In conjunction with my mom, my group helped to mentally prepare me for the race. We talked often about the course and the hardest parts and how to cope with it. Many of us hung out at the expo on the Friday before the race.
Below (right to left): me and my mom posing by the Team PAWS tent; me and one of my running buddies Jodie
My mom and I tried to go to bed as early as possible. Before that, we organized our clothes for the next day and I put on my temporary tattoos. From the expo, I got a pacing tattoo with the splits I needed to finish in 4:25 (my ultimate goal was to finish; my second goal was to finish in 4:30 or under). I also put some Team PAWS tattoos on my arms. On the back of my singlet, I wrote all of the names of the dogs in my family who were rescued from shelters or surrendered by their owners.
At the Team PAWS pre-race party, there was the opportunity to take pictures in front of the PAWS backdrop, eat a continental breakfast (I just snacked on a small bag of almonds), and chat among ourselves. I was anxious about my left knee that started hurting me out of the blue on Saturday morning. It continued to hurt me as we walked to the front of the hotel to take a group photo, but I forgot all about it once we walked to the starting corrals. By the time I started running, it didn't hurt at all.
Below: me and my mom posing before the race
We went through the Loop, through Old Town, and then into Lincoln Park. The Loop was a blur, but by the time we were in Lincoln Park, I was in my groove. I was smiling and waving at spectators and moving my arms to the music. I kept my eyes peeled in Lakeview for friends and family (I missed almost everybody who came out to watch me). In Boystown (mile 8), I split off from the rest of my group and ended up running the rest of the race by myself. The music and dancers in Boystown gave me a huge burst of energy. People yelled out my name and gave Team PAWS shout outs, and it made my day.
I was energized as I made my way back towards the Loop to the 13.1 mile-marker. My Spotify music went out somewhere around there. I pulled my phone out of my waist band to turn my music back on and found that my phone was "disabled" and would not let me unlock my phone for another five minutes (the movement from being around my waist must have triggered something; this happened at least one other time throughout the race). The good part about not listening to music for a few minutes was that I could hear my dad yell my name from the sidelines and gave me just enough time to wave and blow him a few kisses before I was back on my way.
The West Loop took us through the Charity Row (where many charities set up tents and had cheer stations), where I saw a bunch of Team PAWS supporters cheer wildly for me (and everybody else!). With my music pumping through my ears again, I logged another three to four miles without struggle. Miles 17 and 18 took us through my old grad school stomping grounds at UIC and Taylor Street/Little Italy. I felt tired around 18 (and it didn't help that my Spotify kept going out, which meant that I had to gingerly unzip my waistband- while running- in hopes that nothing else fell out while I pulled out my phone, unlocked it, restarted my music, and then carefully put it back, over and over again), and this is where I had to start using my mind to get me through the race. I told myself, "You're not actually tired." This time, my body agreed with me. I kept going with a smile on my face.
By the time I hit mile 20, I was excited but also a little scared. In our training, the highest mileage we ever hit was 20. This was brand new territory for me, and I wasn't sure how I would handle it. I felt tired, so I told myself again that I wasn't tired. I thought it would work this time, but I swear it just made my legs feel heavier. I tried a new strategy, then. I imagined that I was starting a run from my house to Castaways at North Avenue Beach. This run is exactly six miles, and I've done it many times. Each mile after that, I could see exactly where I was on the Lakefront Path. I knew that since I could do those six miles so easily on that path, I could do it on this one.
I hit mile 21 in China Town. Somewhere around there, I tapped another Team PAWS runner on the back and yelled, "We got this!". He gave me a thumb up, and I kept going. I found that it was getting harder to smile, so I stopped smiling and focused on my run. The crowds were heavy in the heart of China Town. At one point, I heard somebody yelling my name. I turned my head and saw one of my best friends Goda waving frantically and trying to run up to me. I crossed over to the side and gave her a huge hug and told her that I loved her and I was going to finish. She missed me in Lakeview and took the train all the way to China Town to try to catch me again, and it meant the world to me. Fortunately, it gave my tired body some juice too.
Things started to get worse around 22. The spectators were thinner. The course took us along the side of the Dan Ryan Expressway, and it wasn't interesting. I fortunately wasn't in pain, but my legs were so, so tired. All I wanted to do was walk and then lie down. I started taking longer walking breaks during the water stops, but it was so challenging to start running again once I started walking. With my right three middle fingers, I physically counted down from three and forced myself to start running once I hit one. I wanted to smile to try to convince myself that I was actually having a good time, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. I just wanted to be done.
I hit mile 23 around the Illinois Institute of Technology. I was looking forward to this point for two reasons: one was that I knew we'd be turning onto Michigan Avenue soon (which is the final stretch) and the other was that I was three miles into my run to Castaways. In my mind, I was physically turning around and heading home. The words Go home, go home where echoing through my head, and it made me very emotional. My face started to contort into an ugly crying face as we turned onto Michigan Avenue, but I told myself to keep it together until the end.
I also want to mention that I was doing a very good job with my time. My GPS was still wrong, but I noticed every time that I crossed a mileage marker that I was about six minutes ahead of the splits on my 4:25 tattoo. I knew that I could walk a bit and still make my goal, as long as I didn't fall apart at the end.
My mind was like mush around mile 24, and I no longer felt like I had the strength to high-five spectators or react when they yelled my name (besides just a slow wimpy wave). Two of the girls who started out running with me caught up to me around this point. They had a lot more energy than me and stayed with me for a few minutes but eventually went ahead (they finished about two minutes ahead of me). I wanted to try to keep up and finish with them, but my legs protested.
I felt emotional again when we got to mile 25. The crowds were several people deep by this time. For the past several years, I stood around this point (as a spectator) and waited for my mom to run by me. I often yelled her name and hugged her once she found me. A couple of times, I jumped on the course with her and stayed with her until she turned onto Roosevelt Avenue (the very end of the race). Now, I knew how it felt to be her.
I was so focused on finishing (in my mind, I was already off of the Lakefront path and less than a mile away from my house) that I was surprised when I saw a mass of blonde hair coming for me in my peripheral vision. It was my friend Nicole who was waiting for me on the sidelines, dressed in jeans and flats. She started running with me and told me that she was going to stay on the course with me as long as she could. It was the best distraction I could have gotten. Although I complained relentlessly the whole time she was with me (telling her that I wanted to roll over and die, asking her if I was done yet, etc), she was so positive and kept me going. She had been watching my splits from the beginning and told me that most of them were a sub 10-minute-mile. I was so happy to have that confirmed. She has also run two marathons, and she knew exactly what I was experiencing. The course marshals (nicely) pointed her off of the course as I made my turn onto Roosevelt Avenue.
Roosevelt turns into a bridge east of Michigan Avenue, and there is an incline. I've been warned about this "hill" many times. In fact, our CARA runs end on a hill to simulate this exact bridge so that we're prepared. However, as many times as I've run up that hill on my training runs, I've never done it after running 26 miles. It was hard. It was so hard, in fact, that I had to stop and walk after passing the 26-mile marker. I told myself that walking this close to the finish line was stupid and that I should finish with a run. With every inch of stamina that I had left (which was close to none), I ran towards the finish line. En route to the end, there were signs with exactly how many meters we had left. 400, 300, and so on. I saw the grand stand to my right with people cheering, but I could hardly see straight. I could see other runners just 50 feet in front me running over a line, cheering, and stopping. Then, I was over that line. I was done. I finished.
As soon as I was over that line, I let my guard down and cried. A guy next to me in a gray shirt heard me crying. He patted me on the shoulder and told me that I did a good job. Somebody else named Angela (I think that's what it said on her shirt) approached me and told me that she also cried after her first marathon. People were very sweet. I stumbled my way down a long procession. I grabbed water, and then I took Gatorade. Somebody handed me a medal. They put in on backwards, but I was too tired to fix it. I pulled my phone out of my waist band and saw messages coming in from my family and friends who were tracking me. I saw from my brother that my time was 4:20:11. I beat my goal by almost 10 minutes, and I was thrilled. Somewhere else, I grabbed a banana, a Mariano's bag full of recovery food, and some Powerbars. Somebody wrapped a mylar blanket around me to stop my body temperature from plummeting. I kept walking. I passed the beer station. I usually love beer, but my stomach didn't want it.
Slowly but surely, I made my way back to the hotel. I met Goda and my husband. I rejoiced with other Team PAWS people. I think the post-race fueling re-energized me, and I was able to have a celebratory beer as I waited for my mom. My amazing mother finished her ninth marathon that day. It was an emotional embrace when she came back to the hotel.
It took me two days to be able to walk up stairs again, four days to be able to walk down stairs again, and only about two days before I forgot about the miserable parts of the race. As I expected, I am hooked on running.
Hot Chocolate 15k (Chicago, October 2016)
Disney World Marathon (Walt Disney World, January 2017)
F3 Half Marathon (Chicago, January 2017)
Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon (Oklahoma City, April 2017)
Bank of America Chicago Marathon (Chicago, 2017)
I also have my eyes set on:
Schamburg Half Marahon (November 2016), North Shore Half Marathon (June 2017), New York Marathon (November 2017) OR Marine Corps Marathon (October or November 2017)
Possible upcoming projects including turning this blog into a mother/daughter duo running blog. Wouldn't that be fun?
Stay tuned for more running adventures from The Little Jogger!