I did it…I RAN a MARATHON!

That’s right friends, after 6 months of panic attacks, 4 months of dedicated training, 456.49 miles logged over 82 hours and 46 minutes (and 7 seconds to be exact), 2 booze free block parties and a lot of early weekend mornings…I am a marathoner!  I cannot even begin to describe how awesome it is to be able to say that!

I’m a little (ok, a LOT) behind in my blogging, but better late than never, right?  Things have been quite busy around here since the race, but that’s a good thing, especially since I took a week off from running for recovery.  Taking time off from running makes me antsy.  I feel like a sloth, my sleep is thrown off and I’m generally crabbier and irritable.  Yes, I think I just might be addicted.  Luckily, between hosting an out of town guest (my Mom), catching up at work after a week off and catching up on my schoolwork I haven’t had time for much else, so I didn’t really have a chance to go through withdrawals too badly.  Sure, I missed the structure of training and I missed the “all is right in the world again” feeling I get during and after a good run, but there was just no way for me to get my fix last week.  I’m writing after a great 2 mile recovery run yesterday and I’m feeling inspired again.  So, without further ado, here is a review of my very first (but certainly not last) marathon!

Bank of America Chicago Marathon (10/13/2013) – aka The Best Day of My Life!

The day began like any other race day.  I woke up before the alarm went off with my usual race day nervous stomach, and in an attempt to get as much sleep as possible, I closed my eyes and tried to shut out as many thoughts as possible.  I must have been successful because the next hour and half flew by and before I knew it, the alarm began to sing it’s happy tune.  Not wanting to wake up the whole house, I immediately got out of bed and began preparing for the big day.  Having laid out my outfit and other race gear the night before, I finished getting ready with lots of time to spare.

I left the house at 5:15am so I could catch the 5:30am Green Line train to downtown Chicago, and thanks a series of red lights, I arrived to the station only a few minutes before the train arrived.  Once on the train I was able to relax a little – as much as a first time marathoner can before the big race.  I calmed my nerves by mentally going over my pacing, nutrition and hydration plan for the day.  The train had a few other runners on it, and I have to admit, eavesdropping on their conversations about their past Chicago Marathon experiences helped too.

By the time the train pulled into the Adams/Wabash stop I was more excited than nervous and as I reached the bottom of the stairs on the corner of Adams, I couldn’t help but feel the excitement in the air.  The city was still asleep, but it was very much awake with the buzzing and excitement of 40,000 runners.  After walking a few blocks I made my way through Gate #3 and into the Start/Finish line area.  As corny as it may sound, the combination of the excitement in the air and my nerves got the best of me and when the security agent who checked my bag said “you’re all set, have a great race”, I began to tear up.  All I could think was “Wow, I’m really going to do this.  They told me I would never run again and here I am.  I’m going to run a MARATHON today”.  For the next hour I sat on the sidewalk, watching the sun rise over the lake and then the city, listening to other runners excitedly talk about their months of training and plans for the race.  I helped a few fellow runners take photos and chatted with them about the weather, the course, and just about everything in between.  Here is a photo of me before I was brave enough to shed my warm-ups:

Freezing before the start.

Freezing before the start.

It was a cool morning but I knew that I would warm up as soon as I started running.  Knowing this didn’t make it any easier to take off my jacket and sweatpants and hand them over to gear check.  Concerned that I was placed in a much slower corral than I should have been in (due to my own stupidity when I registered), I wanted to be sure I was at the front of the corral.  To ensure my place at the front of the corral, I checked my gear about 45 minutes before start time and subsequently stood there freezing for the next hour and 7 minutes.  After about 30 minutes of goosebumps and constant shivering, I began to worry that I was wasting some much needed energy, but there wasn’t much I could do so I just put the thought out of my mind and tried to enjoy the start line experience.

Finally, 22 minutes after my wave started, I crossed the start line and began my journey to the finish.  As I said in my previous posts, my goal for the day was to run the whole race and just finish.  I was not concerned with meeting a time goal this time around, and more than anything, I wanted to savor the experience.  I heard that the crowd support at the Chicago Marathon was fantastic and I was looking forward to reading signs, high-fiving complete strangers and experiencing the on course entertainment.  Within the first mile I knew the rumors were true.  Every inch of the course was lined with spectators holding signs and cheering us on.

Running with the masses just after Mile 1!

Running with the masses just after Mile 1!

The first 9 miles of the race were great.  I kept to a slow and steady pace, taking in the sights as I ran under the BP Pedestrian Bridge, past the Chicago Theater, through Old Town, past the Lincoln Park Zoo, through Boys Town (my absolute FAVORITE part of the race…awesome entertainment and energy through that section!) and back through Lincoln Park and Old Town again.

Having fun at Mile 3!

Having fun at Mile 3!

My breathing was right on and my legs felt rested and strong.  I was cruising right along and really enjoying myself when I felt the first twinge of pain radiating from my big toe.  I knew exactly what was happening…my recurring giant blister was making its race day comeback.  I don’t understand how I can run miles and miles on my solo long runs and not have a problem, but when I’m participating in an organized event I always seem to end up with a large and very painful blister starting around mile 7.  I knew I should stop to get a band-aid from one of the medical tents, but it didn’t hurt that bad so I decided to just keep trudging along.

Meanwhile, my husband was running a marathon of his own.  He was a rockstar! By the time I got to mile 11, I saw Josh 3 times, and was looking forward to seeing him at least 2 more times before I finished.  He put together an awesome plan and seeing him gave me the oomph I needed to keep going strong.

Crusin' along at Mile 10.5

Crusin’ along at Mile 10.5

Mile by mile I made my way to toward the finish.  Somewhere just after the halfway point I stopped to walk through an aid station and when I began running again I noticed that my knees and ankles were starting to ache a bit, nothing serious though.

Still all smiles at Mile 14.5!

Still all smiles at Mile 14.5!

Moving right along, I saw my In-Laws and Mother cheering me on at mile 14.5, and I gave them high fives as I ran on by.  I was so glad to see Josh at mile 16.5, as he was holding two extra CLIF Shots for me since I couldn’t fit them all in my SPI belt and small water bottle pocket.

Wishing Josh had a new big toe for me instead of just CLIF Shots at Mile 16.5

Wishing Josh had a new big toe for me instead of just CLIF Shots at Mile 16.5

At this point, I really wished he had a new big toe for me instead of the CLIF Shots though!  I stopped for a quick shot transfer and a photo op and was on my way again.  This time, I noticed that my knees and ankles were getting really sore, but only when I started running again from a walking stride.

The next 4 miles are a complete blur.  I tried to “check-out” for a while and focused on my surroundings instead of the radiating pain coming from my big toe.  At mile 20 I remember feeling nervous about the next 6.2 miles but calmed myself by giving myself a once over, almost as if checking the system status of a car on a long road trip.  All systems were functioning well, and I knew I would make it to the finish with no problem.  My breathing was still nice and even and I still had plenty of energy.  I couldn’t feel the pain in my toe anymore, but my knees and ankles were still sore when starting back up from walking through aid stations, so I tried to run through them if I wasn’t planning on taking fluids since they were fine as long as I kept running.  I was amazed when I crossed mile 23.1 and realized that I still felt great and I only had a 5K left.  Easy peasy, I thought, I’ve got this in the bag!  I picked-up my pace a bit those last 3 miles, and determined to run the whole thing, focused on powering through the hill right before making the turn to the finish line.

Still going strong at Mile 25.5!

Still going strong at Mile 25.5!

As I made the turn for the final 400 meters of the race I ran into a friend and we ran to the finish together.  This is the same friend that helped me through my very first half marathon and inspired me to start running again in the first place, so it was almost poetic that out of 40,000 other runners I would run into her right at the finish of my first marathon.  As we sprinted (as fast a sprint as one can muster after running 26 miles) to the finish, I got a little emotional, but held the tears back and went for elation instead.  I raised my arms, yelled “woohoo” and crossed the finish line smiling ear to ear.  I did it!  I ran a marathon! 

Unofficial Results

Unofficial Results

We continued to walk through the finisher chute and I teared up again when a very kind lady placed my medal around my neck and said “congratulations, great job!”.  We then grabbed a banana and a beer as we walked toward gear check to gather our belongings.  I took about three bites of the banana and one swig of beer before tossing them both in the trash.  My stomach was not ready to handle anything just yet, it was too full of water, Gatorade and CLIF Shots.

The medal!

The medal!

I was never in such a hurry to take my shoes off and put on a pair of flip flops as I was after this race.  As soon as I got my bag from gear check I carefully slipped off my shoes and stared in awe at the size of the blister on my big toe.  Surprisingly, my feet were the only body parts that hurt immediately after the race, or maybe it was just the runner’s high and pride of finishing a marathon masking the aches and pains that would come later.

After finally locating my husband, we all boarded the L to head back home.  Walking was fine and I was surprised at how easily I was able to climb the stairs to the platform (sure, it wasn’t comfortable, but it wasn’t painful either).  Sitting on the train felt great and I began to feel a little tired.  By the time we reached the Oak Park stop I was ready for a nap.  We got off the train and as I took one step down the stairs I saw stars.  After what seemed like an eternity, I finally made my way to the bottom of the stairs and shuffled up the street to Gepetto’s Pizzeria where my run club was hosting a pizza party for runners and volunteers.  It was so fun to hear everyone’s story, and the pizza was pretty good too!  We left the pizza party about an hour later and headed home to relax.  The first thing I did was take a looooong shower and boy did it feel good!  I still felt pretty darn good, until I sat down for an hour and then tried to stand back up.  Every muscle from my lower back to my toes felt like it was tightening up and I started walking around like Frankenstein.  My hips were tight, my knees ached, my ankle was sore and swollen, and my toe was, well lets just say, angry.

Look at the angle of my ankle...no wonder it was swollen!

Look at the angle of my leg…no wonder my knees and ankles hurt!

While sitting down for dinner and looking at some of the pictures of me running, it dawned on me…the reason my knees and ankle were so swollen and sore was because I was constantly dodging and passing other runners (and sometimes walkers, especially at the end of the race).  I knew I was assigned to the wrong corral, but I certainly did not expect to be passing that many people.  According to  the unofficial results, 38,535 people started the race and I finished 29,553rd.  I was in corral “L” with only one corral behind me, corral “M”.  I would guesstimate corrals L and M held about about 2,000 runners total, since they looked pretty small.  This means that I passed approximately 6,900 people over the course of the race.  Even if my guesstimate is off by 2,000 people, that still a lot of people to pass!  No wonder my knees and ankles were sore and swollen!  Oh well, lesson learned for the next one!

Overall this was an absolutely amazing experience and I’m so glad I chose Chicago for my first marathon.  The crowd support is amazing, the course is scenic and flat (except for that evil and cruelly placed hill right before the finish), and if the weather is right, it’s hard to have a bad race.  If I could be guaranteed to have the weather we had on October 13th, I would do this race again in a heartbeat.  But alas, Chicago weather is so unpredictable, especially this time of year, I’m afraid to chance it.  I almost feel that because I had such an awesome experience, I would be tempting fate by running Chicago again.  I had such a perfect day and race, I’m afraid to ruin the memory.  Maybe I’ll see if I can get into New York next year.

Well friends, that’s it…”marathon” has now been checked off my bucket list.  I would like to take a moment to thank my family, friends, coworkers and all of my blog followers for your support and encouragement throughout this process.  You have given me the drive and have helped me succeed in reaching my goal.  You have gotten me out of bed at 3am to get my long run in before the heat of the day.  You have given me fueling, hydration and gear advice.  You have inspired me to run faster and even just to keep running when I wanted to quit.  You have all been an inspiration to me and I am forever grateful for your support, advice and encouraging words.

Now that the marathon is over, I will switch my focus to my next half marathon, which is scheduled for January 25th.  This time around, I’m going to try using a more advanced training plan and will work in strength training and yoga in the hopes of improving my speed and breaking my half marathon curse.  Training officially starts in a few weeks, but rest assured, I won’t be just sitting around in the meantime.  I have a few races coming up and I would really like to PR in a 5K and 10K before the end of the year.  On that note, I’m going to head to bed so I can get up early tomorrow and get a quick run in before work.  Tomorrow evening is girls night out with my run club friends, a sure to be good time!

Until next time, happy running!

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