|Here's the proof. |
Thanks to Marathonfoto.com for the pictures.
I feel a little lost right now. It's that feeling you get when you've been dreaming about something for so long that it has become a part of your psyche, and you don't quite know what to do with yourself once you've arrived. I have been dreaming about and working my ass off to become fit enough to qualify for the Olympic Trials for the better part of five years, and yesterday, on 10-10-10, I did it. I ran 2:45:09 in the Chicago Marathon.
I will say this. The easy part was running the marathon. The hard part was dealing with my brain this last week. I refrained from blogging or Facebooking about any of this pre-race madness because I didn't really want to put it out there. Putting it into words makes it real. If it's simply in my head, there's a chance it isn't real or won't come true. I don't think that what I experienced was in any way unique, but boy was it uncomfortable.
For starters, my right foot started acting up last week. It's never, ever done this before. My arch was very sore after my runs, even after easy runs. I immediately started thinking "stress fracture." I just knew that in my next run, my foot was going to break, just like Deena Kastor in the 2008 Olympic marathon. I worried about this pretty much non-stop over the week's course.
Then, there was the weather to worry about. The long-term outlook appeared good a week out from the race, but, as we approached race day, things started looking bad. Really bad. I know that people say there's nothing you can do about it, but you do have to respond to it in your preparation and your race plan. I felt lucky that most of my training runs were run this summer in very warm conditions. I was certainly acclimated to the heat, but I knew this did not make me immune to it.
I made the mistake of spending way too much time this weekend looking at the literature on how heat affects running performance and everything pointed to a marked slow down for the temperatures predicted for race day (60s at the start, mid-70s at the finish). The most depressing factoid I found was that, the equivalent of a 2:46 marathon in these conditions was somewhere between 2:40-2:42 in ideal conditions (<60F). I was not convinced that I was in that kind of shape.
After allowing myself to get worked up about it, I finally resolved to just go for it and stick to my original race plan. I would hydrate like crazy and see what I could do. Needless to say, I did not sleep well at all the two nights leading up to race day. Worry, worry, worry. Well, sleep was also made difficult by some punks outside the hotel making noises that sounded like vuvuzelas all night long.
The Race of My Life
I awoke at 4:15 and started my pre-race routine of eating as much as I could stuff into my gut, showering and getting into my battledress. I pinned my Airborne wings on the back of my shimmel, ensured my race numbers were in place, and both D-tags were affixed to my racing flats (yes, they required two for elites and sub-elites). I bundled up in sweats, a long-sleeved shirt and jacket in hopes that all weather predictions would be wrong and I would be chilled en route to the start.
The Genius and I headed out into the dark Chicago morning to catch the train to the start and were greeted with still, warm air. Damn. I so wanted it to be cooler. The Genius later told me that a digital clock/temperature sign on a bank we passed read 71F, but thankfully, he did not point that out to me at the time.
Regardless of all of my worrying, I was surprisingly upbeat as I ventured off to the Elite Development Tent in Grant Park. I love the energy in the hour or so leading up to a marathon race. It's electric and intoxicating. I found myself feeling super excited as I blasted a few upbeat songs into my head before heading to the starting line for our 7:30 start. After getting a big hug from fellow Impala, Brooke Wells (who would go on to run 2:37!), I took a deep breath and waddled forward with the crowd as the gun sounded.
My race plan was to go out under control for the first 5k, hydrate like a mad woman, see how I felt and try to get through the half in 1:22. My pace band showed splits for a 2:46 marathon. Back when the weather was looking a bit more favorable, I had printed one for a 2:44, but that seemed a bit too ambitious under these conditions.
I had several women and men to run with for the first 5 miles, but there was never a consistent pack like I had in the Twin Cities Marathon last year. It was more of a string of women that I knew were likely shooting for the same time as me. It turned out that my best pacers, my only pacers actually, were a couple of dudes that I hooked up with around mile 4 or so. I believe I stuck with them through about mile 14 when one of them sped up and one of them slowed leaving me stuck on my own. I would later pass the one that sped off at around mile 25.
I gulped at least a half cup of water at every aid station and took my gels every 5 miles without incident. I was thrilled to see water bottles offered at a couple of spots on the course. It was nice to be able to carry it along for a bit to make sure I got enough. Hydration was not a problem for me, except that I think I over did it. My bladder felt full at the start, which is normal, but it usually resorbs within a few miles. I had a full bladder the entire race and seriously considered peeing my shorts many times because it was very uncomfortable. You'll be happy to know that I refrained.
My right foot started to bark around mile 10 and the worrying set in big time for me. I cringed with every step thinking the next would be my last with intact bones. While the aching remained on and off for most of the race, my foot did not break and actually feels quite good now.
Aside from the right foot issue, I felt great in the first half of this race. I mean really great. The heat was not affecting my pace at all, and I was easily clicking off splits of 6:10-6:15. I kept watching time being deposited into my race bank account with each mile split and ended up at 1:21:37 by the half. It was a little faster than I had planned, but I couldn't deny how I felt. I decided I would keep at the 6:12-6:15 pace through mile 20 if I could, taking it mile by mile. I kept thinking about keeping my feet light on the ground, repeating "tap tap tap" to myself, mimicking the sound of my quick little feet hitting the pavement. I thought about running smoothly like Bernard Lagat. For me, he is the vision of grace in a runner and thinking about his stride relaxes me.
Around mile 16, I saw a tiny figure up ahead that I thought might be Joan Benoit Samuelson. I wondered when I would see her, if I would see her in the race. As I approached, I could hear the crowd yelling, "Go Joanie!" I was star struck. I quietly ran up behind her pacer and ran alongside her for about a half mile. I looked down at her face at one point and saw this look of sheer determination in her eyes. That short bit running with Joanie might have been the highlight of my race. When I finally looked down at my Garmin and noticed that my pace was dropping off into 6:20 territory, I moved around her pacers and kept going. I was still able to hear the chants from the crowd urging her on for several minutes as I thought about how amazing she is and got a little choked up.
I was blown away by how many people I passed in the second half of the race. Based on a quick count, it looks like it was about 100 men and 10 women. It made me nervous at times, coming up so fast on people going backwards so fast. I wondered whether my ambitious pace would bite me in the butt after mile 20. I decided to not worry about that and just took the race one chunk at a time. I thought this even as I saw the banners go up indicating that course conditions were now moderate for running and race officials were blasting over the PA system that we should think seriously about adjusting our pace accordingly and to be sure to drink extra fluids. Around mile 20 or so, I ran past a bank that showed the temperature at 80F, and we were entering the most exposed part of the course.
|In the final miles and covered in sweat.|
Even at mile 20, I was surprised with how the pace felt as I was able to easily breathe through my nose with my mouth closed. I was, however, preparing myself mentally for the last 10k, ready to pull out some Chuck Five Zero action to get through those last miles. I pretty much knew I would slow, but I wanted to get as much as I could out of every mile before the lead filled my legs.
|Cruising down the home stretch.|
I finally started to slow around mile 23, but not by a lot. As I ran up Michigan Ave., I figured I was probably going to meet my goal, but I knew I couldn't let myself slow too much. The sun was really beating down on me at that point, and I saw 6:30 pace on my Garmin for a few splits. I decided to just take in everything and kept telling myself that this was my day. I was going to do this, and I needed to remember what it felt like. I took in the trees lining Michigan Ave., the spectators and their cowbells, the other runners and even the bright sunshine. This was my day.
As I rounded the corner to head up the last cruel hill to the 26 mile marker, I looked at my pace band and misread the numbers. A major wave of panic set in as I convinced myself that I was barely going to beat 2:46. My brain wasn't working right as I rounded the corner, and I began busting ass to get to that finish line which was more than 200m away. I couldn't see the clock and didn't have time to look at my watch. With about 100m to go, I finally saw the clock and it read 2:44:40-something. I knew that I was going to make it. I raised my arms up as I crossed the line and then, just kept walking. What had I just done? Did I really do this?
17 6:20 (the Joanie mile)
I got my finisher's medal, waved on the mylar blanket and ate a banana as I walked for about a mile to get back to the Elite Development Tent to collect my gear and look for my family. The whole way, I was alternating between being choked up with happiness and frightened that someone was going to tell me that I hadn't actually qualified for some reason. I was relieved to get my iPhone and see on Facebook that others had virtually witnessed me cross the finish line in 2:45:09. I had failed to stop my Garmin when I crossed the line, so I didn't even have my own chrono-documentation of my achievement.
I was greeted by The Genius, my Mom and Val soon after reaching the tent and was showered with many hugs, flowers and tears. It was quite a moment. I enjoyed hearing about my sister Jill and brother Jeff tracking me on line and how my sister was calling my Mom with updates. We went to the results tent to get a printout of the results of my race. I found out that I had placed first in my age group and was second female master overall--second to Colleen De Rueck. If you have to be second to someone, she's a pretty cool competitor to follow.
Looking back on this race, I have to rank it as my third easiest in terms of how I felt. I never once felt a rough patch. I didn't have to call on Chuck 50. Maybe this was the result of the focus I put on my mental preparation for the race paying off. I'm not sure. Aside from a sore foot and a bit of understandable slowing at the end, this was a pleasant experience. The heat certainly kept me from reaching my full potential, but it didn't overwhelm me. I have no doubt that I could have run a lot faster in cooler conditions, but there's always something that seems to keep you from running to your potential in a marathon.
I loved reading through real-time Facebook comments from people who continue to encourage and inspire me. Joe posted a touching account of his experience of my race including some great Facebook chat, and Julie announced my achievement to the world in a very cool post about my race on her blog.
The outpouring of congratulatory notes and comments I have received from friends and family has been truly overwhelming. Thanks everyone for all of your support and encouragement along the way. I have been blessed to have so many people express how much they believe in me and my ability to achieve this goal. Indeed it is a big reason I crossed the line in under 2:46.
As originally conceived, this accomplishment would mark the end of my blogging journey. I set out to write about my trials in achieving this goal, and I am now there. I am not sure what I will do next in my running or my writing, but I will continue to do both in some form. I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of a community of writing runners and feel like I have gained a whole new perspective on running, writing and a unique and satisfying relationship with readers and fellow bloggers, most of whom I've not met in person.
Houston 2012, here I come!