Part 3: Chicago Marathon 2010
I should have known better than to set a goal about falling.
I’m still not entirely sure what happened. I know I tripped, and at first I thought it was just over an uneven patch of asphalt. Dad, however, was convinced that it was the shoe of a woman who cut me off. Whether I actually clipped her shoe or was just being uncoordinated (as usual) is a tough call. Either way I was lying in the middle of Addison in disbelief. I had really, truly, and thoroughly believed that just for this one day, the marathon gods would let me stay upright.
The marathon gods are a-holes.
There were two positives of this event. 1) At least it happened early. If it happened at any mile starting with a “2”, I don’t know that I would have found the will to go on.
2) The other runners were exceptionally nice about the whole thing. As Dad stood over me with his arms outstretched like a hovering albatross (why an albatross? I don’t know, that’s just how I think of it), at least 5 other people must have stopped and asked if I was okay. Given that half the time I’m too selfish to stop for a friend to adjust a sock on a training run, I was blown away by this kindness from strangers during the race itself. Perhaps this is a lesson that I take myself just a little too seriously…
Oh, and another good thing. At least the road was closed. Lying in the middle of Addison on any other day would probably be a pretty bad idea.
By mile 11, things were feeling good again, and according to the admittedly questionable Garmin, we were clipping along at a 10:28 pace.
This was fast. To hit 4:45, I only had to hold it in the 10:45 range.
Did it occur to me that I might be committing the classic marathoner mistake of going out to fast? Yes. But at the same time, I felt like 26 miles was going to be hard no matter what, and I would probably crap out at 22 or so regardless of how long it took me to get that far. I know it goes against every race-running strategy out there, but I was happy to be banking time for the harder miles at the end. Thus, I still looked like I was in a pretty good mood when we saw our fan club again.
|Me and Dad at mile 11. (Picture blatantly stolen from Handsome J’s sister.)
The halfway point of the race is on Adams St., which takes runners west, away from the lake. This also meant away from the tall buildings that had provided life-saving shade for the first half of the race. As we went into this less-historic, less-spectator-lined part of the course, I really began to feel the heat (literally). It was probably only 75F at that point, but as any city-kid knows, nothing radiates heat like some sticky black asphalt. Runners around us were starting to drop to a walk. I took a GU and felt my stomach lurch a bit, but I wasn’t ready to acknowledge its complaints.
At mile 15, Dad peeled off at an aid station and told me to go ahead. This was one of those tough moments in sport. Okay, so I wasn’t pitching to the last batter in game 7 of the World Series or anything, but anytime you set out on a run with another person, the question of whether to leave them behind is a tough one. Especially when you’re acutely aware of just how miserable the day is getting. It would be over 80F for the last 10 miles of our marathons. Hard to believe that this guy was still going…
|La Tour Eiffel
Mile 18 was where I first felt light-headed, and I compromised with myself that I had banked enough time to walk a minute or two through the rest of the aid stations. At each one, I chugged Gatorade like it was the water of life, hoping that the sugar would keep me from passing out.
It was one of those inevitable arguments with your own body. The sugar was helping my brain, but my stomach was launching a protest. The last 8 miles became a game of delicately maintaining the balance between “don’t throw up” and “don’t pass out”.
It was also a game of “play in the sprinklers”. In the “Little Mexico” Pilsen neighborhood, residents were out in their front yards with their hoses pointed at the runners. It felt like home—back in Texas heat and surrounded by Mexican flags! The return of the crowds was a late-in-the-race lifesaver, though I shudder to think of the impact on those people’s water bills. I’m sure I really gave Garmin a run for his money a I zig-zagged from hose to host. Of course, I didn’t care too much for his livelihood at that point. I kind of felt he deserved a little water damage for his shenanigans.
The Dreaded 6
Conventional marathon wisdom is that the real race is the last 6 miles, and I have to say it’s true. No matter how good you’re feeling up to that point, after mile 20, the wheels just start to come off. Your feet hurt from the pounding, some part of you is inevitably chafing, and you’re hungry and thirsty and tired and want to throw up all at the same time. (Question to follow up on later…how the heck do ultrarunners run four of these things at a time??)
It was around 20 that I saw the fan club for the last time. I managed a smile, but I was so out of it, I didn’t even here the moose call Handsome J’s sister made out of a Pringles can and a wet shoelace. Fortunately, the enjoyment this provided other Canadian runners made it a wholely worthwhile effort on her part!
|Just after the fan club, I spotted another exciting sight. It was the guy carrying the 4:45 sign! I had finally found the pace group, and it only took me 20 miles! Hooray!!! I settled in behind him, thinking all I had to do was let him carry me home. (Hmm, would he really carry me? And would that be cheating?)
We got about 100 feet before he suddenly peeled off to the sidelines and stopped to talk to a cop.
I stared after him for a few seconds, and there’s no sugar-coating it. The emotion that hit me was pure dejection. I would love to say that I was then empowered by an urge to finish this epic battle on my own, but my real thought was something more like, “God d*mmit!” I trudged along on my own, hoping for another hose.
From that point, my stomach churned with every step, and I focused on trying to run as much as possible, knowing that if I walked I would never make it under 5 hours. As we passed a high school at mile 23, the sign out front flashed 97 degrees. Though I was thoroughly entranced in my own misery, I still found some amusement in the subsequent panic of a girl in front of me. “Oh my GAWD, it’s 97 degrees? How are we supposed to survive this? What are we going to do??” It took all my willpower not to respond, “Honey, I’m from Texas, and this ain’t no 97 degrees.”
Shortly thereafter I almost lost it at an aid station. The volume of runners had defeated the volunteers’ efforts to keep water supplies at the ready, and as I stood there waiting for a volunteer to fill my cup, the unthinkable happened: He knocked over the whole cup and had to start over.
I debated what to do. I could just run on without it…but no. This guy was out here suffering too, for no reward other than the mumbled thanks of delirious runners. So I waited. It probably cost me about 10 seconds. (We’ll get back to that…)
I remember pain on those last miles up Michigan Avenue, and I remember turning onto Roosevelt Road with .2 miles to go. I even remember powering up the hill that greeted me at that turn. (I think I remember that because some guy was standing along the fence stretching and all I could think was, “What the heck is wrong with you, it’s only TWO TENTHS of a mile. Stretch AFTER!” Luckily I was too tired to say this out loud. I have a feeling it would not have been appreciated.)
I don’t actually remember crossing the finish line. Many runners burst into tears or reconnect with a higher power or manage to let go of some major, life-affecting trauma at the finish line of a marathon, but I always just finish. Sometimes I even try to think of something sad or important or brilliant so I can feel that elation or start bawling or something, but for me it’s kind of like being at the wedding of a couple you don’t actually know. You try to be moved by the service, but really, do you even know if these people are a good match? And how long till we get some hors d’oeuvres?
Anyway, I do remember the post-finish chute, because it was the longest one I’ve ever seen. A volunteer handed me Gatorade that I was too queasy to drink. Another volunteer handed me a medal, which I vaguely registered as being hideously ugly. (I greatly appreciate the sponsorship money donated by Bank of America, but did they have to make the medal look like an ad on a bus?)
|World’s Ugliest Finisher’s Medal
A third volunteer tried to hand me one of those space blankets, but I’m pretty sure I gave him a death stare. It’s 83 degrees out here and you want to give me a blanket??? In fact, at that point I did something completely out of character. I was so utterly over-heated and exhausted, I decided I didn’t care that my abs are not quite washboard and stripped off my shirt.
I was that girl I always make fun of, walking around in a sports bra. And if someone wanted to say something about it, I would clock them with my city-bus-ad medal.
I walked for 15 minutes with no sign of the Family Reunite area that was “right at the finish”, and finally willed myself to ask yet another volunteer about its whereabouts. “Oh, it’s just up ahead!”
So I walked some more. 10 minutes later, it looked like the chute was ending, and I stopped yet another volunteer to ask directions. This one was at least a little more honest. His answer involved the words “second stoplight”. Hoo, boy.
At this point I was stopping every 100 feet to put my head between my knees. I was again cursing the marathon organizers for putting this ridiculous trek at the end of such a long hot race, even though the rational part of me knew this race was a monument to successful organization. Where would you put 40,000 people trying to meet up with their friends and family?
The After Party
I wish I could say I was engaging and charming with the fan club that had spent well over 5 hours trekking across the city of Chicago just to cheer me on, but when I finally found Family Reunite, I just lay down on the grass and allowed them to hold the Scottish flag over me to block the sun.
And there I remained as we waited for Dad. Knowing that his training had been plagued by knee problems that thwarted several long runs, and knowing that I was personally near death from heat stroke, I was pretty concerned about his well-being. In classic Dad style though, he cruised up to us like he had just finished a round of golf and asked if we should get a cab.
This was one of my few regrets about Chicago. I don’t think we made a big enough deal out of Dad finishing his first marathon. Really, me running my third at 27 is small potatoes compared to him running his first at…well, older than that. Not only that, but he was annoyed by his time and determined to shave off an HOUR next year. Whew.
The one person I did encounter who was suitably impressed by Dad’s achievement was a woman in the office here in Germany. Thanks to the German way of saying two-digit numbers, eg. “4 and 30” for “34”, somehow rumor spread that Dad had taken on his first marathon in his mid-80s. Whoops.
It was late Saturday night before we were finally able to see our results, and that’s when I discovered I had missed a PR by 3 seconds. My time in Chicago in 2010 was 4:54.13. My time in Austin in 2004 had been 4:54.10. I still see that cup falling over in my head every time I think of the race, but I try to console myself with the knowledge that coming in 3 seconds under my PR would have felt much like coming in 3 seconds over. 3 seconds is just a spilled cup, an untied shoe, or a turn taken too wide.
In the end, I’m exceedingly thankful for everything this marathon gave me: A great weekend with family, a hobby I can finally share with my Dad (golf was just never my thing), and the fantastic set of friends I met through Rogue. I’m sure I’ll have lots of great experiences in life, both running-related and otherwise, but I know the summer of 2010 will always be a standout memory of a truly fantastic time. If only J, J, and E could have been there in Chicago with me, the weekend would have been truly complete! BUT, I’m happy to report that they went on to kick butt in their own races in Denver and New York. I can’t wait to be home and running with them again!
Congrats to everyone who took on the marathon this year! And if you never have, I highly recommend it. Even if, like me, you don’t feel the earth move when you cross the finish line, I promise the experience will still change your life in a hundred little positive ways =)