As I sit here on my 2+ hour flight back home, I am left with plenty of time to reflect back on this whole experience that was the 2016 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. My 6th marathon was quite a journey to get there to say the least and certainly an exciting day of running!
Before I get into all of that, I want to talk a little bit about the past several months of training for the big day...
When I signed up for Chicago back in March, I was on a total runner's high from a huge Spring. I had PR'ed in every distance I ran and placed in most of those events. And I embarked on a long time dream of mine and became an official pacer for the first time. So I was pretty fired up and ready to rock my next big race! Knowing all I needed was a sub 3:45 to secure my spot in Chicago and not have to wait in the lottery, I was feeling pretty confident going into training with my recent PR of 3:38 (Run with Donna in February) and a guaranteed entry!
As summer rolled around and I got deeper into my training, I really started to struggle with my long runs. In fact, any run outside was a struggle for me thanks to the crazy high heat and humidity. Bombing practically every one of my long runs, I was not in the least bit convinced heading into my taper I would come anywhere close to my PR.
But I didn't want to get into my head too much so I pressed on and just hoped for the best come race day.
Then the whole Hurricane thing became a HUGE issue, throwing a big ole wrench in my plans for the trip. Luckily I did make it up there, but not without a lot of stress, guilt, sleepless nights with just days before the race, and hours upon hours sitting in cars and/or airplanes. Needless to say my body and mind were incredibly run down.
I finally made it to outside of Chicago to my family's condo Friday night after a long day of driving with my grandma and two aunts, and then we picked my mom up at the airport. I was tired and tight from all the sitting, but so eager to see the city. Of course I would have to wait til the next day...
Everyone decided to accompany me to the expo, which was quite an undertaking, but I certainly appreciate their support. Still not knowing what to expect for race day and stressed from all the traveling and activity that it involved, I showed up to the expo, got my packet and just tried to soak in the experience. Luckily I met up with my friend who was going through a similar experience as me with training and training. So it was great to get some spend some time with her discussing our training woes, how exhausted we were from the extra traveling and our plans to just do our best on race day.
That evening, my mom and I checked into our hotel and then found a Whole Foods nearby, where we got some water and pasta. I got all my race day gear ready and headed off to bed still so uncertain as to what my "plan" should be for the race. I had my goals in mind but was clueless as to what my body, and mind, could handle at this point.
I felt the corral situation was about as organized as it could be with that many people and we were moved relatively quickly to the start. About 8 minutes after the first corral started, me along with the rest of Corral D crossed the starting line!
I definitely got caught up in the moment for the first quarter mile or so, the energy was through the roof! The streets were lined with people cheering, the buildings towered over us, music pumped through loud speakers, helicopters flew up above us, it was LIVE! It had been a while since I experienced a race to this capacity so I was fired up. But knowing I wouldn't be able to keep that pace much longer, I pulled way back.
In all the excitement, I managed to lose the 3:35 pace group, but felt great at the pace I was running, which had me on track to reach my ultimate goal of 3:30, so figured I should just hold that and hopefully end up with a group sooner or later. I kept up a sub 8 min mile pace for the next several miles, and it felt pretty conservative and something I should be able to manage throughout the race. Then I spotted the 3:35 pacer around mile 6 and figured it best to stay with them at an even more conservative pace, but still enough to get me a 3:32-3:33 finish, which I would have been more than happy with.
I hung with them for a few miles and hit my first little wall around mile 9. I took my Huma gel, drank some Gatorade at the aid station and was back in the game with a little extra pep in my step. I even went ahead of the pacers a little and regained my sub 3:30 pace.
I managed to hold on to that sub 3:30 pace for the next several miles until I hit my next wall around mile 15. This time it was mostly a mental wall filled with doubt, that I spend a mile or so talking myself out of. I lost some of my pace and found myself back with the 3:35 group. Which was ok, that still projected me for a great finish.
I got another burst and things were going pretty well for the next 3 miles, I even saw my mom and two aunts cheering for me in the Latin district shortly after mile 18, so that was awesome! And speaking of cheering, the crowd support was nonstop and incredible throughout the entire course! It had been a while since I experienced a race to that capacity, so the cheering and excitement really helped a lot. And of course seeing my family while I was at a good pace, gave me a boost and the feeling that I may actually crush this thing!
But at mile 19, that all came to a screeching halt...
My legs were pretty tight from all the traveling and I wasn't able to do my yoga, stretching and foam rolling because my travel plans had changed. They gave me some moderate discomfort periodically throughout the first several miles but seemed to calm down as I settled into a good rhythm. At mile 19, however, that all changed when I felt a pop in my left hamstring and my whole leg start to cramp. Initially worried I had torn the muscle, I took a few seconds to walk and evaluate the situation. I realized it was just a bad cramp and it started to work itself out, so I slowly started to pick the pace back up and try to fight through it.
But with every step I took, the cramping continued to worsen, traveling up and down my leg. The compensating I was doing with my right leg started to cause a cramp there too and before I knew it, pretty much everything from my waist down was in full out pain by mile 20. Realizing at this point I probably would not reach my goal but determined not to quit, I continued to try and run, unfortunately just much slower.
Miles 21-25 were pretty much a blur. The pace was the slowest of the day, including several walk breaks. I was visibly in pain as many yelled at me not to stop and that I can do it. I even had someone ask me if I was OK, which totally bruised my pride. I remember looking at the ground and shouting the "F" word quite a bit at this point. Somewhere during that time a lady I had met at the beginning of the race caught up with me and helped me through one of those daunting miles. She was looking strong and was about to crush her goal. I fed off of her for a little bit but just couldn't hang. Though I would have loved to have stuck with her, I am grateful for the push she gave me!
My watched buzzed to signal 26 miles quite a few yards before I even saw the mile marker, and at this point I felt pretty defeated. I had hoped I was closer and could now begin my sprint to the finish but I realized I had several more minutes to go. Each meter marker sign (800, 400, 200 then 100) seemed to mock me as I half ran-half limped through to the finish. As I turned the corner and ran up a moderate hill, I finally saw the finish line. Though my left hamstring seemed as if it had detached, both calves were completely cramped up and every other fiber of my legs felt useless at this point, I knew this was it so I gave it my all.
In my head I was running a four and a half minute mile but my body was barely moving as I raced to the finish line. I dramatically threw my arms up in the air as if I was the one breaking the tape and tears started to stream down my face. Though I had missed my original goal by 12 minutes, my PR by 4 minutes and my BQ by 2 minutes, I was no where near as upset with my performance as I thought I would be. In fact, I was quite proud for pushing through. I can honestly say I gave it my all that day and am happy with my 3:42:12 finish. (My second fastest marathon time)
So Chicago, as far as the race and the experience as a whole, may not have panned out how I had envisioned back when I signed up for it, but I'm OK with that. I am grateful for the extra time I got with my family and the friends I got to hang out with and even make along this journey.