Chicago marathon!

I know, I know. It happened a week ago, but better late than never, right?

As I was running my race, I realized that 26.2 miles is really far, and that there was no way that I’d be able to remember or register everything that was happening during those miles in order to write about it. Having that thought is essentially the only thing I remember thinking during the entire race. Oh, that and the PAIN.

I’m only sort of kidding.

Actually, everything about the day of the marathon could not have gone better, which I am tremendously thankful for.

Dan and I got into town on Friday night, where our friends Lindsay and Kevin promptly took us out to eat at a great pasta place I can’t remember the name of. I didn’t even take any pictures of my food. Helpful, I know. I was being really lame, so we watched a horribly depressing episode of Taxicab Confessions then went to bed.

Saturday morning, we woke up and Kevin took us to Bang Bang Pie Shop where we enjoyed the most amazing biscuits, homemade jams and butters, and candied bacon ever. Breakfast stuck with me so long that I wasn’t hungry for lunch until almost 3…which is miraculous. After breakfast, I met up with some acquaintances/friends who were nice enough to let me third-wheel it all Saturday.

Katie and I met at the national ACES conference [nerd alert] in Cleveland back in 2006 [ouch]. We kept up over the years though social media and both started to get really into running around the same time. She and her longtime friend Mike try to run a race together every year, and Chicago was 2013’s selection. They found a nice apartment for us to stay at on Airbnb and were kind enough to let me tag along to the expo, go to lunch, chill at the apartment and indulge my crazy nail art hobby, go to dinner with their friends, stay with them Saturday night, and navigate to the race start Sunday morning. As Katie said after, it was nice to be friends in real life for once!

We made our way to the expo with Katie’s fiancé, Lance, leading the way. He worked in Chicago for several years and had a better sense of the city than the rest of us, that’s for sure! The expo was huge…it was so overwhelming that I was too busy navigating the crowds to bother really taking any pictures. It was really well organized, there was just so much…humanity. Not paying attention to where they were going or what they were doing. We got our numbers/shirts, and I made a brief stop by the DetermiNation tent to pick up my Charity Village credentials and make an extra race bib. Then we got out of there!

My DetermiNation bib.

My DetermiNation bib.

After the expo, we grabbed some Chipotle and went back to the apartment to chill out. We had a 7:45 dinner reservation for, you guessed it, more pasta, but we didn’t get our seats until I don’t even know when. By the time we ate and paid, it was well after 10 and we were fading fast. We headed back to the apartment and got our race day stuff together, agreed on a 5 a.m. wakeup time, and went to bed. Actually, I stayed up a bit longer to finish my race day nails, then finally got into bed around midnight. I slept OK; I fell asleep pretty quickly, but woke up a lot throughout the night. The upstairs neighbors were playing their music a bit loudly, then I heard gunshots, then fireworks, then it was time to wake up! Despite my fitful sleep, I hopped out of bed and was ready to roll pretty quickly.

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Obligatory nail art picture (grasping celebratory post-marathon wine).

My favorite part of the morning was probably the 5 minutes of standing in the kitchen with Katie and Mike, silently choking down various combos of peanut butter, bread, and bananas and drinking our coffee. Even though we didn’t say anything, it was really nice to share that moment with other people after months of doing the exact same thing all by myself every Saturday morning.

After breakfast, we walked to the L and made our way to the race start with no problems. Security was stricter than any other race I’ve done; I kind of felt like I was at the airport. Your race number had to be showing constantly, and they went through everyone’s gear check bag before admitting runners into Grant Park. We checked our gear and had just enough time to take a few pictures and wait in line for the bathroom before we went to our respective corrals.

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Me, Katie, and Mike right after entering Grant Park.

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Chicago skyline, right before entering Grant Park.

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Ready to rock and roll!

We lined up in our corrals with approximately 1 billion other people, and before we knew it, we were crossing the starting line.

I know it’s hard to believe, but I really don’t remember a whole lot about running the race. There were so many people everywhere that I was just trying to concentrate on not getting stomped on or elbowed or tripping over anyone. I was mostly successful. The crowd support was overwhelming. There were tons of spectators and they were cheering so loudly, it was like being in a wind tunnel. I just tried to stay calm and relaxed to avoid getting caught up on the moment and going out too fast.

Around 3 miles in, I realized I needed to hit the bathroom again. The lines were crazy long, so I decided to wait until the next stop, at around 5 miles. At that point, the lines were still really long,  but I figured that I would be uncomfortable for a large portion of the race, and I might as well be as comfortable as possible for the earlier, easier miles. I also figured it’d be better to get it over with early in the race so I wouldn’t have to stop and then try to regain momentum later. Unfortunately, my pit stop cost me somewhere between 8 and 10 minutes because the lines were pretty long. Not ideal, but I’m glad that I did it instead of risking feeling sick later in the race. Luckily, that’s the only time I had to stop.

From that point on, I put on the cruise control and kind of zoned out, making it a point to look around and check out my surroundings every few minutes. I didn’t bother checking my watch too often, as my Garmin paces were all over the place and wildly inaccurate. I tried to take a few Honey Stinger chews every 3 miles and mixed Gatorade and water at each of the water stops, which were spaced out about every 1.5 miles or something. I’d walk for 30ish seconds to drink and eat a few chews, then resume running. That was my strategy for the whole race, and it worked really well; I never got a stomach ache or bonked.

Dan, Lindsay, Kevin and the rest of the crew were all waiting for me at mile 16, so my primary goal was to make it to that point looking and feeling strong. I was due for some more chews around then, but I didn’t want them to see me walking, so I held off. I never did see them, though they saw me and yelled. Dan said I was totally ‘in the zone,’ which must have been true for me to miss them. I didn’t want them to see me walk, even just for a fuel break, so that propelled me through mile 17.5. Once I realized I had likely missed them, I just put my head down and powered through. I kept repeating the phrase “controlled fall” in my head and made it a point to check my posture and run as relaxed as possible. We hadn’t discussed it beforehand, but I knew that my mom and our friend Ann would be at the finish; I just had a feeling that I’d see them. I focused on getting to mile 20, then from that point on reveled in the fact that each additional step would be a personal distance record for me.

Around 22 miles in, I definitely started to hurt. I didn’t hit the infamous WALL, but my hips and low back were aching and my calves started feeling a little crampy. I had to step off the course twice for about 20 or 30 seconds each to stretch a little. People always praise the Chicago course for being so flat and fast, but that also means that the exact same muscles are taking a serious pounding for all 26.2 miles of the race. It was a huge relief to shake out a little.

At no point did I ever, ever feel like I wouldn’t be able to finish. My ankle also felt great the entire time. After months of training, and several weeks of fretting over my ability to happily complete the race after missing some significant training runs because of my ankle issues, I felt oddly calm the entire time I was running. Once I crossed the starting line and began running, my brain shut off and I just went on auto pilot.

I took a slightly longer walking break at mile 24, probably about 2 minutes, then made a deal with myself that I would run the remainder of the race, and run I did! I got some kind of second wind and I’m pretty sure my legs were just numb after hours of pounding. It was a little frustrating, because the course got pretty narrow in certain parts and a lot of people were walking. Weaving around them was too much energy at that point, and I didn’t trust myself to not trip or lose my balance. I feel like I could have gained some valuable time had I not gotten stuck, but oh well.

Once I got around 1,000 or 800 meters away from the finish, I heard “GO, SALLIE, GO!!!!!!” Sure enough, it was my mom, screaming at the finish just like I knew she’d be. For context, there are thousands of people at the finish line, cheering, ringing cow bells, blasting music, etc. My mom has a…signature cheering voice that is capable of piercing through pretty much any other noise. Not only did I hear her, but I was able to zero in and find her and Ann in the crowd. After that, it was game over. I was so ready to be done, I tore up the “hill” (I think it was a bridge or on-ramp or something. I was super thankful for my Tower Grove Park hills at that point) and cruised across the finish line. Official finish time: 5:01:26.

I threw my hands up and let out a triumphant yell as I crossed the finish line. I miiiight have shed a few tears of joy as I hobbled through the finish chute and got my medal.

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Wahoo!

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Me with my new hardware and a giant smile.

The walk from the finishing area back to the gear check and park exit was brutal. It was about a mile or something and required descending some stairs. After running all that way, I managed to walk to the beer table, grab a cold one, and hobble off to the side of the fenced in area. I collapsed and enjoyed about half of my beer (after calling mom to tell her not to worry, I just needed to sit for a minute).

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The sweet taste of success.

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Bling bling.

Mom and Ann took me back to their hotel, where I took the hottest, most glorious shower of my life and passed out for a few hours. After I was back among the living, Lindsay and Dan joined forces to make an amazing celebratory dinner of Italian pot roast, horseradish mashed potatoes, fresh green beans, and homemade bread. There might have been a little (a lot) of wine and champagne, too. I fell asleep with a full belly, happy heart, and major sense of accomplishment.

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Pizza and beers at Piece, aka Heaven on Earth.

Getting out of bed the next day was another story…but I managed to fight my way through it and eat all of the pizza and beer!

Overall, I feel great about this experience. Running in memory of Kim and in honor of my grandma was so tremendously rewarding. Thinking of them and of all the people who donated to the American Cancer Society in support of this run was a huge source of comfort and motivation during my training, especially when I was having doubts about my ankle. I wish I hadn’t lost that time in the bathroom, because a time of 4:XX would have felt pretty darn good, but I really can’t complain. I didn’t bonk, my body held up, I didn’t doubt myself, and I was able to raise money for a great cause. I can definitely see myself running another marathon in the future, but for now, I’m just going to bask in the glow of what I’ve accomplished thus far.

I did it!

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Not a training recap

I won’t bore you guys too much with the stuff I have/haven’t been doing re: my training plan. It’s been a little spotty the past few weeks, as my ankle injury from a moving mishap over Memorial Day weekend (yes, that long ago) has been flaring up.

I missed 2 significant long runs because my ankle was in such bad shape: a 12-miler and 16-miler. After going to a few doctors, it looks like I did actually do some damaged when my ankle was smashed by that piano. It seems as though I tore some smaller ligaments that healed funny, and now my ankle doesn’t have enough stability when I run. Luckily, taping up my foot really helps, and I have a few PT sessions set up to try and sort everything out. Because taping my foot has been so beneficial, my doctor is recommending some custom orthotics, which will hopefully be here in about 2 weeks. Not ideal, but better than a “no run” order!

For weeks 11 and 12 of training, I mostly stuck to the bike and elliptical with a few run/walks in there. Nothing worth writing home about. For week 13, I did a fair amount of walking but didn’t manage much gym time. Honestly, I was defeated and feeling pretty sorry for myself. Not a great thing when you’re trying to accomplish a goal that requires motivation and consistency.

Before all of that nonsense, I had registered for McKendree University’s Harvest Challenge “half” marathon (actual distance: 13.25, not the standard 13.1 miles). It fell on a weekend that my training plan called for 18 miles, and I thought it’d be nice to have some course support for a good chunk of that run. Plus the registration was less than $37, including Active.com service fees. After the issues with my ankle and significantly lighter training the past few weeks, I decided to just try and make it through the race and not tack on my extra miles. Turns out, that was a smart decision.

I had been dreading this “race” all week. Like I said, I was feeling defeated and I really didn’t know how/if I’d be able to make my way through it. It was weighing heavily on my mind and putting me in a terrible mood (sorry, everyone). We drove out to Lebanon, Ill., the night before and crashed at the Drury in O’Fallon (thanks, Dad!). I slept like a baby and woke up at 6 a.m. to get ready and eat breakfast. By the time we got to the university for packet pick-up around 7:15, it was 70ish degrees and 97% humidity. It only got worse from there.

This about sums it up.

This about sums it up.

The entire course was through farmland. Mostly corn fields. At one point, we ran past a place housing a bunch of thoroughbred horses, which was pretty cool.

The scenery for roughly 11 of the 13.25 miles of the race. Fields, fields, more fields, and no shade whatsoever.

The scenery for roughly 11 of the 13.25 miles of the race. Fields, fields, more fields, and no shade whatsoever.

This was a TOUGH race. Even if I’d had better training leading up to it, it would have been really difficult. Everyone I talked to was resigned to just trying to get through the thing. It was relentlessly muggy, and there wasn’t a single patch of shade to be found on the course between miles 1.5 and 12. Really, really tough. Not to mention, the elevation map looked like this:

OUCH. Think this looks bad? Imagine trying to run it at 80 degrees and 70% humidity.

OUCH. Think this looks bad? Imagine trying to run it at 80 degrees and 70% humidity.

I had decided that I wasn’t going to kill myself for this thing. My strategy was to make it through the first 3 miles, then walk for a bit and take some Honey Stingers (my favorite fuel so far). After that, I planned to run to each aid station, then walk for 0.1 to 0.25 of a mile. I mostly stuck to that, though I walked much more in the “hill country” of miles 8.5 to 10. Trying to run up those things was just a wasted effort at that point, they were so steep. It might not look like much to trail or mountain runners, but I don’t run a ton of hills like that on a regular basis! I tried to run halfway on the uphills, walk the rest, then run the downhills and flats. It worked out OK.

I don’t even know my official time, but my Garmin had me at 2:41ish for 13.35 miles. My ankle held up really well; it never hurt during the run. However, I ended up with some pretty good blisters on my feet from tape the doctor used to wrap up my feet. I hardly ever get blisters, but I could feel them developing from mile 9 onward.

Overall, dragging myself out to do this run did me a lot of good. It broke through my “woe is me” mentality and gave me a little confidence. Yeah, it was super slow. Yeah, I had to walk more that I ever have before. At the same time, my ankle was able to withstand the stress, and I don’t feel like I lost too much endurance with my lighter training the past couple of weeks. I also got to talk to some cool people and add another nice race shirt to my collection. Given the weather, I don’t feel too bad about the outcome.

It’s time to tackle week 14 with confidence and gusto!

Week 4 training recap

The first month is done! Hooray! This is the first week where my motivation was really floundering. I just felt super wiped out…sleeping 9+ hours a night, praying for a nap, generally feeling out of whack. Not to get all TMI, but a lot of that probably had to do with this. I also think I should have stuck to my training plan for week 3 and done my cutback “long” run of 5 miles instead of the 8 I opted for. I’ll definitely go with the lower mileage next cutback week, regardless of how I feel. Those easy weeks are in there for a reason!

I only ran 3 days this week. Thanks to exhaustion, lack of motivation, and the holidays, one of my 3-milers just didn’t happen. I did get some good walking in, though.

Monday
Plan: Rest
Actual: 3.1 @ 9:26
This felt miserable. I could’ve sworn I was running sub 9’s, my legs were so dead and my breathing was so labored. I was in an area where GPS reception can be spotty, so I’m kinda wondering if my distance is right. That’s how hard this effort felt. It’s more likely that my legs were still toast from Saturday’s hilly 8. Later that evening, Dan and I also walked to and from the grocery store (1.58 miles).

Tuesday
Plan: 3
Actual: 1.75 mile walk in 30 minutes.
Hopped on the treadmill during my lunch break and got this done. We didn’t have our track speed work because of the holiday. I know I should have gotten my other 3-miler done, but Monday’s outing had me feeling really defeated and I was so exhausted. Opted to take it easy instead.

Wednesday
Plan: 4
Actual: Rest.
Again, so tired. I did come home and mow the lawn…that counts for something, right?

Thursday
Plan: 3
Actual: Freedom 4-miler race!

Up bright and early to head downtown for this 7 a.m. race. I got there around 6:30 and found a decent parking spot, then proceeded to wander around looking for my track club’s tent and gear check. No luck! I couldn’t find them anywhere, and I didn’t have time to walk back to the car to put my stuff away, so I ended up wasting $5 on bag check at the event. That was annoying, but not the race’s fault. I looked for my club after the race, too, and never did manage to find them!

The weather was pretty nice for this one, in the low 70s. It was a little humid, but not too bad. They had the fire trucks down town and a good emcee making announcements. The course wasn’t too hilly, mostly gently rolling. Just enough to give you some momentum along the course. We got to run along the riverfront and by the Arch, which was really cool. There was also a group of military guys running the race in cadence, doing the call and answer chants. I would recommend this race to anyone who wants to get downtown early for a good spot to watch the parade. If 4 miles isn’t your thing, they have a 1-mile walk/fun run, too.

The beginning of the race was pretty crowded; the route was narrow and there were about 2,000 people doing the 4-miler from what the announcer said. My Garmin matched up with the mile markers until the last mile. My official time was 4 miles in 35:50 for 8:57 miles, but I had 4.1 miles in 35:50 for 8:44 miles. My effort felt like the latter to me.  Still slower than I would like; I was definitely struggling halfway through the second mile, then found a second wind and finished really strong. I was passing people the entire time, which felt good. I’m not sure where my speed has gone; I feel like for how much I’m running, my times should be a bit lower than they’ve been. I don’t know if it’s just progressive overload or if I simply need to adjust my expectations. I’ll have to experiment further to figure this out.

Got in around 1.5 miles of walking cool down to round that out.

Cool dog tag medal from the race!

American flag shorts. Jealous?

Friday
Plan: Rest
Actual: Rest.
Again, should’ve done that 3-miler, but it just wasn’t happening. Spent the morning getting Dan home to work because he couldn’t connect to the internet to log in Friday morning (we stayed at a friend’s), then it was too hot to run outside, then friends came over.

Saturday
Plan: 9
Actual:
Sleep. Sweet, sweet sleep and a giant breakfast at Uncle Bill’s pancake house, followed my visiting family and amazing BBQ.

Sunday
Plan: XT
Actual: 8.6 miles @ 10:48

This was supposed to be my 9-miler, but I forgot part of the route or miscalculated the distance or something. I got a late start (9 a.m.), and it was so hot and miserable by the time I got home that I didn’t feel like running around the block X number of times to get that last 0.4. I learned my lesson and won’t put off my long run like that again! Yuck.

Other than the heat, this wasn’t too bad. My legs felt pretty good. Because it was so hot, I let myself take a 3-minute walk break every 3 miles. That helped a lot, mentally and physically. My ankle was really swollen and sore when I was done (I have a PT appt. on Thursday that will hopefully help sort that out), but it did feel a lot better after lots of ice, elevation, and torture with the foam roller.

Total: 20.53 miles, 4 hours 25 minutes

I didn’t get any yoga or strength training in last week, so that’s the goal for this week. Here’s to week 5!

Route 66 10k recap?

It’s a stretch to call this a recap, because I don’t have much to say. I woke up early, drove to Edwardsville, Ill., (Dan even came! I usually fly solo at races) and ran/walked a very slow 10k. No PR here, which was to be expected. I got it done in 59:29, about a minute per mile slower than what I had been aiming for prior to smashing my ankle with that piano. My time somehow landed my in the top 10 (out of 20 something) in my age group. So maybe everyone had a rough day?

The weather seemed nice at first, but the course went down into a valley and the  humidity was smothering. If I learned one thing, it’s that I’m not acclimated to the heat/humidity yet. If I learned another, it’s that I need to train myself better to sustain hard efforts for longer distances. I haven’t really figured out pacing for anything longer than a 5k, mostly because I haven’t raced other distances frequently enough to work out the kinks. My plan is to incorporate longer tempo runs into training, because I’m cheap and don’t want to pay for a bunch of races.

I felt OK for the first 3 miles, but I never really found a groove. My ankle started getting sore and tingly at that point and the humidity was getting to me, so I started taking walk breaks 30-90 seconds at a time maybe once per mile. I figured it wasn’t worth pushing it if my ankle was sore, especially since marathon training began Monday!

I felt really wiped out for a good portion of the afternoon. Dan suggested I might have had some heat exhaustion, which is definitely possible. It took a long time for me to rehydrate and feel human again; not something that’s usually an issue for me after only 6 miles.

Here's a picture of me at the (uphill) finish, trying to look happy and excited.

Here’s a picture of me at the (uphill) finish, trying to look happy and excited.

The course was mostly shaded and on a smooth bike path with some rolling hills. I would do it again. The shirts are also pretty cool, and they gave out a pretty decent gear bag, too. Not too shabby for a $30 registration fee.

In other news: MARATHON TRAINING IS HERE. It’s only day 2, but I’ve already impressed myself by waking up at 6:10 a.m. to get a workout in. Please, someone pat me on the back.

EDITED TO ADD: I can’t stop listening to this song: