This was an epic weekend deserving of an epic post, which is my way of telling you that this will be long. Consider yourself warned.
First and foremost, I finished! Most notably, I managed to feel only the expected (albeit still horrible) pain of running 26.2 miles, rather than the crippling kind of pain that left me walking/puking for the last 8 miles in Providence. I can not emphasize enough how great this is. My biggest fear going into this race, even above injuring myself or dying, was my fear of repeating Providence. (The logic being that even if I died, I would at least be put out of my misery…)
My official finishing time was 4:04:12, which means I shaved off nearly 40 minutes from my previous time! Am I upset/sad/disappointed that I didn’t break four hours? Funny you should ask, but the answer is ‘no’ because unofficially, I DID! According to both Lina’s Garmin and my own, we ran 26.2 in under four hours. Of course, this was not how long it took us to finish the race, which is what counts. In any case, I am super pleased.
Now for the play-by-play recap. There is a lot to say about this race because it was SO ENORMOUS that there was just a ton going on.
Pre-race Travel/Food Details:
Nick, Lina, and I drove 10 hours from Philly to Ann Arbor on Friday and stayed with Nick’s family Friday night. We headed out early-ish the next day, drove for 3.5 more hours, and then met up with Lina’s friend Kelsey, who was graciously put us up for the night. Kelsey was an amazing hostess, and took us to En Hakkore for some delicious bi bim bap before shuttling us to the expo (more on this below).
After the expo, we put up our feet for a bit before meeting up with my old college roommate, Laura, and her husband, Alex. They had us meet them at Pequod’s Pizza for some Chicago deep dish pizza, which fit nicely into mine and Lina’s plan to carbo/calorie load. Did I mention it was incredible? They make the outer crust out of caramelized cheeze (<– real typo) and there is just no explaining how yummy it is, so I won’t try.
Alex and Laura also ran in the marathon, so it was great to get to see them and wish each other luck in person. Alex, Laura, and Kelsey all live in Chicago and have done the marathon within the past two years, which meant they were able to give Lina and me some tips about the course over dinner. We rounded out the night by watching the very crazy/intense Michigan-Penn State football game (quintuple overtime, what?!) and Modern Family reruns. It was great.
I have to say, before anything else about the race, that this was a very well-organized event at every stage. Given the size of it, too, I continue to be impressed by this aspect of the Chicago Marathon.
The expo was PACKED with people, and somewhat less full of samples than I expected. I suppose it makes sense that at slightly smaller races companies would be more willing to give away free stuff. I was planning on buying Gu gels at the expo because every expo I’ve ever been to has had them for sale (and often for sample), but there were none to be found at this one. This was rather inconvenient, but I’m guessing that Powerbar had some sort of contract with the race organizers to be the exclusive distributors of energy gel. Unfortunately for me, and for Powerbar, I wasn’t willing to use Powerbar gels since the only one I ever tried in training was revolting (never buy the orange creamsicle one!), so we had to make an extra stop afterwards.
On the plus side, I found two things that I love: Citrus Fruits Nuun and Mizuno Wave Prophecy II’s. I’ve been trying to find a place that sells the Wave Prophecies for weeks so that I could compare them to the Wave Creations, and the expo was finally the place where I got to do so. They are amazing, and I may just sell my left arm for these ridiculously expensive shoes (~$200) when I need a new pair. Nuun is an electrolyte recovery drink, and they had nearly 12 vats of this stuff on tap for you to try. I used this particular vendor as an opportunity to both try some new flavors of electrolyte drink and simply hydrate, and it was possibly my favorite booth, period.
On the morning of the race, Lina and I got up at 5am full of excitement. My pre-race breakfast consisted of almond butter toast with banana and, of course, COFFEE. At 6:15, we left Kelsey’s and hopped on Chicago’s super convenient and efficient public transit system; we were able to get off just a few blocks from the entrance to the race. Very easy. It was SUCH a beautiful morning: clear, cool, very little wind.
After standing in line for 20 minutes to use the porta-potties (which were clean and not too stinky!), Lina and I headed to corral F at 7:45 to await the 8:00am start.
At promptly 8:00am, the second wave started and we all took off.
The first 15 miles went according to plan, but this isn’t to say there weren’t things to note. First of all, Lina admitted to not feeling 100% and started hurt around mile 6, and my feet, in particular, started to hurt around mile 8. This was one of my biggest fears because during the Providence marathon and during the second 20-miler we did, intense sensitivity in the pads of my feet was the first signal that things were going to take a turn for the worse. Luckily, the pain in my feet was somehow much more bearable than it was during those two times because it didn’t demoralize me. I felt it, but the rest of my body was doing just fine so emotionally, I was in a good place.
In contrast, Lina had a lot of emotional up and downs during the first half, but I only managed to find out about these later because she’s such a trooper. At one point, I pointed out a woman a few feet away from us who had pooped her pants, and while I found this extremely gross (because I smelled/saw it), the whole concept seemed to deeply disturb Lina much more. Anyway, here is what the first 15 miles looked like according to my Garmin:
You can clearly identify the miles where we did our pick ups. We ended up doing mile 13 faster than miles 14 and 15, because those miles were really congested and although we tried to speed up, we couldn’t logistically. Like I mentioned in my previous post, we had decided to run by feel – without the pace screens on our watches – so we never knew for sure what our pace was. I actually loved the way this felt because it put me more in the moment and more in tune with the needs of my body. I may run many more races this way.
Of course, after running 15 miles things inevitably start to hurt more even if you haven’t been pushing yourself into a punishing pace. With 11+ miles still left to run, there is no taking comfort in the fact that you’re almost done. Because you aren’t.
Funny/not funny story: At mile 16, Lina optimistically turned to me and said, “Hey! Only 8 more to go!” I remember having this split-second war with myself over whether or not I should break it to her that we actually had 10 more to go (knowing that she wasn’t feeling spectacular either), and ultimately decided that she needed to have correct information. I don’t think she was very happy with reality at that moment and to be honest, neither was I. In my head, I had actually made the same weird calculation mistake earlier in the race (I remember thinking that if I made it to mile 18, I would only have 6 to go…), so I completely understood what had made her think that. I also understood what it felt like to realize that you had more to go than expected. Not a great feeling.
Lina suggested around mile 17 that we do 3 miles fast instead of two and then go slowly for the remaining 6.2 miles after that, but I had entered the phase of mild depression and couldn’t quite find the motivation to do that; had we been on a 20 mile run, I would have agreed, but those miles after 20 were starting to seem impossible. I actually couldn’t fathom even picking it up for the planned two miles, and because Lina is such a supportive running buddy, she consoled me and told me to just try and keep our current pace – no more pick ups. Here are the deets:
During these miles we ran through the Mexican neighborhood and through Chinatown, both of which had great spectators and music. The energy of these two neighborhoods made these difficult miles bearable. It was also during these miles that I decided I needed to start dedicating my miles to people to help me get through them. It helped me to think about these dedications as well, because it took part of my consciousness away from the pain.
First, I decided to retroactively dedicate a few of the earlier miles:
Mile 1- To Laura and Alex, because they were the ones who inspired me to do the Chicago Marathon, for a charity, in the first place. The start of the marathon needed to be dedicated to the people who got me started :).
Mile 13.1-To Nick Pauletto, my brother in law, because I ran my first half marathon with him
Mile 18- To Piper, my niece, because she turns two on October 18th
Mile 19-To Jessica Corbeille, my BFF, because 19 is one of her favorite numbers (sorry Jess, I don’t ever plan to run a 38th mile for you 😉 )
Mile 20-To Lina, because up until this race, 20 miles was the farthest we’d ever run together
These miles were physically harder but mentally easier than miles 16-20. I needed to stop and stretch a few times and Lina suggested (at seeing my pain) that we walk through each of the upcoming water stations. The problem, of course, is that at this point in the race, neither stopping nor walking nor running can bring relief from the extreme discomfort, so we continued to suffer. For Lina, coming to a full stop when I needed to stretch caused her to cramp up almost instantly, while I was forced to stop and stretch due to a quadricep cramp that threatened to make me fall. We were quite the pair.
I have to take a moment to say that without Lina there, I would have walked A LOT more of these last few miles. I could feel myself slowing down and I could feel her take notice and slow down with me, so she encouraged me not only with her words but also with her silent actions. With every step, I was grateful to have her there by me.
My remaining mile dedications are the following:
21- To Francois Greer, who was born on April 21st and whom I met when he was 21
22- To Paul Melvin, my advisor at Bryn Mawr
23- To Jeff Rushall, my advisor and fellow runner at NAU
24- To Tammy Pauletto, my sister
25- To my dad, the guy who got me into track and running
26.2- To my mom, and all the people who have received/will receive a cancer diagnosis
The last .2 miles is up the ONLY HILL IN CHICAGO, which is why you’ll notice that I slowed down for that last bit. Very cruel. I also slowed down significantly on these last 6 miles from the first 20 miles because for whatever reason, everything changes after that point. You cease to recognize your runner self. This is one of the most notorious aspects of the marathon and I am a poster child for it. Anyway, here are our final splits:
Mile 24 was where my quad started seizing up and yes, you see it now, the last .2 miles at a pace nearly 2 minutes slower per mile than any other mile.
After the finish line:
This is possibly the only part of the race that kind of infuriates me. After crossing the finish line, we were forced to walk another .8 miles through the water/food/photo/medal area before getting to the reunion area.
Not cool. Not cool at all.
My quad cramp seriously threatened to send me the ground and I’ve never seen Lina in so much pain, so sitting would have been nice, except that they won’t let you sit because they need to keep things moving. So as a minimum, NOT WALKING FOR ANOTHER MILE would have been nice. I’m sure there are some very real logistical reasons for having the finish line set up this way, but this was beyond brutal.
To end, I’ll include some summarizing bullet points.
-World-class volunteers and spectators (seriously, they were the BEST)
-Lots of people to run with
-Lots of water stations, all of which had both gatorade and water
-Beer at the finish line
-Lots of people to dodge
-Water areas that are slippery with banana peels (no joke)
-Endless finishing area that makes you walk a mile after running a freaking marathon
-Less than amazing post-race food for grabs (we got little boxes full of stuff, but none of it was very appetizing)
“Only 25.7 miles to go!” (seen less than a mile into the race, at the only point where a sign like this would be funny/cute)
“You have stamina! CALL ME!” (ahem…)
“Go Laura” , held by a woman shouting “Go ANYONE named Laura!”
“Go, random stranger, go!”
“You look so skinny!”
“I bet your feet hurt… from kicking so much ass!”
Least favorite thing seen:
The tall woman in spandex who pooped her pants and kept running, much to the disgust and horror of the 30,000 people running behind her.
Favorite thing overheard:
“Man, those girls are faster AND prettier than we are!” (Said about Lina and I, in Spanish, by a 40-something year old man to his friend)
I am SO SO glad that I did this race. It was an incredible experience to run with 45,000 people, to fundraise in honor of my mother, a cancer survivor, and to seriously train for something for the first time since high school. I don’t plan on running a marathon any time soon (or possibly ever again…), but I will forever be proud of myself for this accomplishment. I will also never forget the feeling of running a marathon with such a dear friend.
So many of my friends and family donated to the American Cancer Society and texted/called/facebooked me that I feel beyond loved. Thank you all for making this weekend possible and for always showing your support. It’s now time for a massage. 🙂