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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Twas the Night Before the Marathon

Holy cow, I can’t believe the big day is finally here!  In just about 11 hours I will be making my way into my start corral to begin the biggest challenge of my life so far.  I am a ball of nerves and excitement, and just cannot wait to experience everything that is the great Chicago Marathon! 

The last two weeks have been interesting, to say the least.  My mind has been in overdrive, alternating between confidence and trust in my training, to fear and doubt.  Since I did my homework, I knew in the back of my mind that I must be experiencing a bit of taper madness, and this was all very normal.  Knowing that running extra miles wouldn’t help, and could potentially hurt my chances of a successful finish, I kept to the training program.  Because the runs were shorter and my endurance has improved so much over the last few months (especially since it has gotten cooler) I found a faster pace to be much easier, and had to keep reminding myself that I should be taking it easy and resting my legs for the main event.  Here are my stats for the last two weeks:

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In final preparation for the race, I have laid out my clothes, gathered the rest of my gear including gels, ear buds, post race flip flops, compression socks and anything else I could possibly want or need tomorrow.  I feel as though I am prepared and am looking forward to a great day.  The weather is forecast to be perfect…high’s in the mid to upper 60’s, lows in the mid to upper 40’s, low humidity, no rain and a light breeze.  As I have said before, since this is my first marathon I’m not worried about meeting a time goal, I just want to get out there, have fun and finish feeling proud of my accomplishment.  That being said, after weeks of research, trail and error and practice, I feel like I have a solid pacing, hydrating and fueling plan that will hopefully get me across the finish line feeling good. 

Well friends, the next time I write, I hope to be able to count myself in the very, very small percentage of the U.S. population that has finished a marathon!  Until then, good luck to all of my fellow Chicago Marathon runners and happy running!

Oops…I did it again!

I’m so sorry for falling off the radar again!  A wise friend once told me that a “but” in an apology smells as bad as your own…but…school has started up again and I have been super busy trying to get ahead, in anticipation of the time consuming high mileage marathon training weeks ahead.

When I last wrote, I discussed my doubts and fears about being able to finish the marathon and my scheduled 18 mile long run after a failed half marathon race.  Thanks to a week and a half of good training runs, I’m happy to report that my confidence level is improving, but I still fear, and am awed by the distance that lays ahead of me.  I started a countdown to marathon day, which caused more anxiety than excitement, so I have since stopped looking at it.  My goal in the next few weeks is to work on the mental aspect of my training.  I need to train my brain to power through, to not give up when the going gets a little tough and to stop worrying about how fast everyone else is running.  I need to keep reminding myself that this is for me, this is my goal…I am not doing this to keep up with anyone or to beat anyone…I’m doing this to prove to myself that I CAN do this…and I WILL do this…even if it takes me 6.5 hours to do it.  Here is how my training runs have gone recently:

Tuesday, September 3rd (Easy Run – 4 Miles):

The first Tuesday of every month is my run club’s monthly meeting and I wasn’t missing this one for anything.  This month, Cary Pinkowski, Executive Race Director for the Chicago Marathon, came to speak with us and answer any questions we might have about the race.  Since this is my first marathon and first time even experiencing the awesomeness that is the Chicago Marathon (or so I’m told, and I tend to believe), I was excited to get a behind the scenes look and learn as much as I could about the race.  Not wanting to fall behind in my training, I decided I would run to the meeting and then run home.  Not exactly a true 4 mile training run, but I figured if I ran each half fast, it would make up for the rest time in between runs.  My run to the meeting was great.  I was surprised at how good I felt coming off of a horrible half marathon experience the day before.  I was expecting to be sore or tired, but surprisingly, I felt great…I’m sure the cooler and drier air helped.  The meeting was great and I left feeling both excited and incredibly nervous about “the big day”.  It might seem crazy, but I’m more nervous about this race than I was about my wedding day!  My run home was also good.  Here are my stats for these runs:

9.3.13

Wednesday, September 4th (Mid-Week Long Run – 9 Miles):

This run went reasonably well, considering my lack of enthusiasm and severe longing to vegetate on the couch instead of run.  By the time I got home from work, I was exhausted and the thought of running 9 miles seemed like the worst idea in the world.  Guilt got me out the door and soon I was looking at the silver lining…at least I didn’t have to do this mid week long run on a treadmill!  🙂  I felt sluggish for the first few miles of this run, but my legs started to wake up a bit into mile 3 and I finished the run feeling strong and accomplished.  Of course, after a quick shower, I went to vegetate on the couch for the rest of the night!  Here are my stats:

9.4.13

Friday, September 6th (Easy Run – 5 Miles):

After Tuesday and Wednesday’s confidence building runs, I ended up being really disappointed in this run.  Right from the get go, I knew it was going to be mediocre at best.  Everything felt off.  My breathing was off and my legs were sore and felt like they were made of lead.  After suffering through the first three miles without my legs waking up, I decided it was time to run/walk the remaining distance.  Let’s just chalk this one up to a bad day and move on, shall we?  Here are my stats:

9.6.13

Sunday, September 8th (Long Run – 18 Miles):

My alarm went off at 3am and I rolled out of bed to eat before heading out for my longest run EVER.  While eating and staring blankly at the digital clock on the cable box in my living room, I contemplated the craziness of the situation.  There were days, not so many years ago, that I would just be going to bed after a night out on the town, but now, I was waking up (after going to bed at 9pm the night before) to go run…for several hours, because I WANTED to.  Perhaps my friends were right, maybe I am crazy!

Either way, knowing that this run would take a while, I wanted to get out early to get the bulk of the run in before the sun came up and things heated up.  It was a nice and cool morning, super humid, but at least the temperature was lower.  The first 9 miles of the run were great.  I felt awesome and my legs were cooperating today, unlike a few days ago.  The sun was starting to come up into mile 10 and I could feel it start to heat up.  After my third CLIF shot, I was starting to feel a little twinge of a stomach cramp, but I trudged on.  Things started to get a little harder around mile 11 and I had to give myself a little pep talk (“you can do this…don’t let your mind win…you’re not tired…quitting is not an option”).  Thank goodness it was so early in the morning and nobody was out, I felt crazy enough without having others hear me talking to myself!  I ate my fourth CLIF shot at mile 12 and immediately felt my stomach cramp up.  I was fine on my walk breaks, but as soon as I started running again the cramps were back.  I suffered through the next 3 miles and knew I had to eat another shot.  I pulled it out of my Fuelbelt at mile 15 and barely choked it down.  That’s it, no more Mocha CLIF shots for me.  The thought of them makes me nauseous.

Anyway, the last 3 miles of the run were a battle between my mind and muscles.  It was sheer determination that got me through.  The bottom line is, I didn’t quit, I just ran REALLY slowly those last few miles.  When my Garmin beeped at mile 18, I wanted to cry.  I wanted to cry because I was so happy that I had completed the 18 miles and that I hadn’t given up.  I wanted to cry because my body physically hurt so bad (my hips and quads were screaming).  I wanted to cry because I was mentally exhausted.  I wanted to cry because negative Nancy reared her ugly head yelling, “if 18 hurt that bad and was that hard, how in the HECK am I going to be able run another 8 miles”?!  But I didn’t cry.  I just flung my Fuelbelt off and walked limped the quarter mile back to my house where I promptly took a hot shower and collapsed into a heap on the couch for the rest of the day.  Looking back, I think I started out way to too fast for this type of mileage.  I need to start off much slower than I’m used to so I don’t burn out on the back half.  My strategy for the 20 miler and for marathon day is to stick with a much slower pace group for the first half of the race.  If I’m feeling good at the half way point, I can consistently pick up the pace a little for each remaining mile.  Here are my stats for my longest run yet (this includes traffic stops and “fueling” stops.  I wanted to get a better idea of how I would do on simulated race timing):

9.8.13

Wednesday, September 11th (Easy Run – 5 Miles):

It was another hot day in Chicago (high of 93°F with a heat index well over 100°F), which meant I would be spending some quality time with my friend the treadmill again.  The run went surprisingly quickly and I felt good for the last three miles.  My legs were a little tired and sore for the first two miles, mainly my shins, but that could have been a result of the surface change.  Either way, it worked itself out and the rest of the run felt good.  Here are my stats:

9.11.13

Thursday, September 12th (Mid-Week Long Run – 9 Miles):

The weather was finally starting to cool off a bit, and the fact that I got a later start than usual helped quite a bit.  There is just something about running at dusk and in the dark that makes it seem so much easier for me.  I’m sure it has to do with the lack of sun beating down on me, helping to keep me cooler.  Also, for some reason, running in the dark makes me feel like I’m running super fast (even if I’m really not).  I have no idea why this is, but I’ll take it.  Of course there are downsides to running in the dark too.  Obviously, it isn’t the safest thing in the world for a woman to do, especially by herself; and if you’re a klutz like me, extra caution has to be taken to ensure those darn sidewalks don’t jump up and bite you.  🙂  Anyway, this run was great.  I felt good from start to finish and even managed to stomach another Mocha CLIF shot.  Here are my stats:

9.12.13

Friday, September 13th (Easy Run – 5 Miles):

What an absolutely perfect evening for a run!  The hot and humid weather had finally broken.  By the time I got home from work, it was a beautiful 60 degree evening with a slight breeze.  I knew I had to hit the grocery store in preparation for a mini road trip to cheer some friends on at The North Face Endurance Challenge at Kettle Moraine State Park in WI on Saturday, so I made a deal with my husband – I would run to the grocery store and meet him there so we could get our shopping done and he could give me a lift back home.  Since I started running to my in-laws house earlier this year, I find that I end up feeling like a slug if I drive to any store (unless I’m doing some serious damage) or meeting in town, instead of running or riding my bike.  Why waste gas when I can kill two birds with one stone – get to where I need to go and get some miles logged too!  The run went well, surprisingly well, actually.  This was the first 5 mile run I have completed outdoors, in what feels like months, that didn’t require at least a few short walk breaks.  Everything just seemed to click and I was almost sad when the 5 miles was up.  I felt like I could have gone on forever…another confidence boosting run.  Score!  Here are my stats:

9.13.13

Sunday (Long Run – 14 Miles):

Well, as much as I feel guilty for missing a “long” run, there was no way this run was going to happen.  After spending a fun day with friends in WI, I thought my allergies were really kicking up.  I had a tickle in the back of my throat all day, but I figured it was nothing that a Claritin couldn’t fix.  Hours after I took said Claritin, my throat was killing me, the tickle was still there…and I had no voice.  Yup…I managed to go and get myself sick again, and of course, it would have to be on arguably the most important week of my marathon training (boo, hiss)!  I’m not really surprised though.  I tend to get sick easily when my body is run down and the high(er) mileage I have been putting in these last few weeks surely has my body begging for mercy.  Add crazy Chicago temperature swings to the mix (upper 90’s to mid 60’s in two days) and…BAM…I’m sidelined with a lovely head/chest cold.  Hoping for a miraculous recovery, I opted to skip my 14 mile long run and rest Monday night.

Tuesday, September 17th (Easy Run – 5 Miles):

It is now Tuesday and I’m still congested, my voice is making only a slight comeback and my cough is enough to make someone cringe.  Since most of my symptoms are above my neck (above the neck = run;  below = no running), and not wanting to let a little cold derail my training, I decided I would do my 5 miler tonight, but keep it nice and easy, and reassess my training for the week depending on how I felt afterward.  The run went surprisingly well.  Again, everything just seemed to click.  Even though I’m sick, I still managed to comfortably hold a nice pace, took no walk breaks and finished feeling really strong.  I didn’t cough at all during my run, but as soon as I stopped…oh boy, I didn’t think I would ever stop.  About 15 minutes after I used my inhaler the fit finally ended.  I have a 10 miler on tap for tomorrow so we’ll see how I feel in the morning.  Here are my stats for the run:

9.17.13