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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Chicago Marathon: part 1

This is to be a writing on my recent running of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon this weekend on October 9, 2017. However I'm not sure where to start this. Because the race itself and my motivations for running it are 2 completely separate entities. So perhaps I should make this 2 separate posts.

I'll start by telling you that I was really lucky to have 2 people with me on this day, Sandra, my sister Beth and I all met up downtown on Saturday late afternoon so that we could head down to the Marathon Expo at McCormick place so I could pick up my bib number, shirt and all of the rest of the free goodies. I was so incredibly bummed that we just missed seeing my recent life hero, Meb Keflezighi, Olympic Marathoner, war refugee and inspirational human being, appear and speak at the expo. But I'm enough of a stalker that I'm sure that I will meet him someday.

(my personal cheering section/crew. Beth and Sandra)

We made it back to the hotel where we ate, got final preparations in order, race plan and attempted sleep. Its really hard to get to sleep when there is so much to think about. Due to the craziness of the day I knew that I hadn't eaten a ton, which is unusual for me, but knew I'd get some more fuel in the morning (foreshadowing, yes).

Bright and early Sandra set her alarm for 5am and we slowly rolled out of bed, got dressed, stuffed my pocked and gear check bag with almost anything I could need for after the race. As we left, it was still dark and we marched toward the race and the Congress hotel where we would meet the rest of my fundraising team for the 12 Oaks Foundation, use the bathroom, eat some breakfast and meet some fellow runners. Along the way we met some international runners who were trying to find people to follow, and its fun conversation at 6am to learn where people are from, one guy was from China, and this was his 16th marathon but still felt nervous. Another from California who was freezing in the ideallic Chicago running temps. Runners are a friendly and interesting crowd.


After hotel time, Sandra walked myself and the team to the race entrance and wished us luck and gave one final hug. One girl on my team, Marisella was in the same corral as I was and were talking bout some similar goals so decided to try to give it a go together.

The race started at 7am with the elites. However there are 40,000 participants all broken down into waves and "corrals". I was in the very last corral. And we didn't actually start until about 8:40am. It was a long time waiting.

We crossed the start and immediately it was so energizing. We were here. Running the epic Chicago Marathon. It was so easy to just take off. But 26.2 is a long way and I had a plan that I knew I needed to stick to to perform well so I slowed my pace down away from what the crowd was doing. In doing so I lost Maricella almost immediately. So I was in it alone.

It should be noted that Sandra has run the marathon twice herself and has spectated even more times. Call her a professional at this point. So Sandra gave me some great pointers to begin with, including that the city skyscrapers would mess with my GPS on my running watch and she was right. I could see immediately at mile 1 that time and GPS did not mesh. But thats why we have a plan, right. I knew where I was because of the plan and what my actual pace was and felt great.

Those first several miles I felt awesome. There was so much to see. Take in the beautiful city that I love so much. The spectators and their amusing and inspirational signs. The other runners. I had music and headphones with me just in case, but I felt no need to pull them out because there was so much happening. also monitoring my pace and goals was a full time job that captured my attention much of the time.

Photo from Sandra Wimer
(Feeling great!)

I was so excited to see so many things that first half, as it goes through the loop and north side, which are the areas I'm most famliar with. We ran past the Lincoln Park Zoo and Lincoln Park Conservatory and Nature museum, all which I just brought the kids to about a month before. We ran by a nursing home with all of the seniors waving to us and every runner waving back. We ran by Lake Shore Drive before we turned to head south through Boys Town, always a hoot, and some nice family neighborhoods. Many spectators were handing things out to runners, pretzels, Kleenex (which I so needed!). I avoided many of the water stations as I had my own water, but eventually found someone every few spots to refill it from a jug. I grabbed zero Gatorade that first half, which was probably a mistake.

Around mile 11 I accidentally dropped my pace sheet. I had mile by mile what I wanted each pace to be and where I wanted to be overall time wise. I wrote a few basics on my arm, like those goals, but every 5 miles. So when I realized I dropped it, I panicked a little, but realized that I'd be ok as long as I didn't mind occupying my mind with math. Not my favorite. But whatever. You do what you gotta do.

I was able to see my cheering squad of Sandra and Beth at a few points, mile 1.5, but missed them at the next stop. Saw them again at 12 where Sandra grabbed my arm sleeves, recorded me babbling some nonsense about not tripping over cups and gave me love and hugs.  I was feeling great, hitting all of my paces. THey said they'd see me again around 16.5.


(I get the feeling Sissy had a lot of fun making these signs.)

It was around the halfway mark that I grabbed some extra fuel. But didn't eat it until 14. Until that point, besides breakfast, I'd eaten the dried fruit I had with me and some spectator pretzels. We were headed out to the United Center, which was starting to get into unfamiliar territory for me, and you can't see it because its low to the ground. When it was time to turn around and head back to the city I was still feeling fine and could see the skyscrapers looming before me. I knew those buildings and it created a bit of comfort. Once back near the loop I saw Sandra again who yelled "run faster!". Funny girl.

Around 19 I started to feel weird. A little light headed and some muscle twinges I had never felt before in my legs. It was like little electrical shocks in my upper inner thigh, almost groin area. I knew that was not a good thing. So I backed off my pace a little. I also found a bathroom with almost no line and stopped to use it, since I hadn't used one since before we started. I felt a little better but the twinges came back if I tried to pick up the pace too much. So I tried walking for a short time, then returning to the running.

This is when it became a pure mental game. After 20. I knew I could run 6 miles. I did that regularly during training. But at this point I was tired, but body was acting wiggy, but nothing I couldn't handle, but also visually I was in very unfamiliar territory. Running south, in an area I didn't recognize, away from what I did know. There were some great crowds here with music, energy, and runners I recognized after being at a similar pace with them for a while. I remember clearly one moment where I wanted to walk so bad, but someone's sign was perfectly timed. "Run because you can" which has been one of my things. I can run. I have 2 healthy legs. I have a healthy body. It is not something I ever want to take for granted. So I ran. Another girl recognized my charity, which only 7 of us were running for, because she went to school in Grayslake, where its located. Its funny these little things that keep you going.

I also revamped my goals and plan at this point. I realized I would not get to my A or B goals. but if I still maintained a semi decent walking pace during some walk run intervals I would still be very happy with my finish. So around 21 or 22 I began running for a half a mile then walking fast for .25. Then back on and kept running if I passed a photographer or saw a timing mat that marked your time and reported it to the world.

Strangely I still chose to not start my music. It was all headspace here. And I was also texting Beth and Sandra at this point to let them know what was going on and where I was.

Finally as we turned to head back north and were on Michigan Avenue I felt safe. I knew I would finish. Even if I'd never been this far south on it, I knew it was the homestretch. Everything in me screamed to walk all of it. And I wanted to. But I wanted to finish and be satisfied more.

There was a significant moment with less than a mile left as I just stopped to walk, that I saw that bright pink jacket and Sandras face telling me to move my ass. So I ran. She ran with me for as far as she could before she knew she was going to get kicked off the course. And then the crowd cheers rose up. While there were thousands of people, I saw no one. Only the number signs counting down the meters (which as an American, mean nothing to me. I don't know what a meter is. Only that those numbers were going down). And I knew Beth would be near the final corner and I ran right up next to the barrier until I could make out her loud voice and smiling face and sign. She gave me a high five which pushed me up that final hill.

Photo from Sandra Wimer

I turned, and there it was. The mighty finish line.

For the record. I would like to thank the organizers of the Chicago Marathon for not extending that final stretch. I mean, they could have made it so long and dramatic, changing the course, to run half mile in the heart of the downtown and in Grant park. But no. It was right there. I could taste that medal in my mouth right away. It was the most glorious sight.

And I crossed the finish line.

People told me I would cry. I didn't. I have a problem where I'm not one to cry for myself. However if I see others crying, I will cry to the point of being a hot mess. That long walk back to where you get your stuff and meet your people, I cried with some others. I congratulated everyone. I thanked volunteers I got teary as I imagined the number of people who gave up their time and energy to help with such an epic event. I get teary at the idea that this event brings together people from all over the world to cheer each other on and compete together in the  most friendly of ways. And I LOVE the idea that this is the only sport in the world, where a peon like me is on the same field as the elite professionals (even if they finish 3 hours earlier).

And as an added bonus, I saw my old old College friend Stephen in the finishers area as he was there giving massages with Cortiva.

I never doubted that I would finish. But wondered in the how.

What would the plan be. How well could I stick to the plan. How distracted would I be. What was the self talk going to be. Was I going to give it less than my best effort.

And while I didn't meet my A or B goal, I met goals. I did something hard. I tried hard. I listened to myself. I changed plans. I remained flexible. I never doubted. I had support.

I joke with Sandra how 4 years ago I said "never" to a marathon. And here I am, finishing my second.

Never say never, my friends.

Remain open. Remain flexible. Ask for help and support.

I don't know whats next. I have lots of ideas and plans and goals I would like to achieve. Perhaps some I'm not even aware of yet. But one at a time.

This one is in the books.