aka. The Largest Birthday Party I’ve Ever Been To.
Ok. I’ve been back from Chicagoland for
two three days now and have yet to write a race report. Perhaps I’m still letting it settle in. Perhaps I’m trying to get back in work mode. Perhaps it’s because I’m trying to celebrate my birthday with my boyfriend.
Ok. So it’s all of those reasons. I suppose it’s time to give the people what they want. Just a side note to you readers—this is a long post. So sit back, and read at your leisure, and follow along with me as I tell you the tale of my first (and definitely not my last) marathon experience.
I left work on Friday afternoon after getting many farewell hugs and well wishes from my editors.
“You’re gonna do awesome! Have fun!”
I think my response of the day was, “Here’s hoping!”
I mean, what does one say to that, anyway? “Flippin right, I’ll do awesome! Psshh.” Incorrect. At least, I don’t say those things. Instead I was taking all of these well wishes with me in hopes that I would perform somewhat decent on my first 26.2 jaunt through the Windy City.
I arrived at the airport and got my ticket quite swiftly. What to do for an hour and a half? Under normal circumstances, I would have gone and sat at a bar. But this was different. This was a marathon. I wasn’t going to drink. Right?
Incorrect, again. What’s one glass of wine with Claire gonna do? Afterall, my race was on Sunday. NOT Saturday. So I was free to have a glass of wine.
Claire arrived and we toasted and imbibed! Oh. Hello, drunk. I forgot that tapering did this to me. My tolerance indeed dropped during marathon training. Oh, well. I still had a grand time. Claire showed me photos of her Smuttynose Marathon and gave me some great tips/pointers for Sunday’s race.
“Wear your medal everywhere. People will be so nice to you.”
“I’m really excited for you. Stop looking like you’re going to barf.”
Then we set off for our respective flights (she was making a stop in St. Louis) and were on our way.
I got to Chicago and hopped on the blue line headed to my destination where best friend Jason would pick me up. After a train mishap, I met up with him and we made our way to his house where Amber was making pizza and appetizers in preparation for our arrival. Delicious food, and fabulous catching up were had by all. And Ellie kitty even managed to give me a head massage. Such a nice treat before a big race.
For dinner, Amber set us up with reservations at Topolobampo. Holy cow. I’ll have to write a separate post for that. Bayless knows his shite. I’ll leave it at that. After it was home to bed as Amber and I were headed out to the lake the next morning to do an early morning shakeout run.
Saturday: The Longest Day in Existence.
A BEAUTIFUL day in Chicago, Amber and I went to Lake Michigan to run a couple miles and then head to the Farmer’s Market where we picked up produce for the pasta dinner I was preparing that evening. The run was stunning. Immediately after, I texted Christopher to tell him that I was ready, indeed. The weather was perfect and there was a cool breeze in the air. I was hoping that Sunday’s conditions would be similar.
After Farmer’s Market funtivities, we grabbed lunch, picked up Jason, and set off to McCormick Place to pick up my bib.
Oh, McCormick. You monstrosity, you. The last time I made an appearance at the mega convention center was back in May for the National Restaurant Association show, the largest trade show in our industry. It’s large enough to give one a large headache. Hoping to make this a fast trip, Amber dropped Jason and I off at the entrance, and we made our way through the hoards of marathoners to get my bib. It ended up being rather painless, minus me dropping my phone on the escalator and making some loud Miss Piggy-like noise.
In and out, back to the house. Time to make a pasta dinner filled with acorn squash, a sauteed mushroom medley, shrimp and sage, perfect pre-race meal. Not to mention our artisan bread with extra virgin olive oil/balsamic vinegar.
After dinner, I sat on the couch in a far-off stare. My nerves had started to creep in. I felt my stomach get in knots. ‘Oh, crap. I actually have to do this tomorrow,’ I thought. Could I handle the pain? I had visions of His Lordship sitting me down saying, “Miles 18 to 22 are going to REALLY hurt.” I would much rather have visions of sugarplums, dancing in my head. Not the case the night before a marathon. I promptly went to bed at 9:30 pm, to ensure that I got at least 7 hours of sleep.
Sunday: RACE DAY.
Only 4:15 am and I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Whoops. I got up, made coffee, and sat in the kitchen playing with Ellie kitty as she was giving me huge amounts of attention. Pretty great way to keep me occupied for 45 minutes. Amber soon arose, gathered her posters, coffee, and the like, and we departed to the nearby train station while Jason slept to rid of his sickness (poor guy caught the nasty cold that’s been going around the last week).
Now, Amber and Jason have been my best friends for a long time—over a decade—so they know my mannerisms and can read me like a book. It was at the station that Amber saw my nervousness, so she quickly started to distract me with things like “talking” and “asking questions” and “singing the Jamaican bobsled song from Cool Runnings.” Hey, it worked. Throughout the whole ride in, we picked up several runners until the point where it was completely packed. But we made it with 40 minutes until race time. And I was so happy to be there earlier than planned. I made my way over to Grant Park, said farewell to Amber, and found my corral.
Holy. Crap. 45,000 people? This place was a madhouse. I kept thinking things to myself to make the time go by faster.
‘It’s my birthday.’
‘Hey, look at those helicopters up there taping this!’
‘Dude, this guy next to me is like 9 feet tall…’
‘…the fastest and the fastest of Jamaica sprintahs!…’
7:15 and time for the National Anthem, brought to you by the “dude who sings at all of the Blackhawks games..he’s like a Chicago celebrity,” followed by the wheelchair racers, and then a 10 minute lag time until our official start. Really, it was 10 more minutes of anxiety. The girl next to me started to stretch.
‘Oh. Balls. I didn’t do a good enough job of stretching.’
This, my friends, is also called foreshadowing to mile 15. But we’ll get to that in a moment.
Guns went off, and so did we…er…sort of. With the amount of people, I didn’t technically get across the start until 7:40. And let me tell you, it was slow moving. Trying to get settled into pace was nearly impossible. We made our way through the tunnel (but not to worry—several, SEVERAL men lined up on the walls to take their first leak), and around the first few corners that were miles 1 and 2. I remember looking down at my Garmin at the first turn when I came to a stop. My pace said 10:50. Christ. Off to a grrrrreat start.
Side note: At mile 1 I saw the female from Friday night’s makeout couple. She was holding a kid. Seemed appropriate.
I finally seemed to get into my pace at mile 2 – around Jackson Blvd. From here, I knew it would be a climb to the north part of Chicago before we turned around. This would turn out to be my 10k.
Splits: 5k (3.1 miles) 9:10 pace
10k (6.2 miles) 8:58 pace (a PR for my 10k races)
I made my way up through Lincoln Park (hey! I was there yesterday!) and up to Lakeview East. It wasn’t until mile 7 where I picked up water. At this point I needed it. The sun was starting to heat up, and I was feelin it. Time for a Gu, a bit of water, and continue on with the 4 hour pace group.
We turned around and made our way south. It was at mile 9 (passed the 15K with a 9:05 pace) where I saw a familiar face in a black/green Boston Marathon jacket. I pointed. Claire shouted, “AAAABBBBEEEEE!!!!!!! KKKKIIIIILLLLLLLLLLLLL IIIIIITTTTTT!!!!!!!!!!!!” I threw my fist in the air and charged on, thinking to myself, ‘Flippin right! I’m running a marathon!’
The crowds started to thicken in Old Town, with several college kids and 20-somethings cheering on their friends. Lots of booze-ladened signs and posters flying about. Also posters including Chuck Norris. Making our way toward River North we passed through these absolutely beautiful streets that were lined with fall foliage. The colors that reflected off from the sunlight were stunning—quite similar to running through the Mall in Central Park. More aid stations, more water, and a bit of Gatorade. Why not? Also, dump that water down my back. Ooh! That gave me a jolt. I needed that. Over the bridge and hooking a right, making our way through the West Loop. Or as I referred to it as “No Man’s Land,” as the buildings started to disperse and it was very family oriented (or at least it seemed to be).
Splits: 20K 9:33 pace
Half 9:43 pace
I felt myself trying to hang onto the 4 hour mile group. And at this point, the crowd around me seemed to be a jumble of 4:00, 4:15, and even 3:55 pacers.
Coming through mile 15. Then suddenly. It hit!
(Please read that with a Burl Ives voice. Think the snowstorm from the claymation hit Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.)
A huge spasm in my right hip. BAM. Like a bolt of lightning. I slowed down a bit. Tried to massage it out as I ran. Nope. That didn’t do the trick. I told myself that I would stop at the next aid station to walk it out, stretch, and eat some more Gu’s. What happened? Was it because I didn’t stretch well? Are my shoes too old? Probably a combination of the two. I tried to push forward. It hurt. Badly. Miles 16-20 were no picnic.
Splits: 25K (15.5 miles) 10:34 pace (oof)
30K (18.6 miles) 10:55 pace (OW)
We made our way through the Medical Village and Pilsen. The sun had reached the 11:00 hour and it was blazing. There wasn’t much shade to keep everyone cool. Chicago citizens lined the streets, many of them offering water, pretzels, and even Twizzlers. It was really cool to see five-year-old kids passing out candy to runners saying, “YOU’RE ALMOST THERE!” Very touching, indeed.
Miles 20-24…I had slowed to a complete walk. I was stopping to stretch, passed the kind folks at mile 21 that were passing out beer, and started limping at around mile 23. I was in severe pain. I thought about how this was my first marathon. I was so close to the finish. I didn’t even care if I had to walk through the finish with a time of 5:30. I wanted my medal.
Splits: 35K (21.7 miles) 13:25 pace (WOOF)
40K (24.8 miles) 14:56 pace (Lady Limps-a-Lot)
Chinatown was cool. I even enjoyed the men wearing the colorful dragon costumes. And the crowds thickened. People were shouting, “ALMOST THERE! YOU’RE ALMOST AT THE FINISH!” I knew that. We were so close, I could taste it. And I was limping. A lot. My right leg had completely shut down. I desperately wanted to sit. It was hot. People were starting to taper off. And I wasn’t the only one walking at that point. The 4:30 pacers flew by me. I started to tear up. I was so close to finishing with the 4:00 pacers and I blew it.
It was at mile 25.5 where a woman from Mexico slowed to a walk beside me. I could see her looking at me through the corner of my eye. Right then she took a hold of my right arm. “Let’s go!,” she said. I nodded, and started at a slow jog. Good grief, I was in pain. She ran faster than I, but I kept her in my sights. Little did she know, she was going to get me through this race. I turned the corner and head up the only hill that was in the race. Mile 26. I saw my friend slow down to a walk. As I came up behind her, I grabbed her arm. “Come on! Let’s go!” She started running again.
I rounded the corner and saw the most beautiful finish I had ever seen. The crowd was enormous and everyone was shouting so loud that no amount of music could drown them out. I started to tear up. My first marathon was coming to a close. I crossed the finish, tears streaming down my face, and threw my fist in the air. Done. 4:47:51. A lot later than I anticipated, however I was limping a lot at that point. A volunteer placed the medal around my neck. “Congratulations!” she said. Thank you, kind lady.
Gatorade, water, bananas, a goody bag of Clif bars, and a free beer. I walked to the exit of the park. It was time to find Amber at our meeting spot. Unfortunately for her, it took me about 20 minutes to hobble my way over there. She greeted me with flowers, I threw my arms around her and we both cried. “I’mmmmm innn sooo mucchh paaainnn!!!! SNIFF” It didn’t matter at this point. I didn’t care about hobbling through the subway and sitting on a train for 30 minutes to return home. I called Christopher to tell him I was done, and that I had injured myself (what is it about my first big races where I have to injure myself, anyway?), and that I was going to eat a big, fat cheeseburger and sip Maker’s Mark this afternoon. I called my parents and gave them the news, and returned the umpteenth text messages I received while I was racing.
Walking back to the Hacker Household, I told Amber my experience, all while saying thank you to a passer-by in a car who yelled out “congratulations!” Seriously. Citizens of Chicago rock. Jason greeted me with a huge hug and a congrats. And let’s not forget the best shower of my life which featured a glass of wine.
Marathons hurt. You put yourself through 26.2 grueling miles and push yourself through the limit. I’m glad that I finished. That was my number one goal. I took a lot of note taking through those miles, and I’m excited to do it again. And let’s be honest. Having 45,000 people run on your birthday with you? Well that’s just fantastic.
Louisville, get ready. I’m coming for you.