Chicago Marathon – Complete

The majority of this post was completed from my iPhone on Monday’s plane ride home because I didn’t want to forget all the little details.  I’ve waited a little bit to post it though because I wanted some more time to digest the race.  I don’t know about anyone else, but my immediate and initial reaction to a race is usually a lot different than 3-4 days later and the last thing I wanted to do was forget parts in between.  Unfortunately, that means I have a lot to say.  Some is for me only; I want to remember what I struggled with and what worked well, but the rest I hope helps somebody else!

Small Group Saucony
Ruth, Laura, and Myself before the start.

I already wrote a brief recap, but to sum that up in three words: I did it.  I ran a marathon.  I’m a marathoner.  It still hasn’t totally sunk in, though it crept up a few times during the race itself. “Hey,” I said to Laura after a couple miles. “We’re running a marathon.” Around mile 8, I thought about it to myself again and the tears started to well up. No, way too early to lose your shit, Brittany!  Finally within the last two miles, it happened again but between all the other things my body was experiencing, adding “bawling like an idiot for 20 minutes” was not what I wanted to do. I held it together and when I finished, I might have cried if I wasn’t puking on the side instead.

One thing I know about the weekend that won’t change is it left me exhausted.  To be honest, exhausted doesn’t even begin to cover it.  Some of the 26 Strong group might attribute that to the “partying” us New Yorkers did (hey, we have fun!) but it was a jam packed weekend and over 4 hours of running will certainly do that.

Chicago Race Day
Flat Brittany read to go!

I went to bed somewhat early on Saturday night after ordering in pizza with Laura and her Mom.  After setting up my entire morning (Gen UCAN mixed in the fridge, bagel with cream cheese set to go, and all my race gear put in one spot), I started to open the cards a few people gave me to read on the night before the race.  I was already an emotional mess!  Between the messages on facebook, the texts I received and everything else it made me nervous that I’d hold myself together the next morning.

Despite some weird stress induced dreams, I slept really well.  I was fortunate to not feel nervous at any point, too.  I like to attribute that to having a wonderful team of people with Saucony and Competitor Running who took care of everything but also a coach who prepared me to get to that finish.

Before meeting with the group at 5:30am, I ate half a stale bagel from the prior day’s breakfast with cream cheese and brought my cold Gen UCAN in a disposable water bottle.  I’ve found that keeping it mixed overnight in the fridge helps keep it from being chalky.  A little after 5:30 we walked together as a team to The Bean for a last minute photo before going our separate ways.

Chicago Marathon Pre Race
The only time lifting your shirt up doesn’t make you look like an idiot.

Fortunately, Laura and I navigated pre-race rather effortlessly.  The security line was easy enough, though it did take 10 minutes, gear check was quick once you walked to it (another 10 minutes), and the bathroom lines weren’t too awful for being one of the Majors (at least I didn’t think so). By the time we moved into our corral, I’d say we spent about 35-40 minutes getting through all the processes.

It was chilly at the start and thankfully Laura brought long sleeve throwaways for us. We were in the corral stretching and I kept trying to warm up my frozen hands. The corral wasn’t jam packed like some smaller races I’ve done, so clearly the marathon organizers did something right. It took about 12 minutes for us to cross the starting line and we were off.

Chi Marathon Splits

Miles 1 – 6 (average 9:37/mile)

I'm sleeping through the first few miles, apparently.
I’m sleeping through the first few miles, apparently.

These miles had the essential goal of “don’t screw up”, with a little more colorful language.  Adrenaline was pumping, weather was beautiful (albeit warm in the corrals) and the crowd was roaring but all I could think about was keeping it controlled.  Laura and I discussed a pacing strategy of maintaining close to 10:00 pace for the first six miles and then go from there into the next “chunk” of time.

My initial goal for the marathon (prior to the foot mishap) was to finish sub 4, which I still think I’m capable of with this level of fitness, but more on that another day.  I opted to start much slower than 4 hour time due to that extra long taper and to ensure I wasn’t going to totally blow up at the finish.

I had my Garmin on but the actual pace feature was useless because of the buildings.  Thankfully, a kind tip from Allison at Inverted Sneakers made me aware of this weeks before going into the marathon and I was prepared.  We didn’t bother running tangents because it probably would have been more effort than it was worth given the amount of people running near me.

We started to drop pace again and I continually had to remind myself to stay calm, but my breathing felt good, I wasn’t really sweating.  I’m an awful judge of my own goals and we were being consistent so I just let it go, remembering the last true goal race I did in 2013.  I was aiming for about a 5 minute half marathon PR (1:57 to 1:50-1:52) but my early pace was flying and felt good so I ran with it (literally) and got a 15 minute PR (1:42)… so as much as I think I know what my body is capable of, I’m really bad at knowing it.

Strong Chicago Marathon
I don’t know if I was faking it here or I actually felt as good as I look, but I’ll take it.

Miles 7 – 12 (average 9:15/mile)

These miles continued to fly by and as each marker approached, I kept saying out loud things like, “this mile already?!” but I honestly felt that way. I only hoped the rest of the run was going to continue feeling like this.

The crowd support never really dwindled here. It may have thinned out and people weren’t cheering 24/7 but they were engaged. We passed by some DJs who were rocking the tunes so we danced and sang, continuing to act like fools. We yelled “Go Bills” to a few football fans (didn’t elicit much reaction) and enjoyed every moment. Hey, I was running my first marathon. I knew there would be terrible miles ahead so I wanted to enjoy each and every moment while I could.

There were a couple tiny uphills and downhills throughout here, so I tried to pick up the pace a little and change my stride while I had the opportunity.  I felt my hip being tight but I knew that once I stopped for it, it’d become a constant so I put it out of my head.

Miles 13 – 18 (average 9:39/mile)

I wasn't lying; things weren't awesome sometimes.
I think Laura was about to, or just finished pep talking me here.

We hit the half marathon point around 2:04. I was still feeling great!  Since I had been fighting the pee urge I had at the start (I went beforehand, but I was super hydrated!) I had to stop around mile 14 to use the bathroom.  I hurried up, hoping I could find the pep in my step quickly after stopping.  After a short hip stretch, I carried on. Impressively, that stop only took an extra 90 seconds, if that, for mile 14.

I hung on for another two miles before my hip was starting to affect my stride. Here we go, I thought. I told Laura that after this next aide station, we’d pull to the side and stretch. She agreed. It was a quick stretch and helped immensely but as expected, it started my demise.

I was still focusing on the bright side as much as I could. Little things like knowing I only had single digit miles to run until the finish was awesome, but it was daunting at the same time. My spirits were dwindling and though my fueling was on point throughout the race, the sun was starting to take its toll.

We kept pushing through, but around mile 18 things got a little dark.  I stopped talking.  I didn’t care about the dogs we were passing, though Laura kept pointing them out.  I knew she was trying to bring my head back in the game, but I was starting to check out.  Each mile marker came and we pulled to the side to stretch.  It was only 20-30 seconds each time but I needed it.  It was the mental chunks I was taking to break the race apart into manageable pieces.  I still felt strong and focused, but I was on the verge of being like “Okay, this race is long enough.”

Mile 22 -- before you see the photographer vs. when you see the photographer. Fooled ya, huh?
Mile 22 — before you see the photographer vs. when you see the photographer. Fooled ya, huh?

Miles 19 – 21 (average 10:44/mile) 

I kept telling myself I could hold onto a 10:00 pace and finish in an hour. I knew I could.  Yes, my hip hurt.  Yes, it was hot.  Yes, my concentration was weaning and my head felt out of it, but I had it in me to actually run to the finish.  The problem was that we started to walk through water stops and it felt great.

Once you allow yourself to walk in any workout or race, your mind thinks it’s okay.  I don’t want to say walking is not okay because it is!  For me though, I was capable of running this marathon.  My legs weren’t dying.  My lungs weren’t on fire.  Mentally, I was just sick of doing it. I just wanted to be done. I was thirsty and I used whatever excuse I could muster to get around running consistently.

I opted to use the heat as my excuse.  Trust me, it was a factor; I sucked at every run this summer in the heat, but it was more of a mental issue than physical all summer and on Sunday.  It was my crutch and obviously, was an easy out for those last six miles.  I had a run once this summer where I bonked in the heat and was actually nervous because I’ve had an experience with heatstroke once in my life previously.  Unfortunately, I let the fear get the best of me, especially on Sunday.

I was hot and I was dehydrated so I started to take in more Gatorade and water. This led to a lot of sugar and a lot of liquids. We took walk breaks of about a minute at a time but each time I stopped, I verbally picked a spot to start running again. I needed somebody to know this is where we start again and make me do it.

Miles 22-26 (average 11:32/mile)

This face shows everything I felt about walking.
This face shows everything I felt about walking.  Pissed off and determined to start running again.

We just continued with our theme of walk through the water stops, then start running for a few minutes at a slow pace, then walk again.  I got to a point where I didn’t want to walk anymore, I just wanted to pull to the side and trot slowly.  I wanted to get to the finish and drink my beer!  As we’d do this, every so often I’d get a feeling like I’ve had just before my ears get buzzy and my eyes go black, so I’d walk.  Then we’d start running again and all the extra Gatorade I’d be taking in would threaten to come right back up.  It was somewhat of a no-win situation to the finish as far as running.  I started tossing cups of water down my back to cool down, but really it wasn’t doing much.

The funny thing (looking back) is how my hip magically stopped hurting in those last six miles.  My mind was entirely focused on not vomiting and not passing out.  I just imagined how I’d feel if I passed out and couldn’t finish the race, which unfortunately stuck me in that whole “walk/run” phase.  Laura kept trying to encourage me to pick up the pace and run it in, but I just wasn’t having it.  I tried a couple times, especially after seeing some friends near the finish, but my stomach was ensuring that I didn’t push it until the very. last. minute.

I saw 800m to go and I said to Laura, “I’m going to the finish!” thinking it’d be like two minutes away.  Oh hey marathon brain, you can’t do math.  You’re not finishing in two minutes.  As soon as I took off I realized I was not sprinting that far.  I slowed back down.  “Too soon, too soon.” I think Laura gave a little chuckle and said it was okay, we were still really close.  I knew seeing the finish was going to be the visual I needed.

The Final Kick

Some might think I'm about to cry, but that's the "I taste Gatorade" face. I'm somewhat happy it's captured on film, HA!
Some might think I’m about to cry, but that’s the “I taste Gatorade” face right next to Laura’s obvious excitement. Don’t worry, I was excited too… I swear!

I saw 400m left and I started to pick it up.  I heard the crowd but I didn’t really hear the crowd.  I was so in my own head that I realized I hadn’t been digesting everything I was truly hearing, so it didn’t even affect me.  I didn’t get that “OMG finish is here!” feeling I often get during races.  Again, 400m was instantly too soon to pick it up no matter how many times I thought about my track workouts and how short that really was.

But then we turned the corner and I could see the finish.  I saw a line down the left hand side and I just took off without warning.  The previous 4 hours and 19 minutes I made sure Laura knew what I was planning, but this time… I just went for it.  Fortunately she noticed and dodged people like it was nothing to be next to me.

As we got to the finish, I felt all the Gatorade.  You know how I kept saying every time I tried to pick it up before that it was just a little too soon?  I found out just how close I was cutting it when I finished.  In fact, I think I ran a little quicker to make sure I made it past the timing mats and was able to pull to the side and promptly hurl every last ounce of Gatorade onto pavement.  Laura patted my back, “YOU DID IT!” and a concerned volunteer came over, “Are you okay?” I’m fine, it’s just Gatorade.  No really, that’s not a lie.  It tasted the same going down as it did coming up.

And just like that, the slow walk to water, beer, my medal, our Bills gear, and Mom (okay, it was Laura’s Mom, but she gave me Mom hugs just the same) began.

Quick reflection

There WILL be more where this came from.
There WILL be more where this came from.

I’d be lying if I wasn’t a little disappointed I didn’t run the full 26.2 miles because after finishing, I felt like I wussed out a bit, and even after a week of reflecting, I still think it was possible.  I didn’t slow down because I bonked or I was injured, but I let the mental part of the marathon get to me.  Laura called it a bit of “self preservation” and I kind of liked that terminology.  I probably wasn’t going to pass out in the heat, but I wasn’t willing to find out.

I don’t think I started out too fast, I fueled consistently and appropriately for the race I was trying to run, I just let the mental part get to me.  I think if that’s the worst that happened in my first marathon, I’ll take it.  It’s hard to prepare for the mental part of 4+ hours of running when you’ve never done it.  You can read all the tips and tricks you want, but until you’re faced with what your mind is going to do, you’re kind of stuck hoping for the best.  At least for the next one (yes, you read that right) I know what to expect of my body and mind, so I’ll find a good strategy to employ on race day that’ll hopefully work for me.

[Want to read more about Saucony 26 Strong and my road to the Chicago Marathon?  Posts are all linked here!]

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Brittany

Just a 20-something homegrown Buffalo sports loving, distance running, gin drinking kind of girl.

24 thoughts on “Chicago Marathon – Complete”

  1. Awesome story, Brittany! Congrats again!
    I’ve found some similarities in your feelings. I am too was surprised how quickly the mile markers passed by in the the first half 🙂 The crowd support – yes!! wow!! It was amazing. And the Gatorade… I think it wasn’t you. I got a cup of Gatorade at one of the last aid stations and couldn’t swallow it. The mix was too concentrated! Whoever mixed up the powder made a huge mistake. I am sure, if I had drunk all the cup, I would hurl too.

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    1. Thanks again! Now that you mention the Gatorade, it was actually really concentrated — almost as though it was the kind you buy in the 20oz bottles, if not stronger. I didn’t think much about that… but that certainly would do it!

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  2. What a great recap! I remember having the same exact feeling during my first marathon of not really needing to walk, but just wanting to be done running. Even though it didn’t turn out the way you had planned/trained, I love that it left you wanting to run another one. Congratulations!

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  3. Love love love your recap and thanks for the shout out! Except I forgot to give you the most important tip – to grab the beer as soon as you crossed the finish line! Might sound gross immediately post marathon but it actually helps my stomach and Chicago’s Goose Island is ON IT at that race. I’m glad I warned you about the Garmin thing. Someone had warned me about that too so it wasn’t stressful on race day when it actually happened! You posted you ran a 1:42 half in your past…girlfriend, you totally have sub 4 in you. I would bet you could get a BQ without too much trouble! The first marathon is always an experience and it’s tough to get all of the variables right. I’d say you were really on point with everything and killed it!!!!! A spring marathon is in your future, perhaps? 🙂 🙂

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    1. Omg, we grabbed that beer so fast! Honestly, there were multiple points of “just run for the beer!” during the race. Only drank half of it at the finish, but it was the best reward.

      Spring marathons are being considered (ha I actually drafted a post about it) but I think I want to focus on dropping my times from the 5k to the half next year. We’ll see 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Congratulations on finishing! That’s a pretty good job for your first marathon- as a complete marathon newbie I admire your honesty! The thought of running for 4 hours straight terrifies me, as I can see myself going to a dark place mentally. But you finished!! Also the gatorade comments made me laugh- poor volunteer!

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    1. Thank you! Hey, I’m still a marathon newbie! The thought of running for that long was terrifying for me at first but honestly after your first times running 3-3.5 hours, it doesn’t seem so bad anymore!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great recap! This sounds so much like my first full marathon…I just wasn’t in it mentally. As soon as I finished I knew I could have pushed myself more. Hey- that’s what the second (or third or fourth…) are for…for your first you just want to get that medal! Now you have the experience and can use that knowledge in the future. Great job!

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    1. Thanks! I feel like I need a Netflix marathon or something to tune out to for those last miles… I think the marathon is the longest I’ve done the same, repetitive thing in my life. Can’t wait for #2 and so on… there’ll definitely be others!

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  6. Congratulations on your first marathon!

    I’m new to your blog, but I just finished my first marathon as well and I agree with so much of what you said. After mile 18ish I was just so ready to be done. I just could not stay focused. I also saw your comment about focusing on focusing on 5k-half distances next year, that’s my plan as well. Looking forward to following your training!

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    1. Congrats on the finish! It’s so hard to stay focused for longer than you’ve ever worked out before, ya know? I don’t know about you, but next year’s training has me a little pumped… more races and easier recovery? Yes please!

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  7. I could write a million and one things on this, but I’ll just settle with the most important….I am so fucking proud of you and I love that we got to do this together 🙂 Now we just need to work on planning the reunion, and more NY’er girls drinking 🙂

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  8. ah, congrats you are a MARATHONER! I loved your mile 22 side by side “before and after spotting the photographer” pics. So funny and SO TRUE!!! LOL, “fooled ya!” Thanks for sharing that bit, it helps me not feel so bad about a) how some of my running pictures look and b) always trying to pull my form together when I see a photog! Too funny 🙂 Good work!!!

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    1. Thank you!! It’s so funny because I was thinking “Damn I look GOOD here!” And then I saw the tag from where the photo was taken.

      I think critiquing photos is so easy to do but it’s literally one step out of thousands in a race, you know? It’s good to see where you can improve but it isn’t everything, or the whole picture … pun not necessarily intended 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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