I put my marathon shirt on today and realized I hadn’t posted this blog yet! Oops!
Well, 4 months later I am finally writing about my first marathon experience. Of course, I have reflected on the marathon in several journals and shared my story with a lot of people in this time, but now it’s going to be on the Internet.
I committed to run the Chicago Marathon and raise $1,000 for Girls on the Run in early 2016. The charity minimums have gone up for 2017 and vary depending on the group you are with, but I highly recommend fundraising for this event. The minimums are much lower than other large races and you get a lot of perks. Some examples: GOTR had an amazing FB group for support, cool swag for you and 3 family members, a pasta party the Thursday before the race, and a “home base” near the marathon’s start for pre-race fuel and post-race comrade and stretching.
GOTR is so much fun!
When I signed up, I entered my predicted time as 5 hours. I was training for my first half-marathon at the time and was hoping to finish that in around 2 hours, so 5 for the full seemed totally manageable. And then I found out I would be 27 weeks pregnant on October 9-the date of the race. Pregnancy made me a lot slower and also made me require more bathroom breaks along the way. My new goal became to run around a 12 minute pace so that I could comfortably stop as needed and still come in within the allotted 6:30:00 (a 15 minute/mile pace).
My longest training run was 22 miles and I finished this in 4:28:51 (12:12 pace!) including 2 bathroom stops and running on a much hillier route than Chicago. I felt amazing and set my great goal at 5:15:00, my good goal at 5:30, and my acceptable goal at anything under 6:30:00.
My “I look like crap because I just ran 22 miles in the rain and it’s 9am” face
Then I got home and realized I strained my right shin that week. Training dropped from running 4 days a week to running 1 and cross-training 4. I knew I couldn’t stop running completely and I knew that my leg would not be 100% by race day but I just wanted to be able to push through enough to finish.
We live about 2 hours from Chicago, so we didn’t leave until after my husband got off work on Friday (the race was Sunday). We would be staying with his aunt in Wilmette, about half an hour outside of the city, and taking the train from there. Friday evening we enjoyed Medieval Times because oh my goodness they have the most delicious vegetarian chili ever. It was also super available since the Cubs were busy winning the World Series.
We love Medieval Times!
That night went pretty well despite sharing a room in the basement with my husband and 2 year-old. We woke up and made some food (I brought all of my own from home so there would be nothing new in my system the day before the race) and then went on an adventure to figure out how to use the train and stop at the expo.
I am such a cheapskate and didn’t buy anything at the expo (totally regret it and next marathon I will be purchasing an entire wardrobe). But it was pretty fun anyway.
I also wish I had taken better expo pictures =(
After spending most of the day at the expo, we ended up getting stuck at the train station because we were such newbies. Instead of going home and cooking, we had Subway for dinner. We finally got back to the house and sat down to plan our schedule for the next day. I was highly surprised and disappointed to find out that there were no trains running before 8am!!! I had to be at the Girls on the Run base by 6:30am in order to enjoy the team meeting and breakfast. I was really determined to be there at this time since I was so nervous about finding my way to the start corrals on time and the GOTR team was leaving as a group. So instead of relaxing, we went into panic mode and changed the plan to drive into Chicago the next morning….which also meant we would be heading home right after the race and needed to pack everything. Luckily, the Cubs game was on t.v. while we did this.
He really enjoyed getting to ride a bus and a train for the first time!
Big surprise, I couldn’t sleep AT ALL the night before the race. It was as if someone had replaced our bed with a cardboard one and flattened out the pillows. And every single breath my sound-asleep husband took made me want to suffocate him (love you!). And then I got into my own head: if you fall asleep now, you can sleep 4 hours before running a marathon, if you fall asleep NOW you can sleep for 3 hours…..ughh. Needless to say, 5am came pretty quickly and we were on our way. Breakfast: 1 blueberry bagel with butter and a cup of coffee (per usual). I also snagged a cookie at the GOTR home base around 7:15am.
Food at home base
What was really great for me as a pregnant runner is that I really couldn’t let this race be about the time, and you aren’t really supposed to worry about time on your first marathon anyway. I fully intended to take in the atmosphere and enjoy the experience. Also, I was hyper-aware of my fluid and nutrition because that was the most important for the baby. A lot of my friends who were running for time ended up dehydrated.
I walked to my starting corral (J-wayyyy in the back) with some other charity runners and quickly made friends with a guy named Matt. He was a charity runner from Chicago and this was also his first marathon. We talked for ten minutes or so before an older lady cut into our conversation and then stole him away…..then I was awkward and alone. Around 8 am the pack finally started moving at a decent pace and by that time I was already starving! Not good. Also, the sun was peeking out and I was already feeling the warmth. The piles of throw-away clothes on the fence-line were already huge. I had been planning to keep my jacket until after mile one, but I freaked out thinking there wouldn’t be a place to throw it and I ditched it right there….big mistake. I was cold 2 minutes later.At this time, I heard the women behind me talking about their bathroom-break strategy, “Don’t go until after mile 5 because the lines are insane.” Sound advice, I thought.
Me in my throw-away jacket at the start
My family and I before the race.
At 8:35am I finally crossed the start line! I had been advised to not start my GPS until after mile 2 because the signal gets lost in the tunnels but I had practiced with audio cues based on my miles and was really scared to not have those, so I started it right away. By the 1.25 marker I had audio cues telling me I was at a 6:30 pace because the GPS was messed up. Total regret.
There were sooooo many people running! And so many spectators! It was so much fun. My legs felt hard and stiff from being cold, but we got going. Also, I already felt the need to pee….great. My family was cheering just after mile 2, but I didn’t see them and they didn’t see me.
All I could think about was finding a bathroom. I wanted to wait but I really didn’t remember where all the stops were (some were 1.7 miles apart, some .8, and some nearly 3). I was pretty well on pace so I decided to stop at the mile 5 station….huge mistake. I waited in line over 10 minutes. I still felt okay since I had a good pace thus far, but what a buzzkill to lose all that time for no reason. All of the men had gone across the street to pee in bushes….I wish I could have. Also took on a huge gob of vaseline here….soooo good.
Oh hey, the next bathroom stop at mile 7 had virtually no line =( should have waited. By this time my energy was gone. I was so disappointed because there was so much race to go! The water bottle I was carrying ran out of Nuun and I texted my husband to buy me a bottle when I met up with him at mile 12. Little did I know that they would be filling bottles at the upcoming water stations. Gosh this race was accommodating like that. People on the street were passing out snacks and Kleenex and beer. Whatever you needed you could get. Meeting up with my family all in their pink GOTR shirts was amazing and a great boost. Especially seeing my toddler was just the best. And then I took the next bathroom stop which also boosted my energy. Luckily, I had put a Kleenex in my Nathan waterbottle carrier because there was no toilet paper in the port-a-potty.
Waiting for mommy
I started taking Gatorade at every station because I could feel that I desperately needed calories. So naturally, I spent much of this time fighting the urge to not pee myself. The battery on my phone was almost completely dead and I hadn’t even taken a single picture =( I really really hoped it would hang on so I turned off my music and only left up my interval timer and RunKeeper. I had started the race running 5 minutes, walking 1 but in this time I continually knocked it down: run 3 minutes, walk 2, run 2 minutes, walk 2. Mile 15.5 had a huge electronic board for encouraging messages. I didn’t see mine, but I did get them emailed to me the day after the race =) and then right after that turn I got to see my family one last time. My baby angel was asleep, so I didn’t lose any momentum stopping to talk with them. I think if I had stopped I wouldn’t have been able to keep going. My goal was to not walk while they could see me.
Glad he had fun.
After mile 20, all of the aid stations were supposed to have bananas in addition to Gatorade and water. The first one was out when I got there. I panicked and started to cry. I was SO HUNGRY. If there were no more calories on the course I would not make it. I also had to take off my Flip Belt because it was pushing on my bladder so hard. Between that and the contractions, I really really had to pee. It seemed so stupid to stop this close to the end of the race, but I hoped it would help me feel good enough to run most of the last 10K….it did not. Oh! and there was a hill! It really wasn’t a terrible hill but after coming this far and feeling so awful it was the LAST thing I needed. For some reason I had convinced myself that there would be zero hills. At mile 24 my phone died completely. All I had was the sound of my heavy breathing and all of the people passing me. I kept telling myself, even if I have to walk the rest of the way, I can still finish under 6:30:00 but really, I knew I couldn’t settle for that time and I kept up my intervals.
Seriously, you can’t forget about that .2. I got really determined to run the whole last .2 but had to jog.1, walk and then jog the final .1 because my leg was hurting so badly. Even my jog felt like I was just dragging my body across the line. 6:06:56 was not even close to the time I was hoping for, but I did it. I can do ANYTHING.
It didn’t occur to me until just after crossing the finish line that my family would be really hard to find without a phone. That was something we should have planned. It was a lot of added stress especially knowing that I had to get back to the GOTR headquarters before they closed at 4:30 (I crossed the line around 3:30). Luckily, they had been tracking me live on the app and pretty much knew where to find me. It sucked to have to rush out of there and walk back to headquarters. Also super bummed to not be able to drink my beer cause I was pregnant.
Hindsight is 20/20. I wasn’t really sure if I would be up for another marathon ever, but looking back at my experience and seeing all of the things I wish I could have changed, I know the next marathon will be even better! Also, pretty excited to be able to PR by hopefully a full hour just by not being pregnant!