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lessons learned from 26 marathons: pt. 1 (2007-2009)

lessons learned from 26 marathons: pt. 1 (2007-2009)

Because marathons are immense distances to cover, training for them and subsequently racing them gives us all many “learning opportunities,” if we dare to listen. The past week has been a whirlwind of awesome marathon activity for many of my friends – we’re talking solid PRs, some great BQs, and of course, the mother of them all, the Boston Marathon – and all the aforementioned, along with the minor detail that I’m running a marathon in a week’s time, got me thinking that I should stroll down memory lane for a minute and see what stands out to me as “lessons learned” from the 26 marathons I’ve run. This will amount to a dissertation, so I’ll break it up over a few posts to save your eyesight (and to give me some more time to dig up some artifacts).

we're goin old school for these races. I have about five years' worth of running logs that look more or less like this. (and naturally, the page I find to photograph details a run wherein I got the runs. naturally).
we’re goin old school for these races. I have about five years’ worth of running logs that look more or less like this. (and naturally, the page I find to photograph details a run wherein I got the runs. naturally).

In chronological order:

2007 – 2 marathons

LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon: there’s no time like your first. ’07 was “the hot year,” which made finishing my first attempt at the distance even better more memorable. Going into my first marathon, I felt prepared and ready, thanks to some solid training and coaching all year long from Team in Training, but the marathon is a beast and demands respect, the type that you can only really give it after experiencing it (if that makes any sense). A few things (among many) that I remember about this race include accidentally clipping a girl’s heels on Broadway, after the northern-most turn-around; wondering if it was normal to hear so many ambulance sirens on the west side (I’m thinking it was along Wentworth); and swearing that from then on, in every marathon/any distance run that I’d run, I would always wear sunglasses. My takeaways: there’s no time like your first, so just enjoy it as much as you can; sunglasses FTW; be extremely mindful of runners who are only a stride or two ahead of you; and no, even on the west side of Chicago on a sunny October day, hearing a ton of ambulance sirens during a marathon is not normal. 4:24:41

Traci-and-her-mom.jpg
I’ve talked a lot on the blog about how/why I started with TNT. I also convinced Traci, a college gal pal, that running a marathon was a good life choice. 🙂 We did it as an effort to honor our moms (hers, above; mine was in Ohio) and all the shit they had endured bc of their respective cancers/strokes. [this pic is actually from Chicago ’08. details…]
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so.hot.outside. at my first go of this marathon thing. pretty impressive angry face, eh?

 

Charlotte Thunder Road Marathon (NC): I registered for my second marathon before finishing my first, in part because my Team in Training coach from Chicago was on a 50-state quest and was going to knock NC off his list, and I wanted to tag along for what would surely be a fun weekend with a bunch of TNT runners and coaches. Between Chicago and NC (in December), I maintained fitness, got married in Mexico (and ran about 16 miles on a treadmill, kill me now), and come race day, ran a substantially better race and one that I think was more indicative of my ability at the time than Chicago was. The only things I really remember about this course include running through some subdivisions still being built; a motorist being pissed as fuck at the police, who were blocking traffic lanes to protect the runners; and having a perfect chocolate ice cream cone with rainbow sprinkles after the race. Takeaway: weather on marathon morning 1000% matters; it can make or break your run. Thank cops and volunteers relentlessly during your race because they’re keeping your ass safe, hydrated, nourished (and so on). Don’t think that you’re too serious a runner that you can’t enjoy treats. 3:52:37

2008 – 6 marathons (dear lord)

AT&T Austin (TX) Marathon: This was another quick turn-around (from December to February), and I recall visiting my family in Ohio in the winter and going to my high school track to run repeats of some sort through probably six-eight inches of unplowed snow. At the time, I wondered if what I was doing was excessive or dumb, but I was so beholden to my training schedule – probably some incarnation of what I had used from TNT for Chicago (and consequently, Charlotte) – that I felt it totally necessary. I wanted to do well in Austin, so come hell or high water, I was out there training in the grips of winter (and rarely on a treadmill. It’s not a pride thing; it’s a “I-don’t-like-the-way-they-make-my-body-feel” thing). The trip was a lot of fun because my parents also flew down to meet me and to stay with my brother and his gf at the time in Austin. I recall the race being hilly, compared to what I was used to from living in the north shore; the neat fireworks that started the race; and finishing the race completely exhilarated that I had somehow just notched my first BQ (a 3:37, back when the standard was 3:40) when I wasn’t going for it. I had read about Boston and its qualification standards (when I had read virtually every book about running from the Lake Forest library), and I quickly relegated myself to being able to qualify when I was in my 50s+. Doing so at my third marathon (my second in favorable running weather) was a huge – fucking enormous – surprise to me. After the race, my fam and I had some type of steak dinner, and it was that night – Valentine’s Day ish– that I decided to go vegetarian once and for all. I had been reading a lot of Thich Nhat Hanh at the time, and I think all his ruminations, combined with the surely torrential flood of endocannibinoids that were coursing through my body post-PR and BQ, just sealed the deal for me. Takeaway: don’t ever sell yourself short when it comes to your goals. That sounds like a shitty fitspo thing you’d find on Pinterest, but seriously. None of us know what we’re capable of, where our ceiling is, so it doesn’t make sense to limit ourselves. (Easier said than done, I acknowledge). Also, sometimes you might make choices post-runs that you find questionable later in life, but at the same time, you might not. Thusly, don’t eat meat. 🙂 3:37:52, PR (which would stand until 2012)

#longlivethenewspaper (avid reader here). Very cool to see my name in Austin's paper after a big PR/BQ! I still have it.
#longlivethenewspaper (avid reader here). Very cool to see my name in Austin’s paper after a big PR/BQ! I still have it.

 

Nashville’s Country Music Marathon: I was back with TNT and helping out as a fundraising mentor for Nashville, still living in the north shore at the time, and every weekend, our group would go out to Busse Woods or Waterfall Glen (in the dead of winter…) and usually end up running laps around office park buildings (the 3com building, if you’re playing along at home) or on the main driveway at WFG near Argonne. If you live in Chicago and want to mentally callous yourself all winter, go run laps around an office park or up and down the driveway at WFG for 12, 16, or 20 milers. Our participants rarely came out for our group runs– only the staff and we volunteers, all of whom were obligated to be there – but we continued to put in the effort and mileage week in and week out. Race day in Nashville met us with an unmatched thunder- and lightning storm, which might have even delayed the start, if I recall correctly. I don’t remember a ton about the course, save that they served Accelerade, which was akin to drinking sawdust (I imagine) and that there was a group of nuns serving “holy water” at an unofficial aid station. I ran nearly all of the race with TNT mentor buddy Mike, and though I had just come off a BQ and PR two months prior, for some reason I wanted to go for it again. Both of us blew up around mile 23, and much to our surprise, the 3:40 pacer who went out like hell early on finished juuuust before us, in a dead sprint to the finish. It was shortly before (or maybe after?) this race that I bought my blog domain … and proceeded to do nothing with it for a year-plus. Takeaway: consistency in training matters. Show up, even when you don’t want to. On race day, run your own race. Pacers are human and therefore can (and probably will) make a mistake or two. Even when you wonder why the hell you’re doing this mid-training, when it feels like you’re spinning your wheels (or literally running around an office building, wanting to gouge your eyes out and/or cut off your legs), keep the thing, the thing, and just do the thing. Make sure you know prior to race day what you’ll be drinking on course, and try it out ahead of time, if you can. If you’re a runner; blog. It lends itself nicely to it. 3:44:57

Madison (Wisco) Marathon: Another tight turn-around (from April to May) and again, for some reason I was set on trying to BQ again; maybe I was trying to BQ-streak or something. In retrospect, I can’t recall why I wanted to do this or thought it was a good idea. Fortunately, the weather was agreeable, and I remember seeing wild turkeys on the course, which just made my day for some reason. This was a quick weekend trip with C and my inlaws, and we had a blast pre- and post-race because Madison is just such a weird-ass city, kinda like Austin. I had GI distress for basically the entire run, though – if memory serves, I think I had to shit from the halfway point onward but didn’t want to blow my BQ attempt – so as soon as I finished – literally seconds after crossing over the finishing line – I beelined it to a porta-potty. I was extremely lucky. Throughout the race, my half-consumed gu managed to go upside down on my butt pocket, so another participant warned me that it looked like I had shit myself. In retrospect, at least I’d have a “cover” in the event that my GI system blew up before I made it to safety. Takeaway: GI distress sucks. If you’re going to go halfsies on your gels mid-race, bag ’em up to save yourself some potential embarrassment and sticky everything. 3:39:21

running away from C and my in-laws in Madison
running away from C and my in-laws in Madison

 

Akron (Ohio) RoadRunner Marathon: The fall of ’08 was an experiment in multiple marathoning in a really short timeframe. Ed, my TNT coach from ’07 who was on his 50 state quest, would soon be finishing things up in Denver in October, and I wanted to run that with him but also still do Akron and Chicago. Akron is where my family is, so I looked forward to running on my “home turf” and to seeing my family on the sidelines. Since it was just a few weeks before Chicago, and not much longer before Denver, I took things easy and enjoyed myself. At the time, Akron was a steal of a race, too: entrants got the usual medal, food, etc. but also a Brooks running jacket (the Podium jacket, I think, with something like a $70 MSRP) and a pair of Brooks shoes. Takeaway: it’s possible to run a marathon “just for fun.” Also, sometimes smaller-town races are total gems. Seeing family mid-race is always an excellent pick-me-up. 3:55:31

I think everyone should run Akron at least once.
I think everyone should run Akron at least once. The finish line is at Canal Park stadium (I don’t know if it’s still called that, but it’s where Akron’s minor league baseball team plays), and it’s just a lot of fun.

 

Chicago: Since my inaugural race was at Chicago with TNT, I returned to it again in ’08, again as a fundraising TNT participant, and vowed for redemption. Fail, fail, fail. Another obscenely warm day meant another 4-hour-plus race, but when you run races as a fundraiser/charity runner, I think you kinda go into things with an entirely different perspective. Sure, the race matters, but really… it kinda doesn’t. While I was happy to run with TNT again at Chicago, I was beginning to think that there was some wicked voodoo thing going on that all but assured that if I ran Chicago, it’d be a toasty-ass day. I was frustrated to still not break 4 on my home course, the one that’s so well-known for PR performances, but c’est la vie. Chicago’s marathon wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so in time, I got over my resentment for randomly warm Sundays in October. It was very cool to do Chicago again with Traci (pictured in the ’07 Chicago blurb), have a bunch of her family members come down and run or spectate, and we even got our friend Stephanie to run, too! Lots of fun, weather be damned. Takeaway: October in Chicago is unpredictable. Respect the weather on race day (still). Run a race as a charity runner, and I can guarantee you that you’ll care about things differently. 4:09:07

running alongside Mike in Lincoln Park, proudly still rockin' the purple
running alongside Mike in Lincoln Park, proudly still rockin’ the purple

 

Denver: My third marathon in four weeks, and at altitude (I think?), and while I was in the throes of working full-time and being in grad school full-time, I all but guaranteed myself a tired-ass run and race. I started Denver optimistically (ha) and by 13, was flat-out strolling. Ed, there with a cadre of other runners and me, all there to celebrate his 50th state completion, eventually caught up to me, and we walked-ran the rest of the way in together, finishing side-by-side. Denver is my marathon PW, but I look at it with fond memories because the entire trip was about Ed finally finishing his 50-state quest. It was such a special memory and so very cool to be there and to be literally step-in-step with him as he realized such a huge-ass goal that had taken years to fulfill. So many other IL-based runners had come out to celebrate and/or run with him, and I was both honored and elated to be able to be there, too. Takeaway: marathons can be celebratory activities. The time on the clock matters as much as you want it to matter; this will be a recurring theme. Multiple marathoning in very short timeframes is doable, but you’ve got to have realistic expectations about how things will pan out. 4:48:34, a very memorable and special PW

steps away from finishing Ed's 50th state
steps away from finishing Ed’s 50th state

 

the 50-state finisher! actually, all but two people in this pic are 50-state finishers.
the 50-state finisher! actually, all but two people in this pic are 50-state finishers.

 

2009 – 4 marathons

Boston: Oh my. First Boston. I met some wonderful people with whom I am still friends today during my first Boston training (and through what was a pretty shitty Chicago winter, if memory serves). Come race weekend, I was 100% all nerves, making me a real joy to be around in what was supposed to be a race-vacation (sorry, C). I was so focused on running a good Boston that I didn’t want to do anything all weekend long except go to the expo, go to dinner with the group, and keep my legs up. ::yawn:: God bless my husband. Come race day, I ran a pretty good race until about mile 23, when my total and utter failure to fuel properly caught up to me, making me hit the wall so hard and so dramatically that I swore I was going to fall asleep standing up (and while moving forward). Boston ’09 remains my worst bonk, and I swore to myself that I’d never, ever, put myself in that position again in a race. I was on track to requalify at Boston up until that point – something that I thought was nearly impossible – and I blew it because I had probably consumed about 200 calories (!) from when I woke up that morning through mile 23 (!!!!!!!!!) in the race. Ouch. I talked with a dietitian after the race, got some pointers, and went back to the drawing board. Also, this was my only marathon wherein I wore tights instead of shorts (but still wore a singlet… call the fashion police on me for that one). Takeaways: Boston is special; even on a bad racing day, Boston is Boston is Boston. Fueling properly is critical. Don’t wear tights with a singlet, unless you want to look like a bowling pin. Right on Hereford; left on Boylston. 3:47, the 7 minutes that broke my heart for a long time

[can you believe I can’t find a single picture from my Boston ’09?! was I so nervous that I couldn’t take one shot????]

Rockford, IL Marathon: This was another fast turn-around (about a month), and since I had family in Rockford who’d be cheering for me, it made for a very low-key, low-nerves event. I think I had something to prove to myself about my fitness after utterly blowing up at Boston, and with a new nutrition plan in place, I went into this race feeling much better about how I’d fare. Rockford remains one of the smallest marathons I’ve run (even though it had a HM and relay option, I think), and there were several points along the course where there was nobody ahead of or behind me, making me wonder if I was even in the right place. With the total absence of nerves compared to Boston, I got my “redemption,” got to see my family along the way, and had a great OA/AG placement, thanks to the small field. 😉 Takeaways: Racing redemption can mean whatever you want it to mean – going faster or racing smarter, for example. You’ve got nothing to prove to anyone, except when you feel like you owe it to yourself; in which case, go for it because no one else will care as much as you. (I mean that lovingly, though it sounds like I’m being flippant about it). Smaller races, while lacking in fanfare and (perhaps) ambiance compared to their big-city counterparts, can have a lot going for them. Try really hard not to get lost mid-course. 3:39:11

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one of the best tchotchkes I’ve ever gotten from a race. the RPS kids apparently made little motivational signs for the runners, so we all had signs in our packets. I like the “I hope you guys win!” sentiment. 🙂 this was hanging at my cubicle for years!

 

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Akron Marathon: I wanted to return to Akron because I had enjoyed myself so much there in ’08. The course was challenging (though it has since been changed to be “easier,” in the RD’s words – for shame!); I loved being able to see my folks during the race; and I will always take an excuse to go home to see my family. I took things really easy and finished the race “feeling like I could keep running,” according to my RR from the time. I remember getting rained on the last 10k of the course, once we cleared Stan Hywet Hall, and thinking that that was the most magical thing ever. (Eds. Note: I am, apparently, easily amused and amazed during endurance events. Lack of oxygen, much?). I would be running Marine Corps in a month’s time, and I finished Akron feeling untaxed and unfazed. My training had been horrible during the summer ’09, thanks to what was probably rampant overtraining – no surprise, given how much I had been racing – as well as full-time employment, full-time graduate school, and interning PT at a refugee resettlement agency up in Albany Park (which amounted to a LOT of time on the CTA traveling between Lincoln Park, the Loop, and AP)… as well as ongoing issues with my GI system that would later lead me to getting tested for a battery of fun stuff like Celiac’s, Crohns, UC, and the like. God, reading all of that again makes my head spin. I had also brilliantly decided that summer ’09 would be an excellent time to try Pfitz training for the first time, a decision that lasted all of one week, if that, before I realized I was in waaaaaaaay over my head. With all of this in mind, then, I knew going into my autumn ’09 races that they’d be less about time-on-the-clock and more about the experiences, and finishing Akron with a smile on my face and with enthusiasm to go run MCM in about a month’s time signaled a success for me – albeit a very tired and weary success. Takeaways: life totally matters when it comes to marathon training. If you’re working FT, going to school FT, interning PT, and the like, throwing marathon training into the mix might be questionable. That is to say that marathon training during and through hectic life periods might provide for a semblance of balance, but remember on race day all the balls you had to juggle to get to the starting line in one piece. Cut yourself some slack periodically. Again: you are the one, the only one, who ascribes worth to the time on the clock. 4:17:59

Marine Corps Marathon: About a month after Akron, my parents flew down to DC to meet-up with C and me for a little race-vacation over MCM weekend. None of us had ever been before, and with a lot of planning on my part, I think it’s safe to say that we all had a really cool and fun trip together and got to see/experience a lot of DC. I was worried about DC’s accessibility for my mom, but damn: the government sure does a good job of making sure that folks on scooters can get anywhere. We all stayed in Crystal City, actually along the course (much to my surprise), so seeing them around mile 23 was a great pick-me-up. With my sub-par training during the summer, my only goal was to go sub-4 but more than anything, just to enjoy myself and sightsee along the way. Mission accomplished. I vividly remember getting to the race start late, thanks to some transportation issues out of my control, and being in the porta-potty while the national anthem was going on. Thank god for chip timing, though I still stupidly tried to schlep myself up towards the front of the crowds so as to not get stuck behind slower-moving participants. All in all, it was an excellent family trip, with a nice little marathon thrown in for good measure. Takeaway: race-cations can be a lot of fun, even if (especially if) a breakthrough marathon performance isn’t your goal. Also, make sure you cross your Ts and dot your Is to ensure that you get to where you’re supposed to be on time, even with chip timing on your side. 3:57:13

DC with parents
this cracks me up. we had a lot of fun, though my mom is trying to convince you otherwise.

 

DC with C
cheesin

 

12 marathons down! Next up: the 2010 & 2011 installment.

Chicago Marathon 2013 race recap, part 1

Chicago Marathon 2013 race recap, part 1

I’ve been thinking about the best way to write my 2013 Bank of America Chicago Marathon race recap over the past 24 hours, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s gotta be a recap in two parts (at least): the actual race, itself, and the experience.

If you’re interested in the quick and dirty (or the quicker and dirtier, I guess, because this will still be long…), this is for you. I’ll try in this post to stick to talking about the tactical parts of my CM, the how-and-why I decided to run it, and talk strictly about the race, itself, and nothing preceding or afterward. If you want to know about the actual experience, though, give me a few more days.

So, here we go. Let’s begin at the end.

The stats behind my performance are a 3:20:06 go at the race, a 35-second PR, my 2nd  3:20 marathon in one calendar year, my 8th Boston Qualifying race (and, trivia: my 1st BQ in the autumn), and my 20th lifetime marathon, six years nearly to the day that I did my 1st marathon–also in Chicago–in 2007. And, this is my fourth consecutive marathon PR, all of which have occurred since having A in May ’11 (Champaign ’12: 3:34; Houston ’13: 3:31, Eugene ’13: 3:20).

I continue to shake my head in disbelief as I re-read what I just typed.

Anyway, minimally, I wanted a sub-4 Chicago–since I didn’t hit that mark in my previous 3 attempts here, thanks to conditions mostly beyond my control (hello, hot weather and pregnancy, sometimes both)–and specifically, I wanted to substantially PR and go sub-3:20.

I’m satisfied with how the race went, have some lessons in my back pocket for next time, and have a heightened hunger to really go sub-3:20 in the future. For perspective, though, I think the second place men’s finisher missed first by 7 seconds, and that difference is one worth thousands upon thousands of dollars.

Probably a good thing that I only had my own ego on the line and not a paycheck. Holy moly.

My race plan was to do the first 13.1 in a solid 1:40–on a 3:20 flat pace–and then make a move at 20 or maybe 18, whenever I was ready to go. I wasn’t going to allow myself to go faster than 7:37s for the first half because I didn’t want to blow up later, and after doing this course thrice, I knew the back half was a decidedly different race than the front half.

I had a very specific fueling strategy, and I planned to stick to my schedule of consuming about 6 AccelGels (at 5, 9.3, 12.5, 16.4, 20.2, and 24.2) during my 26.2 mile jaunt, in addition to basically any fruit–bananas or orange slices, anyway–that I could get my paws on during the race. Ever since Boston ‘10, I’m convinced that I need to eat basically as much as humanly possible during a marathon. I’ll still use AccelGels, but if real [vegetarian] food is an option, I always take it.

This time around, much like Eugene, I wore my Garmin and a pace bracelet I printed from Fellrnr’s wiki, which, if you haven’t used, is pretty awesome. I was also that crazy runner who ran with two watches on, in the unlikely event that my Garmin blew up (learned from Tim’s Eugene experience), so I had my Ironman going the entire time as well. I had originally set my Garmin to not autolap, since the Randolph/Columbus St. area usually interferes with my satellite reception, and planned to manually lap each mile or two. I’d never done the non-autolap before, but it seemed manageable.

Miles 1-4

Even in the B group, starting pretty far back (pretty near the 3:30 or 3:35 pace group), I managed to get pretty comfortable pretty early in my first mile. I didn’t feel like I was tripping over people, and I tried my hardest not to get carried away in the absolute mayhem that can be the first mile of any marathon. I looked for my gal, Amy, around Grand and State, but didn’t see her. When we got to the first mile marker, my Garmin had said it was something like 1.1x miles, and at one point it told me I was clocking a 6:xx mile (highly unlikely… hiiiiiiiighly), so I had a feeling that wearing two watches, while making me look a little strange, might not have been a bad idea after all.

Going south on State Street, turning at DePaul, and going north on LaSalle came and went pretty quickly. Just as I missed Amy early, so, too, did I miss C not once but twice. I tend to **never** see him during marathons, yet I insist on still trying. For a long time, as we headed through State, LaSalle, and got closer to North Avenue, I was running behind “the joggler,” which made for some interesting fanfare from the spectators, but it also annoyed me enough –and quite frankly, terrified me–that I wanted to peace the fuck out and get away from him.

It’s nothing personal, joggler; I just don’t want to be potentially tripping over your balls mid-marathon. Also, c’mon. Pride.

It was also within these first four miles that I decided that manually lapping my Garmin was going to be annoying, and that having the mileage markings not line up was going to throw me off mentally–even though Garmin distances rarely match up with course signage–so mid-run, I somehow managed to change my watch back to the original autolap settings.

This is nothing short of remarkable only because I am **that** woman who never programs workouts into my watch and would rather just wear two watches (again, the Ironman is my sidekick) because I just find the process too tedious.

miles 1-4: 6:59 (1.12 miles), 7:42 (1.96 miles), 7:19 (1.06 miles), 7:32 (1.00 miles- this is where things finally started to line up)

Miles 5-10

Running through my old stomping grounds, near the zoo in Lincoln Park, is always a treat. I took my first gel either right before or right after mile 5, and I had a rush of memories come to me as we ran through the Nature Museum, as I recalled working that aid station at Chicago ‘09, when it was miraculously freezing (excellent for runners, painful for volunteers). It was also in this stretch on Sunday, right as I neared the 10k mark, that I noticed a woman running just a few steps ahead of me, wearing an Evanston Running Club singlet, whom I thought I knew. Turns out I was right, so I had the pleasure of briefly chatting with the one and only, super-sweet Nancy Rollins for a few strides as we talked about our goals for the day and our desire to get ahead of the 3:25 pace herd just a few more feet in front of us. (She later won her age group).

As we continued north onto Sheridan and inched our way closer to the Addison turnaround, I was so looking forward to seeing Mort and Lin at Wellington/Sheridan, on the northwest corner of the street, and they didn’t disappoint. Spotting them–good friends, of course, but also my first spectators whom I was actually able to find that morning–was a rush. I’m pretty sure I picked up an irresponsible amount of speed just so I could give Mort a raging high-5. I quickly tried to calm down and settle back into the pace I should be running (7:37) and concentrate on each mile.

Just a few miles later, on the other side of the course, I again got to see Mort and Lin at Wellington/Broadway (which I wasn’t expecting), so again, more peps in my step. I was having a blast, and the memories I had of the north side of the CM were exactly what I remembered: throngs of humanity, color, and a party, basically. Being in another former neighborhood of mine, when I lived on the north end of Lakeview, also brought the memories a-floodin’.

As we ventured south on Broadway, and then Clark Street, and returned to my old ‘hood, I began to look forward to seeing another friend, Erin, at the Fleet Feet aid station around 10.5. While we ran down N. Sedgwick (literally behind where we used to live, at Clark/Dickens), I obnoxiously Cheshired for the photographers, chatted up a Team in Training coach from Portland, and just waited to see Erin. I was feeling well, reigning myself in some and staying within my target-safety pace, and was just soaking up the experience. I was a little ahead of schedule, but not by much, maybe about 40-50 seconds–still within the safe zone. The crowds were nothing short of remarkable by now, and I’m pretty sure I got a bit startled by some type of bar pep band that seemed to come OUT OF NOWHERE south of Armitage.

Seriously, so loud.

Once we hit the Old Town gate, my eyes began scanning fast and furious for Erin. Fortunately, we locked eyes within half a second of each other, which, of course, meant that I damn near barreled into her because I was so excited to see her **and** get water from her. Nothing like seeing your friends on the course, especially when they’re specifically there to keep you goin’ strong.

splits for 5-10: 7:33, 7:27, 7:39, 7:27, 7:35, 7:32

Miles 11-15

Making our way back downtown by now, heading south on Wells and then Franklin, I was feeling great, still. Nothing hurt, I knew I was going to be somewhere between the slow end of my “too fast” zone but pretty close to where I should be, so I just soaked up everything. Some stupidly-ballsy spectators dashed across Wells a few time, right as I was approaching, and it was but for the grace of god that I didn’t decide to take a half-step faster than I was.

I began looking for C again just shy of 12.5–miss, again… we’re consistent–and then John, Stacey, and Blake. More Evanston Running Club members, Ron and Luni, were out spectating, and a quick yell to them brought another surge of energy just before 20k. Seeing John, Stacey, and Blake also gave me another spike, especially since I saw them before they saw me, and I started reassessing my pace and realized that I needed to slow things down a bit, that I was getting too fast–even though it was comfortable–for where I should have been in the course. I wasn’t irresponsibly faster than I needed to be, but I knew, after doing 19 of these things, that there was still a fair amount of business to attend to on this course.

By this point in my previous CM experiences, the race has basically gone to shit. By now, things are hot, we’re in the back half of the course, the unadulterated sun part, the part where you’re looping around and through neighborhoods that have spectators but far fewer than those you’ve had in the previous 13 miles. I can’t tell you how awesome it felt to be zipping through these ‘hoods, with the memory of how shitty I’ve felt by now in previous CMs, and to just truck right along, enjoying the day, smiling and giving a “heyooooooo!” when people yelled my name, which was often.

Night and day difference, people. Night and freakin’ day.

I’m rarely in the west side of Chicago, so as we made our way west, out toward the United Center, I just soaked up the change of scenery and the look of a neighborhood that I don’t really know. It was somewhere in this stretch, around mile 14, that I felt my left ankle suddenly stiffen, which naturally, mid-marathon, made me question my ability to run, my ability to put one leg in front of the other, my worth as a human, ya know, the usual mid-PR marathon doubt. It wasn’t a pain or a cramp, but it was just like suddenly, my body decided that I needed to give some mindful focus to my left ankle just for the hell of it, just to fuck with me. That was enough of a jolt to make me want to slow things down for a hot minute, which was good anyway, because I needed to.

I felt in control, and so relieved at how I felt in the moment versus how I had felt here in ‘07, ‘08, and ‘10, but by mile 15 in a marathon, the fun is really just beginning. Double digit mileage was still waiting to be run.

splits for 11-15: 7:37, 7:23, 7:29, 7:44, 7:35

Miles 16-20

Making our way east on Jackson, as we went through what I thought was the sparsest area of crowd support of the entire race (outside Malcolm X College), somewhere around mile 16 or 16.5 out of nowhere, and probably in my peripheral vision, I saw a guy who looked a lot like Kevin Granato, of Granato Racing fame, on the sideline. I saw half of a Oiselle hoody and thought that had to be him, and a shout in his direction confirmed it; nice pick-me-up again.

Interesting posture, Erin...
Interesting posture, Erin…Also, quads. Calves.
Somewhere around mile 16. Thanks, Kevin! @kgranato
Somewhere around mile 16. Thanks, Kevin! @kgranato

By now, about four AccelGels into the race, my body was feeling good; my stomach wasn’t giving me any distress signals, so I was a pretty happy camper. I was a bit ahead of my pace but still in the safety zone, about 45 seconds ahead of my goal (3:19:59), so I just concentrated on running steadily and smoothly.

Running south on Halsted, right through the UIC campus and over the expressway, I was jolted when I heard an “ERRRRRRRRIN!!!!!” yell from my right side; I quickly realized it was Chanthana, Corey, Tim, and Jenny. I had also missed seeing them at least three times earlier on the course. Shortly thereafter, Coach Rob from Team in Training, one of my coaches when I last ran with them in 2008, was hanging out, so he jumped in and chatted with me for about a half mile. I had seen Rob throughout the summer on the lakefront, so it was cool to connect with him again and just not think for a couple minutes.

Things were clicking, phantom ankle stiffness disappeared, I was smiling a ton when I got shouts from the spectators (seriously, permanent marker to the arms–it’s mostly gone by the time the race is over, but it’s a great boost), and I began to think about when I should start upping my speed. I originally wanted to go at mile 20, or maybe 18 if things felt good, and things were feeling good.

Really good.

I saw a 30k sign, did some quick math, and thought what the hell. 18.6? 26.2? 7.6 miles to pick things up?

Reasonable.

By now, we were approaching and making our way through Pilsen, which was a total blast. The strong food smells emanating from all the Mexican restaurants actually didn’t bother me too much, and I saw the second unofficial food table on the course, some oranges. I had grabbed a banana earlier from some lady around 18 and change, and I thought the oranges would be a welcome break from the AccelGels. I darted from the right side of the course to the left, tried to pick up a few oranges from a table that was lower than my hips, and would you know, I dropped the damn things.

Motherfucker.

Things felt fine though, and I knew the official marathon stations would have bananas from 20.2-24.2. I was pissed I probably spent a couple seconds needlessly running from one side of the course to the other, but all wasn’t lost.

I was still where I needed to be in terms of my pace, with about a 40 second margin under a 3:19:59, so it was just a matter of concentrating from here on out and staying ahead of bonking. I knew my training was strong, I knew I had put in nearly 1,800 miles (thank you, DailyMile) this year before 10/13/13 to be able to race today’s 26.2 fast and intelligently, so it was just a matter of doing it.

splits for 16-20: 7:16, 7:37, 7:31, 7:36, 7:38

Miles 21-26.2

The only thing I can really remember about this part is that as we were going south on Halsted and then northeast on Cermak, as we approached Chinatown, I recalled thinking about how shitty I felt during this stretch in previous CMs. Have you picked up on this pattern yet?  Fortunately, I was still feeling well, but my paces now tell me that I slowed down a bit during this little stretch. I can remember that I was eating a lot through this section–a lot–so much so that at one point, in my left hand I was carrying two banana halves, while in my right, I had no fewer than 4 or 5 orange slices. I’m pretty sure I didn’t take my AccelGels right at 20.2 or 24.2 because I had been eating the real food on the course, but I know I still ended up taking 5 or 6 gels overall. I took the food because even if I didn’t eat it at that very second, I knew I probably would later (or I’d give it to someone else running near me).

I knew that I was slowing down some, but I remember telling myself that I wasn’t bonking, that nutritionally, calorically, whatever, I had been giving myself a near-constant stream of calories over the miles, and that even if I did slow some, the 3:19:59 was still feasible. As my pace hit into the 7:40s though–which still put my cumulative time in the safe zone–I knew things were going tighter.

Chinatown at mile 21 came and went without consequence; in previous years, there were tons of spectators, a dragon performance (like what we have in my ‘hood for Lunar New Year), but it wasn’t the same this year. [Note: not sure if this is actually true or if it’s my distorted memory].

Right as we exited Chinatown and started south on Wentworth, I realized that this stretch of the race, from about the 35k mark to the finish line, was what I had run for kicks on Monday afternoon, after teaching. I remembered that it didn’t really take all that longto run it, so I knew that, barring catastrophe, this whole experience would come to a close soon, even though it felt like the race was flying by. I was beginning to get tired and I knew it, but, like any bull-headed Type A who doesn’t want to give up, I didn’t want to admit it.

As I approached the 23-mile mark, in the heart of the IIT campus, the memories flooded back from spectating here last year. I missed all my friends on the north side but managed to catch a few down there last year. I also remembered my Monday run and realized HOW EFFIN CLOSE I was to finishing the race, and that I just had a few more turns before 26.2. A couple quick turns later, I was at 35th/S. Michigan, the southern most part of the course, around mile 23.25, and became determined to do whatever it took to get to 26.2 under a 3:20. I felt fine–I told myself repeatedly I was fine, there was nothing wrong, I was safe (ha, basically, the same things I tell A during a meltdown)–but I still had some work to do, I still had to get from 3500 south to 1200 south, and this was what Pfitzinger and the MLRs and the 3am wake-ups all summer had trained me for all year long.

I didn’t clock-watch for most of the race. I’d check in periodically, especially if things felt a little off, but for the most part, I ran almost exclusively by feel. Honestly, I was a bit afraid and discouraged to look at my splits on each buzz because I was pissed that I was fading some and especially so toward the end. I knew I was strong, I knew my training was there, and I knew I had run a pretty smart race. Sounds stupid to say out loud, but I didn’t want to be one of the thousands of marathon finishers who had an amazing 30 or 35k and a shitty last stretch.

I’m so over that nonsense. At the risk of sounding like an ass, I know I can run a smarter marathon than that.

That last <3 miles on S. Michigan went by really quickly. I kept thinking (again) of how shitty I had felt on this stretch in years previous, of how by now, I had resorted to walking the water stops, but this time, I tried to fish and see how many people I could pass, even if it never happened (I honestly don’t remember). I also knew that Meredith and the BRC gang who weren’t running on Sunday would be at the 25 mile mark, on my right hand side, and I wanted to see her desperately if for no other reason than I knew once I saw Meredith, I was **this close** to being done. And, of course, I wanted to see a bright, sunshiney and familiar face 🙂

(For the record, she didn’t disappoint. I saw her right away, and at a distance, with a sign that I thought said something about AB liking shorts and chits, which made NO SENSE whatsoever to me. Turns out, Meredith’s sign actually said something about potato chips, not chits. And she had a sign for me, about my sexy shorts and awesomely lame sunglasses, but she had held up the wrong sign at the wrong time.) 🙂

Those last 1.2 miles felt like the fastest finishing miles (or mile and change, anyway) of any marathon I’ve done. Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t. I managed to not actually stop my watch when I finished the race. It felt like almost immediately after I saw Meredith at 25, I saw a sign that said it was only 1000m to go, then 800, then suddenly, I saw myself on the jumbotron.  I scaled Mt. Roosevelt, trying to pass as many people as possible, saw the “300m to go” sign, and turned left onto Columbus. By then, as I eclipsed the mini-mountain and saw the finish line, a quick look at my watch said something around 3:19:high-40s/low-50s (I think), and I knew that things would be crazy tight.

I had come to this realization when I was still on S. Michigan, when my 40-second pad went to 30s, and then 20s, and I told myself that I wouldn’t be upset if I didn’t squeak through in a sub-3:20 because I was still pretty confident I could PR. I knew it would be close, super close, but I also knew that I had finally run a strong CM, better than any of the other three times I had run it, and really, that my whole CM experience before I even began today’s race was nothing short of amazing.

I hauled as much ass as one can haul after running for 26.19 miles, and at 26.2, it was over.

Done.

3:20:06.

Missing the sub-3:20 by 6 seconds initially pissed me off–pretty sure I dropped a “motherfucker” under my breath once I finished–but I immediately replaced that ridiculousness with a huge sense of accomplishment and pride. I went into crazy runner, hippie dippie endocannibinoid overdrive, and I’m pretty sure I thanked every. single. volunteer. at the finish line–the medics, the students giving out food, the beer people (which I stupidly took… what the hell?), everyone. If I made eye contact with you, I said thank you, and chances are, I probably somewhat awkwardly tried to give you a hug or a fistbump or something.

I didn’t want to be that annoying runner, whining about missing her arbitrary-to-everyone-but-herself goal to the world, when the fact that I HAD JUST RUN MY 20TH MARATHON was mind-blowing. And the fact that this is my first marathon that never saw a mile higher than a 7:46 pace.

That right there, my friends, is cool shit.

I honestly thought I’d never see the day.

splits for 21-26.2: 7:44, 7:45, 7:46, 7:46, 7:32, ?.

I noticed I didn’t feel especially stiff afterward, though my legs were happy to begin to move in a different plane of motion for the first time in hours, and I quickly reunited with my BRC teammates, C, and spectating buddies before bookending the rest of my CM experience.

That I had an amazing CM race and got to PR just rocks. It really does.

However, for as amazing as my race was, even with my mistakes of maybe being just a tiny bit aggressive on the front half, possibly screwing up my fueling on the back half, and maybe beginning my kick too early, at 30k instead of 35k (or some other distance), my PR race absolutely, wholeheartedly, 110% pales in comparison to the weekend (or the days, weeks, and months, really) leading up to it.

This marathon was about so much more than me, and my performance, and what I wanted to accomplish here. That’s part two of this though, the journey.

Forthcoming.

Official stats:

Split

Time

Diff

min/mile

miles/h

05K

00:23:39

23:39

07:37

7.89

10K

00:47:27

23:48

07:40

7.83

15K

01:10:58

23:31

07:35

7.93

20K

01:34:32

23:34

07:35

7.91

HALF

01:39:41

05:09

07:35

7.93

25K

01:58:20

18:39

07:42

7.81

30K

02:21:40

23:20

07:31

7.99

35K

02:45:36

23:56

07:43

7.79

40K

03:09:50

24:14

07:48

7.69

Finish

03:20:06

10:16

07:32

7.97

Top 200 IL women marathon finishers- 335 place women – 93rd AG – 2629 (heyooo!) overall