At mile 15 I started crying at the turn from Damen onto Jackson having just done some runners math (complete with padding numbers for marathon addled inaccuracies) because I knew I was going to finish. I could walk the rest of the race and I was going to finish under the cutoff time.
I definitely didn't do that math because that was the plan, but starting about mile 18 it wound up being a good thing that I had that extra time, because it would turn out I'd need almost all of it.
But, as usual, I find I'm getting ahead of myself. I should really start at the beginning. The beginning, in this case, includes a warning that is similar to the warning I included in my first half marathon bloop almost 4.5 years ago: brace yourself, this is going to be long. After all, I only get to do my first marathon race report once, and well, I don't want to miss anything. In fact, if you're the type that likes some tea, coffee, wine or beer with your reading, now is an ideal time to grab your beverage of choice. Don't worry, this report definitely isn't going anywhere.
As many loopsters will remember, I didn't think I'd gotten into Chicago and I was pretty bummed about it. I didn't say a lot outside of the Loop, because I didn't want to rain on the parade of the dozens of friends who had gotten into the race. I had resigned myself to finding a different marathon to train for and being the best Chicago hostess and cheer squad you've ever seen when I got this email on March 14th:
Once I got over the initial shock (and combed through my spam to find the original acceptance email) I did what all good runners do and began totally and completely obsessing over my training and race schedule between March and October. Seven months, after all, is more than enough time to prepare, and while I wasn't entirely sure what I needed to get out of this race yet, I knew I needed to finish it, and I wanted to do whatever I could to make sure that happened.
You see, the marathon and I have had a three year long flirtationship. I'd signed up for two other fulls, one of which resulted in me dropping to the half marathon when I couldn't get my mileage up to where I wanted it to be six weeks before the race and another I wound up with a DNS after moving and changing jobs seriously impacted my training schedule. In fact, three years ago for Christmas my best friend got me a necklace that says "I Run 26.2" that's been sitting in my jewelry box at home through three apartments and two moves...and...well, more about that necklace in a bit.
So, when I got my surprise participant update I printed off a map of the course and hung it at work. As you can see below, I wrote "Be Uncomfortable" on top of it. If you follow my non-running obsessions, you know that I love the Chicago Cubs. "Be Uncomfortable" was one of Joe Maddon's catchphrases as the Cub's entered the 2017 season, I thought it seemed pretty appropriate for marathon training through the summer, so I embraced it as my own little motto as training began.
And, really, training was going pretty well into July. I wasn't getting much faster, but I wasn't slowing down. I might miss a handful of mid-week runs here and there, but my long mileage was on point. I wasn't missing races. I felt like I was going to be okay...until I just didn't feel like I was going to be okay. I've shared parts of this on the Loop before, so I don't think it's going to come as a huge surprise to anyone, but I've spent most of my adult life dealing with depression and anxiety to various degrees. I'm pretty remarkably good at managing them 80% of the time, and the other 20% of the time I probably just come off as having a bad day, or a weird stint of running late all the time.
For a variety of reasons my anxiety was pretty much on tilt this entire training cycle, and while running is usually a tool that helps me manage that, this summer it just wasn't happening that way. It was taking most of my energy to manage work and relationships, leaving very little left to devote to training. And I'd still get out and run, or run/walk, or workout, or something, but I'd be lying if I said those runs felt good. They felt like the absolute bare minimum that I needed to do to be able to run this race and the whole summer felt like I was fighting my mind to follow through on a goal I set for myself. An eminently, achievable, personal goal - if I could just get the chemicals in my brain to cooperate.
In the month leading up to the race it sort of felt like everything that could go wrong would and did go wrong. My 18 miler in Spokane was run in the smoky haze of wildfires, but was a relief since it gave me a break from political arguments with my family. My 20 miler was hot and I felt about as crappy as a non-sick person can feel while I did it. I left my watch at home for both rather than look at the times. Two of my three legs at Reach the Beach were a complete and utter suffer fest. I ran them at 1pm on terrain that is hillier than anything the city of Chicago has to offer in full on 80 degree heat. I spent most of September bracing myself for the very real possibility that even though I'd start this marathon I might record my first ever DNF.
So I was a little shocked when the week of the race I felt pretty eerily calm about my prospects of at least finishing. I thought about how hard running had been over the summer and how it had happened anyway. I decided to just let any time goals and fitness ideals I had go out the window, and truly just focus on finishing. I thought about how much I wanted to run through my new city and see neighborhoods I never visited. I remembered that I've overcome a lot in my life, and running my first marathon at a time that was less than ideal was just going to be another one of those things.
So I tried to ignore the fact that the temperatures were creeping towards 80 on the day of the race. I tried to ignore the fact that I hate running in the heat. I tried to ignore the fact that I was sick with a pretty bad head/chest cold the weekend before, that didn't really start to dissipate until Tuesday. I tried to stop apologizing to everyone who asked about tracking me that I was going to be really, really slow.
I decided to just "Be Uncomfortable" for a day and see where it took me.
On Friday morning I came into work for a half day and had a "Good Luck with your Marathon" card from my coworkers. They included a protein bar, because they are awesome. It was the first of approximately 42 times I would tear up over the course of the weekend.
On Friday afternoon I went to the expo with a friend of mine who was running his first Chicago, he wound up being the perfect person to hang around the expo with and we truly had a blast. Our plan was to give ourselves a couple of hours to get our bibs, shirts, posters and any gear, and then get to the Goose Island Tap Room right as they opened so we could score their free insulated pint glasses.
I wound up getting teary eyed approximately half a dozen times just at the Expo.
Seeing the Packet Pick Up sign made me teary, showing them my ID made me teary, getting my packet made me teary, getting my poster made me teary, successfully getting our Goose Island glasses made me teary. I've included some of the highlights below, but I should warn you, there are a lot more tears up ahead.
Really cool Expo version of the course.
I was really only going to get a Finisher's jacket, and then the North Face decided to put the marathon information on the Wrigley Field marquee. Just take my money.
Goose Island, always on point.
Saturday I met up with some running friends for lunch and then went to watch the Cubs game at a local pub. The Cubs didn't win, but there was this wicked cool rainbow over Wrigley Field and it felt like it just had to be good luck.
I had my race gear laid out and ready to go for early Sunday morning
I woke up Sunday and everything went according to plan. I got ready, got my coffee, got on the train and headed to the start. I'm so glad I was able to run my first marathon in my own city, sleeping in my own bed, going to my normal Starbucks...everything about that familiarity was amazing and awesome on race day.
I took a picture through tears on the train on the way to the race:
And as I walked past my office to the start, I took a picture of the Art Institute, which I see five times a week, but it was so much cooler to see it swarmed by hundreds of runners who were all about to run the same course I was about to run.
And one more shot of the city from the bridge on my lunch run route, if it wasn't so hot, it would really be a perfect day
In no time, it felt like we were off and running. The first eight miles were sort of a blur, and went exactly the way I wanted them to go. I kept it slow, I enjoyed the crowd. I saw two friends cheering at different points along the way and felt so incredibly loved. I saw areas of the city I run through all the time, but this time they were filled with cheering people.
I'm pretty sure my favorite scene from this stretch was running past the retirement home on LaSalle, waving at all the retirees who made signs for us. They were awesome.
Miles 8-11 run through my neighborhood and back to the city. A friend of mine ran down Halsted to give me a hug at mile 10. I didn't even know he was on the course cheering, it was just lucky that he saw me and I saw him. It was brilliant.
Mile 14 runs past my old office. A space that I tried so hard to make work, and just didn't work. A place that holds a lot of conflicting feelings for me. I ran defiantly past my past and felt reinvigorated as we headed west.
At mile 15 I knew I was going to finish. Even if I walked. I broke into tears briefly.
At mile 18 as we ran on the South Side, the crowds thinned, the sun was in my face, and there was no shade. And I entered a world of pain. I decided to walk the sun and run the shade. There was a lot of walking through this area, as there was not a lot of shade.
In Pilsen I ran through Hispanic neighborhoods full of people who look like my family. I screamed "Si Se Puede" back at a few dozen people and got energy from the crowd handing out horchata (I didn't take any horchata). I got a lot of energy in Pilsen.
In Chinatown (and yes, I know that I stopped being specific with miles...I'm sorry about that, everything after mile 18 was a blur until mile 24, at least as far as specific miles go) I saw my friend Carol and am a little embarrassed that I was sort of cranky from the heat. She called out that I looked awesome, and I'm pretty sure I responded with "it's really f****n hot." I apologized later, but she's done this before too, and totally understood. Carol is awesome.
As we turned back towards the city the shade picked up again and I started running again. A phenomenal black woman was preaching in the street that we would all finish and not to listen to any of the doubt in our heads. I yelled "Amen!" as I passed her and thought I'd float to the finish.
At mile 24 I lost my left pinky toenail.
It was excruciating. I almost passed out, and began limping. But I had enough time relative to the cutoff, and I wasn't about to give up. So I limped towards the finish.
At mile 25 a blister on the bottom of my right foot burst.
And I actually looked up at the sky and said "Are you serious?"
But I kept limping towards the finish. There was no way I was giving up, 1.2 miles from the finish. It was sort of funny, the crowds around me were yelling and cheering for me, telling me how close I was, and all I could think was "people, if you had any idea what was going on with my feet, you'd understand."
With 300 meters to go, I ran into Jose.
Jose was struggling a bit at the end too, and he looked at me and said "I think we should run in together." I looked at Jose like he was crazy and thought about telling him about my feet...and then I thought, what could it possibly hurt to try? It's 200 meters.
We turned the corner off Roosevelt and ran across the finish together.
I cried for the last time, stopped my Garmin at 27.48 miles and 6:24 and hugged Jose. It was nowhere near the time I'd ever hoped for. It was nowhere near the race I thought I'd run. It was hard and brutal and hot and perfect.
Shortly after I got my beer and my medal I took this photo
After a shower and some first aid on my feet (which still aren't 100%) a friend and I went to get pizza. I may have to run another marathon just to experience how amazing food tastes after 26.2 miles. No bite of food has ever been as good as this bite of food.
In fact, the only thing that might be better than that bite of pizza is finally being able to wear this incredible gift from my best friend.
I run 26.2.
The marathon is definitively the hardest thing I've ever done on purpose. And I'll probably do it again.