Chicago Marathon: My First 26.2

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Chicago Marathon!

Chicago Marathon

Chicago, IL

October 13, 2013

Time: 4:09:55   Pace: 9:32

Overall: 14473/38845

Gender: 4386/17376

Age Group: F25-29, 1027/3886

Half Splits: 2:00:25/2:09:30

I did it! I finished my first marathon! And I loved every minute of it! I can’t believe that it once started as a dream a year ago and I turned it into a reality. Eighteen weeks of training, sweat, sore muscles, and a rollercoaster of emotions all culminated into a four hour period of time on Sunday. Four hours, nine minutes, and fifty-five seconds to be exact. I definitely had my doubts throughout training and even the weeks leading up to the marathon. But at the end of the day, I believed and I achieved. And it’s the greatest feeling.

Friday before the race, I had a hellish day at work to say the least. I got out of work two hours later than what I thought I would. That on top of already being anxious about the marathon is a lethal combo. After dropping Carson off with my parents, we didn’t end up leaving to drive to Chicago until around 7:00pm. Way later than anticipated. How’s that for anxiety? When we finally arrived in Chicago, I was mentally drained. We were staying with our friend who was also running the marathon. He lives in the Streeterville neighborhood of downtown Chicago. He greeted us with sushi and I chowed down on spicy tuna and a 312 beer. We went to bed at a decent hour so we could get up early to start our day.

Saturday morning we went for an easy two mile run along the shore and there were runners everywhere! It was an amazing site to see. There were more runners in that one area than all of Indianapolis combined. Following our run, we had brunch at D4 an Irish pub nearby and then went to the Expo. I love going to running expos. It pumps me up and mentally prepares me for what is to come. Being that this was my first marathon and the Chicago Marathon, I was beyond excited. I was like a kid in a candy store. And the best part was getting to meet Bart Yasso, CRO of Runner’s World Magazine, and Hal Higdon, whose training programs I follow.

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Melissa #ownchicago
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Bryan owns 26.2
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Bart Yasso, CRO of Runner’s World magazine
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Hal Higdon

After spending three hours at the expo, my anxiety started to kick in again. It took us forever to get back to the condo from the expo due to traffic and road closures. So we literally had just enough time to change our clothes and head out the door for our 5:00pm dinner reservation at RPM Italian. I desperately needed a glass of wine when we arrived because I was freaking out in my head about the marathon and about being late for our reservation. I’m OCD like that. Even though I should have been hydrating, I opted for a glass of pinot grigio to calm myself. It was exactly what I needed. At dinner we carbed up on truffle garlic bread, fried olives, meatballs w/ marinara, and pomodoro style spaghetti. Everything was delicious and left me feeling full and light, not heavy. I loved everything about this restaurant. The food, the wine, and the atmosphere. I wish Indy had a restaurant like this. After dinner we walked to Pinkberry and Bryan and I shared a salted caramel yogurt with M&M’s. We need sugar right? After dinner we prepared our running gear and bibs for the morning. We were in bed by 8:30ish and fell asleep to the Ironman World Championship live stream on our iPad.

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This is for you Nana.

I could not sleep, I was tossing and turning and woke up every two hours to check the time. I was afraid I was going to oversleep. I was so nervous that I started to feel nauseated. My alarm finally went off at 4:30am and I hit snooze until 5:00am. It was 46 degrees outside and I switched my tank and arm warmers for my long sleeve lulu tech shirt. Bryan kept telling me I would be too hot, but it was cold outside! He told me I should dress as if it were 20 degrees warmer. So 66 degrees, ahhh that’s still cold to me. After eating oatmeal and a lara bar, hydrating, and stretching, I finally switched back into my original running gear of the tank and arm warmers.

We ended up leaving the condo a lot later than anticipated and Bryan and I were both freaking out that we would miss the start of Wave 1. So we were speed walking/slow jogging to the start at Grant Park. We arrived with just enough time for Bryan to go to gear check and get in line and for me to wait in line at the portapotty with no success and to jump in my corral. I still had on my throw away long sleeve over my tank to keep me warm in the corral. I listened to my music to calm myself and get in the zone before the race started. The song that was playing was ‘Rockstar’ by Rihanna, very fitting. My corral crossed the start line ten minutes after the official start. And I was off! I threw off my throw away shirt and attempted to stay at race pace. Although, I was so excited that I felt like I was running a little faster. And I also had to pee really bad, so I was looking for a place to do so. The first mile is under a bridge and through downtown so my GPS watch wasn’t the most accurate and it was difficult to tell what pace I was actually going. However, my first mission was to find the first toilet on course. At mile 1.7, I spotted the first toilet and went for it. I felt so much better and now I could really run.

Splits min/mile:

5K (3.1M): 9:20 – Exactly on race pace! The first three miles were my favorite part of the race. The crowds of spectators at the beginning is unreal. And running through the streets of downtown Chicago was exhilarating. I’ll never forget the feelings I felt running past all those people. This is why people do marathons. I was immediately hooked. And to top it off, I saw my brother-in-law Josh and his girlfriend Rachel in the crowd screaming for me.

10K (6.2M): 9:01 – A little quicker than race pace, but this is where I felt comfortable and had settled into a groove. We were still headed north on the course going through Old Town and Lincoln Park. One of the spectators was holding a sign of Ryan Gosling without a shirt that said “Ryan Gosling thinks toenails are overrated.” I laughed out loud to myself. It was hilarious. Another sign read, “If marathons were easy, they would be called  your mom.” And another favorite, “You run better than the government.”. At the one hour mark around mile 6.5 I took my first hammer gel and water and Gatorade, but I didn’t stop, I ran through the water station and ended up with half of the water on my face. Drinking and running at the same time is apparently difficult for me.

15K (9.3M): 9:09 – Still a little quicker than race pace, but feeling strong. We had looped around and were now headed south. We ran through the Boystown neighborhood and again I had to laugh and cheer on the dancers. It’s amazing how strangers will wake up early and stand in the cold and cheer for marathoners.

20K (12.4M): 9:15 – Getting closer to race pace and approaching the half marathon mark back through downtown. A part of me wanted to pick it up and PR on the half marathon but why? It’s not like it would be an official PR and I need to stay at pace so I can get through the marathon. So I battled myself and decided to run smart and stay at pace. And to think the elite runners were finishing already!

21.1K (13.1M): 9:14, Half Marathon time: 2:00:25 – Still a good half marathon time, considering my current official PR is 1:58:14. And I didn’t even feel tired. It was time for hammer gel number two and another water and Gatorade.

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Bryan – probably about 4 miles ahead of me on the course.

25K (15.5M): 9:32 – A little slower than race pace and running through the West Loop. This was a lonely stretch compared to the rest of the course. Yes the course was still lined with spectators but not as many and not as much excitement going on to distract myself. This is where my mind started playing tricks on me. Wait I ran a half marathon and now I need to run another one right after? So what your saying is, I’m only halfway done? Correct. Stay on course Melissa. This is when I started thinking of Nana since I dedicated this race to her. “Nana please give me wings,” I kept repeating over and over again in my head. I’m running this for Nana, keep going.

30K (18.6M): 9:58 – Whoa! Danger! Danger! Too slow! Miles 14-18 were the hardest for me. Not sure why because I’ve ran that distance multiple times on training runs. Today was different, I’ve been running much faster than my training runs and without stopping. I had yet to stop to stretch out or walk. Running through the University Village neighborhood, there were fans with trays of pretzels for runners. I took a handful. I thought the act of actually eating something and getting salt would liven me up. Wrong! My mouth was so parched I couldn’t even swallow the pretzels and the nearest water station was a mile away. Wrong choice Melissa. Great now it’s time for a picture with my mouth full of pretzels. Needing to get the dry pretzel taste out of my mouth and desperate for anything. I spotted a female spectator with a lone twizzler in her hand. In my mind that twizzler was for me. I mean all the other spectators were giving food to runners. I ran passed her and yanked it out of her hand. She gave me the weirdest and most surprised look. It was the best twizzler I’ve ever tasted. But while eating my twizzler, I realized that none of the other runners had twizzlers and she was holding that twizzler close to her and not necessarily holding it out for someone to grab. I legit stole a spectator’s twizzler. Good one Melissa.

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Bryan looking strong in Chinatown.

35K (21.7M): 9:43 – Still too slow running from the West Loop to Chinatown. Right after mile 18, I came to the realization that I needed to walk through the next water station to preserve my legs. I didn’t want to walk, but only walking while drinking my water for a minute would be okay I thought. I hated seeing my pace while I was walking, but it was nice to give my legs a little break. At mile 19, I picked it up again. As soon as I was at mile 19.5, I realized that I had crossed over to a point I’ve never reached before. This is the farthest I’ve ever run. During training my longest run was 19 miles and I now was in unfamiliar territory. At that moment, ‘What Now R3hab Remix’ by Rihanna was playing on my shuffle (which is THE best running song ever). At that moment, I cried. Not of pain, but of joy. I was experiencing something I’ve never done before. It was the longest I’d ever ran and with the help from my music and Nana from above, I pushed through. It was an incredible feeling. Tears in my eyes knowing I only had about an hour left to go, I took a second walk through a water station to regain my composure after the song had finished.

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Running through Chinatown.

40K (24.8M): 10:36 – Yikes! Outside of Chinatown still heading South, I cried again. Around mile 21, I took my last hammer gel. When I was squeezing it in my mouth, it somewhat exploded all over my hands. Ewwww. I was trying to lick it off my hands, but it was too sticky. I desperately needed to wash my hands; they were so gross. Still about a mile from a water station, I started to notice the aching pain in my hips and the stinging pain on the balls of my feet every time my feet hit the pavement. That’s when I saw it…the giant ‘Own Chicago’ sign that everyone signed at the expo to my right. I cried again. This was my day to own Chicago and with a few more miles I would do just that. I couldn’t give up now. Seeing all those signatures and knowing I had also signed it the day before turned me into waterworks. Again I persevered to the next water station. I took my last walk through a water station at around mile 22ish. At least I think it was my last one. Everything was a blur. The one thing I do remember is walking for longer than expected because I took one water to drink and then a second water to wash my hands off. Way too long. I knew at this point 4:05 was out of the question, but I could still run sub 4:10. All of a sudden, I felt a second wind and quickened my pace to 9:30ish.

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Own Chicago sign (at the expo) w/ signatures of all the runners was placed towards the end of the course for inspiration.
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Picking up the pace towards the end.

42.2K (26.6M): 9:04, Marathon time: 4:09:55 – My last three miles, I felt no pain. I sped up to faster than race pace and didn’t look back. My adrenaline was pumping and I bypassed every banana and water station until the finish. I didn’t want to lose this momentum. I was passing people left and right. I felt like the energizer bunny picking off people. Towards the end of the course there was another huge swarm of spectators on a hill. This was the last point that people could cheer us on before the finish (unless they payed for bleacher seating right at the finish). There was a decent sized hill and I owned that hill. I ran up that hill faster than I had ran all day. Once I got to the top I didn’t stop, there was about 200 or 300m left and I sprinted it in until I crossed the finish line. Sub 4:10. I did it! I did it! I finished my first marathon! I’m officially a marathon runner!

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26.2 complete!
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Bryan finishing an hour before me!
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Marathon #1: 4:09:55
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Marathon #4: 3:13:15

After crossing the finish, I immediately received my medal and thermal blanket. I was still warm so I used it as a little bag to hold all my post race nutrition. After going half way through the finisher’s shoot, I found a grassy knoll and thought this was supposed to be the location I would see Bryan. So I lay my thermal blanket on the ground and sat on it drinking my 312 beer waiting for Bryan to find me. Twenty minutes later and in a happy state, I figured I should probably look for Bryan because this obviously wasn’t our meeting spot. I snuck back into the finisher’s shoot and took a finisher’s picture and continued on my to the end. And there he was waiting for me, my wonderful husband! I was so excited to tell him how I did and find out how he performed. He was going for sub 3 hours, but finished at 3:13:15 which is still incredible. He didn’t do a training program after his Ironman six weeks prior, but still ran his second fastest marathon. Amazing.

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Our Support Crew Josh & Rachel!
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Thank you Nana for giving me wings today!

After walking back to the condo, we changed and went for a late lunch with Josh and Rachel to Portillo’s for a Chicago Dog. It was the best tasting hotdog of my life. Maybe it was because I had ran a marathon or it really was that good, but either way I don’t care because it was awesome. I continued my taste of Chicago by going to Garrett’s popcorn for a jumbo sized bag of the Chicago mix….best popcorn ever. I finished the bag in three days.

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Chicago dogs

In the words of Bryan and I’s friend, DJ, “You just accomplished something that very few people will ever attempt.” Yes I did and it feels amazing! I’m happy with my first marathon performance. It truly does show that putting in the training and hard work pays off. I’m already looking forward to my next marathon training program in December and running my next marathon: Carmel Marathon in April 2014. Running a marathon is one of the greatest feelings. It’s almost indescribable. It made me feel alive. I’ll never forget the Chicago Marathon and the emotions I felt throughout. And the next time I don’t feel like running, am feeling lazy, or am too sore, I’ll remember how I felt at Chicago to get myself inspired because next time around I’ll be shooting for sub 4 hours. “Melissa & Bryan, Never limit where running can take you. Bart, Chicago 2013!” (The inscription Bart Yasso wrote in the book we bought when we met him at the expo.)

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