Race report – The Chicago Marathon

Race date: October 12, 2014

Two years ago a plan was put into motion to train up, slowly, for my first (and only) marathon. When I first broached the idea with Ginny we figured if we were only going to do one marathon we might as well go big and so we decided right then and there that Chicago was the one. It was a major, it was flat and it was an open registration which meant that as long as we were on top of things, and knew when registration opened, we should both be able to get in. Of course by the time we were ready to register, the rules had changed and it was a lottery, and we had talked more friends into joining us on the journey. We all put our names into the lottery in March and as luck would have it, in April when they did the draw, we all made it in.

As we went through our training, I had decided that my goal was going to be to finish the race under 5 hours and 30 minutes. I thought it would be a challenging, yet attainable goal. But, as we got closer to race day, looking at our performance on the last few long runs, my goal changed. I thought that maybe a 5:20:00 would be within reach. Final decision was made. My A goal was 5:20:00, my B goal was 5:25:00, my C goal was to finish upright and smiling.

The morning of the race I was surprisingly calm. I woke up, got ready, wished Mike luck as he headed out ahead of me to make it into his earlier starting corral on time, and then a few minutes later went down to the hotel lobby to meet up with my running peeps. The hotel was a 20 minute walk to the race start area and at 6:30 in the morning it was bustling with thousands of runners, spectators, security/police and race volunteers. It was insane!

We made our way as close to the front of our corral as we could and waited for the race to start. We had to be in the corral 30 minutes before our wave was going off and in the end it was almost a full 47 minutes by the time we actually crossed the start line and our races had begun! It was a chilly fall morning but the temperature was promising to be 14c for most of the race so I wore a tank and skirt with arm warmers and a 10708568_4866046024380_2763605660359477100_osweatshirt to keep warm while I waited to start. As we inched up towards the start line, we talked to the people around us.  Everyone seemed to have a story. And there were a ton of people in our corral that were first time marthoners like us. It was quite inspiring.

And then, all of a sudden, we were off! The crowds were thick and hard to maneuver through at the start. I was running beside Ginny and after we wound our way through a few of the walkers in front of us we looked back and Tricia and Nalini were nowhere to be seen. They seemed to be swallowed up by the sea of runners behind us. All we could do was hope they were fine and continue on with our own races.

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Ginny and I around 5k

The first 10k of the race flew by. Ginny and I were running comfortably together as we had on our training runs and taking in all there was to see. The crowds, the runners, the amazing city. It was quite spectacular. As we passed each mile marker, a quick glance at my pace band showed we were ahead of the pace a little bit more each time. At this point we had wound our way through part of the downtown area and were now up at the north end by Lincoln Park.

The next 10k took us along the lake and through some beautiful residential areas. I’d never been to this part of Chicago before. The crowd support was amazing here as well. At 20k or so, we saw Ginny’s family for the third time on the course. The girls were waving and James was snapping pictures on his phone shouting words of encouragement as we went by. We were still running at the same pace. It hadn’t really changed from the time we started and we continued to gain more and more time ahead of the pace band. There were a few times when I noticed the pace got a little fast but we quickly checked ourselves and fell back to that comfortable pace right around 7:00 per km.

By the halfway mark of the race we were back downtown with the huge crowds again. The course took a turn to the west and we were still running at that same comfortable pace. So far we had stuck to our 10 and 1’s – running for 10 minutes and walking for 1 minute – and stopping for a sip of water at every water station. I had made the decision to carry a fuel belt with only two bottles, both of which were filled with Gatorade, and getting my water at the water stations which were situated about every 2 miles or so along the course.

As we approached the 30k marker I looked at the pace band and saw that we were now about 3 minutes ahead of plan and we had both just run a 30k PB! Looking at the stats later confirmed the official 30k time was 3:44:18. It was just about this time that I started to have some gastro issues. My stomach started turning and I was feeling a little light headed. I ran for a bit longer hoping it would subside, but it wasn’t getting any better so around 32km I told Ginny to go ahead shouting “Go Ginny!” as she ran on, and I took my first unscheduled walk break. I put on my iPod and started running again.

The last 10k were hard. Really hard. My 10 and 1s became 5 and 1s, then 4 and 1s, 3 and 1s… But the one thing I didn’t do was stop moving forward. 756057-1231-0031sI remember everything that happened through the entire race, but this last 10k is a blur. I mean, I remember everything, but I couldn’t tell you exactly where things happened. I saw one of my training buddies Shamita being taken care of by the medics at one of the aid stations and hoped she was ok. Somewhere around 35km I started to get cramps in my quads. I’d never experienced cramps during a run before. Luckily they weren’t as bad as they could have been and I was able to walk them out fairly easily every time they started. I quickly learned why they have bananas at the aid stations later on in the race. Maybe around 39-40km I was taking a walk break and saw Shamita run by me. Happy to see she was back in the race, I ran to catch up to her and see how she was. We ran for a few minutes together, I wished her well and took another walk break as she continued on ahead of me.

Not long after Shamita left me, I looked ahead and saw James and the girls waving at me. I ran over their way waving, so happy to see them. I asked James how Ginny was doing and was happy to hear that she had finished well ahead of her goal! I gave a big thumbs up as I ran by. Seeing them there and hearing about Ginny’s awesome finish was just what I needed to give me the motivation to kick it up a bit.

I saw the “800 metres to go” sign, turned off Michigan Ave. towards Grant Park, and up an incline that I’m sure felt bigger than it actually was as I passed the 26 mile marker. 200 metres to go as I made the final turn towards the finish. Seeing that finish line was incredible. The girl running next to me said “Oh my god, there it is!” and I screamed “I know!” And then we both heard the announcers say our names. “That’s my name!” “Mine too!” and we high fived. The finish was right in front of me and as I approached, I remembered something someone in my run club said to me a few days before I left. “As you cross the line, put your arms in the air and smile, no matter how much it hurts.” And that’s exactly what I did.756080-1165-0003s

Once past the line, I stopped my Garmin, congratulated the girl who was running beside me, another high five and I continued through the finish chute to collect my medal and headed off to find Mike, Ginny and the rest of the Toronto contingent. As I walked back to the hospitality tent, I looked at my Garmin and saw that my time would be somewhere around 5:23:32. I had missed my A goal, but was comfortably ahead of my B goal and I was pretty happy with that.

First marathon complete and what an amazing experience it was!

What did I learn? Well, they say that if you’re not hurting at the end of a marathon you didn’t try hard enough and now I understand what that means. I believe that running is about 90% mental and 10% physical, but a marathon is a test of both your mind and your body. It is meant to push you to your limit and far beyond. And on October 12, 2014, in Chicago, I think I passed the test.

Official Time:      5:23:27

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Final pre-race check-in

Well that’s it for the long runs. I’m officially in taper mode for the next 11 days.

When I look at the training cycle as a whole, I think I have faired pretty well. In the last month or so I have noticed a surge of strength and yes even a wee bit of speed. I can now run comfortably for pretty much any distance (at least up to my longest run of 33km) without my cardio giving out and my legs make it to about 25km or so before they start to get tired. I’ve been virtually injury free with the exception of some aches and pains in my lower back and right hamstring that have been kept under control with some physiotherapy and a regular daily stretching and strengthening routine. In fact, my back is feeling better now that it has in months. Of course I’ve had some soreness after the long runs and my calves are in a constant state of achiness, but that’s to be expected.

Yes, everything seems to be under control and with 11 days left until the big day I was feeling pretty confident. Until last night.

About halfway through my regular 7km Tuesday night run, I started to feel some pain in my left shin. I figured I was just still warming up and carried on. By the end of the run, fully warm, it had worsened rather than getting better and had me a bit concerned. I decided right then that my body just needed a rest and I cancelled my run for today.

I had a physiotherapy appointment scheduled for this morning so I had her take a look and she told me that it’s probably the start of shin splints and with a little rest and the avoidance of walking or running on any-sized incline, FullSizeRenderI should be fine by the time the gun goes off on October 12th.

I may not be an experienced marathoner, but I’m experienced enough to know that missing a couple of runs at this point in the training cycle is not going to hinder my success in the marathon, but running on a sore leg unnecessarily could very possibly sideline me.

So, for the last 7 scheduled runs over the next 11 days, I will assess myself each day, cancel whatever runs I need to cancel, supplement with a stationary cycling workout if I feel I can, and run virtually flat when I feel that I’m up to it.

The starting line is in sight and getting to my corral is what’s most important now.