On Saturday I walked around Chicago with nerves in my belly. I wasn’t worried about anything in particular, rather I was consumed by a cloud of nervousness. I suppose I should know this about myself by now- my husband surely does- the day before a race I get quiet, isolate myself, and often feel nauseous.
During this time I was not concerned about covering the distance or the dull ache in my legs that would inevitably arise at mile 23. My nerves were actually a candy-coated form of childlike impatience. The reality is that after over four months of training I didn’t want to wait any longer. I just wanted to run my race. Similar to how Veruka Salt whined to her father in Willy Wonka I begged Owen, “Make time go faster!”
On Sunday I awoke at 4:15 am (alarm set for 5:30) to a mixture of nervous excitement; after 20 weeks of training and countless miles TODAY I would run 26.2 miles as hard and as fast as my body would allow. The wait was finally over.
Upon walking out of my hotel I was greeted with a novel experience. Guided by moonlight thousands of men and women quietly weaved their way through the streets of downtown Chicago towards the starting line in Grant Park. I took a moment to appreciate how a single event transformed 40,000 strangers into one unified zombie herd with the same purpose: to run 26.2 miles. I smirked to myself, fell in line and followed the masses.
After reviewing various factors I created my race plan. My general goal was to maintain a 7:25- 7:35 pace (goal time of about 3:16) for as long as humanly possible. I also told myself that under NO circumstances would I run sub-7 minute paces as I know that pace is currently an unrealistic pace given my training and could risk “bonking” at mile 20 if I went too fast. I also planned on using biofeedback (i.e. listening to my breath and body, did my legs feel heavy/light, etc) to help guide my pace throughout the race.
In lieu of a traditional race recap I will break down the rest of the race into bullet point of key moments and memories from the race. Enjoy!
The Starting Line thru Mile 7
- I stood at the starting line and reminded myself – “All the hard work is done. All that’s left to do is run- and smile. Fifty degrees and not a cloud in the sky. Today is the perfect day to marathon!!”
- ALWAYS HAVE A PLAN B: My Garmin didn’t accurately pick up my pace (due to the high rise buildings!) throughout a third of the course so I went to plan B and focused on A) biofeedback/how my lungs and legs felt and B) running to my goal heart rate beats per minute (BPM).
- Heart rate training is more accurate way of reading how hard a runner’s body is working than running to a specific pace. My goal HR for the marathon was 160; so I clocked early miles between 155-158 BPM. Being forced to use plan B/ run to HR worked to my advantage during Chicago. I was able to maintain a faster pace at a lower heart rate than I ever anticipated. Had I stayed within my goal pace (7:25-7:35) I wouldn’t have maximized my running potential on race day. Leave nothing left in the tank, right?!
- The course zigzags up and down the streets of Chicago so you are able to see your loved ones more than once! I saw Owen at miles 1.5, 3, 7 and 21! He still tells me that he “wins” because he was able to travel around Chicago faster that I am :).
- Hamstring cramping and side stitch- Around mile 5 I started to get a pain in my right hamstring. This was immediately followed by a small side-stitch. I started to panic that I was blowing up on mile 5. Negative thoughts are not welcome marathon day. I told myself, “This is MY day. MY race. CTFD and breath.” I slightly slowed my pace, focused on “left foot, right foot, repeat” mentality and it worked itself out. (phew!!)
- Mile 1-7 paces: 6:55, 6:53, 7:00, 7:04, 7:11, 7:16, 7:21
Miles 8-13: Taking Back Control
- Seeing Owen, my cousin and his girlfriend (Jamie and Ashley) at mile 7 was a relief! Their presence energized me for the next five miles!!!
- I flew through these miles as the course took runners through the awesome crowds of Lake View East, Lincoln Park and Old Town! The music, the crowds, the energy was perfection! I was gliding!
- Paces: 7:16, 7:26, 7:21, 7:13, 7:14, 6:52 (while the paces are faster than my initial goal pace, my HR stayed within the goal range, so I think these are spot-on where they should be!)
Miles 14-21: “Just make it to Owen, mile 21”
- In many ways these miles were tougher than anticipated. I focused my thoughts on finding a rhythm, gliding along and feeding off the the crowd’s energy.
- I saw a friend from college (who I haven’t seen in nearly a decade- shout out to Ali DeKnight Young) spectating!
- Owen (my hubs) planned on meeting me at in Chinatown at mile 21. I found myself thinking, “Just make it to Owen. You get to see him at 21. Then it’s less than a 10k.”
- The crowds-I feed off of the crowd’s energy; when they are singing and cheering so am I. In many of these miles the crowds were lighter, so during these parts I was forced to retreat inside myself and self-propel.
- Paces: 7:03, 7:20, 7:26, 7:20, 7:25, 7:20, 7:13, 7:33 (The bulk miles of the race at my goal pace.)
Miles 22-26: Mantras every mile.
- Does it hurt? People often ask me- since you run relatively fast, does it still hurt? My answer is simple and instantaneous: HELL YES IT HURTS! This doesn’t come easy to me!!! I don’t think it would feel as rewarding as it does if it did come easily. By this time in the race the ball of my left foot felt raw, my knees were on fire and my hip flexors made my womanly womb ache! I’ll say it again- HELL YES IT HURTS. Preparing yourself for the hurt, accepting it and pushing through that pain is part of the game my friends.
- Every step I took was fueled by one mantra or another: You are a lean, mean red-headed running machine; There is no race tomorrow; NEVER STOP RUNNING; It’s less than a 5k left, less than your house to the YMCA. 15 minutes left!!! 3 laps around the track. 2 laps. one lap.
- A sweet surprise: At mile 24 the 3:15 pace group passed me and I grinned ear to ear. I figured that they were far ahead of me by this point, so this was a sweet surprise! I let them go ahead, held on to dear life as the pain set in, and smiled- I was much closer to 3:15 than anticipated! (future goal maybe ;))
- Paces: 7:18, 7:25, 7:39, 7:46, 8:00
Mile 26.2 and Beyond
- My official marathon time is 3:16:23 and I am nothing but utterly happy with this time, the day and my race experience!!!! Wahoo!! In a way it feels surreal- did I really run that pace?? Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I’d ever run a marathon, qualify for Boston or run a sub-3:20. It’s starting to feel like anything is possible!!
- At the same time I know that I have even more to give! I feel it in my bones, I can race better and run faster! I have more to give to this distance and this sport!! 🙂
- Life is a lot more enjoyable when you focus on the possibilities, the endless possibilities.
- 2.5 hrs before the race began I ate a banana and three small fig bars and drank a bottle of water. I don’t like to have a lot of food in my belly and find that I run best having a have your meal the night before and a lighter meal right before a race.
- I consumed four black cherry Clifs shot blocks (Mile 4.5, 9, 14, and 20) on the run.
- I also drank water OR Gatorade at every single water stop. I rotated water/Gatorade at each stop. At the first stop I would have Gatorade and water at the next water. I just went with whatever my body wanted at that time. The last thing I wanted to do is deal with de hydration issues during the race so I made sure to grab a cup each time.
Marathons are a true test of one’s physical stamina and mental strength. Chicago forced me to dig deep and self propel. In many ways I tapped into a hidden reservoir of strength deep within myself; the part of myself that ignores what my body was saying and just kept running!
Much like life (and parenting) that has its ups and downs, it’s stresses and triggers, a marathon has the power to beat you down and make you question everything you once thought about yourself. Like a tantruming toddler in a toy store, a marathon is relentless its quest to break you down That is why you train for months and months. That is why you log the miles. Your mind needs to believe, no- know that your body is capable of more when the pain sets in.
Running a marathon is so much more than covering 26.2 miles in a few hours. Logging the miles is the easy part. Racing a marathon is about believing in yourself, your strength and your endless possibilities. Once you can do that you’ll be unstoppable.
What’s next?? A full week off running to rest and recover, a month of easy running then ON TO BOSTON 2015!