Race Recap: Chicago Marathon
This one was different.
I realize no two marathons are ever really the same, but this year’s Chicago Marathon was so completely different than my first two in so many ways, I find it quite remarkable. Allow me to explain.
Charity: As I’ve talked about in this space, this year I decided to run as a part of a charity team. Because of the unexpected closure of my initial charity, I didn’t join the American Cancer Society’s DetermiNation team until a few weeks before the race. They welcomed me with open arms, so I scrambled to raise as much as I could in a short time. ($565 in three weeks; not bad, gang!) Because of this fine organization, I also got to experience some of the finer things on race day. ACS had a HUGE tent in the charity village complete with heaters, music, gear check, water, snacks, first-aid supplies and our own row of port-o-johns. After the race, there was food and drink and massage tables and revelry. I took full advantage of the VIP treatment.
Being part of the team and donning my DetermiNation singlet also earned me a legion of adoring fans out on the course.
The only drawback was that I needed to arrive at the ACS tent at the ungodly hour of 5:30 a.m., meaning I had to leave my toasty hotel room at 5 a.m. There was NOBODY on Michigan Avenue at that hour, making it both creepy and awesome. We took a team photo then made the rather lengthy and roundabout journey to the starting corrals. The trip took a solid 40 minutes (with one last potty break near the end). All told, I walked a good 2.5 miles before the race even started. But, I was in the D corral next to my 3:55 pace team leaders with more than enough time to spare before the 7:30 a.m. start — a welcome change from last year’s scramble.
Weather: Talk about perfect racing weather. It was 41 degrees at the start, 46 at the finish and mostly cloudy with just enough wind to chap my lips and turn my face bright red. Of course, perfect racing weather also meant it was c-c-c-cold standing-around-in-the-corral weather and oh-my-god-this-space-blanket-doesn’t-do-shit cold after the race. It was quite the change from the unseasonable heat we experienced in 2010 and 2011. After shedding my 90s-era warmup pants and old Old Navy fleece about 10 minutes before the gun went off, I was down to bermuda-length tights, my DetermiNation singlet, arm warmers with thumbies, cheap-o stretchy gloves, a hat and ear warmer. The gloves came off at mile 3, the ear warmer at mile 9 and the arm warmers at mile 14. It felt magnificent.
Physical Pain vs. Mental Toughness: The pain started at mile 2. That’s right, MILE 2. It was in my left hip/groin area. By mile 5, I felt it in both hips. At mile 8, my right ankle was throbbing. Around the halfway point, a few toenails were pulsating. And mile 17 is when I said to myself, “Oh, so this is when my knees are going to start hurting.” You see, I’d made up my mind early on that pain was not going to be an excuse. It wasn’t debilitating, nothing was broken, I never hit the wall, but it grew and it spread and it never went away. I didn’t block out the pain, but I accepted it and remained mentally tough.
When running a marathon, mind games are crucial. You have to break down the distance or it will crush you. The first half of the race, I used my spectating friends as markers. (“Only two miles until I see Brandan and Adrea again.”) During the endless seven-mile stretch between friend-sightings, I thought about the Shot Bloks in my pocket. (“I started with eight, but now I only have four, three, two, one.”) When I reached the final 6.2, I broke it into two 5Ks. (“It’s just a 5K. A 5K is nothing. I can do a 5K in my sleep” — a mantra I used during training, too.) And that last mile, I went to my longest-standing mantra, “It’s only 9 minutes out of your entire day.” Only this time, I made it bigger. “It’s only 9 minutes out of your entire life.” No regrets.
I’m still not entirely sure how I did it, but I’m seeing more and more that I am much stronger than I ever realized.
On Target: I missed breaking four hours by 18 seconds last year, so I wanted to make sure there was no doubt this time around. I trained with 3:55 on the brain. It was my goal. I told everyone.
I found the 3:55 pace team in the D corral and vowed to stick with them. My first marathon, I got cocky and passed the pace team around mile 10 — and then wallowed in agony when they breezed by me at mile 22. This year, when the team passed me during the first mile, I didn’t panic. I knew I had to stick with my game plan, which included starting 20-30 seconds slower than race pace the first two miles. Around mile 3, I caught up to her, the robot-woman in pink and black holding the 3:55 sign with curly pink ribbons. I never lost sight of that sign, but I never got too close either. The miles were whipping by, and I was still right there. I drank at every water stop — this year, I shuffled through them instead of out-and-out walking — then I’d get right back after it. At times, it didn’t even feel like I was running. My body was moving of its own accord; I no longer had to think about it. (Is that the meaning of “zen”?) At every mile marker, I’d check my pace tattoo, then my watch, then look up to find the pink ribbons. Everything was in its right place.
When I reached mile 23, I had a revelation. I was going to break four hours. A huge smile spread across my face, and I loosened up a little. Of course, there was still the matter of 3.2 miles to go, and I still wanted to hit my 3:55 goal, but nonetheless, it felt effing great.
I put my head down for the first time when I saw the “one mile to go” sign. I started to make my move. I passed the pink ribbons, trudged up the evil bridge on Roosevelt, made the turn to the finish line, and started picking people off. I found that extra gear and finished strong.
3:55:08. I was a machine.
Aftermath: Sweet baby Jesus, this one hurt. The walk back to the ACS tent was agonizing. My knees, hips, ankles, feet and back were screaming. My wind/sunburned face ached and I had chafing under both arms. And I was so. damn. cold. I got a massage, changed clothes and stretched. We finally rounded up the troops to head back to the hotel, and that mile-plus walk was excruciating. Finally, we waved down a bicycle rickshaw and hitched a ride the last six blocks to the Hyatt. Money well spent, friends. I have never been so sore after a run, but I’ve also never run that fast for that long. So there you go.
Like I said, this one was different.
One marathon changes you. Three marathons make you a new person.
I like what I’m seeing so far. — Mags
- Outside the Moody Church at North and LaSalle is always packed with spectators, but this year, those yellow-shirt-wearing fans really brought it. Their cheering was so loud and spirited, it made me misty-eyed. Turns out, it was foreshadowing of what was to come. This was hands-down the best crowd experience of my three Chicago Marathons. It made me wonder if everyone read my course guide and tried to disprove all the things I said about crowd support dwindling at certain places.
- There was a group of middle-aged Korean men and women dancing to “Gangnam Style” near mile 19. They were ADORABLE. I also loved the mariachi band in Pilsen, though, sadly, I didn’t see Big Guitar Guy.
- Fall foliage! That’s what has been missing the last two years. The heat in 2010 and 2011 delayed the onset of turning leaves, but this year, autumn was in full effect. The neighborhoods looked so much more beautiful and vibrant. Chicago really is one of the greatest cities on earth.
- Fun fact: I am one-third of She’s Crafty, an all-female Beastie Boys tribute. My two bandmates and another dear friend provided the biggest emotional lift of the entire day when I saw them at mile 8. Three friends, three signs: Cuz You Can’t. You Won’t. And You Don’t Stop. They were going nuts, screaming my name and those classic B-Boys lyrics. I got choked up (gawd, I’m blubbering just thinking about it now!) and pumped up at the same time. I thought about my awesome friends several times during the race and smiled. I am one lucky devil, er, Angel.
Signs I Loved
- Literally Run.
- Remember the reasons you are running
- McKayla is not impressed (with accompanying McKayla photo)
- You are pretty! Yay!
- Don’t you want pancakes? (I didn’t actually see this one, but a friend did, and the answer is obviously, yes, I do want pancakes.)
- “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” by LCD Soundsystem — After the unbelievable high at the halfway point, the crowd began to dwindle and I realized I wouldn’t see another familiar face for about seven miles. Then “ow ow ow!” kicked on, and the smile returned to my face.
- “Valerie” by Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse — The combination of this booty-shaker (selected by the fabulous Amy Sumpter in my song-for-a-donation deal) and two black cherry Shot Bloks helped mile 16 breeze by.
- “Gonna Make You Sweat” by C&C Music Factory — It was another friend-chosen song (this time by the ever-lovin’ Kendra Stevens). Turns out, I hadn’t actually heard this song in a really, really long time, and it made me unreasonably happy. Totally got me through the rough patch at 18 before making the turn into Pilsen. Also of note: When I saw the giant Mexican flag signifying the start of the Pilsen party, I let out an audible, “Yes! Viva la Mexico!”
- “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen — Some fans in Chinatown got a show from me as I sang it aloud. Don’t judge. You know you love it too.
- “Sure Shot” by the Beastie Boys — I’ve heard this song a thousand times (possibly quite literally), and it has never, ever sounded better than when I was picking people off left and right on my way to the finish line. Cuz you can’t, you won’t and you don’t stop!