Chicago Marathon Reflection…

When I found out that I got into the Chicago Marathon last December, I was so excited.  My mind instantly began racing (no pun intended), imagining the excitement of such a big race and the huge marathon PR I could get on such a big stage.  It was going to be epic.

However, life doesn’t always seem to go as planned.  I ended up getting a new job at a new school over the summer, while taking three online graduate classes during July and August.  My summer consisted of being stressed over interviews, writing grad papers for 4-5 hours pretty much daily, and really just trying to get my life together, which is not an easy task for an OCD planner like myself. 

Let’s just say my running took a hit over the summer.  I was running, but other life demands took their toll on me.  I also started noticing some knee pain in August.  Never debilitating, but just enough to cut back on some runs and to be a nuisance.  Then mid-August hit and I started my new teaching job, and with it, a whole new world of stress.  It’s good stress, because I really do love my new school and students, but stress nonetheless.  So while I tried to fit in runs during the beginning of the year teacher exhaustion period, I wasn’t always successful in doing so.

Then, of course, I got sick mid-September.  It wasn’t like the flu or anything.  I was never completely knocked down, though I did spend one Saturday sleeping for about twelve hours.  As I got bronchitis right before my last marathon, I became very paranoid.  I cut back on my running, missing my last long run before my taper and really not running much in the two weeks leading into Chicago.

Thus, I knew I was definitely undertrained as I lined up race day.  I stood in the F corral, eyeing the 3:55 pacers, my adjusted goal time that I had set over the summer when I knew that I couldn’t meet my original enourmous dream time.  I texted my husband, talking about running with them, but kind of knowing that it was not going to happen.  I wasn’t ready.  I knew it.  Plus, it was already 56 degrees, with temperatures predicted to approach 80.  I am NOT a warm weather runner, so that was weighing on my mind a bit.

The first few miles flew and I wasn’t far off of my goal pace.  However, I could already feel my legs at the 5k mark.  I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hold my low 9:00  paces.  I texted my husband around the 8k mark, telling him I wasn’t going to be able to maintain, and he encouraged me to slow a bit.   This is where my knee started to complain, and I added walk breaks through water stations.  By mile 8 I was hurting and my mind was overwhelmed by the amount of remaining miles.

I hadn’t realized how bad a hit my endurance had taken when I was sick and not really running, but I was feeling it heavily early on in the race.  My knee was angry about the pounding, likely having enjoyed its rest period while I was sick, and it expressed itself early on with pain.  Then the pain travelled up to my hips, and my shins began cramping.  My legs weren’t ready. 

It was mentally hard to run this race.  There were times I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to finish.  I’ve never felt that much pain so early in a marathon, and I was worried that it was going to get to the point that I would need to stop, that my body was going to give out on me.  It was that unknowing, and constant reminder with discomfort and pain shooting through my legs and hips on each step, that made my race an inner turmoil for me.  I wasn’t sure how far I was going to make it, and that was killing me.

One great thing about the Chicago Marathon is the crowd support, and I truly believe that is a major reason I was able to finish.  As I passed the halfway mark and the temperatures began to climb, I noticed a lot more people start walking.  This race was impacting a lot of people, not just me, and that was a little reassuring.  I guess misery loves company, right?  But it was also during this time that I began to rely on the crowd cheering to help me through.  I purposely wore one of my Sparkle Athletic skirts, a super shiny one, to draw attention, and I achieved my goal.  Lots of people called to me that they liked my outfit, and that helped me continue on.

People lined the streets throughout the race, which was quite amazing to see.  Not only did they cheer, but the supplied things like candy, drinks, food, and even tissues!  All of these things were greatly appreciated.  My favorite was the people who gave out freezie pops.  I can’t even tell you how amazing that was.  It was sunny at this point and super hot.  I had salt caked to my face from the sweat (ew, right?).  Then all of a sudden someone handed me a red freezie, and my life got a million times better.  I don’t know if these spectators realize how great their actions were, their cheering or their supplies, but I know that they definitely helped me finish a difficult race and I am forever thankful.

I almost cried when I crossed the finish line.  I had really wondered if I would make it at times, and it was a relief when I hit mile 26 and I was able to pick up the pace on the turn and finish somewhat strong.  It was easily one of the hardest things I have ever done, and I plan on not making the same mistakes twice.  I learned a lot from this race.  I am running the Disney marathon in January, which I am now looking at as almost a redemption race, and I plan on throwing everything I can at this race.

I have gotten a coach for this race.  I’m looking forward to getting a training plan that runs much higher mileage, because I realized that my best marathon was off of a training cycle that had a number of 55-60 mile weeks, while this time I was around 40.  I also am hoping the guidance and accountability of a coach will help keep me consistent, finding time to make these runs work as I settle into my third month at my school and I feel that I have finally fallen into more of a routine there.

I have also started physical therapy.  I had my first appointment, and started a rehab program to help with my knee pain.  I’m obviously facing some muscle weaknesses and imbalance because I think my soreness from my first PT appointment might have been worse than my post marathon soreness.  I need to make cross training and strength a bigger part of my training plan.  I also need to stretch more as I was told my legs were pretty tight.

Hopefully with these steps, I can redeem myself in Disney.  I am still dreaming of a marathon PR, which would be right around four hours.  I’d be thrilled to break four.  I think if everything comes together, and if my PT goes well, I might be able to do it.  It’s a huge jump, but I’m going to throw everything I have at this goal.  I’m not going to make the same mistakes as I did with Chicago.  This is going to become a priority now that my life seems to be calming down and I’m ready to take it on.