standard 90 minutes (at least) to get into the Chicago Loop whether you drive or take public transit, and with a mandatory in-person packet pick-up and high parking fees, it would have been stupid to drive to the city on Friday or Saturday then back out just to drive back in. So hotel it was!
This time around I stayed at the Palmer House Hilton because TeamRMHC had a block of rooms. I love this hotel for it's fancy, Roaring-Twenties-meets-the-Sistine-Chapel entry:
I did appreciate that even my key card was a souvenir though!
Walking into the expo hall, crowded with people!
The expo was huge...what else can you expect preceding an event with 45,000 participants?! My mom had never been to an expo like this before so she was interested in checking it out. As with most expos I was "meh" about it. I don't like crowds that include lines, so I'm not inclined to wait around for things like KT taping, foam rolling or massages. I did all that stuff later at the hotel instead (minus the taping).
But at this point I'll mention that I was actually pretty tempted by those things because my left hamstring felt off. It felt tight and sore, and none of that started until Saturday. I'd had some soreness in my left hip the week before the race, but I was able to foam roll it out. I didn't want to get all panicky about my hamstring, but it was not the greatest sensation the day before my A race of the season. I calmed my panic with a foam roller and stretching that night, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried with every step while walking through that expo...
Aside from that, I was a bit disappointed that the Ragnar booth didn't have stuff to purchase...I think they were cleaned out on Friday. I'm so excited for Ragnar Chicago in June, and I wanted to start my Captainhood by repping things early!! Oh well...maybe next time!
I did, however, drop a solid amount of money on Nike official marathon gear since the "free" tshirt was hella ugly (sorry guys, I'm just not a highlighter yellow kind of girl). I also bought two small hand-held FuelBelt bottles at the Dick Pond booth. Going into the weekend I was a bit wary about carrying my 24oz Camelbak Quick Grip with me, and the FuelBelt bottles were on clearance so I went with it and snagged two. It ended up being a great decision, and I'll carry one for the Hot Chocolate race in two weeks!
I picked up a black hoodie and gray tshirt (both men's sizes since Nike's women's gear is teensy tiny and I have a long torso that makes it look ridiculous) and hoped to god that I'd be able to wear them the next day as a finisher!
Before leaving my mom snapped a few pictures of me:
|Not showing any nerves at all.|
|Silly kids, getting in the way of awesome selfies.|
We only had to wait about 20 minutes for our order, and then we Ubered back to the hotel were we put on Pitch Perfect while we ate and I rifled through my goody bag. It was pretty standard swag, but included some fun things I've never used before (like Dude Wipes and Febreze detergent). I won't lie though...these companies that sponsor Chicago races need to start including coupons for "all locations" instead of just Chicago ones. Sorry Fleet Feet, but I'm not going to make a trip into the city to use a $20 off coupon at one of the few city stores listed - gas and parking spoil the value there!! You have locations all over the country, act like it!
The pizza and salad hit the spot, and I was ready to wind down and crawl into bed at 8:30. For the first time this season I got two consecutive nights of the best sleep ever, and on Saturday especially I slept through the night, uninterrupted by pre-race nerves. I was ready for Sunday. I was happy with myself, content with my training, and ready to face 26.2 the next morning!
I woke up with my alarm at 4:45 on Sunday. I had a second one set for 5:00 and decided to lay in bed for those extra few minutes...until about 5 minutes later when my mom, in a panic, asked what time I was getting up and when I had to leave. I groaned something like "I'll get out of this bed before 5..." and took a few more minutes to relax before I got up.
When I did I washed my face and got dressed before having my mom take a picture of what I was wearing for anyone on Facebook who would be spectating or watching the live feed of the race:
|For real, my nail lady is the most awesome nail tech on this planet.|
|A snap of the free stuff set up for runners...apparently they didn't have free coffee for the runners this year though... :(|
The RMHC tent was amazing. It took up a full city block:
|The ballon arch about halfway down was the entrance, complete with a red carpet on the inside! They treated us so well at the RMHC tent!!!|
|Already hoppin' at 6am!|
|TeamRMHC and Ragnar teammates too! #TheTeamThatMustNotBeNamed|
|My new friend...she looked totally adorable, and she looked just like that after the race too. As someone who is incapable of looking cute after running I was super jealous.|
|Proud to run for RMHC!!!|
|The balloon arch, pre red carpet!|
|At the back of the pack...Corral K!|
We waited around as our corral "closed" at 7:45 (except not really... -_-) with nothing to do but talk and it was almost a full hour before we crossed the start line...at 8:39...
Running the Race
I'll throw my results and 5k splits in here to get things started, and then we'll roll through it all 5 miles at a time!
|Such great, steady 5k splits! I was so happy to see this when I finished!|
I found my stride so easily, and our pace was steady around 11:30min/mile (this looks longer in my splits because we slowed for the aid stations, but our running pace was about that). At one point I told Annie and Kathy that it always feels like the first mile is the hardest because you're shaking out your legs, and this first mile felt so easy and natural. Tapering appeared to have worked and I felt so good, like I was flying. The first mile was over before we even knew it, which was good because Kathy and I both really had to pee. The exceptionally long time spent waiting to start after drinking that bottle of water at 7am meant I utilized the heck out of those first rest stop porta potties! We said goodbye to Annie and waited about three minutes to do our thing, then it was back to it!
I was so excited for Mile 2...I knew Anthony would be waiting just past the mile marker and I couldn't wait to see him. He'd texted me his exact location so I was hyper aware of my surroundings. As soon as I saw him I peeled off to the left, planted a kiss on him and right away I got excited all over to see him and my cheer squad at Mile 13!
My first 5k split was a bit below pace at 41:12 (because of that potty stop), but no big deal! In all, the first few miles took us across the river heading north, and they flew by! Miles 4 and 5 felt a bit slower and lacked the same crowd, but before I knew it we were approaching 10k!
Mile 6 continued to feel good, but we ended up in the sun for a while so the aid station just after Mile 6 was very welcome. It made me really glad that it wasn't hotter out - with the sun coming up and the wind at our backs it probably felt hotter than it was, and it was a relief to turn into the shade around mile 7. Mile 8 brings you back into the busier parts of the city, and we ran through Boystown and the surrounding neighborhood. All throughout this I was enjoying the run and the crowds, pointing and laughing at signs, and giving a thumbs up and a 'Thank you!' to anyone who cheered for RMHC or said my name off my singlet.
At Mile 9 I started thinking about how good I felt. Every part of me felt strong and I was really enjoying the run. My pace was steady, but I could tell Kathy was slowing down a bit. At Mile 10 we took a selfie together, and then bid one another adieu as she slowed to walk.
By Mile 11 I was still feeling ridiculously good, and I was started to get very excited about seeing my posse at Mile 13. I couldn't wait...I wanted to tell them all thank you, let them know how great I was feeling, how much I loved what I was doing, and that this was one of the best decisions of my life. These were also the miles that brought us back into the Loop, and upon reflection they were by far my favorite part of the race.
You see, the Chicago Marathon takes you through 29 neighborhoods, and a lot of people will ask you (as a runner) which was your favorite to go through, and everyone will talk about the crowds in different neighborhoods. While I absolutely loved running down random tree-lined streets in different neighborhoods where people simply pulled their couches and dining chairs to the curbs to cheer us on, my favorite parts of the Marathon were going through the Loop. Since moving to the 'burbs 22 years ago I have spent many a Christmas-time heading downtown to wander the Loop, so most of my city memories are on those streets. To me, there was something extra special about these roads, nestled between skyscrapers, being closed for runners to pace along while the thrum of crowds cheered us on. The city just felt so alive for the runners that it was hard not to be enchanted by it.
So when I reached Mile 13, in the shadow of the Sears ("Willis") Tower, I was flying high, ready to see my loved ones. Anthony totally surprised me by popping up to hand me my second water bottle, and to tell me my mom and them were on the right (I'd asked everyone to stand on the left so I wouldn't have to look back and forth to find them). I was so shocked that I completely forgot to tell him how much fun I was having, and just kept saying the same things over ("I can't believe you're here! It's you!"...well duh...) and over while he tried to get me to give him my empty bottle. But I finally did, then crossed to the right to look for my mom and co...at which point I saw this:
|"Christina, run like You-Know-Who is chasing you!" From front to back: Mom, Steffi, Mrs Pillar, and my Uncle Paul!|
Mile 13 led us out of the loop, and by 14 and 15 things were starting to slow down. I wasn't, but the crowd of spectators was thinning out a bit. I still felt completely amazing, and I wasn't even starting to hurt at this point. I started thinking, "I could really do this again next year..." and reminded myself that I still had over 10 miles to go - I should reserve that thought to ponder during Miles 20-26.
I won't say I started to slow down during these miles, but I will say I went from feeling "GREAT AND AMAZING!" to just "Good". I had some mild stomach cramping between 14 and 15, and after passing up an aid station around then I decided to stop at the first porta potty possible around 16. Maybe TMI, but emptying my bladder fixed the problem, and I felt good to go for the last 10 miles.
I was really looking forward to Mile 17 because I knew that's where I would see Anthony again, and at that point I was craving a friendly face and a hug from someone I knew. Even when you're running in a huge group it can be a solitary sport and you have to rely on yourself and your own body, so when I saw him at Mile 17 I threw my arms around him, planted a very sweaty, salty kiss on his cheek, and almost didn't let go of him while I kept thanking him for being there. He finally told me I had to keep running, and I turned and sped off one more time, already looking forward to the finish!
When I reached Pilsen around Mile 19 I was ready for the pick-me-up of a fuller crowd, since things had thinned out a bit. The people of Pilsen did not disappoint and I enjoyed running down 18th street, taking in the crowd and the music. I also threw some fond thoughts and positive vibes into the air as I ran, thinking about my friend Gloria, a Pilsen resident, whose wedding I missed the day before (ironically I had to miss her shower/bachelorette party as well because they were both the day before the Chicago Triathlon). You see...long runs and rides in the heat and humidity and the complete terror of that first open water swim weren't the only sacrifices I made to make it to race day. So for a little over a mile through Pilsen my mind was on my best-friend-since-before-I-was born, every thought wishing her and her new husband the best in their marriage.
Mile 20 was where things started to get rough, though for me it wasn't really a physical thing. I mean, my feet hurt and my left hamstring was sore, but that was about it. Distance running is a mental game, and by Mile 20 I felt like very few people out there were fighting it. Obviously starting in Corral K meant I was with the "back of the pack". By Mile 20 there were a ton of people walking. We'd all been out there for at least 4 hours...it was no wonder really. But more people were walking than running for sure. I was still feeling pretty good so I didn't feel the need to walk.
The scenery at this point also leaves a bit to be desired. The "last hurrah" is Chinatown at Mile 21, and then things get pretty boring and urban until Mile 25. Chinatown itself was great! There were good crowds, drums beating and dragons dancing, and you get to run through the Chinatown arch and down the main strip. It was a good pick up heading into the last hour of running for me, but left me desiring nothing more than the crowd at the finish!
Because after that...well there were points where we were running next to and over on-ramps for the toll way, and with a much smaller, more tame crowd your mind has to step in to push you through those miles. I'm also bummed because I completely missed the high-five station for Ronald McDonald house along the road since I was running on the left. By the time I realized it was for RMHC I was pretty much past it.
When I reached Mile 20 I'd given myself permission to walk (if necessary!) at Mile 22. But by the time I got to Mile 22 I was hurting, which was expected, and walking hurt more than running so I said "f*** it, I'll run the rest" and continued only walking at aid stations, like I'd been doing the whole time.
Brief interlude about nutrition: At Mile 23 with only 5k left to run I decided it wouldn't hurt to eat some of the pretzels one of the spectators was handing out. By that point I'd consumed four vanilla Honey Stinger gels and a good amount of Gatorade and water (roughly one salt stick capsule every 4 miles, one gel every 5 miles, Gatorade at the last 10 stations, water at every station), but I was sick of all the liquidy sugar. So I ate about 5 pretzels and drank some water from my handheld and that calmed my stomach a bit and powered me through to the end!
Second interlude, about signs. All through the race I enjoyed the signs...I take this opportunity to throw out some of my favorites (aside from the one made specially for me). Some of these actually made me laugh out loud while I was running:
- The whole way through I cheered for every person with a sign that said a version of the "If Donald Trump can run for president, you can run 26.2 miles!" because YES, DAMMIT, I CAN!
- "You have stamina, call me!"
- A World Vision 'runner' speed-walking who altered his shirt to say, "I care, that is why I
runwaddle." - At which point I realized he did, in fact, look like he waddled when he walked.
- Any and all Mario signs that had mushroom "power ups" for runners to touch
- The group of people with a sign that said, "You think you're tired, I had to get up really early to make this sign!" - I loved this one because there were 4 people standing by it and they'd leaned it on a chair so I called them lazy for not even bothering to hold it, which they all thought was hilarious and got them to cheer for me.
- "26.2 Miles = 17.5 tacos!" (I asked the girl holding this one to figure out how many burritos it was :P)
- "Keep running, the clowns are behind you!"
- "This seems like a lot of work for a free banana!"
- "Worst parade ever."
- "Your feet hurt because you're kicking so much ass!"
- The guy dressed as a storm trooper who had a sign that said something I can't remember...all because I pointed at him and said, "Aren't you a little short for a storm trooper?" (because he was...)
Some of these signs and some good, loud music with thumping bass (how those people go speakers out there, I don't know) got me through miles 23 and 24. As we approached Mile 25 the crowd started to get more dense, and people were going wild for us. There were so many people cheering and encouraging us, yelling how we only had one mile left.
You see...the first few miles I actually said out loud a few times, "This is so cool! I can't believe I'm running the Chicago Marathon!!" Throughout the race I frequently thought, 'Omg...all summer I've said I'm going to do this...I'm actually doing it now!!' And then between Miles 24 and 25 I really, really realized that I was about to do it. I was going to finish this thing, I was going to feel good doing it, and I was going to finish strong.
So at that point I realized that in a few short miles I would be able to say, "I did it!" And coming back into the Loop with the growing crowds cheering us on, I felt so amazing.
That last .2
Starting the race I didn't think I'd have any gas left in the tank to push it at the end. For Chicago, you go up a short hill (the Roosevelt bridge) right before the finish. There have been plenty of races where I wasn't able to push at the end (like that 10k for the Chicago Triathlon...I finished but there was no extra effort at the end because I was so completely spent). So imagine my surprise when, on the bridge, I picked my pace up slightly. I needed to find my mom and Anthony to make sure they saw me finish. As I turned onto Columbus heading to the finisher's chute I saw them on the side and started yelling "Mom! DEBbie! MOOOOOOM!! ANTHony!!!!" and Anthony saw me. He nudged my mom and pointed, I smiled and waved - they'd seen me! And then I booked it.
With about 100 yards to the finish, I ran my legs off, completely forgetting about any pain in my body. I was going to finish.
My arms went into the air, and I ran the hell out of that finish.
|Finally! Good race pictures! I will for sure be buying these!|
I was ecstatic. My feet and knees hurt and slowing to a walk was actually pretty painful, but I was flying so high I didn't care. I got my medal and stopped for the first photographer who asked if I wanted a picture. HELL YES I DID:
The After Party
I was so happy walking down the red carpet of TeamRMHC's tent and seeing my mom at the end waiting for me. Anthony popped up just a second later, water and Angry Orchard in hand, as he'd promised. I hugged them both, getting them full of salt and sweat, and I'm sure I was beaming. My mom handed me my flip flops and I put them on right away, then shuffled off to the table Steffi and Mrs Pillar had saved (my uncle had to leave early so I didn't get to see him at the end). On the way I found Taylor and dragged her with so she would have some people to hang out with for a while post-race.
|The selfie I snapped for Facebook - gotta make the whole marathon thing fb official!|
|Momma and me! Ready to put up with any race or distance!|
|Momma, me, and Mrs Pillar, all together for the second time this summer!|
|Meine Liebe Steffi! It took me long enough to finish this (and I had a late enough start) that she and her five alarms made it to see me at the half and the finish!|
I was not making it up or reminiscing through rose-tinted lenses when I said it before: The Chicago Marathon was the best run of my life.
I'm throwing the next part out there because it's something I am really, really proud of and I feel like I put in the work and deserve to be able to say it: I am the first person in my entire family to run a marathon. My family is big enough that this is a big deal to me. It's not easy to be the first in my family to do anything...but I did this! :)
I truly lived in the moment. I didn't stress about the mile I was on or how many were left, I just ran and enjoyed everything around me. My only goal was to finish and feel good, and to not end up in a medical tent during or after the race. I didn't have any real time goal, but I knew if I kept pace I would finish between 5:15 and 5:20, and I landed my time right at 5:20 (because of that damned line at the first porta potty!).
The whole race, like with my 20 miler, I was amazed to think back on the first time I ever ran a mile...and then to think about how far I'd come. 26.2 miles is nothing to sneeze at, which I know you all know. It was a long summer with lots of hot training and challenges, but it was so, so worth it in the end, and I loved every second of being out there running this race.
I felt very sore on Sunday night and all of Monday, but by Tuesday I was doing better. I gave myself a week to recuperate, especially since my left hamstring and knee seemed to need it. I'll be running a 15k and a half marathon in the coming weeks, and that will be it for the end of the season. I'm currently in a place where I'm planning my off season triathlon training and trying to select races for next season...and I am so excited for it all.
Oh yeah...and I've already signed up to be part of #TeamRMHC next year. I know you're all probably sick of reading this by now, but being on this team really made the entire experience. I cannot even explain it. We raised over $1 million for Ronald McDonald House Charities as a team, and I am thrilled and excited to say I am doing it all over next year. If the day ever comes that I or another someone I know needs to utilize RMHC, I will be grateful and proud that I have spent time and effort giving and fundraising for them. If anyone is reading this and is interested in being part of #TeamRMHC please please PLEASE let me know. I could gush for hours, but I'll leave it there for now ;)
And with that said, I have only one thing left for you:
I AM A MARATHONER.