Monday, October 8, 2012

Chicago Marathon Race Recap

It still hasn't fully sunken in that I finished my first marathon yesterday!  I have so many thoughts and sentiments about this experience, many of which are still coming to the surface.

Wow.  Just wow.

Adam and I met up for a carb-loading lunch with an amazing crowd of folks:

From L to R: me, Lauren, Maggie, Kayla, Luiz, Xaarlin, Erin, and Amanda.
Adam was the photographer and therefore not pictured.

I had a blast talking about running with other marathoners who were as focused on the race as I was.  It was awesome getting to finally meet the amazing Xaarlin in person, among others!

The rest of the day was spent laying out my gear, stretching, foam-rolling, hydrating, and trying to relax and prepare myself mentally.  I was in bed by 9:15 PM.

I had my alarm set for 5:40 AM but I woke up around 5:15 and couldn't fall back asleep.  I finally just got up and got dressed.  I was a bundle of nerves and I had no appetite for any food, but forced myself to eat a bowl of cereal and a hard-boiled egg for breakfast.

Adam had very graciously offered to drop me off at a CTA green line stop so I didn't have to walk.  I was midway up the escalator to the platform before I realized I was missing one of my knee straps.  I immediately tried to run back down the escalator (which, incidentally, is much harder to do than it looks).  Thankfully I was the only person there, otherwise mass hysteria would have ensued.

I was lucky I didn't trip and fall and break my skull while running down the up escalator.

Adam was already pulling away from the intersection.  I sprinted down the street and tried unsuccessfully to catch his attention.  My running life started flashing before my eyes that I'd have to do the marathon with only one knee strap.  But then I called Adam's cell phone and very thankfully he answered.  Two minutes later, he was back with my other knee strap.  Crisis averted!

I was planning to meet up with Xaarlin and Luiz pre-race at the Bank of America hospitality tent.  I took the walkway closest to where the tent was located, only to be turned away by gruff security.  They directed me to go several blocks south and then come back through another gate.  But when I got to the other gate, I was once again turned away because I wasn't in a starting corral corresponding to that gate.  I tried to figure out a way to sneak through, but security was militant. 

"NO entry for you."

Xaarlin and I exchanged a couple of texts and barely-audible phone calls.  Finally I gave up and went to my own corral.  Complete chaos all around.  I was hoping this was the last of any issues that I'd have for the day.

I wasn't expecting to be at my own corral so early, but I spent a really long time waiting in line for the portapotties so it worked out.  The temperature was in the upper 30s and I was cold.  I tried to stretch and I chatted with some of the other runners in my corral.  Suddenly, we started moving.  There were already dozens of spectators trying to climb the fence to get a glimpse of us.  Lots of runners, myself included, began throwing their extra sweatshirts and blankets onto the curb.  All of a sudden, I saw Ginger Foxx, who was walking literally right next to me.  In a race of 45,000 participants, what are the odds!  It was great to chat with her for a little bit.

Before we knew it, we were at the starting line and off we went.

I had been warned so many times not to go out too fast at the start.  Since I was still nervously nursing my groin injury, it wasn't too difficult for me to withstand the crowds flying past me.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  I was unpleasantly surprised at how slow my splits were for the first few miles.  I thought I was going much faster than I was.  But I kept reminding myself that I had 26.2 miles to cover today, and it was important to preserve my energy early on.

For the first few miles, the crowds were actually thinner than I had been anticipating.  But once we started getting into the heart of downtown, it felt very reminiscent of the Rock N Roll Chicago Half Marathon.  RnR Chicago's course starts out exactly the same as the Chicago Marathon course and draws large crowds also.  The familiarity helped me start to relax a little bit.

I focused on running the tangents of the course, reading all the spectator signs, trying to high-five people, trying to observe the neighborhoods I was passing, trying to take in the familiarity of my city's streets and people.  I saw Adam at about mile 3.5 and gave him my hat and gloves, as it was starting to warm up.  Around mile 4.5, some of the spectators were blasting the theme music from Rocky.

Hearing this made me smile.  It was at that moment that I finally started to really, truly enjoy myself.  It was a mental turning point for me.

The crowd was amazing.  In particular, I really enjoyed the many signs I read that said things like this:

It made me so grateful for the unbridled crowd support towards everyone's single, united goal of completing the marathon.

The miles went by quickly.  Someone was blasting the Chicago Bears and Chicago Bulls theme songs and that pumped me up.  I thoroughly enjoyed the cheerleaders and crowd support in the Boystown neighborhood. 

Unfortunately, I was feeling almost from the start like I needed to make a bathroom stop.  I kept seeing that every aid station's portapotties had huge lines, and I didn't want to wait.  I knew that I wouldn't be able to run the entire marathon without making a stop.  But I figured that maybe once the runners started spreading out more that the lines would decrease.

The dreaded groin pain started coming.  It was minimal at first, but gradually started getting stronger and stronger.  I took walking breaks to alleviate the aching.  By about mile 8 I knew that my hope of running a sub-5:00 marathon would not be in the books for the day.  At that point, I changed the day's focus to just get to the finish line in one piece without having to do too much walking.  More immediately, I knew that I was going to see Adam again at about mile 9.5.  I wanted to be running when I saw him instead of walking, which I was successful in doing.

I was still waiting to see portapotties without massive lines, and near mile 12 I finally did.  While I was in line, I tried to stretch my adductors and I was so stiff and sore that I nearly lost my balance.  Wow, did it hurt.

After the portapotty stop, I went back on my way, though still hurting, and rumbled on while trying to continue enjoying the experience.  I was very thankful that I knew most of the course very well so I knew what to expect.

The course passed just a few blocks south of my home building, through the streets of my neighborhood where I've run countless times.  During the marathon it was so packed with spectators that it was barely recognizable.  Runners all around me were starting to slow down and a lot of people were walking, so I started weaving a little bit. 

I saw Adam again at about miles 13.5 and 16.5.  He asked me if I was doing okay.  I was hurting but I told him that I was okay, more for myself than for him.  I told myself that I had less than 10 miles to go, and surprisingly it didn't scare me.

As I approached mile 18, I started looking around frantically for Erin, who I knew was working the mile 18 aid station.  After not seeing any other friends at the points that they indicated they were stationed along the course, it was such a welcome surprise when I did see her.  She jumped in and ran with me for a minute or so and asked how I was doing.  Almost before she finished asking, I blurted out, "My groin hurts."  It was the first time that I'd verbally acknowledged the pain.  But she told me that I looked strong and that made me feel a little better.

Mile 19, through the Pilsen neighborhood (a traditionally Mexican neighborhood), was incredible.  There was so much crowd support and so many people offering us fruit and candy and drinks.  A lot of people were waving Mexican flags and they were cheering especially loudly for any Mexican runners.

Then, as I approached mile 20, I kept thinking about all the comments of the 20-mile marker being the proverbial halfway point in the marathon, the last 6.2 miles being a death march, and that there was a reason that Hal Higdon's training program doesn't go above 20 miles.  I also started thinking that I only had 10K to go, which was just two loops around a 5K route that I do in training.  I was still taking walk breaks to try to relieve my groin pain, but it began to hurt more to walk than it did to run.  Plus, when I did walk it was getting tougher and tougher to resume running afterwards.  At that point I tried to minimalize my walking as much as possible.

I saw Adam at mile 22 and felt better.  The course was moving through Chinatown and also through the adjacent neighborhoods, including the neighborhood in which I used to live, prior to where I now live.  Once again the familiarity was nice.  I had two coworkers who had said they'd be near mile 24.  As I approached I was wanting to take a walk break, but I didn't want them to see me walking.  So I forced myself to keep running.  As it turned out, I didn't see either of them.  As soon as I was far enough away to be certain that I wasn't going to see them, I dropped down to a walk.

(This also reminded me of one of the emcees at the start of the race, who had jovially announced to us, "Remember, everyone.  It doesn't matter how long it takes you to run the marathon. What matters is how good you look doing it!")

The last two miles were pretty blurry.  The final stretch of the course includes a straight shot from 35th Street to Roosevelt Road (12th Street), and having once lived at 31st Street I knew the roads very well.  I knew that I would see Adam again around 14th Street and I kept trying to challenge myself to go as long as possible without walking.  It was around there that he took this picture of me.  I look much more energetic than I was feeling at the time (it's a good thing that pictures only require a moment to take).

The guy in the grey shirt to the right of me looks like he is pumping his fist for me. 
Pure coincidence.

Up the hill at Roosevelt and around the corner, and there was the finish line.  Wow.  All along I thought that I would start crying as soon as I saw the finish line.  But I actually smiled for my finish line picture.  It wasn't until I got my space blanket and medal that I started crying, to the point where some of the volunteers asked if I was okay.  Even though I was in so much pain, I smiled through my tears and told them that I was doing great.

Beyond finishing my first marathon, I also look happy here because this was the first time I got to sit down afterwards!

My official time was 5:27:33, which was much, much slower than I had hoped.  But given how much I was hurting for most of the race, I am simply happy to have finished.

I am already looking forward to running the marathon again when I'm not battling injury.  Or at least when I'm battling less-prevalent injury.  (Is it bad to already be contemplating a "revenge" marathon within just a few hours of crossing the finish line of your first marathon?!?)

I am also more thankful than ever for the incredible crowd support at the Chicago Marathon, which made much more of a difference than I had ever imagined possible.   A heartfelt thank you, once again, to everyone that has supported me during this journey to complete my first marathon.  And very, very, VERY special thanks go out to Adam for transporting me in the early morning, then strategically following me all over the city for half of the day (and also for dealing with my raging sobs of pain immediately after the race). 

For years, and even as recently as a few weeks ago, I thought that running 26.2 miles was insurmountable.  Yet, despite the injuries, there was never a point during the marathon yesterday where I thought that I couldn't finish it.  I had been warned about thinking too much too early about the miles ahead of you during the race.  But even when I did, it truly never fazed me.  I am realizing now, more than ever, that THAT - the mental capacity for running very long distances - is truly what marathon training is all about.

Through this point, the overview of my blog has been "My journey to become a marathoner."  Completing a marathon, particularly the Chicago Marathon, has been a goal of mine for well over a decade.  So it wasn't until very recently that I started allowing myself to contemplate what my new blog overview would be after actually completing the journey.

Now that I have achieved this goal, I still don't know for sure what the new blog overview will be.  But it sure will be fun to figure it out.   =)


  1. Wow! Awesome marathon story. The fact that you gutted it out and ran through all of that pain to finish is inspiring. Good job on taking the early miles slowly. I need to learn a lesson from you! Take some time off to get really healed before you try your "revenge marathon" or any marathon for that matter - you've earned a break! Congrats!

  2. Remember Edzo's quote? When you have a chance to compete for that Stanley Cup you do WHATEVER IT TAKES to play. You're a hockey did whatever it took to compete, overcoming significant pain along the way. That's a champion's mentality !!!

  3. You are amazing! I'm so proud of you!!!!! I envy your courage and strength.

  4. CONGRATS!!!! You did it! :) The spectators in Chicago really are what make the marathon so awesome!! Great job, marathoner!!!

  5. HUGE HUGE HUGE Congrats to you!!!

    Even with that snafu in the morning you still had an amazing race! Its really funny you mention running because you didnt want your coworkers to see you walking. We would run when we saw the course photographers so our photos would be of us running (plus i was trying to get Luiz to run a bit more hehe)

    You flew by us around mile 18-20. I didnt see you then, but I just saw it on our splits page :)

    Im sooo happy you were able to push through the pain and finish strong. Take some time to recover and youll be good as new in no time :)

  6. Congrats to you!!! Sounds like you had a great race! :)

  7. Congratulations!!! I'm so proud of you, too!!! Way to go, achieving such a long-held goal! That's awesome.

  8. Great job on your first marathon! Don't fret about the time. I've run 3 now and each has been 30 minutes slower than I trained for. It's not about the will and determination to overcome fatigue. You learn to do that in training. It's about battling through real pain and hopeless as you try to drag your body through more than it's truly made to do without, as my favorite sign said, "channelling your inner badass".

    And no you're not crazy for contemplating another. Many of us are because you know you can do better.

    Great job, fellow marathoner!

  9. If looking good at mile 25 is winning the race, then YOU WON! You look better at mile 25 than i did at 15, haha. Remember, this whole week is all about you now - so enjoy it! (better than birthdays, right???) Not everyone can run a marathon. That makes us all elites! :D

    1. Ginger, I would adjust your second to last sentence to say this..."VERY FEW PEOPLE can run a marathon." To most of us the idea of it is too terrifying to even contemplate. All of you who have done so should be EXCEPTIONALLY proud of your efforts.

  10. CONGRATULATIONS!!! You are so so so amazing and inspirational. You finished. You conquered a goal that has been floating around in your mind for years and years. You are a MARATHONER <-- something that very few people are able to say. I'm a proud blogger friend :) You've become a great runner and you will only get better!

    I sense a revenge marathon in the future ;)

  11. Great story and CONGRATS on finishing. There could always be another marathon to kick butt at.

  12. Congratulations marathoner!!!! What a great should be so proud of what you accomplished yesterday! You did it!!!!

  13. Way to go, Emily! You are a marathoner - how impressive is that?!?!? I'm so sorry that it was painful for you, but good for you for sticking through it and finishing. Quite an accomplishment! Now, make sure you take care of yourself and recover.

  14. Nice job at finishing Em! That was so inspiring to hear that despite all the pain you still made it out smiling AND crossed the finish line. You did INCREDIBLE for this being your first time!!! By the way, Venkat was literally only a few mins behind you, you guys have extremely similar times! I loved your story about the Boystown and Pilsen cheers. So cute how they were giving out fruit and candy! No poor little cannolis I take it. :) How fun that you get to think of a new angle to your blog, looking forward to hearing your ideas.

  15. You ran an awesome race! I've loved following your journey and I loved reading about every step of your race. You are dead on that it is so mental. And you are mentally tough!

    I'm glad you aren't getting yourself down about the time. (You finished 10 minutes faster than my first marathon!) Marathon running is really about the experience, especially the first one. I'm so happy for you! Huge congrats!*

  16. Congrats, Marathoner!!! You did it! You finished, and through that silly groin pain! I am so proud of you. You ran a smart race. I love that you were familiar with where you were, and used that to energize you. And your "running for your spectators" strategy totally cracks me up... because I do the same thing.

    You look so strong in the pics, you would never guess your groin was bothering you! And I don't think it's too early to plan your revenge race! :) :) :)

    Huge congrats and hugs! Heal up! :)

  17. Found your blog through ArmyAmy's. Congrats on finishing the Chicago Marathon! That's a huge accomplishment and whatever your time was, be proud.

  18. You ran a great race on Sunday! You looked so strong the whole way. Mental toughness, you've got it.

    Now, rest up so we can run together some more before you tackle marathon #2 :-)

  19. Your blog has enabaled us to experience what running a marathon is all about. We are extremely proud of your achievements and are excited to share the experiences with you. Love Sue & Lou