Running the full marathon was much harder than I anticipated. I had new aches in my legs and feet that I have never experienced before. I’ve got blisters on my feet for the first time. On mile 18 above, my thighs felt like it was being pinched every time I lifted them up for a running step. My breathing was fine what was torture were the legs.
I got up at 4am. The taxi was at our door by 5am. Took the 5:15 train – I was already at Grant Park before 6am. My worry of being late (like what happened in Madison half-marathon last year) was scratched off. The weather and temperature was a prime concern. And when at 6:15 I was able to take off the outer layers of what I was wearing and able to stay comfy in my sleeveless top and shorts without feeling the normal chill of October I knew it was going to be trouble for later.
It was a huge crowd, a lot of people had a problem getting into the corral and didn’t get in until the race started at 7:30 and hundreds of runners in front moved out of the corral to run. It was an exciting time – to see a couple of helicopters hovering above, listening to a male singer sing the Star Spangled Banner and the crowd cheering in the last parts of it. We felt like athletes in the Olympics.
I didn’t get to cross the starting line 7:59. It was hard pacing and getting myself to slow down when other runners were running fast. I wanted to avoid the common mistake of running too fast then getting winded too soon. I loved running in the Chicago downtown streets, having access to what would only be accessible by car on a normal day. I loved the Chicago spectators. No lame cheering. Even if they don’t know you they cheer as if you were family. At one point in Addison and Broadway – this woman in the sidelines, 6 meters from where I was yelled while pointing at me “You go Geri! You can do it, I know you can!” so heartfelt that she almost sounded angry. I had my name pinned on my chest. From my experience in the Madison Half-Marathon these encouragements go a long way. Unlike the Madison bib Chicago only has numbers on it, that’s why a lot runners pin their names somewhere else in their shirts or body (there were names scribbled on arms with a marker).
I was also entertained with the signs people on the streets carry. I wish I could remember a lot of them. I saw “you do worse things for much longer”, “there’s beer at the finish line”, “to us you are all Kenyans”, “beat Oprah!”, “toenails are overrated”. But my favorite was in Pilsen on mile 21, attached to a stroller with real sleeping baby inside it, “Go mommy! Enjoy your me time!” We had some crazy runners with their crazy signs and costumes (the superheroes, stuffed bear, beer keg and Eiffel tower).
I started feeling lightheaded on Mile 10, my last solid meal of oatmeal and hard boiled egg was at 4:00 that morning. I chewed on a few jelly beans I was carrying. I drank at every water station to hydrate and mostly chose Gatorade for the calories. I also grabbed a couple of fig newtons, cookies, pretzels offered by spectators. On mile 12 sweat mixed with sun block got into my eyes, making it sting and my contact lens stick the wrong way. Mile 14 my head started to ache from the heat but thankfully subsided as I tried to stay in the shaded side of the streets whenever there was one. Mile 18 through mile 23 was the hardest course because the sights became more industrial and uninteresting – we even got as far as Sox field and United Center. It also got hotter. At 9:00 they changed the alert level from green to moderate. By 11:00 it was already red. In Chinatown it was 87F. What made it bearable was that the humidity wasn’t bad – I could still feel some breeze. By mile 24 I tried to walk a few paces but walking also hurt – so I had to run. Mile 25 seemed to never come.
But it did albeit so slowly. Mile 26 came too, to get to the finish line you have to climb the Roosevelt bridge but it didn’t bother me that much. I was just anxious to finish and end it. But as I was nearing the finish line I realized that I was making a dream come true. I remembered how I wrote this in my Tabulas blog 4 (?) years ago about wanting to run the Chicago Marathon and this was even before I took up running again – then the thought made me a little emotional, I choked back a sob. Before I knew it, the race for me was over. I was getting water, some bananas, crackers, wet towel, my medal, getting my gear back from the check in and calling my husband. They were waiting for me at the runner’s reunite area.
I eventually got my official time and honestly I was surprised I clocked 5:35 something. I was expecting 5:10 but I was hoping even for 4:45 or 4:35 (based on my half-marathon time). But as a couple of my runner friends advised, for your first marathon just concentrate on finishing and that’s what I did.
During the whole process there was never a point when I felt discouraged. How can I be when in my group were people from all walks of life, seniors who were at their 70s at least (there was even an 85ish grandma), a blind guy, a few who looked out of shape at the same time there were men and women who were younger and looked super fit too. There were even a few who were part of the 3:00, 4:30, 5:30 pacing team who never made their intended time. I think it all boils down to how prepared we were, how we were feeling that day and how we were able to cope with the elements.
Will I run another marathon? I want to but I don’t know when. Maybe when my thighs don’t hurt anymore every time I bend my knees, I will.