Friday, October 23, 2015

Chicago Marathon Race Recap - Day 2 RACE DAY

   The day started at 5:30 AM. The race wasn't until 8:00, but I wanted to start heading down to the start line at 6:30.  Considering how crazy the expo was, I didn't know what chaos would lie ahead at the start line, and I wanted to get down there with a ton of time. The last thing I wanted to do was get lost wandering around Chicago and not make it to our corral before it closed (about 20 minutes before the race start). I knew the hotel was a little less than a mile from the start line and it was a straight shot down Michigan Avenue, but knowing me, I'd still get us lost.


   Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. The race start truly was a straight shot down Michigan and we got there around 6:45. Like the expo, it was huge. Runners and spectators were everywhere. We had to go into a pre-determined gate (based on your bib number) to get to our corral, and we had to go through security at the gate. That was a new one for me. I guess I should have expected it after the Boston Marathon bombings, but it kind of shocked me...and made me sad. 
   After a few photos and an obligatory stop at the porta-potty, Dudley and I headed to our corral. The Chicago Marathon actually had two starting times.  The first wave started around 7:30.  This one was for the elites and corrals A-E.  Dudley and I were in corral F, so we were in front of the second wave. We got into our corral just as the National Anthem started. It was about then when I started getting emotional. The National Anthem gets me emotional anyway, however, there was something about being surrounded by 45,000 people who were all about to do something (dare I say) epic. And I was going to be a part of it!  How amazing was that? I actually got a little teary while waiting for the race to start.
   The Elites started right on time, and the earlier corrals soon after. Since my corral wasn't scheduled to start until 8:00, we had a few minutes to hang out and wait, but it didn't seem like "that" long. We moved through slowly through the streets of Chicago moving closer and closer to the starting line, until we heard "CORRAL F!  GO!"  And we were off.
  We ran through the skyscrapers of Chicago for the first few miles. This really threw me off because you know what doesn't work when surrounded by skyscrapers? My Garmin. I didn't even think about that! Of course, you're not going to get reception in downtown Chicago! I got a little more frustrated / stressed by this than I really should have been, but I was worried about getting caught up in the race and running too fast! That's the #1 mistake of first-time marathoners! And now I had no way of knowing how fast I was going! We tried to go off of Dudley's Garmin, which had better reception than mine did, but his was still wonky. Finally, we just forgot about our Garmins and tried to deduce our times by the clocks that were set up at every mile marker. While running a marathon and doing math at the same time is a little difficult, we were able to figure out we averaging about a 9:45-10:00 mile. Which actually was a little fast pace-wise for us in a marathon, but not too bad.
   This might be a good time to mention that I did actually have a plan for this race. This wasn't just a "go out and run for 26.2 miles and see how you do." No. I had a pace for every mile, which was why I was so freaked out when I couldn't get any reception for my Garmin. I can't work the plan if I didn't know my pace! I'm not going to break down every mile here (you're welcome), but the gist of the race plan was to start at a 10:00 /mile and speed up throughout the race and hopefully finish around 4:10-4:15.  Everything in my training supported this plan, and it was actually pretty conservative - so I thought.
   So, we were running through Chicago and things seem to be going OK, but I noticed that my legs weren't really waking up around mile 3 like they usually do. They still sort of felt heavy. They didn't hurt, but they definitely didn't feel as good as they have in recent training runs. Everything else felt good though, so I didn't really think too much about it.
   However, mile 6 came along, and the thought of how my legs felt popped up in my mind again. They still felt more tired than they should have at this point in the race. Again, I tried not to focus too much on this, because if I did, I'd start to panic and it was WAY too early to panic. Unfortunately, this is about when it started getting hot as well. Not crazy hot - it was perfect if you were a spectator (mid to upper 70's with bright blue sky) - but definitely hotter than I like as a runner.
   Mile 8 was the first time that I really felt like I might be in trouble with the race. We were still keeping the pace OK, but it was a lot harder than it should have been. I tried to distract myself by paying attention to the spectators. They were AMAZING and so enthusiastic. In some places they were 3-4 people deep. How crazy is that? Such a huge crowd to watch strangers run by! It was fantastic! They were a great distraction until about Mile 13, when I officially knew I was in deep s**t because I was only half-way there and I wanted to die. I had no idea how I was going to run another 13 miles. (Sidebar: When we crossed the 13.1 mile marker, the runner behind me yelled "WHOA!! WE'RE HALFWAY THERE!!" To which I responded "WHOA! LIVIN' ON A PRAYER!" This exchange made me chuckle because you KNOW that the guy was waiting his entire race to yell that. I was also surprised because I pretty much was the only person who responded to him. I mean, isn't that the automatic response to someone yelling that? How was I the only one?)
   Without going into detail - miles 14-20 were just awful. Miles 16-17 were the worst, but they all sucked pretty bad. Everything was starting to hurt, and I couldn't keep my pace. I was also getting really hot. I wasn't cramping, Thank God, but I was really having a hard time picking up my feet. The worst part was that Dudley was having a GREAT race, but he wouldn't leave me. Though I'm glad he didn't, I wanted him to just go on because I felt like I was holding him up.  He was trying to do that tough love of "I know you can do this! I've trained with you!  You can do this!" But that only upset me more because I KNEW I could do it! I'm trained! I was better than this!! But my body just didn't want to run anymore. Though I didn't actually start to cry, I wanted to. Then some nice runner came by and gave me gummy bears and I felt better. I love gummy bears. Thank you nice stranger!!
   Finally around mile 23, things turned a corner.  I still hurt, but I knew I would finish. Granted, it was way past my expected time, but I would finish. We slowly jogged, as there was no "running" now - it was a jog, past the mile markers.  Mile 23.... Mile 24... Mile 25...  I had promised myself that I wasn't going to walk at all after mile 25, even for water stops. I was kind of regretting that decision because right when you hit the 800 meter mark there is a hill. Granted, it's the ONLY hill on the course, but it's still a hill. Kind of mean for the race organizers to throw a hill in right there after 24 miles of flat, but they did. But we made it up and then hit the turn for home. The finish line. We did it! Final time: 4:41:16.
   Yes, this post would be much more effective if I actually had the photo of Dudley and I crossing the finish together hand-in-hand, however MarathonFoto somehow didn't get a photo of us together. What is up with that?!! There are 20 photographers at the finish and not one of them got a photo of the couple holding hands?!  REALLY?  So I didn't buy them. Oh well. We did see a proposal at the finish line. That was kind of neat.
   After the race, Dudley and I made a beeline to the post-race massage tables. Well, we sat down for about 15 minutes THEN we went to the massage tables. I generally don't even visit these tables because the lines always seem too long, however, the line here wasn't that long. With good reason - Chicago had 275 massage therapists working!! CRAZY! They were like a machine! They got the runners in there FAST. Thank you Chicago for providing this service and doing it so well. The massage felt great and was exactly what we needed post-race. We then went and hung out in Grant Park with the 45,000 other runners and their families. Everyone was so happy and it was a perfect day to sit down and enjoy the atmosphere. After a while, we headed back to the hotel, cleaned up and went back to the park to take a photo at the Bean. Because that's what you do in Chicago. Additionally, the medal had the Bean on it! We HAD to get a photo at the Bean!


My first marathon medal!!  


With our Bean medals at the Bean!

   To wrap up - the race was amazing. If you only want to do one marathon in your life, Chicago is a good one to do. Everything it BIG. The expo, the crowd, the participants...it's all a huge deal and quite the experience. The only thing I would change about the weekend would be to have flown in on Thursday, hit the expo early on Friday and then rested all day Saturday before running on Sunday. Looking back, I think the main issue my run suffered was just because I was tired from work and travel. That and the weather, but mostly exhaustion. But even though I wasn't happy with my time, I still had a wonderful experience. Thank you, Chicago! I'll be back...maybe even to race again.
   Oh - just in case anyone was wondering- I'm racing the Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday. As in two days. We went to the expo today. I'll write more on that next week if I can still function!