Long Shadows: The Chicago Marathon Race Report

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Centennial Wheel

“I’m not afraid of the dark
We’ve been here before
Fallen on hard times, honey
We’ve fallen on swords
But if a long shadow
Falls across your heart
I’ll be right here with you
I’m not afraid of the dark

I’m not afraid of the dark
When the sun goes down
And the dreams grow teeth
And the beasts come out
Cast their long shadows
Every time that they start
I’ll be right here with you
I’m not afraid of the dark” – Josh Ritter, Long Shadows

“When the dreams grow teeth…” Another marathon, another crappy finishing time. I’m not going to walk away, though. I’m already planning my next one. The biggest detriment to my race was the heat and full sun on the last half of the race. None of these things were within my control on Sunday. The things that were in my control, I did well, except for one big one but I learned a real lesson from that one and won’t make that mistake, again. Everyone says, “oh but you trained in the heat and humidity so you should have been fine”. Yes, I did train in the heat and humidity and every single training run was shitty. I knew a hot marathon was going to have an equally shitty outcome but I did it anyway. Me and the heat are never going to be friends but it wasn’t supposed to be hot on race day in Chicago which is why I signed up for it in the first place. I started that race knowing I wasn’t going to like the outcome but #yolo, I did it anyway.

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I missed the memo that we were supposed to look scared.

 

First, I want to say that I had a wonderful time in Chicago. I loved traveling with my training group. I loved staying with Heather and Carly. Chicago is a great city with great food and friendly people. I don’t regret a minute of the weekend and I would do it all over again if given the chance, crappy finishing time and all. Second, Carly is the best daughter in the world. She loved the city. She loves my friends. She manned the cowbell corner with my Oiselle teammates like a champ and she cheered on every one of my Fleet Feet friends with a big cowbell at mile 17. My mom and I didn’t get to go on many adventures before she died. I want to take Carly on as many adventures as we can squeeze into my lifetime. Colin doesn’t like adventure (at least not yet) so he stays home, for now. Third, Chicago puts on a great race. It was well organized, the crowd support was great, the aid station volunteers were the best and there was tons of security and medical support on the course.

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River cruise

I’m going to break down the race by sections of miles this time. I’m going to try to remember where I was on the course when certain things happened.

The Start – last corral, wave 3 is not the best start but I’m slow and was honest about my time so this is where I was placed. So were several of my Fleet Feet friends so it worked out. We started 1.5 hours after the first runner. I didn’t love this but it’s a huge race so that’s how it goes. It was cold. We were bundled up. We had to pee.

Mile 1-6 – I had promised myself that I was going to run my own race at my own slower pace and let my friends go. I promised myself I would pace myself. I promised myself I would enjoy the ride. Soooo, I had read somewhere that tall buildings mess with the GPS reception on your watch. I thought this meant it would be a quarter to a half mile off at most. Yeah, no. My watch ended up being almost 3 miles off and it got out of whack right away. With no way of keeping track of my pace, I ran much, much too fast for the first 5 miles of this race. At mile 2 I looked up and I was running with the 4:45 pacer! Oh no! I slowed down and about 7 minutes later, I look up and I’m running with the 5:00 pacer. Still too fast. I really had to pee so I stopped at the first porta potty on the course. So did about 5,000 other people. That would be mile 2 on the picture below. I have no idea what happened in mile 5 because I was still running to fast.  The best part of my watch malfunction is that my Garmin thinks I ran a 6:36 mile. This will forever be in my statistics. I will never better this. I do think the first mile is an accurate representation of my pace which just lets  you know why the rest of the race went so poorly. I really don’t remember anything about this part of the course because I was trying not to die from running too fast and trying not to pee on myself.

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Go home, Garmin, you’re drunk.

Mile 7-10 – One of my favorite things on the course happened between mile 6 and 7 right before the 10K sign. In Lincoln Park, we ran past a retirement home. The residents had put signs in the windows and they were waving. My favorite sign said “I’m missing bingo for this”. Some of the residents were out on the sidewalk and one older woman in a wheelchair high fived me and said “You go, girl”. It helped remind me that there is a time when I won’t be able to do this anymore so I needed to slow down and enjoy the ride. I finally found a reasonable pace through this section. By now, my watch was so far off on pace and mileage I only kept it on for my intervals and for total time. Heather says I could have done the math and figured out my pace but Heather gives Stressed Out Kelly too much credit here. I’m bad at math on a good day. Forget it on a day when I’m running at breakneck speed and trying to remember everything I see. I could only think to follow the people in front of me. Somewhere around mile 9, I ran through what looked like a gay pride parade. These folks were bringing the party. To that point, it was the best crowd I had seen. There were even drag queens lip synching on stage. At mile 10, angels in the form of volunteers were handing out sponges dipped in cold water. I was so hot, I was feeling it and my heart rate was in the high 180s. The sponges were amazing.

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Drag queens in the middle of a marathon.

Mile 10-13 – At this point, the heat was getting to me but I kept up my intervals and tried to look around. Sadly, I don’t remember much about this part of the course. I think I saw a sign that said “Pick a cute butt and follow it” and the man running in front of me pointed to the woman in front of him and we all started laughing but this could have been somewhere else on the course. There were some stretches where there were no spectators. I kept seeing this very large man in a watermelon themed Hawaiian shirt. I saw him a total of 7 times because he had a bike and kept popping up. I just kept getting hotter and hotter. I ran a great half marathon. If only that was the end. Consistently, everyone I know who ran this race said things got uglier in the second half.

Mile 14-17 – I began to develop a pounding headache. I decided to pound down my electrolyte salt and chase it with Gatorade on the course in the hopes it would clear up. At mile 14, I ran through charity row. A nun on a step ladder blessed me and I took it because at this point I knew I needed all the help I could get. A man was standing in the road with a cold Coors Light and I got really mad at him because it just didn’t seem fair that he was enjoying his afternoon and I was running this stupid race. Then I got really mad at Lady Antebellum when Day Drinking came on my mix because I wanted to be day drinking instead of running that goddamn race. Then, my bluetooth headphones that were SUPPOSED to stay charged for 8 hours DIED so I got really mad at them and drafted a nasty email to JBL in my head about false advertising. I fished my wired headphones out of my pack and got my music back on track. I call these miles my Rage Miles. My Rage Miles turned into my Self Pity Miles as I reached the Oiselle Cowbell Corner. I spent about 2 minutes explaining to Tara and Mary Jo why I needed to DNF this race. I’m pretty sure it didn’t make any sense. They gave me hugs, anyway. Carly was there and I think she was worried about me. A teammate shoved an alcoholic beverage in my hand. I took a few sips, said “fuck it” and went back onto the course. I usually don’t fall apart until mile 18-20 so the heat really hit me hard in this race.

Mile 17-20 – My Self Pity miles continue. I also held on to a little bit of my rage miles at all the spectators trying to cross the course in front of the runners. Don’t do it but if you have to pick up the damn pace. This was the worst race for spectator/runner collisions. I bet Kenyans don’t have to put up with this.  My phone was blowing up because all my friends were tracking me and could  see that the wheels have come off the bus. This part of the course was on 18th Street near the Hispanic section. It was a Mexican street party. They had a band and they were singing and dancing. There was a taco/tamale stand manned by a grandmother. I wanted to stop for tamales. They had cold beer. They looked so happy and I looked so sad. They started high fiving me. I cried for my missed tamales. Rose texted me to ask how I was. I said I wanted to cry. Sarah texted to tell me to keep going and that she was sorry. Kim sent me a congratulations text and I texted back, this sucks. Nora, who I will love forever, sent me a very simple text telling me I was doing fine and to keep it up. I told her I was going to DNF, she told me I would regret it. I told her I didn’t know where I was because my Garmin was jacked so she told me I was almost to mile 20. My headache had cleared. I felt a little better. Nora made a reference to Game of Thrones. I laughed, put my phone away and continued on. Did I mention it was really hot? I helped an older man who had cramps by giving him some of my electrolyte salt.

Mile 20-24 – These were my I’m Going to Finish This Fucking Race Even If It Kills Me Miles. At this point, a real shout out needs to go to the Chicago Fire Department. All through the course they had used their fire trucks to block the side streets. They had also put out these giant water trucks with misters. At mile 21, they had managed to cover the entire street and a cool mist was engulfing us all. They lined the street and high fived each runner. A female firefighter gave me special words of encouragement. These were also the miles where there wasn’t a kid on that course who wanted a high five who didn’t get one from me because this is supposed to be fun.  I also passed a tent manned by the From Fat to Finish Line team, I high fived all of them and they shouted words of encouragement. I teared up a little. This fat runner girl loves a fat runner success story! You want to know what the most demoralizing thing in the world is during a marathon? For your Garmin to be so far off on mileage that it beeps for mile 26 but you know you are only at mile 23 and change. Chinatown was a blur around mile 21 but I must have taken a picture because here it is.

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This was a blur.

Mile 24-26 – These were my Walking Dead Miles. Between mile 24-25 there was a woman standing in the median yelling “Today is not your day to quit. You will finish this race.” She was giving out high fives like it was her full time job. I must have looked like shit because she gave me a hug and said, “you’ve got this, girl, you’ve got this”. At this point, my fellow runners began to drop. I saw a man go down right in front of me. He was in so much pain, he couldn’t speak to tell us what was wrong. He was clutching his leg so me and two other runners tried to rub it for him. I hailed a policeman who came right over and immediately called for an ambulance. A few minutes later, I saw another woman go down from exhaustion. We helped her up and she started walking again. When you are out on the course for as long as I am, you see people who are really suffering. The heat was getting to so many people. I saw the watermelon shirt man at mile 25 and I thanked him for keeping me company. I could see the big screen projecting the messages from loved ones way in the distance and I knew it was mile 26. I picked up my pace. I ran.

Mile 26-26.2. – This was my Holy Shit I Can’t Believe I Made It two tenths of a mile. At the big screen we turned right to an uphill finish. Uphill? WTF – oh yeah I read about this but totally blocked it out. Up the hill we all went, as fast as we could which wasn’t very fast but it hurt. We rounded the corner and there was the finish line, still too far away. I ran as fast as I could. I crossed the finish line and thought, that fucking sucked. The chute was the longest chute I have ever been through at a finish. It took forever to get our medals. I texted Carly I was done and still alive. I picked up my gear bag, grabbed my free beer (security dude made me toss my beer before I could go out of the fence), grabbed  a bag of ice for my cranky hip and made it to my friends who were under the F for Fleet Feet in the family area. They all looked exhausted but they had waited for me. We had all made it even if it took us much, much longer than we wanted.

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Proud of this crew!

Lessons learned? I need to do some drills where I run without my watch and time myself to go by pace. This was the biggest mistake I made. I went out way too fast on a hot day with a lot of race left to run. I can run pretty fast but not for 26.2 miles. I choked down more G2 than I wanted in the 3 days before the race and on race morning. This saved me on a hot course along with diligently drinking Sword during the race and refilling my water bottles (thanks to the aid stations for having jugs of water to refill bottles). I carb loaded a lot. I ate all my gels on the course. I suffered no stomach issues. I took the sponges and soaked myself. I packed ice into my sports bra and then chewed it (gross, I know). I poured cups of cold water down my back. I took Gatorade at every other aid station. I’m convinced this is how I made it to the finish.

I’m not proud of my time. I’m proud of my grit. Every one of my Fleet Feet friends struggled on that course. Few of us made our time goals but we should all be proud of finishing. We got every runner in.

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