Full Marathon Recap (it’s a long one!)

Hi friends!

Writing this whilst watching the Cubs – I love living so close to Wrigley – I can actually hear the roar of the crowd through my windows!

I’ve waited to write this post because I want to get everything right. And I want to collect all of my impressions from yesterday. So forgive me if it’s overly detailed and maybe even boring – I’d understand if you didn’t read through the whole thing!

I’ll start by checking in with where I am right now: sore and on the couch. More sore than I’d expected, and in different places – like my shins (they never hurt) and my left quad. Comically, where am I not sore? My tushie, the source of my major injury this summer!! I had lofty plans of going to a spinning class tomorrow and yoga on Wednesday to try to flush out my legs..not giving up on the plan but not so sure it’ll come to fruition!

Now the recap. 🙂

When last I wrote I had gotten all of my gear at the race expo and was attempting to “rest” for the remainder of the day – easier said than done. But I did my best and watched a lot of tv and read a lot of running articles. I took my trusty Tylenol and I got some sleep Saturday night. Sunday morning I felt really calm, for the most part, and prepared. The only hiccup was taking a cab to the starting area – my freighbor had suggested a cab over the L but with so many road closures the cabbie really didn’t know the best way to Grant Park. We ended up coming within maybe 5 blocks of the start area and I just hopped out – if I had taken the L I would have gotten just a little closer but probably with less stress. One thing I forgot to tell my family – on Friday night we ate at the second installment of an Italian restaurant; in the cab on my way over I passed the original one. It felt like a good sign!

I got to Grant Park and everything was just as organized as what everyone said – from start to finish this was an exceptionally well organized event. I got through the security check and the gear check (both of which I thought would take a long time; neither of which ultimately did) and waited just a little to use the porta potty (clean enough, with hand sanitizer stations right outside – a relief!). I ate a UCAN nutrition bar and took my anti-inflammatory. Then I walked over to my start corral and to the righthand side, which is where I always run. I think it’s because in school I always sat on the righthand side of the classroom!

Anyway at this point a woman in my marathon training group (Z) called to find me. She’d been wanting to run with someone but I was hesitant to step up because I knew she was faster than I was. But she kinda didn’t have a choice because of everyone in our group, we were the only ones in the J corral. She emailed me earlier in the week and said she was having hip problems of her own (bursitis) and so she thought a slower pace would be good for her. We met up and…well…candidly, it was nice to have someone to chat with, but also a little unnerving. Right away she asked what pace I wanted to run at and I inwardly panicked – I really don’t have a pace; I run the best I can and at pretty much just one speed. I do have the fancy Garmin that tells me how fast or slow I’m going but I don’t really rely on it for that (I mostly use it to maintain my run/walk ratio). I told her I was just going to do what I could and that she should feel absolutely free to take off if I was going to slow, which is what I expected would happen.

I’d say I got to the corral by 7:30 and it closed at 7:45; our wave didn’t even start until 8am. Slowly we walked up towards the start line and it started to get real. I don’t think I was nervous – just excited and ready to get this thing over with. OMG – so we’re about to cross the start line – and some girl to the right of us actually falls on the tracker!! Luckily she was standing way to the right so there weren’t too many people behind her, plus we were in a slow corral so no one was ready to explode out of the gate – she got up pronto and laughed it off, but good lord that could have been a catastrophe!

Finally we were off! I thought my breathing would be weird and shaky since it usually is when I first start running but it felt fine. My legs didn’t feel quite as relaxed as I thought they would but they also calmed down eventually. So earlier I mentioned the Garmin – usually I think it’s accurate, more or less, but the race starts with a little tunnel action and that threw off the whole device – case in point, it said I’d run a mile when in actuality I’d barely gone half a mile. It also said my pace was wicked fast. It was kind of annoying to know right away that I couldn’t rely on the watch for distance, but since I really use it to ping me every time I need to run or walk, it wasn’t the worst thing to happen.

Anyway, all was fine and then Z turned to me and said her hip was killing her. And she was going to walk. And that’s the last time I saw her. Later I checked the official race results and she didn’t have any times listed. I felt terrible for her. Not only had she, like me, spent the entire summer training, yesterday was also her birthday! What a crummy way to commemorate it. Of course I also know that pain is pain, and to drop out in the first mile must have meant there was just zero way for her to finish, so obviously I think she made the right decision – I just felt awful for her.

But I had 25 miles to finish. 🙂 I kept going and I thought I’d be faster – everyone says that since Chicago is so flat, people go out really fast at the outset and struggle afterwards. I was just my usual slow but steady pace. I kept wishing I’d studied the map a bit closer – with the Garmin tracker so off, I didn’t really have a sense of where the next mile marker would be. I knew I’d told my family to set up at certain distances and I wanted to make sure I’d seen them.

Anyway, I’m running along and I see a guy in front of me who I think was in my group, D. But D looks like everyman, so I’m not totally sure it’s him. So I try running a little faster so that I can turn around and look at him – and when I do – somehow I look beyond him and see my family with my posters!! It was the BEST moment – I was so happy! AND the kicker is that D was there after all, and he thought I was getting all excited about seeing him! So that was funny and a total emotional boost.

I wrote about the Motigo app, where your friends/family can record cheers for you – I can’t recommend this app enough!!! I expect the company will start charging for the service because it is AWESOME. In the beginning of the run I really wanted to soak up the atmosphere so I didn’t have any music playing, but I did have my headphones in so that I could hear the cheers. Sure enough, right around mile 5 I thought I was hearing voices and realized it was my brother and sister in law with my first cheer! Soon after I heard one from my coworker and absolutely laughed out loud – the other runners around me must have thought I was nuts. In the end I had 21 cheers that played throughout the run and it was just the greatest thing to have that support and to hear so many messages and hilarious greetings from my friends and family. If you’re ever doing a distance event that Motigo supports, sign up for it and shamelessly ask for cheers – it’ll be awesome, I promise!

Anyway, I knew the next time I’d see any friends would be around mile 7.5, which is where the course comes closest to my house and my two neighbors would be there to greet me. The run continued to go well and I had a huge smile on my face when I saw them – one even made a poster just for me! This is the part of the course that takes runners through Boystown, which is known to pack in spectators and have awesome cheering support – definitely did not disappoint. I was feeling great.

I guess around mile 8 or 9 I decided to take a bathroom break and once again found a porta potty with plenty of toilet paper and hand sanitizer – really a girl can’t ask for more! That’s another thing about how well organized this race is – there were plenty of bathrooms and a TON of water/gatorade stations. I was really surprised by how many there were. The only only only slightly negative thing about the water stops is that by the time I got to them the ground was alternately sticky and slippery, so even if I wasn’t stopping for a drink I had to really slow down (haha, from my already slow pace!).

It was probably around this time that I also realized just how slowly I was going. To put it in perspective, my “A” goal was to finish in 5 hours, which would have meant running 11:45-minute miles. I honestly thought this was possible, based on my half marathon and 20-miler times. My “B” goal was to finish using 12-minute miles. It was around mile 8 or 9 that I realized I wasn’t even doing that. I wouldn’t say it bothered me but it just surprised me – I thought I’d go out too fast and would be super energized and would have to slow down in the end. That is exactly what happened, but any speed I had in the beginning was not nearly what I thought it would be. I definitely can’t blame the crowd – while there were 40,000+ runners with me, at no time did I feel cramped – and while the weather was warmer than expected, it was never TOO warm. It was, at times, windy, so maybe that factored in a bit, but I guess overall it was just nerves. Or maybe my little body knew to conserve whatever energy I had because I’d be needing it at the end!

Anyway, we got out of Boystown and the rest of what I’d consider the North side and wound up back downtown and I had the treat of seeing my family a second time – just as awesome as the first! Although – and I forgot to tell them this – it was during one of my walk breaks! I saw my sister in law take out her camera so I “ran” a little to at least make the thing look authentic and then returned to my precious minute of walking! Which kind of made me laugh. 🙂

My dad asked me afterwards if seeing the 13.1 sign made me feel good, like, hey! I’m halfway done! And I said – umm, no, not at all! When I crossed that sign all I could thing of was “hey…I’m only half way done…” I perked up around mile 14 when one of my work friends literally stepped into the course to make sure I saw her – totally boosted me up – and stayed somewhat uplifted through mile 16.5, where I saw my family for one last time. After that I knew we didn’t have any more sightings planned…the next 10 miles were up to me.

And I was definitely sore. Not my tushie and not my hip, but my right hamstring was just super tight. I kept trying to stretch it during my walk breaks but it just wasn’t getting any better. I thought maybe eating something would perk me up so I had another UCAN bar and it felt like sandpaper in my mouth. I had turned my music on back at mile 11, and while it did energize me a bit, even that wasn’t helping as much now. That’s pretty much when I knew my time had come. I never “hit the wall” in that I never felt like I couldn’t keep going – I just felt like I couldn’t keep running. My goal was to run 20 good miles and I caved at mile 18. I pulled to the side of the road and texted my mom to say I was going to walk it in and it’d probably be another two hours before I finished. At first I tried to maintain my 5:1 ratio, only doing 5 minutes of walking and 1 of running – but the thing is, I can walk really quickly and still find it pleasurable. My token one minute of walking was slow and painful. At first when I realized I’d be walking 8 miles it felt daunting, but I picked up my pace (at this point the Garmin was spot on – I continually held a sub-15-minute mile) and took off. And I passed a LOT of runners who were struggling.

By mile 20 I felt super confident, and moreso as I continued. I texted my mom one last time at mile 22 to let her know I had another hour to go and that I was going to finish – and I felt AWESOME. Yes I was tired and yes I had blisters but to have that mental security that I was coming home with a medal was just an awesome feeling. It was also humbling – I was passing out runners who looked miserable and were clearly injured, ones over on the side of the road trying to stretch out one way or another, or ones who were walking with some exaggerated limp  – my goal was just to finish, and I was going to reach it. I’m guessing a lot of the people I passed had other, more ambitious goals for the day.

The rest of the run is a bit of a blur; I just kept going! I drank a ton of water and had a little Gatorade and just kept walking past mile markers. Finally, once we were well past the 25 mile sign, I started to run – because it felt like the right thing to do! The way the race ends, you run uphill past the 26 mile marker and finish up the .2 with a bit of a downhill run, making a turn to the left. Seeing the finish arch was just…I know I keep saying awesome, but that’s what it was, awesome! I thought I’d cry like a nut when I crossed, but I didn’t – I just went through the chute and got my heat blanket (which I had zero use for because it was so warm; I just really wanted to feel what it was like to wear one!) and my medal and called my mom immediately and finally met up with my family. We took a bunch of pics of everyone and the posters they made and my parents brought me pink roses (reminiscent of all of my dance recitals!) and we walked back to their hotel and I got cleaned up and we had the Mexican food and margaritas that I always crave after a run…and that was it! I went home and reminisced a bit with my BFF and my freighbor and responded to a million wonderful texts and Facebook posts from my friends and family and went to bed.

Of course I’m not done yet!  Just a few more impressions to recap. First, the posters from all of the fans – some of them were just awesome! Of course my own family put together two super cute ones for me (one had a big Greek flag that was really noticeable, so that helped me for when I was trying to spot them AND won them a bunch of Greek fans when we ran through Greektown!), but there were a lot of other cute ones. Like these:

“I run marathons too!” (insert Netflix logo)

“Alison, this is REALLY boring!”

“If this were easy it’d be yo momma’s bed!”

“If the Cubs can make the playoffs you can totally run 26.2!”

My all-time favorite was “Oh hi Mark” – which is a reference to The Room, a brilliant cinematic achievement which you should go and watch this very moment if you haven’t already.

And there were many, many, many iterations of “You run better than the government!”

I’ve written at length about surprised I was at my utter lack of speed (full disclosure, I came in at 34,638 out of 37,182 runners who finished). My official time was 5 hours, 58 minutes – a far far cry from both my A and B goals. On the other hand, the last runner to finish did so in 7 hours, 29 minutes – so I guess I wasn’t the slowest turtle out there! And as my dad said today, think of where I came from. And it’s so true – when I started running 10 years ago, and this is no exaggeration, I couldn’t even run a block. And recall it was exactly two months ago that my hip started to hurt and I ignored it for awhile and it ultimately got so bad that I couldn’t run at all. And I am still trying to figure out the right kind of nutrition for my sensitive little tummy. I did accomplish my ultimate goal – I came home with a medal – so what if it took me longer than expected!

I’ve learned that the marathon is undoubtedly a mental game. I think back to when I quit the Marine Corps marathon; these were two very very different experiences but I cannot pretend I had similar doubts yesterday. It was especially tough after seeing my family at 16.5 and when I decided to walk it in at 18 – for that distance in-between, as short as it seems on paper, I was really doubting if I’d be able to finish. Part of me really did, for a moment, think about throwing in the towel. But all I could think about was that my family didn’t fly out from Connecticut to see me quit another race. I was going to finish. If they hadn’t been here…I really don’t know what the result would have been!

The moment I saw my family yesterday I made them promise to remind me that I said I’d never ever ever do this again. But of course I’m already thinking about what I’d do differently IF I were to train for a second go-round. 🙂 We’ll see. First I have to get my tendinitis healed, that’s definitely task number one. Then…we can see where we’re at.

In the end, I’ve spent the past 18 weeks running 407.2 miles. Which makes the 54  that I missed (due to my injury) look like small potatoes. I’ve had 9 sessions of physical therapy, and one each of an Xray and an MRI. I’ve bought two pairs of sneakers, one new armband, one new set of headphones, and a Garmin. I now own a foam roller and a cheap piece of elastic that I can use in myriad ways to help strengthen my hip.

And I have a medal. And if I never run another step again, I truly have enough memories for a lifetime.

But never say never! 🙂

Thank you all, so much, for joining me on this journey. And keep your eyes on this page…Lani may run Chicago yet again, who knows!!


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