Monday, October 17, 2011

The 27th Mile

Here I sit... a marathoner.

So many months of preparation, so many blog posts. But, I've officially done it, and I have a medal to prove it.

So much to say regarding the entire experience. First of all, the energy and excitement of 45,000 runners is ridiculous. And from the second we crossed the start line until the second we crossed the finish line, thousands and thousands of Chicagoans lined the streets to cheer us on. It was ridiculously inspirational. Some of the best posters I saw included, "Don't poop yourself," "You've got stamina... call me," "Don't stop, people are watching," and "Who needs toenails anyways?"

Seriously though... the crowd cheering you on, or handing out water, or dragging their hoses to the street to spray the runners in the >80 degree heat... just amazing. And what's more amazing is when you're running, and all of a sudden you hear your name screamed out, and there in the crowd are your friends and family who've traveled from all over to support and encourage you. It was truly amazing.

So what of the race? Well... hands down, it was the hardest run I have done in the entire process. In fact, it was the day when everything went wrong. Literally every fear I had come across while training came to life on marathon day, and yet I still finished. Let me explain.

First of all, when you get to the start corrals, every one is waiting for things to begin... and they do, promptly at 7:30. The elite runners take off, and those of us in the middle or back of the pack don't move. It took us almost 30 minutes to get to the starting line. The first three miles were actually kind of difficult. You really couldn't pick your own pace - there were just too many people crammed in on the street. It took at least the first 5K to start to thin the crowd out. So when we began, our first few miles were paced around 12 minutes, and we couldn't speed it up if we wanted to.

Eventually, the crowd thinned. We did really well for the first half of the race, and were on pace to finish around 4:50, which would have been amazing, and right in line with what I had been training for.

It was >80 that day, and you really started to feel it by about 10-11am. When I began the race, I was sweating like a pig, but after about the first 10 miles, I felt as though I was no longer sweating enough. I upped my water intake, but I just didn't feel right.

The water stations were tough. It was almost impossible to not walk through them. There are thousands of cups on the ground, and everyone is starting and stopping around you. Your shoes were literally sticky and would stick to the pavement for the next few minutes due to all the gatorade you ran through.

Somewhere circa mile 14, my not feeling well started to really catch up with me. I added in some extra walking, had some gu, and did what I could, but I felt sort of dizzy. It eventually passed. Kev was having some cramping of his hamstrings at that point, too, so we were stopping to stretch.

About mile 15, I was running when a woman behind me tripped. She went flying forward, I guess, and rather than falling to the ground, she grabbed my legs with both hands to stop herself. I was midstride with my right foot (the one I had hurt previously in training), and with her weighing me down I couldn't pick up my foot right and rolled my ankle. She barked a quick apology and continued to run. I stopped and choked back tears. My ankle definitely hurt, and all of a sudden I was afraid I wouldn't be able to finish. I calmed myself down and we kept trudging on.

Circa mile 16 or so, I definitely felt like I needed my inhaler, but I didn't put it in my pack. I have NEVER required my inhaler mid-run during all of my training. Kev had to use the bathroom, so we stopped for a few and I calmed my breathing down as best I could, and eventually got back on the road.

Mile 18... stopped to take out my contacts. My right eye was streaming constant tears like something was caught behind it, and I couldn't take it anymore. The person on the sideline that was standing near me as I did this and threw my contacts to the ground looked at my like I was crazy. Whatever, lady, I'm running a marathon here!

And after that... it was just pure pain. I have no idea why it hurt so much to run this race... I had done 22 miles before and never hurt like this. My ankle was a big part of the pain, but every muscle in my legs and feet was in pain. Kevin was having the same issue, his feet screaming with every step. But here you are, 6 or 8 miles from the finish. And to be honest, I just wanted to stop and cry. But are you gonna stop at that point?


We trudged on... walking more than we had intended, but we did what we had to. Our goal, all along, was to finish. And we did just that. The last 2 miles coming up Michigan Ave was ridiculous, with so many people out to cheer us on and let us all know how far we had to go to get to the finish line. And just as we turned onto Roosevelt for the last 0.2 miles, there was our cheering section, screaming their heads off in support.

And then we turned onto Columbus, and we could see the finish line. We had done it. All told, we clocked a time that was 45 minutes longer than what we had trained for. There is definitely a part of me that's disappointed in this. I don't say that to belittle the accomplishment, but I spent so much time and effort training and I felt like I didn't meet my potential. When the race ended, I swore up and down I'd never do another marathon... was too much pain. But who knows, maybe in a few years I'll decide I can do better. But that's a long way off.

No matter how you slice it, I am a marathoner. I dragged my aching body 26.2 miles and was still able to walk when it was done. I have achieved something that less than 2% of the world population can say they've done. And here I am, saying that my performance wasn't good enough. What am I, absolutely insane?

What a wild ride this has been. I am so proud of what I accomplished. It's not the 26.2 miles, per say... it's more that I set a goal that I wasn't sure I could complete from the onset. But, I put my mind to it and achieved all I set out to do. It's an amazing feeling. And to hear the encouragement and praise from friends and family is icing on the cake.

Today, I returned to the gym for the first time since the marathon. I can finally walk without pain, and today I got on the treadmill and ran a few miles. It was a good feeling. So what now? Oh, who knows. I've got my eye on the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot as my next goal. It's an 8k. C'mon, I can do that in my sleep.

I definitely think I'll keep running. I've come to enjoy it. And I think I'll try to do a few races a year... 15k's or half marathons. They're good challenges that require some focus and training, but they're definitely attainable. I have also tossed around the idea of doing a sprint triathlon in the next few years. You never know what I'm going to do next.

Thank you all so much for reading along all these months and keeping track of me. I don't know if I'll continue to blog now and then or if this will fall silent for a while, but do check back in. If nothing else, I hope that this blog and my journey gave you all a little inspiration. If you have a dream or a goal... go for it. You never, ever know what you can achieve if you don't try.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Going the Distance

Here we are... the eve of it all. It's unreal to think that after all this time, the day is actually here. I feel like there's been so much preparation, so much talk, and yet somehow it still doesn't seem real. But after going to the Runners' Expo this afternoon and feeling the excitement of all the participants, and after walking the streets to see hundreds of marathon shirts, it's pretty clear that this is happening.

What a wild ride this has been. I've dedicated a lot of time, effort, and even money to this goal. Oh, and toenails. I've dedicated those too.

I went back and looked at my training spreadsheet, and totaled up that I have run 426.75 miles in preparation for this event.

And yet, if I walked out my front door right now and ran those 426 miles again, I still wouldn't even be half way home. So as yet another display of their love and support, friends and family have traveled here to see take on the challenge. And those that couldn't make it have been sending all the well wishes in the world.

I can't say enough how absolutely blessed I am to have some many people in my life who provide me with undying love and support. I have never for a second taken this for granted. As always, I would never have succeeded thus far without them, and my achievements are once again theirs as much as they are mine.

The pasta has been eaten. The bottles of water have been drank. The pack is packed, the clothes are clean, the alarms are set. It's time to do this. By the next time I write, I'll be a marathoner... barring any unforeseen events. Many thank yous to those who have shared this journey with me. See you at the finish line.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Final Countdown

Yesterday, I laced up my shoes and hit the trail for the last time before the race. I honestly cannot believe that it's here. It's all so surreal.

As I walk around downtown, huge Bank of America banners hang from the light posts, saying "Let's Run Together." Grant Park is already full of tents - with more going up each day - and the streets are already lined with gates for the crowds.

Yesterday I walked into NikeTown, and it is filled with Marathon paraphernalia. Just as you walk in, there's this huge mural that says "Own Chicago" with lists of all the neighborhoods the race runs through, and at which mile you'll reach it. All the teeshirts, sweatshirts, and jackets sport the marathon logo. You couldn't help but feel the energy in there.

Turns out, this is actually happening.

It's just hard to believe it. I started thinking about running this race in about November of last year. I signed up in February, and at that time started to increase my outside running even though the weather wasn't quite ready for it. In May, my official training began, and I've run every mile of it outside.

I have run through everything you can think of. Sun, clouds, rain, shine, wind, snow covered paths, extreme heat, frigid snow. I've run in the daylight, I've run at nighttime. I've managed to squeeze my training in before or after shifts, before weddings, before roadtrips. I've made it through hangovers, colds, allergies. Somehow, despite it all, I made it happen.

I was just telling my brother the other day that if I were to ever run a marathon, this was the year to do it. I was somehow blessed with a schedule that kept weekends open such that I could fit my long runs in without a problem. This marathon is flat - which I definitely need - and this city provided me such an awesome arena to train in. Now's the time.

I've trained and practiced my routines as best I could And in three days time, I'll put it all to the test with 40,000 of my newest friends.

2:22:28:49. It's the final countdown.