Race Date: 10/9/16
Race Distance: 26.2
Total Time: 4:02:51
So I spontaneously ran a marathon. I had done one 26.2 in the past–by accident [I intended to run 16 miles and then couldn’t figure out how to get back except on foot]. It took me 5:02:03. While the plan was to spectate and support many friends and family running Chicago, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to toe the line!! And I loved it!! #noregrets
I’ve included some tips I learned perchance you ever find yourself running Chicago!
Hit the town with my gracious hostess and soon-to-be-running partner, Janelle. We didn’t hold back. I simultaneously saw both 3am and pizza that night. And my body reminded me that I’m too old for that kind off stuff…
While a 2.5h run appeared on my training schedule, I decided to trade it to accompany Janelle on her 30-minute shakeout jog instead.
And then we brunched.
Only then did Janelle remember that her roommate had a race entry she wasn’t going to use. Pro tip: this marathon allows you to defer if you’re untrained, sick, over scheduled, etc. Christina was unaware. “Hey! Do you want to run some of the marathon with me?!” Janelle asked. To which I responded, Uh YES! Absolutely. I’m supposed to run 2.5hrs anyway–I’ll just drop out after that!
Well, that escalated almost immediately to running the whole damn thing. “You HAVE to run it all!!”
I had struggled through two 10-mile run/walks since Ironman Mont-Tremblant in August and had skipped a lot of my training leading up to that race. So while I wasn’t totally unprepared, I certainly wasn’t in marathon shape. I figured I could make it to 13 mi jogging and maybe even 17…
So we shot through the expo to pick up the bib where I bought new shoes, cause ya know, that’s always a brilliant idea on race eve!
We then showered and I went to a cute Italian restaurant to reunite with my Nursing school friends [and their hubbies] while Janelle had a pre-race dinner with her friend Cara, who would also spend the night with us to smooth her logistics for her very first 26.2!
I returned home to Janelle and Cara, who had picked up supplies to put our names on our running tops, as, unlike Ironman events, your name doesn’t appear on the bib. We spent the evening providing (er, overwhelming) Cara with last minute tips, encouragement and excitement.
Jannelle wisely suggested we arrive to the race site early, so we woke up around 5 am for our 8am start. The morning shuffle highlighted differences between well-seasoned triathletes and newbie runners… We ended up calling an uber a little later than planned, which made me a bit nervous. Even more nerve-wracking was the failure to empty my colon prior to our chariot’s arrival. To Cara’s dismay, Janelle and I spent most of the morning discussing the complexities of gastrointestinal functioning as it relates to endurance sports.
Um. So. Our Uber driver was, for lack of better words, an absolute idiot. After seeming confused about this so-called “Grant Park” (I mean, even I knew kinda where it was), we took a roundabout route and eventually exited the car at the wrong end of the park. What’s more desirable than to walk a good couple miles before running a marathon ill-trained? On the plus side, the physical exertion helped wake up the gut.
Pro tip: study the map in advance to plan your race day logistics.
We then found the start and walked even farther to find bag check only after passing through the biggest joke of a security check. Literally some dude gently patted the outside of the bag and signaled us to proceed. Ha! Janelle and I checked a change of clothes in the same bag, as I assumed it would be utter chaos to retrieve it with 50,000 participants in the race. And the plan was to finish together anyway.
We burned more time waiting in line at the porta potties before venturing to the start coral with just a few minutes before it closed. Glad we left ourselves so much time!
As a beautiful, brisk, Chicago morning, I could have benefitted from another layer. Instead I shivered, clutching the remainder of my venti Starbucks coffee, making nervous chatter with those around us and hoping I’d have some energy reserves after the convulsions subsided.
Oh, and at that moment I realized that I’d forgotten to don deodorant amongst the commotion of the morning. Whoops! Pro tip: offensive body odor can potentially provide an offensive advantage [pun intended] on race day.
After hearing the para-athletes, pros and wave 1 start, we trotted toward the anticlimactic start. There’s less fanfare when the race started a good 30 minutes before you do.
Alright! I’m doin this!!!!
Janelle and I ran with Cara for a few steps before Cara put on her headphones and wished us well. I momentarily considered pacing her and providing words of encouragement, but I figured it’d be better to allow her to have her own experience.
Janelle and I had a BLAST! We immediately started making jokes and inventing games. We competed to see who got the most cheers for their name. From previous experience, Janelle decided to go by “Jane”, assuming a one-syllable name had a better shot of cheers than two. Pro tip: put your name higher up on your shirt for greater crowd participation. While I certainly received a greater number of cheers, “Jane” got a few highly enthusiastic ones, which I think merit some style points.
Janelle had jokingly mentioned how she had to use the first set of porta potties at a prior marathon because the wait at the start was so long [and it’s unacceptable to publicly relieve yourself as in triathlon–no wetsuit to thinly disguise the maneuver]. Whelp, after about a mile, my bladder was about to burst. “I think the bathrooms are just ahead!” Janelle said. Well it was almost a whole mile after that, and I almost didn’t make it.
But then I did! We found the loo and separated to enter. When I emerged, I realized we hadn’t picked a meet up spot, and I uncharacteristically panicked momentarily. I’m not gonna be able to run a marathon with out her!! Nor do I want to try! By the grace of God, we easily found each other despite the crowds and the chaos, and we forged ahead!
We decided to sing a song every five miles, so we brainstormed our first tune over the first few miles, which flew by!
Mile five came and we sang. I’m pretty sure our upbeat attitude, jokes and laughter probably pissed off some of the more serious athletes, but they just need to loosen up too and learn to enjoy themselves!
We traversed a bridge or two at that point, noting that carpets adorned the right side of the bridge only. We hobbled over the uneven and uncomfortable surface on the left side. We both continued to forget this. Pro tip: the carpets are on the right side of the bridges. Janelle and I missed every. single. one.
With absolutely no nutrition plan [nor any nutrition on me..], I made a Game Time decision to take Gatorade at every aide station–and some water sometimes. Janelle mentioned that there’d be Larabars at mile 13 [my solid nutrition of choice for triathlon] so the countdown until that treat began. Only seven miles until Larabars!
Janelle saw quite a few friends cheering on the sidelines and several more running. I started calling her “the mayor” because “SHE RUNS THIS CITY!!!”
We came up with another song for mile 10. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, I believe it was. As we brainstormed, we cleverly changed the words to many a song to fit the running motif–more specifically a spontaneous marathon. I believe we had quite a tune to “I Will Survive”, but I don’t remember our actual lyrics. They were pret-ty darn good, though…
At mile 10 I also celebrated running farther than I had since Ironman! Score! I knew I could make it to 15 and maybe even 17. I expected a long walk to the finish from there.
I saw Gillian, an NP friend, on the sidewalk!! So so exciting!! Can’t remember exactly where, but mile 11 sounds good. She jumped up and down with incredible enthusiasm and height. White girls can jump, as it turns out.
Seeing as I sold my fancy triathlon watch immediately post-Ironman Mont-Tremblant, I resurrected an old running watch to use–and I spent the entire race questioning its accuracy, especially in the shadows of many skyscrapers that likely impeded GPS signals. Occasionally I’d cross-reference with Janelle’s fancy watch. We seemed to be maintaining a perfect 9:15-ish pace.
I thought to myself, this is the kind of day I was meant to have at Ironman..
Mile 13 came and went, and there were no Larabars. Bummer! At mile 14 there were Gatorade chews, though, so I grabbed a pack, and I noshed on them. Not terrible! I felt myself get a lift. Guess I needed calories! Maybe there will be Larabars next?
Accustomed to the full buffets at each aid station of Ironman races, I was surprised to find the nutrition options scarce at the marathon. Pro tip: find out what nutrition will be offered and where before the race.
Luckily around mile 16 there were gels. CAFFEINATED ONES! ::starry eyes:: And even more luckily, I wisely grabbed two. I downed one without even looking at it. Mmmm fruit punch! Followed it up with a swig of H2O and carried on, toting the second for later.
Janelle encouraged me to go on several times at this point, but I refused–mostly out of fear. Mile 17 came, and I had achieved my goal, fully expecting a major bonk to bring me to a walk/crawl at any moment. Janelle informed me that I had a shot of breaking 4 hours of I went faster. That hadn’t occurred to me…
It could have been the caffeine or the amazing crowd support or the company and support of Janelle, but I actually felt more energy at 17! Janelle could tell, and she–once again–encouraged me to drop her. No, no. I’m gonna wait until mile 20 and then take off if I feel good. But you may need to pick me up oss the side of the road at 23!
Whelp, by 18, I finally relented and picked up the pace a bit. Still doubting the accuracy of my watch, I think I was around a 8:30-8:45 min/mile pace.
I was waiting until 20 to take that second gel. And also to glance at my watch to try and do the fuzzy mental math to see if I could break 4h. I can’t do math under normal circumstances, much less while suffering from “race brain”. After time had passed, I glanced down and saw 21.5mi on my watch. Huh? Is my watch really that inaccurate, or did I miss the 20-mile marker? I downed the gel and later saw mile marker #22. And I gave up on trying to beat the 4 hour mark. Math is too hard.
Don’t waste this, Susie!
And the crowds gradually grew denser and louder. And I pace dropped. My heart raced. My face smiled. I! Felt! Awesomeeeee!
Now, for this particular race, my race execution isn’t ideal and shouldn’t necessarily be a strategy for someone pursuing a PR. Having spectated this race a couple years ago, I knew to expect a crowded course. The first few miles actually weren’t nearly as bad as I thought; however, the crowd remained that tight to the finish. Since Janelle and I started a bit far back relative to my pace, and many people crumbled around me after mile 20, I had to dart around a whole lot to avoid collisions. I found myself instinctively saying “on your left”, to alert fellow athletes of my passing [as in triathlon], but quickly learned that this phrase doesn’t apply when you’re running through clusters of runners. So I started shouting “Sorry! Passing through!” which seemed to kinda work. Despite the effort, I received quite a few elbows to the gut and to the boob in the process. I made bets with myself about what my total distance would be by the end of it all. I figured I added a good mile with all the weaving….
Pro tip: if you’re racing for a PR, make sure you start in a wave appropriate to your goal race pace.
I didn’t care, though. I had already far exceeded my expectation of running 17 miles, so I was elated! The rest was icing.
Never ever have I felt GOOD at the end of a race! Even if I hadn’t put forth an “A” effort and had gas in the tank, I’d often find the last segment of races rather anticlimactic. But those other races obviously weren’t the Chicago Marathon!!! I’d get jealous hearing stories of athletes whose “runner’s high” carries them through to the end, which I finally experienced that day!
Omg. I let my stride open up knowing that if I made it to 23, it’d just be a 5k to the finish.
23 came and went and I still felt good. So I went a little faster. 24… 25… Oh Em Gee!!! THIS IS SO AWESOME!!!
Luckily Janelle had prepared me for the one hill of the course, which cruelly arrives at mile 26.0. So I actually dialed it back a bit prior to this in anticipation. I then hustled up it, dropping folks around me like bad habits.
I turned left and saw the downhill finish! “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It”, a triathlon theme song for me and Charlie Holder, very appropriately played as I entered the home stretch. And I opened up my stride even more!! Huge smile on my face.
O. M. G. I just feeling ran a marathon!! And I’m pretty positive I negative split it, to boot!
Pro tip: run the first 18 miles with your bestie to perfectly pace for a negative split. Turns out singing provides an excellent tactic to remain at “conversational” pace.
Without anyone to share in my excitement, I exclaimed my joy to a couple dudes dressed as Uncle Sam. They looked at me as though I were the weird one…
Janelle and I thought we had picked a fool prove meeting place and backup meeting place, but the plan definitely didn’t pan out as expected. Again, by the grace of divine intervention, we literally ran into each other among the crowds of hundreds of thousands of people!
But we had already exited the finisher area and were again directed all the way around the park until we sweet talked one of the non-“I-take-my-job-too-seriously” personnel to let us back in to bag check. Because, again, walking an extra couple of miles is exactly what you want to do after running a marathon…
Gear check was a breeze! After a couple finisher photos, I skillfully wrapped myself in my Mylar blanket to change while a guy sitting next to me informed me that there were changing booths. Thanks, but not necessary! I responded. Which highlights yet another difference between triathletes and polite society.
Pro tip: go ahead and check your own stuff. And make sure you pick it up before you enter the athlete meetup and “party” area.
Back to Janelle’s to shower before driving to the ‘burbs for a spectacular dinner at Aunt Mary and Uncle Bob’s house where I reunited with my cousins Emma [who ran a 3:20 at her very first marathon that day!], Molly, Grace and Annie Banana as well as their respective significant others [I was Grace’s +1]. We were also joined by Aunt Carol and Uncle Gene-o and Annie’s 10-month old baby, whose first interactions a dog (and Bob and Mary’s dog’s first interaction with the alien-like creature of a baby) was absolutely hilarious.
I must say that my family is the BEST! So great catching up with some of the Chicago contingent of the Rudnik clan. All of the magical moments of the weekend made me seriously consider relocating to the spectacular city of Chicago. I’ll just have to revisit in the winter to remind myself why I couldn’t ever actually make the leap.
This race was perhaps the most-well-organized race I’ve ever participated in! The crowd support was absolutely unreal. Apparently 1.3 MILLION spectators lined the streets for the event. The course is flat [aside from that one little hill–which feels like a mountain–at mile 26.0]. I. Loved. It. Perhaps I’ll make it a ritual to return to the Windy City in October for a little foot race… Which means I’ll have to stop classifying marathons as “stupid” and perhaps drink the kool-aid after all.
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