Thursday, October 11, 2012

Chicago, Owned: A Marathon Recap

I know I haven't updated in a while, but I decided that in an effort to tell everyone about my race, it would be easiest to just write a post about it.

Of the marathons I've done so far, this was the one I made the biggest deal out of (so far). My training felt good and consistent (thank you, and for the support and guidance), and with the exception of a bout of Achilles tendonitis at the beginning of my training, I had remained injury-free throughout it (thank you, Shannon, for all of those chiropractic adjustments). I also planned on using this as my first attempt to shoot for a BQ (Boston Qualifier). Needless to say, I made myself pretty nervous, and had my marathon pump-up mix on repeat for the week leading up to the race.


After arriving at 8:30am on my redeye flight, I hopped on the Blue Line and headed down to the Expo. My friend Katie (who was graciously hosting me and my friend Lindsay for the weekend) had to work until 4, and I had heard that the area around McCormick Place would be less crowded on Friday (due to the ND-Miami game on Sat), so it worked out perfectly (minus carrying my duffel bag and backpack all over the city).

After the Expo was lunch, coffee, and grocery shopping (I wasn't about to fly across the country with a bunch of bananas).

Once Katie and I connected, we caught up and grabbed dinner at an Italian restaurant. We returned home and watched a movie (and by watch, I mean I passed out after 15 minutes because after sleeping in an airplane seat and schlepping my bags all over Chicago, I was beat).

Saturday (Marathon Eve)

I attempted to sleep in, but still woke up around 7:30 (I did sleep for 8 hours). Part of me wanted to go back to sleep, but I had to reply to Lindsay's text about her flight dilemma. (Her flight got canceled, and so she'd be arriving at 2pm instead of 9am.) One thing led to another, and I ended up responding to texts for so long that it made no sense to go back to bed. After all the texting was said and done, I warmed up and went for a light 1.5 mile run. Once I got back, I prepared my marathon morning breakfast of millet porridge (millet cooked in water, with some Craisins, cinnamon, and salt - it takes a while to make, so I just make it ahead and eat it cold).

I ventured out to Whole Foods to pick up supplies for Lindsay, and ate lunch while I was there (tofu teriyaki bowl - delicious!), and then to the Expo to meet my friends Christine and Nicole (whom I hadn't seen since we graduated from college). The Expo may have been packed on Friday, but it was a madhouse on Saturday. But catching up with old friends is ALWAYS worth braving the crowds. Lindsay and Babs (her mom) met us there, and after hanging out and chatting for a bit, we were all ready to leave. 

Lindsay, her mom, and I met my mom (who had just flown in from CA) for a pre-race pasta dinner at Viaggio. I ordered the penne special, which was penne with jumbo shrimp, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, and a garlic and olive oil sauce. This tasted just as good as it sounds! All of us left with leftovers, and none of us left disappointed. If you're ever in Chicago, I'd recommend going there!

From there, we headed back to Katie's and were in bed by 10pm.

Sunday (Marathon Day)

Some of us fall asleep by counting sheep. Me? I count off my target times for each mile. You see, my goal was 3:05 (the Boston Qualifying standard for 18-34 year old males), which is a 7:03 min/mi pace. To go through my plan, I counted off the times at which I should hit each mile marker (7:03, 14:06, 21:09, and so on). I fell asleep after counting off the 26 target times. And woke up once during the night. 

My first alarm (I set two, just in case) went off at 4:50am, and I got up right away. The first time in as far as I can remember that I didn't hit snooze. Lindsay woke up ten minutes later, and the fiesta began. Once dressed, we headed upstairs and had breakfast with Becca and Mary Kate (Katie's roommates who were also running the marathon). I did my warm-up exercises after breakfast, and my running mates gave me some strange looks. I got a few laughs when I told them I was doing the drinking bird. (Drinking bird, hamstrings -- get on it!) Those laughs helped make our frigid walk to the El a little more bearable.

Becca and Mary Kate were in Wave 2, so Lindsay and I wished them well before heading to the start. 

I was worried that I'd be waiting around for too long after checking my bag, and get cold as a result. Fortunately, I only had a few minutes between dropping my bag off and the start, so this wasn't an issue. Lindsay and I said our good lucks and went to our corrals. I found my friend Steven (from Front Runners NY, my old running group), and it was good to see a familiar face and catch up before the start.

At 7:30, the gun went off, and Bruce's "Born to Run" came on. Just what I wanted to hear! I hit the first mile right on track (7:03), and hit the second mile in under 14 minutes. Around mile 3.5, I saw the first spectators I knew - Mike and Rachel from FRNY. Unexpected, but awesome. I hit mile 5 in 34:25 (50 sec ahead of schedule, and 70 sec ahead of my 5M PR), and was so stoked to be at a sub-7 pace. I kept up this momentum through the Addison Road turn-around and beyond. In Boystown, I knew I was going fast because I caught up with and passed one of the faster FRNY runners. (Note: After finishing, I remembered that he just did an Ironman two months ago. But at that moment, I forgot that, so passing him was a good boost.) Mile 11 brought Babs and Mike and Rachel, and as I ran up the Franklin St Bridge, I saw my mom screaming and flailing. Those two seconds that she was looking forward to had happened. I ran into the sidelines, gave her a hug, and continued on. After that, I started executing my plan of one Shot Block every 1.5-2 mi. I crossed the halfway mark in 1:31:35, smashing my previous OR by over 5 min (and not to mention I was still maintaining a sub-7 pace).

By mile 16, I noticed that I was slowing down, and by mile 18, I had stopped hitting my target times. I could just see the BQ hopes slipping away. It was around this point that I lost dexterity in my fingers (because my hands were so cold) and started knocking over water cups when I tried to grab them (I started using two hands - like any good 5-year-old would do). To motivate myself, I kept thinking about everyone who donated to the ALSA (the charity I ran for) and everyone with ALS who can't move. Seeing my friend Tracy at the mile 20 water station helped too.

Around mile 22, I went to take my last Shot Block, and the pack had slipped out of my fingers during the previous mile. Damn loss of dexterity! But I only had four miles left and a PR within easy reach, which left me no choice but to push. I also opted to not stop for fluids, because of time.

Going up Michigan Ave, I saw a banner, and thought it was the finish line. I was very disappointed to find that it was a video monitor at the 800m mark. With 800m left to go, I rounded the turn onto Roosevelt, saw this hill, and thought, "You've got to be kidding me with this." But the mile 26 marker was in sight. After climbing that hill, I could see the finish line and just went for it. I crossed it, stopped my Garmin, and it read "3:11:22." I wasn't quite sure how accurate it was, but I'd take that as an unofficial time.

Walking through the finisher chute, I got my medal, space blanket (i.e., superhero cape), food, water, and Gatorade. My stomach wasn't ready for food, but I took it for later. I trudged a little further and saw the sweet elixir that is Goose Island 312. I grabbed a cup, took a sip, and thought, "Mmm, beer never tasted so delicious." I may/may not have been a ham and posed for every photographer I saw. I also posed for one photo with a random French guy, though in my defense, the photographer asked for that one. (Pics available here. It may prompt you for a last name, bib #, and race name.)

Eventually, I got my bag, dug out my phone, and found three texts of congratulations (all these people who knew my exact time before I did) and a missed call (from my mom, who was trying to find me). We reconnected, and she showed me the results page. Final time: 3:11:18 (7:18 min/mi). I may not have BQed, but I beat my PR (that I set in April) by over 13 minutes!

It's been four days, and the shock (or runner's high; whatever you want to call it) still hasn't worn off. Between crushing my previous PR, and crushing my $1,500 fundraising goal for ALSA (I raised $1,735), it feels like a dream. And knowing that I can hold a BQ pace for over half a marathon provides me with hope for next time.

Before running Chicago, I told myself that after doing 3 marathons in a 12-month period, I wanted a break. But with that Boston Qualifying time within reach, I want another shot. Call me crazy, but I want to try again and shave those 6 minutes off. Yes, I'll wait to register (so as to not be impulsive), but I'm seriously considering a spring marathon. LA, Vancouver (BC), and Newport (OR) all seem like good options, but I'm open to suggestions! 

(Edit: The shock wore off on Friday, five days after the race. On Sunday (one week after Chicago), I signed up for the 2013 Eugene Marathon, which will be on April 28.)

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