This was my second Chicago marathon and 5th marathon ever. I ran 916 miles of training runs in preparation and took a longer and slower build up than I did last year. Leading up to race week the weather reports were the only thing that was really disconcerting. I know how lucky I am/or how lucky I was, that the weather was my biggest concern. That said, when you are going for a personal record, every little bit matters.
Saturday afternoon did give me a little hope though. It was supposed to rain that evening and then be cooler in the morning. As I would likely be finishing around 11am, my hope was the heat would hold off as long as possible.
I woke up on race day a little before 4am and got ready. Zealios anti-chafing cream and sunscreen being my biggest focus. I put the front of my hair in a Dutch braid, and then braided that braid into the rest of my hair – warrior princess style. After putting on my sparkly headband and kissing John goodbye, I met my mom and dad in the lobby to head to the Balboa Hospitality tent.
The lobby was a caucaphony of noise and activity. We stayed in the hotel being used as headquarters for the race, and all the athletes were gathering in the elevator area. The wheelchair athletes each had their own wheelchair and their racing wheelchairs – which are amazing. We picked our way through the crowd and walked a couple of blocks to the tent.
I felt completely calm this race morning. When I first woke up, there was the usual flood of butterflies, but mostly I just felt ready and excited to listen to my race playlist. I couldn’t wait to execute my plan and get redemption for The Race Debacle of 2016 haha! This refers to my shoes getting pulled off at mile 3! You can read the recap here.
We went into the tent and I got coffee and set about building my English muffin with peanut butter and banana. They didn’t have milk for the coffee, and I debated weather it was worse to have creamer on race morning (nothing new on race day!!) or skip the coffee, which is caffeine and how any runner will tell you they can make the very necessary restroom visit on race morning. I decided on sipping some coffee and some green tea. That worked out perfectly.
Race director, Carey Pinkowski, came in to the tent to introduce several world record holders from previous races. Each gave their advice, but it was all roughly the same: don’t go out too fast, enjoy the course, enjoy the crowds and have FUN.
Shortly after that, I headed towards the start corrals. It was absolute mayhem. I decided to hop in line for the rest room one last time. People were freaking out about the bathroom lines and starting to relieve themselves in places people should not relieve themselves while in public. I was pretty shocked and bonded over that with a wonderful woman from Costa Rica. Shock knows no language barriers.
When I tried to get into the corrals, the volunteers wouldn’t let anymore people in, as they were full. This really made people nervous and some were climbing the cyclone fence to get in! I was not about to break my leg trying to climb a cyclone fence when I had 26.2 miles to deal with. So I just waited, tricked myself into staying calm, and knew that they would move the crowds forward and we’d get to go eventually. After all, your race time doesn’t start until your bib crosses the start line. The first few miles were quite congested and my watch, of course, could get no read on the GPS. My coach had told me to turn auto-lap off so that I could actually know what my paces were. I was very grateful for that.
On the Garmin screen shots below, don’t look at the average pace per mile, as it is incorrect. Look at the furthest column to the left. You can see how the watch shows I was running much more than a mile each time. While some of that is probably true, as you do clock extra time with the course turns and with weaving around people, it wouldn’t have been an extra 1.2 miles, most likely. I know I was not running a 6:39 pace the second mile, that’s for sure.
For the first 10k, I made sure to work on finishing the handheld water bottle I brought, holding my pace back, and not tripping LOL. It flew by. At the 6 mile mark, I dropped my water bottle at an aid station in the garbage. I tired to keep my pace a touch slower than 8 minutes per mile. Which was really hard considering I had no confirmation of the pace except for one every mile marker. Luckily I was really well prepared and my body knows an 8 minute mile pace.
At mile 3 I saw roadkill of somekind that may have been a rat, which was probably trampled by runners. I said a little prayer for the rat and thought back to my bizarre fate at mile 3 last year. Then I took some deep breaths and stayed in my mile, meaning I tried not to think too far ahead, or the fact that I had 23 miles left to not trip.
After the first 10k, I let myself run just about 8 minute miles, or a touch faster. I was feeling great. Nothing hurt, my head was clear. I had taken a Huma Plus gel at mile 5 and ½ package of Clif Shot Bloks at mile 10. Before the race, I had pre-opened the Bloks and separated half into a plastic bag. I am very clumsy at opening them and dropped approximately all of them when practicing during training runs if I didn’t pre-open.
I kept thinking in my head that mile 20 was the halfway point. So once I got to mile 10, I was halfway to halfway. For me, that final 6 miles is really harder than the first 20. So this mental game was something I had planned on doing to help those feelings of despair of “6 miles left.”
I was taking in water at every aid station, but I could feel my lips becoming very chapped and dry (always a sign of dehydration for me) and I felt very thirsty, anxiously anticipating each water stop. Around mile 12, I started taking a cup to drink, and a cup to throw on my head and torso to keep my core temperature down. I think it was a mile 13, they had kiddie pools filled with ice and sponges, and the sponges were being handed out to the runners. It felt AMAZING.
My coach had told me I could try to bring the pace down at mile 13 if I was feeling good. And after that ice sponge OH BUDDY. I was Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, striding down those Chicago streets like the Dragon mother warrior princess I had trained to be!! That is a runner’s high you guys haha (miles 14, 15 & 16).
I was so proud of myself at every mile marker. When I hit lap and my watch showed my pace, it was magic. I had a package of sports beans at mile 15, full of sugar and caffeine; they are one of my favorite forms of fuel. They roiled in my stomach though, and I had to bargain with myself to get each one down, but I was still ok, and I still wanted to fight.
Around mile 20 was when the magic started to slow down. I was terrified of stopping for fear of not being able to start again, but I also knew I needed to get more water down. Also, I went to look for my final fuel, the other half of the package of Shot Bloks, and it was gone. DAMN! It must have fallen out. I didn’t know if it would be worse to take the Gatorade gels offered on course, or to just drink Gatorade. My stomach was angry at this point, and I wasn’t sure I could swallow solid food. That said, the last time I had lemon-lime Gatorade was in Boston and I promised myself I’d never drink it again. I grabbed a pack of chews from a volunteer and smelled them. Lemon lime Gatorade it would have to be haha!!
Mile 23 was the hardest. I ran just under a 9 minute mile and everything hurt. Plus, as my watch was so far ahead, every time I was hitting a mile marker now, my watch showed I should be a mile further than I actually was. It was messing with my head. But I did realize I had enough time for a very solid Boston Qualifying time if I could push past this and GO. So I started working. I knew I needed an average of an 8 mile mile for the last 2 miles if I was going to pull this off. My coach had me do so many fast finish long runs during training, and I had hit some fast paces on tired legs, so I knew I could do it.
Ok, I know my shorts look like there was an accident, but I was dumping water on myself as often as I could to stay cool. Bonus: I got to look even less cool than I felt temperature wise.
At mile 24, my headphones died. I saw the 3:30 pacer and reeled him in. As I drew level with him and then dropped him, he screamed, “YES YES GO GO GO RUN HARD!!” It gave me a boost and I pushed.
At mile 25 I stopped looking or caring what my watch said. I just knew that everything hurt, and that I wasn’t going to quit. It was hot, and the largely shaded course of earlier was no longer shaded. I thought I heard my dad’s voice at some point, and kept pushing. As we turned to push up the overpass to get to the last stretch of the course, I felt a tap on my arm and turned to see Dale. My sweet friend from Instagram who I had never met in person. She was like seeing an actual angel. She told me, “It’s ok, we got this.” And I then I ran as hard I could.
LOL at this pain face.
I don’t remember seeing mile 26, or hitting lap on my watch, but I must have. I didn’t hit lap at the .2 mile mark per Garmin, but from the course info, it looks like I came in at around a 7:30 pace.
Why did I even try to lift arms? Kudos to the lady in front of me though. Those abs and that finish line shot are kick ass.
As we crossed the finish line, I wanted to hug Dale, but I thought I was going to throw up. I desperately wanted to stop moving, but also couldn’t. I thought I had to have run a PR, since I passed the 3:30 pacer – but later I would learn he had fallen off from the pace group). I hobbled through the finish line chute and got my medal and towel soaked in ice water. My skin felt like it was on fire. After what felt like another mile of walking, I got back to the Balboa tent and found my mom. We hugged and I cried happy tears. I hadn’t run a PR, but I had Boston Qualified for 2019, and I had beaten the course that had beaten me.
I got a massage and had part of a cookie and a beer, and then said good bye to my parents so they could start their trip home.
From there, we headed over to the runner party and I met my friend Rhea. John & had sat on the grass with her and we all had beers and chatted. It was awesome.
Definitely worth the sunburn I received from our post race beer picnic.
I am the tiniest bit sad that I didn’t run a personal best time. After all, my qualifying time for Boston 2019 now means I won’t be able to register early. But after how difficult Boston was in the heat, I can’t help but be more happy than sad. I had one of the best training cycles I’ve ever experienced, and built up a lot of fitness. Running Boston in that heat was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and it made me seriously question my ability to ever be able to perform when the weather is over 60 degrees. Especially given that I live in an area where most summer mornings are 55 and foggy, I could have really blown up in the 70 degree temps at the end of the race. While I am motivated to finally get that damn PR, for now, I think I’ll celebrate.