Thursday, October 15, 2009

Chicago Marathon: The Race Report

I can honestly say that my fifth marathon has ended up being my favorite - and not just because of the awesome 20 minute PR!

I had remained feeling surprisingly calm and slept a solid 7 hours on Saturday night.  When I woke up, I felt great!  I got ready and slipped out of the apartment to make the walk over to Grant Park.  Steph lives about a mile away, but as I got closer I found myself in the midst of a thick crowd of runners making their way to the start.

The atmosphere was already amazing.  I am not normally the sappy type, but I found myself tearing up as I walked along with all of these other people who were taking on the same challenge as myself in less than an hour.  It's really amazing to be a marathoner sometimes.  We are an interesting group of people to say the least, and I just find myself in awe that I'm part of it sometimes.

I quickly managed to find Nicole in the open start corral, and I was sooo excited because I really needed someone to talk to while we waited for the start.  We chatted, we took pictures, we talked strategy.  It was great!

Before long, someone sang the Star Spangled Banner and we all started stripping down.  Let me tell you... it was cold!  I ditched my pants but opted to keep my hoodie for a bit.  Clothes were flying everywhere - it was insane!  You can't help but laugh as people strip down to tiny running clothes and start flinging sweats to the sides of the corral.

I never snapped a photo of the flying clothes, but here's one that shows how packed we were in the corral.  All the body heat actually kept us kind of warm.

Next thing I knew, we were off!  I can't tell you how exciting it felt to start running.  Normally when I start a marathon I'm trying to keep my cool and all, but I couldn't help but smile and laugh over how crazy it was to be running with so many people. 

In the next picture, we're about to go under a road and stay in a short tunnel for a bit.  When we were well into it, we realized everyone had started cheering.  Nicole and I got on board and gave our own cheers and yells and woo's.  The roar of all the runners cheering made me feel like I was in a packed SEC football stadium (Neyland, in particular).  It was AWESOME.

Nicole and I had talked and decided we'd start the race together and see what happened.  I felt confident that I couldn't hang with her since many of her training runs had been faster than mine, but early in the race I felt great and had no trouble keeping up.  We were talking and laughing and taking in the crowds.  I have never been to a race with so many spectators OR runners!  It seriously felt like a dream come true to be 26 years old and running in such a big and famous marathon.

This picture that mom snapped around mile 3 shows just how packed both the course and the sidewalks were!

Mom, Steph and Patrick were around mile 3.  They had no idea we'd be on them so fast, so we stopped to snap a quick photo.  You can tell we're still pretty pumped up and excited here.

We kept going along our merry way, and I was making every effort to just soak everything in.  I had decided to run with my name on my shirt, and I have to say it was one of the best decisions I made this weekend.  Hearing people call out your name not only makes you smile and feel like a celebrity, it totally does help you to keep running well.  There's really nothing like hearing someone yell out, "You look awesome Melanie!" even if it is a perfect stranger.

Early in the race I heard a voice beside me and looked over to see a guy that I knew from my high school days.  Crazy!  We knew we were both running, but I never in a million years thought we'd just bump into each other out on the course.  It's always fun to say hello to people you know in a race.

I also decided to run with a disposable camera.  I could have gotten better pictures with my own, but I didn't want to risk something happening to it.  I kept it tucked in my sports bra and hardly noticed it was there.  I snapped this awesome photo somewhere along the way.

My entourage next found me somewhere near the half.  As you can see in the below picture, I'm still smiling.  This wasn't just because I knew they were taking pictures.  I felt great!  Nicole is on the phone with her group letting them know that we were getting close.  I also ran with my phone, mostly because I wanted to be able to find my people after the race.  It was useful in sending quick texts to Steph to alert them of my progress, especially since I was still running faster than I had told them to expect.

I'm not going to lie.  I had some moments where I wondered if I could keep this 9:15-9:30 pace that we were hitting mile after mile.  I felt great when we hit the half in 2:04:27, but I really wasn't so sure I could run that fast the second half.  I decided to ignore these feelings and to keep on keeping on.  It REALLY helps to be running with someone because if Nicole wasn't stopping, I wasn't about to stop and lose her company.

We saw her entourage around mile 15 and kept plugging away.  We talked less during the second half, but it was great to have someone next to me that I could talk to from time to time.  We did our best to keep encouraging each other.

Because of how cool it was outside, I didn't stop at every single water stop like I usually do.  When I did stop, I only took several swallows.  I knew there was little risk of dehydration since I was hardly sweating, but I also knew I needed the electrolytes.  I always took Gatorade.  I also ate two of my GU Chomps every 45 minutes or so.  That was it in terms of my fuel.  I skipped the salt capsules since it was so cold.  I ultimately never had to stop to use the bathroom, which was a first for me in a marathon!

My feet started hurting around mile 17.  I imagine this was in part due to the fact that I had been on my feet a lot in the days before the race.  This is of course not ideal, but I didn't want to go to Chicago and just sit around.  I went into this race with no set time goals, so I decided I didn't care.  At this point in the race, I kind of cared.  I just told myself to ignore it and continued to soak in the crowds and kept a smile on my face.

I had debated about whether or not to use my iPod, and I ultimately left it in my suitcase.  I'm really glad that I did.  I think that absorbing in all of the crowds of runners and spectators was really the best thing for me personally.  In a smaller race, I would have wanted it for sure.

Before long, we hit Chinatown and saw my crew again around mile 21.  As you can see, I was still smiling.  Part of this was because I really was having soooo much fun and enjoying every bit of the race, and part of this was because I knew if I forced myself to keep smiling then it's easier to ignore the aches and pains.

I also realized around this point that I ran 22 miles in 3:30.  When I ran 22 miles in training last month, it took me 4:00.  Of course, that day was hot and humid and the course was hilly.  And it was just training.  But still!  I was kind of shocked and impressed with myself.

Here's the thing about mile 22.  It was easy to say to myself that there were only 4 more miles to go.  It's like, "OK, I can run 4 miles in my sleep.  This is a cake walk!"  But somehow, it's kind of hard to lie to your body and pretend like you didn't just run 22 before starting on these last 4.

At this point, I was realizing that Nicole and I had been running an incredible race for us both!  I was going to PR and she was going to have an AMAZING first marathon!  When we saw her family at mile 15, her boyfriend told us we were on course for a 4:11 finish.  I didn't admit it out loud, but I was kind of nervous about whether or not I could really keep the pace and finish that fast.  Instead, I told Nicole that if we pulled that off, she'd finish a full hour faster than I did in my first marathon.

We kept taking it one mile at a time, and before long we hit that mile 25 sign and saw my family again.  I was of course still all smiles, and the photo below was snapped when I turned back and yelled, "I'm getting a PR!" and Steph was like, "Yes you are!" and it was all super exciting.

Mile 25 seemed kind of long. :)  Before long, we finally got to make a turn and head over a bridge toward the mile 26 sign.  We turned the last corner and started heading toward the finish.

There was never a time when either of us felt like we could take off and leave the other, so we stuck together for all 26.2 miles.  Neither of us had any sort of sprint in us, so we proudly kept our pace and coasted across that finish line.

4:11:22.  I had a PR by 20:01.  Nicole had an amazing first marathon.

And then the pain hit.  

It wasn't as bad as it could be.  I started slowly walking through the chute and collected my blanket (thank God for that one because I was instantly an ice cube when I stopped running), my medal, some food and water, a beer that I could only get 3 sips of down before handing it off, and took finisher photos.  I was moving slower than an old woman.  I couldn't believe I had just been running, and now I could barely walk.

Nicole and I split up to find out families.  I called my dad and sister to tell them the big news.  We finally all reconnected, and I had to get Steph to put my pants back on me because there was no way I could do it myself.  Patrick offered to carry me and I considered it, but I knew I needed to walk it out.
We reconnected with Nicole and took some pictures.

After lots more hugs (seriously - I could NOT have ran this well without Nicole!), we started making the walk back to the apartment.  It was slow.  

I showered.  I ate some soup.  I ate a chocolate donut.  I napped for an hour.  And we had dinner at The Cheesecake Factory because after you've run a marathon you can so go have a pomegranate margarita, lots of bread, pasta, and part of 2 different kinds of cheesecake. (Hey - mom and I like variety!)

I don't know how to explain it, but I had so much FUN the entire 26.2 miles!  Sure, there were moments when it hurt.  There were moments when I kind of wanted to walk a bit more than the few steps I walked every couple of miles when I drank some Gatorade.  But for the most part? I had a freaking blast.

It's amazing to run a race with that many other runners.  It's amazing to run a race with spectators 6-8 people deep for the majority of the course.  It's amazing to run with someone else that you've never even met but that you've been in touch with during the entire training process.  I'd like to do that more often!

I will run this race again.  Hands down.  The only complaint I have about it?  I could do without the Bank of America logo being the focal point on EVERYTHING like the shirt and medal.  I get that they're the big sponsor, but dang.. why can't running being more of the focus?

All in all? I had an amazing weekend and a spectacular race.  I seriously had the time of my life.  We averaged 9:36 per mile, which I think is pretty freaking awesome.  We only slowed 2 minutes in the second half. (I may not be the fastest, but I'm incredibly consistent as a runner.)  Sure, I would have loved to have broken 4:00 at this one, but I am so super pleased with every tiny detail of how this race went.  Besides, I need a goal to work toward. :)

I love how things are after a marathon.  We all wear our medals around town that night.  Strangers offer us congratulations and we're all super excited when they actually ask how we did and want to let us talk about it.

It's also just plain funny.  I had a bit of an interesting time hauling my suitcase up the stairs to take the el to the airport on Monday.  It was bad enough to have to climb stairs.  My suitcase with all my clothes and expo loot was another thing.  But I made it.

Once at the airport, we discovered that it was once again stairs to get us to where we needed to go.  I noticed about 5 other people lingering near the bottom as the rest of the crowds heading up.  I knew that they, like me, had all run the marathon.  There's no way that we're all letting everyone go up ahead of us just to be nice!

And I love talking to other runners after the race.  Everywhere I went while I was still in town after the race, I encountered someone else who had run.  It's fun to chat with people who have also traveled from other places to share in this experience.

I am a runner.  I am a marathoner.  And I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Thanks for hanging with me on these posts.  I thought of a lot of you while I was out there.  This community online has certainly been a big part of my training.  Thanks for all of your support, encouragement, advice, well wishes and congratulations.  You all rock!


Anna said...

You really make running those marathons (and other races) sound like great fun.

And I hope you continue to be proud of your achievement! :)

asmileonfire said...

that may have been the most inspiring thing i have read ... . i am so proud of you-that is so amazing and its even more incredible how much fun you had-and how much you truly enjoy it. thanks for the motivation and inspiration!!

Rachel H. said...

You make me want to get out there and run asap! Such motivation! Looks like a great race and a fun weekend! Can't wait to get back to running in the spring!

The Northerner said...

Congrats Melanie!

hernamewasgrace said...

AH, I am just now catching up on the whole story. good stuff. especially the running tour that you won! how fun, and all that free stuff!! i just wanna know, how did you run with a camera for 4 hours? dang.

Sharon said...

That was a GREAT post! I will admit that I got a little bit teary eyed reading it because I felt like I should have been there experiencing it all :( For now I will take my 30 second running intervals and look towards CM 2010! I WILL be there and I really think I will appreciate it more than ever :)

You should be so proud of yourself for running such an awesome race! It must have been so much fun having Nicole by your side. Hopefully I will see you guys next year!

So, thanks for sharing your journey. It was AMAZING & best of luck with marathon #6 :)

Jamie said...

Great report! You did awesome!!! I wish I had found your blog before the race and maybe our paths would have crossed. Congrats again on an incredible race and a fantastic PR! And way to have fun doing it!

Running and living said...

Congrats, great report and great race. I truly believe you can run a sub 4 during your next marathon. You can also qualify for Boston (you'd love THAT race). I think this marathon was proof that you can run faster than you think!

the gazelle said...

great race AND great race report. A 20 minute PR is fantastic! I definitely know how you felt the next day - I almost cried when I realized I had to pee on the plane home - that meant standing up & sitting down TWICE! :)

Congratulations on a great race.

Amber (Girl with the red hair) said...

That is so awesome! Reading this post totally gave me goosebumps and makes me REALLY want to run the Chicago marathon one day!

Tara said...

huge congrats to you!!!! I think it's so great that you and Nicole were able to stick together the entire time! Sounded like the perfect race :)

Kimberly300 said...

such a great report, so motivational! I can't wait until I can run my first marathon.. especially if I can run half as good a race as you did.. seriously amazing!

thanks for sharing everything with us!

kilax said...

Great recap! And great job!

Now that I see your pic with your name on your shirt, I think you are one of the people I cheered for at mile 8! How cool! And how neat that you ran into someone you knew from HS!

I hope that when I do my first marathon, I have a friend to run with. It sounds like it really helps. And I love that you get to wear your medal all night and talk about it! We runners love to talk!

Again, great job! I hope you are resting this week and feeling better!

Paul said...

So, you managed a 20-minute PR, stopped to be in photos AND took your own photos too! Wow!

Imagine how quick you can go next time if you only do two of those three things.

Well done. Great read.
Paul :-)

Niki said...

Great job girl! I am so impressed! Sounds like a GREAT race!!

Nicole said...

Best race report ever! I'm tearing up just reading it! Thank you so much for hanging with me and making my first marathon so memorable! It was amazing and i'm so proud of you! You did great and you kept me going when i thought mile 22 would NEVER come! I'm so excited we got to spend 4 hours together-- even if 2 of the hours were only words like "omg gross" and "why do they do this to us?" "another smell?" "omg sick!" "i might throw up" "should i get gatorade?" "are we done yet?" HA HA! I love thinking about the race and all we went through! It was truly amazing and i cant thank you enough! GREAT JOB RB! xoxoxoxoxoxoxoo

Amy said...

Just getting around to catching up on the blogs.

Awesome race report! I'm so glad that you ended up having such a great race! Congrats on rocking it!!!!!

Alisa said...

Gosh I'm soooooooo behind! A 20 min PR is HUGE! Congrats. All your training and focus really paid off.

You look so incredibly happy in all your photos, that's something to be proud of right there. I always look like I want to kill someone. =)

Sarah said...

Sorry I'm so late on this! Im sooo proud of you for your awesome PR, but most of all for your great attitude throughout the training and the race. You definitely always remind me how awesome running can be.

Chic Runner said...

I'm so the last person to this party but CON FREAKIN GRATS! you totally deserve it and I'm glad you have the best race ever. I totally know the feelings that you were describing. :) I'm so happy for you and so jealous you got to run with nicole! :)

You look so happy in your pics and they are so cute! thank you also for being so encouraging to me and such a great online inspiration!

aron said...

sooooo late to this but CONGRATS girl!!!! you did SO amazing, i am so happy for you :) sounds like you had the time of your life on top of running the best race of your life (so far hehe)!! love it!!

Mark said...

Awesome report...great running, congrats on the PR!!