What seems like forever ago now, I became connected through blogging with a bunch of run-nerds. Among these people, one gal thought it would be a cool idea if we all got together in Chicago and ran the marathon. At one point I think there were like 20 of us considering, then it was more like 10 and then it was 4. It was not totally unlike my first semester of engineering. So off I went to run a marathon, whilst sharing a hotel room with 3 other people I had never met in real life before. Whatever lack of caution led me to do that, it was all worth it because I met some really great people! Oh yeah, and I ran the Chicago marathon.
Chicago was my third marathon in as many years and given how much I had improved from year 1 to year 2, I felt I had every reason to believe this time would be even better.
Chicago is a CRAZY race to do because there are literally 40,000+ people doing it with you. Even as a slower runner, the crowd of the race never really thinned out, as it usually does. Chicago ends up being more than a race, but also an EVENT with international attention. Everything that happens in a race is basically supersized. The expo is the size of a small shopping mall, the corral is so long it takes over an hour for everyone to cross the start line, and I could go on.
Four years ago, I was probably in my best running shape, though I'm beginning to rival that now. I had a banner spring and had basically set a PR for every distance I tried, and I've now subsequently beat those except for the 5K... but it'll happen. Maybe.
PRing though I was, I had been pushing past (or with) injury-ish issues that had not been addressed fully, or rested from. I was also enjoying a fun new relationship with my cute boyfriend (and now husband), but it wasn't the recipe for expert training. Even so, I had completed both of my 20-miler long runs and really felt ready.
So on the day of the Chicago Marathon, I was probably in the best shape of my life, if you were willing to ignore whatever was going on with my knee (it was runner's knee) and my quads (IT band issues) and my questionable training plan which was high on carb-loading (beer).
I lined up with the 4:40 pacer with the fool-hardy optimism of every runner that has ever ignored all the signs their body has been sending. I felt mostly fine though and stayed with the pacer until mile 12, when I used the port-o-potty, and upon return to the course my ankle felt like I had twisted it (I don't believe it was, not sure why I felt that way). So I actually started walking for a bit in hopes I could walk it off. I managed to feel a little better and had another good mile or two. But then, my legs just felt exasperated, maybe fatigued? but they were heavy and sore. I managed to keep moving, my cardio endurance felt fine, but my legs just felt trashed.
Now, my boyfriend, actually flew to Chicago to see me race! He managed to be the 'fan of the year'! He saw me at more points along the course then anyone has ever done (for me), including my now husband (who is the same person). However, there ended up being a gap between 16 ish and mile 24 (or something like that), which is when I was struggling the most. I kept trying to 'run off' the feeling in my legs, but they were not having it. I honestly think if I had seen him at mile 20, I would have been like "Take me home, I'm spent!". Luckily or not, he wasn't there and I really didn't have much choice but to move forward, or so it seemed. The 5 hour pacer passed me, the friends who I had expected to beat passed me and I just plotted along.
I saw the boyfriend again at mile 24 and he was so over-joyous to see me, and he did not care about my lack of PR getting, or friends passing me... In his mind I was running a marathon and therefore winning! I also I realized quitting at this point would probably still result an additional 2.2 miles of walking (given that it was Chicago), so I might as well get it over with.
And over with it, I got.
I finished (5:11), I got my beer, I met up with my boyfriend and I hobbled back to my hotel. I have to tell you my legs felt like they were on fire. Even when I tried to sleep that night, my legs felt like they were burning up, and ibuprofen only somewhat mitigated the pain.
In the aftermath of Chicago, I ended up taking 3 years off from marathons, it just felt like too much. In that time, I did get another degree, marry the hot boyfriend and still ran but more slowly and less far.
This post is a little bit negative, but I really am glad I did the Chicago marathon. If nothing else, I've learned it is a distance you have to respect, as two weeks later I ran a perfectly timed half as a pacer (2:30), there is something about those measly extra 13.1 miles. Also, other than about 14 out of 26.2 miles of the marathon, I had a good time. Enjoying friends, sights and deep dish pizza.