The hype, the butterflies, the training, the injuries, and the long hours were all worth it. Running the Chicago Marathon was an incredible experience - one that I will never forget.
I'm getting to this post a week late - because I've been out since Tuesday. Last time I was this sick was in 2010 with the swine flu. So after an insufferable week of being cooped up, not working, and feeling truly awful, I'm so happy to being back to semi-normal.
Tim and I drove down to Chicago on Saturday, checked into our hotel, and then headed to the Expo. The entire drive down we talked about running, racing, and our anticipation kept building. The butterflies were definitely in action.
From a technology standpoint, the Expo was the coolest I had ever been to. As a runner, you show up with your "ticket" that has a QR code. They scan that as you walk in, and then they direct you to an open desk. When I walked up to mine, she asked me, "Melissa Johnson?" and had my packet ready and waiting. For one of the largest races in the world, they sure knew how to make it feel small.
With over 200 exhibits, we spent some time exploring the booths. Nike, the official sponsor, had one of the largest exhibits with an insane amount of clothing, and a screen where they scanned your bib, and your name appeared on the TV for several seconds for a photo opp. Their marketing was so....Nike. It was really well done.
We met up with Tim's parents, who came down to watch the race, and meandered through the expo a little more before heading off to dinner. As primal/paleo eaters, finding a restaurant the night before the marathon was something that I researched several months ago, and Wildfire, a classic steakhouse, had our roasted chicken and sweet potato option. Rule #1 in racing: never try something new. Ever.
We were back to the hotel before 8p, and laid out all the gear. Rule #2: double check you have everything before race morning.
Tim was all worried about sleeping that night. I normally sleep soundly the night before a race, and really, it's two nights before that counts in terms of a good night sleep. Ironically, we were opposites that night. I woke up at one point and thought, "Is it time yet?" and I looked over at the alarm clock and it was....10:37pm. And Tim slept through the night no problem. I woke up probably like 7 times until the alarm went off at 5:30a.
RACE DAY! We dressed, triple checked everything, and put on our $5 Wal-Mart sweats (that got tossed at the start line, and the Marathon donates them to the largest homeless shelter in Chicago). Tim had a banana with almond butter and honey, and I had some room service scrambled eggs.
Our hotel was only .5 miles from the start - which was perfect. At 6:45am, the streets were filled with runners - many speaking other languages than English. The second most represented country other than USA was Mexico.
I ran this race solo, so headed to my corral, and found a spot on the side where I could sit until ten minutes before the race started. Our wave started at 8am, so I had plenty of time to relax and go through my race strategy, listen to some music, and take in the scene. I reflected on the fact that it was PERFECT running weather (50 degrees at start, high of 61) and that I put the training in, and there's nothing left to do but run.
At 7:50a, I did some dynamic stretches to wake up the body, and we started to move like a pack towards the start line. I slowly ditched my sweats as we made our way to the front, and just like that, we were off. I crossed the start line at 8:05am.
Marathon thoughts anyone? It's exactly like this:
"Ok, here we go! You've trained for this! You can do this! Mile 1!"
So we start off, and immediately, someone in front of me dropped their sunglasses, and made the decision to let them go. My immediate reaction was to pick them up, and speed up slightly to get them to her. An interesting way to start the race.
The first part of the race was through some of the lower level streets, and as we came out of that, my Garmin was already at mile 1. We're probably at mile .3. So at that point, I knew that I would need to pace myself, and use my time to track my miles instead of my handy Garmin. YAY technology!
The first 10 miles were crazy awesome. SO many people! Yelling, cheering, and screaming. It was incredible. I never felt croweded, bottlenecked, or held back at any point, which was a surprise. I carried a plastic water bottle with me for the first 5 miles to avoid the first couple water stations.
I'm going to be 100% honest here - I don't remember many details of race. I remember feeling strong, enjoying the run, and enjoying the crowds. I remember hearing my phone beep with messages from friends and family. I remember crossing 13.1 miles at 2:12. I remember Motley Crue Kickstart my Heart at mile 16. I remember hitting 20 miles and still feeling good, and still being on pace. But I don't really remember the race.
I was so focused on listening to my body, and running at the pace I knew I had to keep in order to run a sub-4:30, that I tuned out a LOT. Getting the MarathonFoto pictures afterwards was quite a surprise - we passed through Chinatown and those beautiful buildings? Don't remember that.
I do remember several of my favorite signs - Grumpy Cat with the title "I Hate Marathons" and the sign "Hurry Up, the Kenyans are drinking all the beer". I remember searching for the Bucky sign that some friends had, and never found it. I remember looking for my mother-in-law who was wearing Packer gear, but unforunately never found them (they saw me several times).
But what I'll remember the most is the fact that I ENJOYED this race. I never at any point wanted to quit, or felt so bad that I thought I couldn't finish (which I had experienced in both of my previous marathons). I was running Chicago, and I was running it well.
For me, I broke the marathon up into 5 segments - a mental trick, really.
#1 - Miles 0-6
#2 - Miles 7-12
#3 - Miles 13-18
#4 - Miles 19-24
#5 - Miles 25-26.2
The first three segments were easy. Fun. Enjoyable. As stated before.
Through mile 23, I felt really positive, and very strong. I never hit the wall (thank you primal/paleo) and never had to stop for a bathroom break. This doesn't mean my muscles weren't sore, or that I didn't feel slightly tweaky. Because I did. I actually started feeling that around mile 18, but part of marathon is pushing through that pain. I also kept up my race pace - something that I've never done in training, so body aches were sure to be there.
I was happy to see mile 24. We were running up Michigan Avenue at this point, and there were lots of people. But after mile 24, things really started to hurt. An all-over-body hurt that said, I'm tired of running this fast for this long. My last 2K I ran about 30 seconds slower than I did the entire race, and even that was tough to keep up.
At mile 25.5, I heard people screaming my name - and saw several good friends from college cheering for me. I definitely welled up, said thank you, and fueled all that energy into the last mile. Seeing them gave me the push to finish strong and ignore the pain.
As we made the final turns, I felt so happy. And so good. I sailed past the finish line at 4:28, which is an average of 10:13 per mile. I ran my sub-4:30, and took 17 minutes off my previous marathon time for a new PR.
The bittersweet part is that I had no one to celebrate with - I was so happy I thought I was going to cry to the stranger next to me. But, I kept it classy, and moved through the finish line crowd, keeping my glasses on to cover my eyes.
The volunteers for this race were AMAZING. As they placed our medals on our necks, they were cheering and clapping, with honest and genuine exclamations of congratulations that gave me goosebumps. Those people rocked.
Walking was....tough. Running that fast for 26.2 for me was really rough on my body, as I would find out later. I slowly made my way to our meeting point, and luckily Tim and his family found me first. Tim ran an amazing race, taking 40 minutes off his last marathon for a final time of 3:55.
We hobbled to Michigan Ave, and my father-in-law put us on a bike taxi, who delivered us to our hotel's front door. After a shower and packing up, we had some lunch and caught the rest of the Packer game. We ran into several other marathoners who were also part of the "hobbled walk club" as one guy put it.
In the following days, I had to go down the stairs backwards. This by far was the sorest I have ever been from any race, especially my left quad and hamstring. It was obvious that I was favoring my right leg and leaning more on my left because of my right calf injury several weeks before.
We both took the day off work on Monday, which was much needed, and when I went back to work on Tuesday, I knew something wasn't right. Overall body aches, swollen and sore throat, weakness in the hands. I came home Tuesday night and slept until 8. And then I didn't see the light of day until today. They say that your immune system is depleted after a marathon, and I guess mine couldn't handle whatever was attacking me.
About 39,000 people crossed the finish line that day. And I was one of them.
Thank you to my hubby, family, friends, and co-workers for all the support. I'm looking forward to the down time, and the many happy hours and brunches in my future.