Thursday, March 20, 2014

My toughest race

My worst race ever? Hands down, that race would be the Chicago Marathon in 2011. This was one of the biggest disappointments of my running life, if not my whole life. I put my heart and sole (pun intended) into this race, into my training, and was just ashamed of the race I ran. Now, I can live with the results of this first one, chalking it up to inexperience and lessons learned. When I look back, I reflect on what I learned--and I learned a great deal from this race--both about running a marathon and about myself. I learned to respect the distance. I learned that I could run long distances. I learned how to get a grip on my intestinal issues. I learned that I had the determination to finish, no matter what I was feeling.

But I also learned that I needed to get a better grip on my nerves. That I needed to develop more mental toughness. I learned that I had to do a better job fueling if I wanted to run long distances. I also needed to train differently in the future, because this race broke my body.


I ran Chicago in 2011. As a runner for most of my adult years, I felt incomplete not having gone 26.2. It was important for me to add a marathon to my list of distances. I signed up for this race in February of that year, when the race opened for entries. There was no lottery yet, but the race sold out in about 5 days. Imagine that!

I made the decision to run for a charity, to help me stay committed. My friend, Sandy, whose son has Down Syndrome, asked me to run for her charity, UPs for Downs, which is a parent support group for parents of kids with Down Syndrome. Of course, I said yes. I had no trouble raising the minimum amount required. Actually, this was the least stressful part of my entire experience!

For training, I followed Hal Higdon's novice 2 plan. His training plans are free on the web and are easy to follow. I had a higher mileage base than required for starting the plan, and so I kept doing my thing, jumping onto the plan as the miles increased. I found satisfaction in crossing off each training run on the plan, and I was amazed and proud as I tackled each distance. I threw in a couple of half-marathons during my training and learned to really love that distance! Throughout my training, I learned a lot about myself and my body. GI issues, which I have always struggled with, really peaked as I increased my mileage. I began to figure out what foods really bothered me and what worked. I also consulted with my internist (a wonderful woman who gets me), and we discussed options to help with my symptoms. I decided to try a new antibiotic, off-label, which had showed some promise in women with my type of IBS. And to my surprise and happiness, the medication worked! Of course, I continued to avoid trigger foods, and without having to worry about pooping my pants, I was able to train more confidently.


Although all of my training was solo, I registered for a 20-mile training run, scheduled 3 weeks prior to the marathon, aptly named the 20 miler, which was a real confidence booster. My 20-mile run was on a beautiful fall day. I ran that race in 3:18. It felt great! I figured at the very most, my marathon time would be 4:30. I was ready.

The only glitch, as far as I could see was that the night before the race was my parents' 50th wedding celebration. The day after I signed up for the marathon, I proudly announced it to my parents. My mom informed me that she was planning this party for the night before. I thought to myself that I don't normally sleep well before a race, so what would be the big deal, right? And being at the party would take my mind off of pre-race jitters, too. Right? My Irish uncle even gave me an Irish blessing! What could go wrong?

The morning of the race, Sandy picked me up at 5 am. She likes to talk and chattered all the way down to the race, which helped keep my mind off my anxiety. I met up with the UPs for Downs team for photos. After that, I was on my own. I wandered around the area and hit the portapotty. A bad omen perhaps, the person who was in before me did something really nasty in there and the smell almost overwhelmed me. I was already nauseous from my nerves, and that just about did me in.

It was THAT bad!
Of course, they say God laughs at people who make plans, and he must have been having a real laughfest on the day of the marathon. As the sun came up, the air began to warm. A lot. We were sweating before we even started. I lined up with the 9:30 mile pace team. The team leader had a giant pace sign he was holding up.  How do you run 26.2 miles holding that thing? Well, I wouldn't lose him, I thought. The national anthem was sung, the navy did their flyover, and we were off. Actually, about 20 minutes after the gun went off, we crossed the start line.

Yeah, I'm WAY back there...
About mile 3, I needed to pee. I hit the portapotty, and that was the last I saw of my pace group. Mile 8, through Boystown, I started to feel bad. It was early in the race and already I knew I was in trouble. It was so hot and humid, and I couldn't keep up with my sweating. I'm sure my nerves had a lot to do with this too. I started to walk. Another woman began walking with me and told me she was struggling too. My confidence sunk. I started to run/walk, and when I got to mile 14, the charity village, Sandy was waiting for me. She saw how bad I looked, and started to run with me. It was then that my legs started to cramp.

If you have ever experienced muscle cramps, you know the agony that I experienced. I have never had muscle cramps before that. We stopped to walk, and Sandy began massaging my calves. She also gave me a baggie of salt pills and instructed me to begin taking them. We continued on, and after 3 miles, she left me to return to the charity village. I pressed on. I saw people vomiting on the roadside. At mile 19, Pilsen, I called my husband in tears. I begged him to pick me up. He refused and told me to walk.

Which I did. If I saw a photographer, I picked up the pace and smiled. Then I walked. Chinatown was a blur. The worst part of the race is mile 23 to the finish. That stretch runs up South Michigan Avenue, and you think it is never going to end. You can hear the crowds as they build towards the finish, but you think you'll never get there.


Finally, I rounded the corner onto Roosevelt Road. There I spotted my mom and my sister and her family. I ran over to them for hugs and pictures. Then I ran up the final hill to the finish line. I staggered across the finish line and was handed my medal and a bottle of Gatorade recovery. I was done.

I met my family in the park adjacent to the finish line. I couldn't stand on my feet and I felt bad. I started sipping on the drink. Posed for pictures. And as I began to feel better, it all sunk in. I did it! I ran a marathon. Not the race I wanted to run. Not the race I envisioned. But I did it.

I couldn't stand on my feet!
Would I do another? I'd love to vindicate myself, to prove to myself that I can do better. But when people say "respect the distance", they aren't kidding. A marathon is HARD. It took me months to recover from that race. And several months later, I developed a stress fracture in my foot. I was sad after this race, disappointed in myself, and all the training I did.

But I did it. And learned a lot about myself along the way. And I can say I'm a marathoner...not one of those 5K marathoners, but a real 26.2 mile marathoner!

And my tummy didn't bother me once. So at least I had that!

Another great someecard from my friend Penny




24 comments :

  1. Ah that damn Chi marathon. I ran it in 2007 and 2010. Both way too hot as well. At least you stuck to your guns and went one and done! You know you do have a way better marathon in you...just saying...

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    1. I'm pretty sure I do too, Marcia...just need to commit and do it. But do I want it?

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  2. Just when you think it is over, or that you can not, that is precisely when it begins..... I'm ALL about vidicating oneself (:

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  3. Great post! I ran my first full this past February. It was not what I wanted either, but I will go back!

    Thanks for linking up to Throwback Thursday, come find us in June! :)

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    1. I hope I get the chance to do another! Thanks for hosting the link up!! It's so fun to find new blogs!

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  4. I think I got really lucky with my first marathon because I could have had the same kind of race that you did. I remember not knowing much about what I was getting myself into! But I think each race, especially the tough ones, teach a valuable lesson!

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    1. I agree! But at the time, it doesn't feel so valuable!

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  5. Thanks for sharing. I have never attempted one and I don't know if I ever will.

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  6. Love this story...it's funny like you said how God has his own plans sometimes. I'm so happy you were able to redeem yourself when you raced it a second time! This is still my dream distance...shooting for 2016!

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  7. So glad you had another chance at it. That is exactly how I felt about the wdw marathon this month. I will be back though ( and hopefully un-injured). -M

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  8. I have run 4 marathons now and something has derailed me EVERY SINGLE TIME. I'm beginning to think it's just not my distance. Great post. Thank you for sharing it.

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    1. Have you tried training differently? That was the magic bullet for me. A completely new plan.

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  9. It's so hard to mentally recover from a disappointing race! I have run three great half marathons after my awful experience at the Tink half and I still get a little freaked out at the start because I'm worried things will go poorly again. On the good side, I learned that I can push through and finish, even if I have to slog through it at a walk! Thanks for linking up with us today!

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    1. Isn't that the truth? And thanks for hosting another awesome linkup!

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  10. Damn the heat, humidity and calf cramps! Been there. You got your redemption, and then some. It must have felt so SWEET the 2nd time around.

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    1. See, if they'd asked me to post about my best race, it would have been that 2d Chicago marathon! What a turn around!

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  11. Thank you for sharing! I'm so happy you can now feel at peace with the Chicago Marathon. Sounds like it totally sucked for you the first time, but I'm so glad you got your revenge on the second!

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    1. It felt so good to have redemption for this one. I don't think I can even put into words, the relief I felt!

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  12. I really would love to run this race, but I'm scared I'd get one of the hot years and I suck at running when it's hot. Yay! for redemption!

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    1. Seriously! Last year was perfection. That's the problem with this one...you never know what Mother Nature is going to give us!

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