The whole weekend in Chicago was an absolute blast. After all the paranoia about logistics, hotel, transportation, ITB issues, almost bailing etc. everything worked out just fine. In fact everything was better than fine.
For now I am just going to try to sum up the race. Hopefully I will find some time to cover everything else leading up to it because a lot of really great people made this weekend so much more relaxing for me than it could have been. And of course there was some fun drama to be had (post race thank goodness).
Sunday morning I woke up around 4:45. I had a bagel and cream cheese and a bottle of gatorade with carbo pro, also some green tea and a small cup of coffee. My stomach was not happy with me at all. Luckily for me my "donut" and I have a pact. It can be as distressed as it wants pre and post race as long as it shuts up and deals during. So far it has stuck to it's side of the deal and this race was no different. After about the 5th bathroom stop (only once in the portalet thank goodness) my stomach was calm and I was ready to drop off my gear bag.
I had come to the race with two running club friends and one of their brothers. We all walked to the gear check and then I went on my own way, paranoid that I would get to the start late if I didn't head out. Visions of Su's torn shorts from last year floating in my head.
Someone had the bright idea to put the gear check numbers in reverse order from right to left (45,000-1) of course my starting corral was now all the way back and to the far left. I think it was about a half mile walk, maybe more. I finally found the corral but could not figure out where the heck to get in. Minor freak out but I kept my cool after a volunteer exclaimed she had no idea either. I wound my way back out around a fenced in street and found the correct path to my Preferred 1 start.
My plan ever since Youngstown has been to aim for 3:40. Play it safe with the ITB, don't go out too fast, but try to negative split and BQ if I felt good. Hmmm. Anyone who knows me and my race strategies knows that went out the window as soon as I stepped into the corral. The 3:40 pacer was behind us in the Preferred II start so I lined up with the 3:30 group and decided to go out with them and see how I fared. I chatted with three other girls who were aiming for 3:30 and planned to run together, I told them I would try to hang but not to worry if I dropped back, filled them in on the ITB and found out one of them was having the same issues. I wish I would have got her number to see how she did.
I ditched my carbo pro gatorade mix with a few minutes to spare as the clothes started flying. The national anthem started and I started to get excited. I was stretching and everything felt loose. I had taken two tylenol 8 hours an hour before the race to protect against inflammation, but the ITB had been friendly with me the night before and I had high hopes that it wouldn't be a problem with or without the tylenol. I was honestly more worried about my shins. My two mile easy run the night before both shins were on fire the entire 19 minutes. I think that run was worse for me than anything else because I just kept thinking how the heck am I going to run 26.2 miles at 8:30 pace while my shins are about to burst.
All the ART therapy, stretching, strength training, and rest paid off though. We started and I felt no pain. As we made our way to the mats we were on the right. There were spectators on the left right and in the middle of the road, as well as above us on a bridge that we ran under. Pretty unreal. I kept the 3:30 gals in my sights but reeled it in a bit. I didn't want to blow the race in the first few miles. Miles 1-6 blew by. I felt fantastic. It was cold but I figured it was an advantage because it kept my legs cold helping to prevent inflammation perhaps? All I know is nothing hurt and 8 minute miles were feeling groovy.
Around mile 4 I heard Mouse screaming and I turned to wave as I moved forward. I was smiling. I feel bad I didn't see Trisaratops but I was so grateful to know there were people out there looking for me and cheering for me. Those girls have lungs! I think the three of us would be a serious spectator force to be reckoned with. But I wasn't in Chicago to spectate so I moved along.
I think Mile 5 was the first time I took aid. I grabbed a gatorade. I overheard two girls mention that they thought mile 6 had just blown by and that they had picked it up as we passed the marker, I glanced at my split and was surprised it was a bit slow. I definitely didn't feel like I had slowed down so I guess it must have been the gatorade stop. I wasn't too worried though because I had a few sub 8s to balance the 8:15 out.
Since my first marathon I don't use a pace band. I just know the average pace I should run and I try to keep it close to that. If I am within 5 to 10 seconds either way throughout the race I figure I will make my goal. This does get tricky towards the end when you start to try to calculate time left to the finish though :)
From 5 to about 11 I just tried to keep myself reeled in, I knew Mouse would be between 11 and 12 and I just tried to enjoy myself until I saw her again. There were spectators most of the way and despite the wind being a little strong the conditions felt good. Around 7 miles I realized that my choice in wearing my "fashionable" red Boston shorts was a bad one as I was chafing. Luckily I found a vaseline stop shortly after. I find it amusing that someone could get so excited about a cardboard square covered in vaseline :)
Around 12 I heard Mouse and Trisaratops screaming again and I smiled and waved. I was feeling really good at this point running just behind the 3:30 pacers. I was relatively confident I could hold pace and was even holding out for a negative split, possibly even a PR. I went through the half right on 3:30 pace at 1:45 and thought to myself that I felt just as good if not better than I did at the start of River Run and that negative splitting might be in the cards if I could gut it out.
I made a quick pit stop before mile 14. I struggled to get my shorts back on because my thighs were so cold they were swelling (if that makes any sense) and my fingers were a bit too cold to untie the darn things. I finally got them on though and headed back out onto the course.
So far I had had two gels, one at 5 and one around 12. I had two more in reserve and planned on taking those around 18 and 22. I think I ended up taking the third around 16 instead. After I hit mile 14 everything started going downhill. My left calf started its usual protest and then my right chimed in. By 15 my quads were threatening me with severe cramping. I was paying the price for not training enough on pavement. Every step hurt pretty bad but I just sucked it up. I figured slowing down wasn't an option because it would just mean more time on the pavement and possibly more damage.
About that time a pair of guys ran by me and one said to the other the good old mantra that pain is fear leaving the body. I repeated this to myself over the next mile or so to try and shut down the pain. After that I kept reminding myself that I would much rather be out running than doing much else and tried to enjoy every moment despite the pain. At one point we ran through a spectator area that had ACDC playing on speakers on both sides of the road. Right as I hit the speakers the words "THUNDERSTRUCK" belted out. I am not even a big ACDC fan but I swear I got chills. The crowd support was just amazing.
At 18 or 19 they had a gel stop. I never take the races gels, ever since I took a chocolate Gu at the Chicago Tri and almost vomited I avoid new stuff, but I figured a caffeine boost definitely wouldn't hurt and maybe some extra carbs would help out my protesting legs. So I eyed the signs for something fruity with caffeine. Strawberry with caffeine stood out and I made eye contact with the volunteer handing those out. I sucked that down and trucked forward. I had started doing math at 16 trying to figure out what mile pace I had to hold in order to hit 3:35 and 3:40. The miles were slowing down now despite my efforts to keep it closer to 8 minute miles.
About a mile after the gel station there were volunteers handing out bananas. I am normally totally grossed out by bananas but I was willing to try anything to keep my threatening legs from completely cramping. So I grabbed the banana piece and shoved the whole thing in my mouth at once. Disgusting but I think it probably aided against the cramping post race.
At this point I was looking for JG's family but I never did see them. I was a bit bummed but was enjoying China Town and all the fun music. A man came up behind me and asked if I was running for breast cancer. I replied that no I just liked wearing pink, but told him I had run for TNT before. He was running for his wife who was a breast cancer survivor and had raised about $6,000. I tried to keep up with him but the legs were having none of it so I wished him luck as he passed me for good.
Around mile 23 we passed a band singing Ride Sally Ride and they called out for everyone to sing along. I am sure they were talking to the volunteers but I didn't care I just needed anything to get my mind off the pain so I sang along too until I couldn't hear them any longer. For about a mile after that I kept singing it in my head willing my legs to pick it up.
Around 24 a man came running past and was encouraging all around him to pick up those knees. It was all mind over matter now. I changed my stride a bit and lifted my knees. But couldn't do it for long. It felt great changing my form though. 24 miles of the same motion on pavement was seriously taking its toll.
I tried really hard to pick up the pace after 24. I knew 3:40 was going to be tough to make if I didn't pull something out starting then. At 25 we turned straight into the wind. I was not prepared for that at all. It was ugly and unlike the rest of the race I wasn't close enough to anyone to draft and my legs were not willing to pick it up enough to draft off those just ahead of me. I put my head down and willed my legs to the finish. We finally turned out of the wind and up the only real hill on the course. Crowds were on the left over this bridge and I trucked up the hill as best as I could manage. Just before the corner we saw the 800 m to go sign and I glanced at my watch. I knew I needed to hammer to come in at 3:40 and hauled. I loved the signs as you turned onto Columbus and could finally see the finish line. 400 m, 200m, 100m, mats. 3:40:30
It felt great to stop running. My quads and calves were a wreck but I was able to walk through the chute and the crowds were not as dense as Boston so I didn't get claustrophobic or dizzy. I made my way to the Mylar blankets, then to get my medal. I took a banana and an apple which I never ate and grabbed a water bottle. This was the first marathon I wasn't starving at the end so I guess that 5th gel and banana on the course were a good idea. I made my way to get some ice on my left calf which had protested the longest and then headed to the gear check tents. On my way I found JG and his brother. They were headed to get beer which I had somehow missed so I went back with them to grab a few brews before finally putting back on my warm fleece pants that I had been upset about giving up that morning.
We shuffled over to the family meeting area and made our way to the Grant Park parking lot to get my stuff. They headed back out to Wheaton and I hauled my suitcase and backpack back towards the finish line. I wasn't really sure what time Running Jayhawk and her hubby had started so I called their cells and left them a message as to where I thought I could meet them. Eventually I figured out that I could get to the TNT tent and I headed that way. After some chatting and some free smoothies and gatorade recovery drinks I found Running Jayhawk's parents and we went into the TNT tent to stay warm until RJ and OOSG were finished. Eventually we got in touch with them and were able to retrieve their TNT pins and go find them at the massage tent. We made our way to the subway and back to their place for some well deserved beers and showers!
Splits for those that love em'
Post Race Activities To Be Continued
Post Race Analysis Coming Soon