10.09.11. Bank of American Chicago Marathon.
My first 26.2.
Race morning began at 4:30 a.m., enough time to get a light breakfast of oatmeal and get some fluids in me.
Walking down to Grant Park at 6 a.m. was like a march to battle. In my head, I heard AC/DC lyrics: “We rock at dawn on the front lines.” Volunteers dressed in blue cheered and wished us good luck. At around 7 a.m., I found the 4:30 pace group, as that was my goal, brought down a full hour from my spring goal.
Back to the training. I started with no base in mid-July, enough to get in 10 weeks. I would have preferred 16 weeks on top of a base. But you can’t always get what you want, and I was glad just to have the chance to run. My IT band cooperated as long as I wore my Vibram FiveFingers. If you would’ve told me a year ago I was to run my first marathon in VFFs, I would have laughed at you. Yet, there I was on the starting line with the foot gloves (and lots of BodyGlide).
Once the race started, the music started rocking. We moved slowly to the starting line, but I was surprised it only took about 12 minutes to get there. Bruce Springsteen and Rolling Stones tunes pumped us up, but I was careful to take off very slowly. Getting to that line was pretty glorious, I must say. The second fastest man to ever run the marathon, Moses Mosop, the fastest American male ever, Ryan Hall, and the two-time and defending Chicago Marathon champion, Liliya Shobukhova, were up there, and this was a World Major! A dream that crept into my 15-year-old head eight years ago was going to become a reality in the next few hours!
In a tweet before the race, coach Hal Hidgon said to run slower than you think you should for the first 10K. I aimed for that, and kept my pace at a jog even when the runners started whooping it up on lower Columbus. One man ran by and said, “You’re awesome!” I think he was referring to my Vibrams. There were a few of us out there, and I saw one guy running barefoot.
The course wound across the river, back and over it again before we headed north. The north part of the course was really nice, we passed Lincoln Park and some beautiful town homes. The smell of bacon drifted over the course. I kept up with the pace team and chatted with one of the eight pacers. It was his 89th marathon. Looks like I have some catching up to do. The spirit of the marathon is a great thing. I thanked the pacer, whose name I do not know, and he exclaimed, “Well, thanks for running!”
During the first few enjoyable miles I tried not to run into all the participants and took the time to high five fellow runners, wish them a happy birthdays and soak in the atmosphere.
A bathroom break at mile 6 meant the pace group was ahead of me and I picked up my pace just a tad to catch up. This may have been a dumb idea, but I really wanted to focus on following those blue jerseys in the latter stages of the race.
But at mile 7, my IT band started that familiar ache. Oh crap. I kept on over the next few miles and even spotted pace leader Jerry’s big sign. By mile 11, the pain was sickening. I was gasping for breath and my whole knee was just on fire. If the pain didn’t subside at all, I believed I would have dropped out. It was getting to the point my knee started to lock up and I couldn’t physically run.
I’d like to forget the physical and mental anguish of the next two miles. There I was, halfway through the race and I might not be able to finish it. Damn it, I didn’t come here to DNF! Stretching a few times didn’t do much, but I was careful to run on the right side of the road or on the crown.
Somehow, the pain subsided a bit and until mile 20, I alternated walking and running. Although I stopped at two aid stations for medication, I had to sit and wait for a doctor to get it and decided not to. I decided to give the mile 20 aid station a shot, and as I pulled up a nurse held a bottle of what I figured was magic. I asked if I could have some, and she dumped two Tylenol in my hand. As I was about to take off to get water, she said “Oh, hold on, I’ll get you water!” Another person at the station asked what was wrong, and offered Biofreeze. After I doused my IT band, she gave me hand sanitizer and a rag to clean it off. I thanked her repeatedly, and she said it was no problem at all. While I don’t know who these women were, they have my deepest gratitude. They were so kind.
Once the Tylenol kicked in, I was able to keep running. The miles clicked down and by then I knew without a doubt I would finish. It was only a matter of getting to that line.
At mile 22 I turned to a woman next to me and said, “Four miles! We’ve done this too many times to count!” She replied affirmatively, and we stuck together for the remaining miles. Julie was a Chicago resident and mother of two running her fifth marathon. We swapped stories of running and gave each other moral support. It was so nice to have a buddy through those final miles, we went through the aid stations together and counted down the last few miles.
Mile 24 came with a Nike OwnChicago cheering station, and a man told us we only had two miles to go, we had this. Two! That’s nothing! At mile 25, we heard “Take it on the Run” by REO Speedwagon, which made me laugh. That morning I woke up with “Riding the Storm Out” in my head.
The miles up Michigan Avenue were exciting. More and more spectators lined the road to cheer. One man had a sign that said, “If it were easy, I would do it.”
Finally we turned right to head to Grant Park, then left again on Columbus. The final 0.2 miles were probably the most fun because we could really soak up the finish. Julie and I raised our hands in triumph as we crossed in 5:00:24. I felt relief and pride.
Julie and I walked with everyone else up Columbus, picking up bananas, water, Gatorade, our medals, space blankets, snacks and beer. We thanked each other once again as she turned off to get her bag. “Take care,” she told me with a smile. I like Julie. Running with her is a great memory.
Now that I’ve run a marathon, I have to say: Anyone can do it. If you have a medical condition and cannot, that’s completely understandable. For anyone else reading this, and especially those who are not runners and are shaking your heads and saying, “Yeah, right,” I keep my message. You can do it. Whether or not you want to is, of course, another matter. But even if you think you physically aren’t capable, you are.
Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.” Like our cab driver said as he drove us back to Union Station for the return trip, “You only live once.” Why not find out what you are made of before you go? Why not try something you thought impossible?
I get the feeling many family members and friends think I’m some insanely dedicated runner and only insanely dedicated runners can finish a marathon. Not true. Julie said she doesn’t have much time to train with two young children and consequently takes a long time to finish. Some faster runners couldn’t imagine being out there running for that long. That’s something I take a bit of pride in — I limped for 19 miles but never gave in to the pain.
The race did not hurt nearly as much as I expected it to, IT band pain aside. Of course, I was moving pretty slowly. Still, I take anything I can get. I had no stomach or digestive problems, didn’t hit the wall, no chafing and only had one small blister. Three days after the race I’m hardly sore at all, again, aside from my IT band.
The race is really about the experience. It’s just an incredible feeling to run with thousands of people. There is this great sense of camaraderie out there; I gave fellow runners high-fives. Some fellow Vibram runners and I cheered each other on because of our shoe choices.
Runners are special group of people. You can run with someone for just a few minutes and find yourself telling him or her things you wouldn’t admit to someone else.
I’ve heard friends say they’ve been to races and simply raved about the atmosphere. With all of the health problems and negativity we hear and share every day, races are truly an antidote. There is inspiration everywhere.
I’m proud to have finished and excited to call myself a marathoner now. My time leaves something to be desired. There is a part of my that’s a little disappointed and I’m not really happy to admit that time when I want to run an hour and a half faster. Still, considering the training, it’s not too bad. After taking 2.5 months completely off from running and biking because it all hurt, I slowly started up again four days a week. Then five. My mileage was low-20s to low-30s most weeks, nothing higher. I had nutritional issue with too low protein, and boosting it up helped a lot with my energy levels and overall well-being. Two of my long runs were disasters — had to cut an 18-miler to 13 because my IT band hurt so much, and my last long run two weeks for the race I could only run a total of 8 that day because of asthma. Eight days before the race, I got a chest cold. If my IT band had behaved, I believed I would’ve ran 4:30. The pace was easy.
It’s frustrating to know I haven’t been able to train well enough to be fully fit for any of my races in the last year and a half. Then again, there is a little bit of hope there. If I CAN train well without injury, nutrition problems and not too much asthma disruption, what am I capable of?
At least, with everything that’s gone wrong in the last year, I’ve learned something. I know my IT band troubles probably stem from running the crowned roads. Becoming a vegetarian had some learning curves, and I’m still figuring out the best way to eat healthy. When can I put this all together and have a few healthy, strong training segments? I hope it’s soon because I don’t want to struggle so much through training for a race. I want to do more than hope to finish.
After the race with the marathoners were largely back in civilian clothing, we wandered through the city with halted, limping gaits. Our eyes met and there was a silent acknowledgment of our shared passion and experience. Some people smiled and some gave a look of approval. We’re members of the same club, to which 0.1 percent of the world population belongs.
Sarah and I got delicious Giordano’s pizza. That night, we took advantage of being in the city and wandered (still limping) by the Jeweler’s building and Willis Tower. I’ve always wanted to go to the base of the building and look straight up for the effect.
Family, friends and coworkers were hugely supportive and I received much congratulations on the finish. A few said it was a huge accomplishment. While, yes, it was an accomplishment, I look at it in a different way. For many years, I wanted to run a marathon. I always knew I would; It was an expectation. On Sunday I met that self expectation. This, to me, is no more of an accomplishment than going to college and getting a job. These were always things I was going to do. While I am excited to have done all three, I smile, nod and prepare to focus on the next expectation. That includes redemption at the 2012 Chicago Marathon.
You can bet I want to run another! That was way too much fun to only do once.
Turning dreams into goals and goals to expectations is a great way to get things done. I expect to run a 3:30 marathon, qualify for the Boston Marathon, become a triathlete and earn the title Ironman.
There is always another finish line to cross.