Oct. 9, 2016 | Bank of America Chicago Marathon
How do I even begin to explain the roller coaster that was the Chicago Marathon?
I remember that when I first received confirmation that my application had been accepted, I was feeling so many different emotions in one instant that I almost felt like I had no feelings at all. I believe the phrase would be “emotional paralysis” but I could be making things up, which is a likely scenario. Because according to this, I was feeling nervous as HECK.
The journey to Chicago was difficult. Normally, I would only discuss the race and (maybe) a few highlights leading up to the actual event. But this experience was not the same as that of my other race, especially regarding the training. So for the sake of documentation (and so if you were to run a marathon for the first time, you’ll know how crazy it can get) and keeping things relatively organized, this will be a two-part post. Part One is Pre-Race (which you are welcome to skip if you just want to hear about my suffering through 26.2 miles) and Part Two is the actual Race Recap, which will also include the shakeout run prior to the race.
Part One: Pre-Race, Or: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Bitter
I had started training with the intention of sharing updates and tips. That, obviously, did not happen. The biggest reason for that was that I had gotten injured. I had carefully planned my long runs and scheduled my other training runs to accommodate my weightlifting sessions (because if you hadn’t heard already, I’m a multi-sport athlete, and I can’t afford to lose much muscle during marathon training). Training went smoothly for several weeks. Then, I ended my 13-mile training run (which was, yes, the half marathon that I had ran with my coworkers) with a horrific pain in my leg. That pain left me unable to walk, let alone run.
After a few days of intense recovery, rehab work, and expletives, I was able to walk and resume my other sports. Unfortunately, I couldn’t run more than half a mile without my leg seizing up.
Needless to say, my training plan had to be put on hold and the question of whether or not I’d even get to attempt the Chicago Marathon arose.
I was frustrated. I didn’t put this much work into training to get stopped halfway!
This is the part where it gets a little “Hollywood” in the story. Cue a montage of me spending hours in physical therapy, lifting weights over my head, swimming, and stretching. Mix in a few shots of me throwing a towel in frustration, grimacing in the middle of a stretch, and breathing really freaking hard because training is hard work, darn it!
And then, finally, months later…
I finally get cleared to run again. Hallelujah! I can properly train again!
Oh, wait. Did I mention that when I was given clearance, I only had a month and a few days left before the Chicago Marathon?
…And that because I hadn’t run in months, I was basically starting from Level 0?
I don’t condone high jumps in mileage, but that’s what I had to do. I worked with my physical therapist to come up with a training plan that we would adjust every week depending on how my runs went. I spent a couple of weeks running three to five miles, trying to get my legs back, before making the jump to seven and eight miles.
(Side note: Are you a new runner? I don’t recommend doing this at all. If you’ve never done extreme distances or physical activity and you find yourself in this situation, I highly recommend either pulling out of the race/event or walking. Just because I managed to get away with it doesn’t mean you can. 1) Everyone’s different and not everyone’s body can handle the same kinds of stress. 2) As a multi-sport athlete who rigorously trains on a normal basis, I have a higher tolerance and fitness level than the average person. Take my experience as a learning one, not as one to replicate.)
Thankfully, because of the amount of cross-training that I did while I was working to get my legs back to handle the stress of running, my cardiovascular fitness was fine. It was my legs that needed the work. And, boy, did they need work.
Cue another montage. For that entire month, my life was nothing but running, lifting, and athletic training. In the rain. Early in the morning. Late at night. How I spent the last month was essential; if I was going to be remotely ready for Chicago, I needed to go all out (within reason, of course, but I admittedly got pretty close to crossing that line).
By the time it came for me to fly out to Chicago, I did all I could in the amount of time I had. The longest run that I had managed to complete post injury was 10 miles. If it had been a half marathon, it would have been fine. But this was a full marathon, so it was considerably “less fine.” Still, whether I was ready or not, the Chicago Marathon was here.
Now it was just a matter of doing what I could, given the little preparation I had, and coming to terms with the fact that this race was not going to go how I had initially planned. When I first started training, I was targeting a 4-hour finish. In my current situation, it was a matter of just finishing.
And I was going to cross that finish line even if I had to crawl.
Part Two: Race Day, Or: Pre-Race Shakeout Complete And Why Do My Legs Feel Like Death
I usually never run the day before a race (call it superstition, if you will), but my physical therapist and I had agreed that I needed to do a shakeout run before the race. Incidentally, there was a 5K the day before the Chicago Marathon. So I registered to run and got a cozy hat for finishing. And contrary to how I thought I was going to feel afterward, it turned out that my legs really needed the extra jolt.
(Until about seven hours later, after spending practically the whole day on my feet, my legs started getting really mad at me. But, shhhh…)
Cue the last minute three hours of desperately rolling out and stretching to get my legs to a better working condition.
The next morning, as I walked up to the start line, some people asked if I was nervous. My coworkers and friends had asked if I was excited before I left for Chicago, to which I had no particular answer. And even though I was now just several hundred feet away from the Start Line, I still had no answer. Was I nervous? No. Was I excited? Not in any way that I could easily point out.
It was probably because I just wanted to do the best I could do and that I truly had no expectations. Or, maybe I had just run and trained so much leading up to Race Day that I just didn’t care and wanted it to be over. Regardless, I only had one mission: finish the marathon and don’t get injured.
Once the gun went off, I joined thousands of people on the course as we took over the streets of Chicago. The weather was impeccable, with an approximate 60°F and not a cloud in sight. I kept to a comfortable pace, one that allowed me to keep even and easy breathing. I chose not to look at my watch and opted to just focus on staying at what I felt comfortable with until I covered more miles.
Then at Mile 6, I started feeling a little tired. Uh, oh. Definitely not good with 20.2 miles to go. I figured it was because of the slight inclines — which are arguably worse than hills. Inclines are sneaky little bastards.
Finally, when I reached the halfway mark (13.1 miles), I looked down at my watch.
Oh, that’s why I feel like dying.
I had unintentionally PRed my half marathon time. Unofficially, I had shaved about 10 minutes off my record time.
At that point, two things happened: 1) I got excited and decided that no matter what my full marathon time was going to be, I’d already accomplished something I didn’t think would happen 2) my legs started crying.
My legs lasted about two more miles before I finally decided to slow down and walk. I was now officially in uncharted territory in terms of mileage. And given everything so far, I decided that it was safer for me to start doing intervals to avoid injuring myself. (Thanks, speed runs!)
To be fairly honest, the second half seemed to have flown by a lot faster than it should have. I just continued switching speeds, rotating between walks, sprints, and jogs, stopping at every aid station to make sure I wouldn’t cramp. At one point, I threw globs of BioFreeze that a medic was handing out on my legs. I don’t remember when exactly this happened, but I eventually blacked out during the remaining miles.
Then, the final mile arrived. Then the final 800m. It was balls to the walls time, and I decided to pull out whatever I had left to finish the final sprint.
(By the way, whose idea was it to have the last 400m uphill? Because that was rough.)
Race Day Gear:
Shoes: Nike LunarGlide 8
Bottoms: Nike Rival Shorts (4″)
Top: Nike Custom Singlet From “The Republic”, a run club I run with in Los Angeles.
Bra: Nike Pro Indy Crossback
Socks: Nike Elite Compression OTC
Other: Garmin Forerunner 220 Watch, Nike Lean Waistpack