2015 Chicago Marathon Recap: Humbled, Thankful and My Legs are Ka-put!

2 marathons, 2 weeks, 2 countries = never again. This is what I posted to facebook immediately following the 2015 Chicago Marathon. Why? After returning from Berlin just about one week prior and trying my best to recover, my body ached all over. Besides the 2012 Boston Marathon, this had to be one of the worst, most painful, emotionally draining races of my life.

The Week Before

Leading up to race I did everything I could think of to rehab my legs and body to be in top shape come race day. I drank loads of cherry juice, ate clean with an emphasis on quality carbs, got a massage (thanks to the fabulous Terri at Urban Wellness Chicago), tried my best to get 8+ hours of sleep per night, kept my workouts to a reasonable pace, talked through my race plan with my coach at least twice, drank plenty of water and kept stress to as low a level as possible. Despite all my efforts – sometimes life just gets in the way. And I really can’t complain as some of the opportunities I had those days before the race will stay with me forever.

Mariano's Fun Run Group
Mariano’s Fun Run Group

The Thursday before, I had the chance to lead a group of local runners on a fun shakeout run through my role at Mariano’s. Joining me for the run, courtesy of PowerBar, was Josh Cox, American 50k Record Holder, PowerBar Team Elite and Desiree Linden, 2012 Olympian, Top American at 2014 NYC Marathon,Top American at 2015 Boston Marathon, PowerBar Team Elite. Both were beyond nice – wishing me luck in my effort at the marathon (neither ran this year). We had a great time and were able to capture a pretty epic group pic with my favorite view of the city skyline in the background.

Friday and Saturday I had to work the expo for Mariano’s as well as had the awesome opportunity to speak 4 times on the Runner’s World Stage talking nutrition for recovery and women’s running with another running great – a legend in my eyes: Joan Benoit Samuelson. It was truly and honor and a treat to hear her speak and I had to fight back tears as she recalled some of her best and worst running moments. As we walked off stage she took a genuine interest in my running history and goals for the marathon. I truly can not thank the folks at Bank of America and Runner’s World for asking me to participate in this awesome opportunity.

Speaking on the Runner's World Stage at the Marathon Expo
Speaking on the Runner’s World Stage at the Marathon Expo

As I made my way home on Saturday after the expo – after meeting my superfan and her friend for lunch and then dropping them off at their hotel – I couldn’t help but reflect on how lucky I was and that no matter how this race would turn out – the experiences in the days prior truly showed me that if you follow your heart and do what you love, things will have a way of falling into place.

I got home from the expo mid afternoon on Saturday. My feet were a bit achy from standing most of Friday and Saturday despite my efforts to stay off of them. I decided to get a pre-race mani/pedi. It helped – but my legs still didn’t feel fresh. I washed the negative thoughts from my head and fixed my typical pre-marathon meal – pasta with red sauce and a couple turkey meatballs and made it an early night – asleep by 9pm. For once, I slept so soundly, I wondered what was wrong with me when I woke up just before my alarm Sunday morning. I hoped my being well rested would pay off.

The Morning Of

As I always do, I had my pre race breakfast of a bagel, peanut butter and a banana, 2 cups of coffee and about 20 oz of Nuun and left for the start. I opted to take the L vs. a cab as I wanted to feel the energy from the other runners. For the first time in 2 years, I would not join my friends/family at the Chicago Endurance Sports Race Day Resort before the race as I had the fortunate luck to be placed in the American Development corral which has private area for athletes to warm up before the start. I’m not sure this was my best decision or that I would do it again – but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Before the Start
Before the Start

At about 7:15 we were ushered to the start line. The nerves were really going at this point. I was so close to the starting line and surrounded by folks I was truly just humbled to run with. I reflected on how far I had come – my first marathon hoping to just break the 4 hour mark to today, hoping to again break the 3 hour mark. I felt ready but was also ignoring some lingering soreness.

The Race

The start was sudden – most of us not realizing the gun had gone off. I quickly settled into my usual too fast pace. I am notorious for going out way too fast – and despite knowing it for at least the first 5k, I managed to stick to that pace for the first 10k – just like Berlin. But unlike Berlin, once I settled into a more reasonable pace, I did not feel good. I was also being passed left and right by fit men and women from the A corral. My coach had warned me about this – and no matter how much I recalled his advice to not get caught up with it – I started to lose confidence. As we made our way through Old Town, I knew today was not the day. It was all I could do not to break into tears. I fought through it – but around mile 12 I started to feel deep pain in my glute – similar to what I struggled with most of July. I couldn’t help it and started to sob. Leave it to the race photographers to catch this fateful moment on camera. How was I going to finish this race?

About to Cry at Mile 12ish
About to Cry at Mile 12ish

I started to play mind games with myself – make it to the halfway point and you can visit a medical tent and consider quitting. So I did – with a new 1/2 marathon PR despite having slowed to almost a minute behind goal pace. OK – maybe not all is lost – I said to myself. So I went on like that – toying with the idea of quitting each time I passed an aid station/medical tent for the next 7 miles.

Around mile 18 I saw my superfan and her friend. There they were both smiling and screaming my name. I lost it – the pain was too much – but somehow seeing them pushed me through it. I would do my best to just finish. It was also about this point I recalled one of my favorite runner’s story (Dean Karnazes) about finishing an ultra on his hands and feet – crawling his way over the finish line. ‘Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.’ I would do this – if I had to – I would walk – and even crawl.

20 miles in I started passing people. I had no idea where it came from. I started to enjoy myself. The pain was still there – but at this point I knew I would finish and while I might not get the time I wanted – I knew I would accomplish another goal – 2 marathons in 2 weeks – both with respectable times that I could be proud of.

The Finish and Aftermath

With about 2 miles to go I saw my coach and another teammate and I screamed at them – it was great – their energy powered me through those last 2 miles and over Mt. Roosevelt. I turned the corner onto Columbus and picked up my pace for the last 400m. Seeing my superfan in the grand stands – it was all I could do not to fall apart again. I crossed the line at just over 3:05 – my fourth fastest time (of now 11 completed marathons) – and almost immediately fell down. My legs were shot. With the aid of one of the volunteers, I walked through the finish area, grabbing my free 312 and post-race refreshments. Finally – after what seemed like the longest walk of my life – I got to the American Development tent. I changed into some dry clothes and made my way to meet my superfan and some other friends at the Race Day Resort. Seeing her waiting outside the ‘Resort’ I broke down into tears again. She hugged me and said she was proud and I told her I had never wanted to quit so bad in my life. Thoughts of so many things carried me through – from knowing that the pain I experienced that day was only temporary to how lucky and appreciative I was just to be able to run and be healthy.

I met up with some of my other running friends who had had both good and bad days. The weather had been warmer than ideal and the wind surprised us all. We all hobbled our way home, cleaned up and then all met up again to continue to reflect on the race while celebrating with a couple more beers, lots of food and laughs. No matter how the race went, we all revelled in our the sense of accomplishing something great – of finishing something less than 1/2 of 1% of the US population (according to a 2012 Runner’s World study) have completed.

Celebrating the Day After with my Superfan
Celebrating the Day After with my Superfan

It’s taken me a bit longer to write this recap. I think because I’ve spent the better half of the last few weeks really reflecting on how lucky I have been this year. While the two marathons I had this fall didn’t go exactly how I wanted – I am fortunate to be surrounded by a supportive team, coach, family and friends and it has made all the difference. I honestly don’t know how to end this post – so instead – I’ll leave you with some quotes from Joan Benoit Samuelson that really resonated with me prior to this race and that I’ll take with me into future running adventures and races.

For my Fleet Feet Racing and DWRunning teammates – you make running fun!: ‘As every runner knows, running is about more than just putting one foot in front of the other; it is about our lifestyle and who we are.’

For my coach, Dan – thanks for all your support and positive energy this season: ‘Love yourself, for who and what you are; protect your dream and develop your talent to the fullest extent.’

To Jolice – my running buddy who listens to me no matter how silly my concern: ‘Years ago, women sat in kitchens drinking coffee and discussing life. Today, they cover the same topics while they run.’

And to the superfan – 11 marathons strong by my side – no quote could sum up how thankful and lucky I am to have you there for each marathon supporting me.

Cheers to you all!!

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The Road to Boston: Chasing the Unicorn with a Team by my Side

This will be my third time running the Boston marathon and my eighth marathon total. Many people wonder why – why one would choose to put his or herself through running 26.2 miles voluntarily – and then do it multiple times. For those that have done a marathon – whether you chose to be a one and done runner or are toeing the line of your 20th, a big part of it is getting to that finish line. And the finish line at Boston is like no other experience you will have. As a runner – and I can proudly say that – crossing that finish line in 2008 and again in 2012 were truly moments in time that I will cherish. But running with a group – like the one I’m heading to Boston with in just over a week – has shown me that running can be more than just about that ultimate prize.

2008: You Never Forget Your First Time
My road to Boston started in 2008. I was in graduate school at Tufts and had never run a marathon before. It was on my bucket list – and when the president of the school announced a charity program that would guarantee entry into the coveted race, I jumped at the chance – figuring it’d be my one and only chance to run it – and that I’d never be fast enough to time qualify.

2008 Boston Marathon
At the finish of the 2008 Boston Marathon – completely exhausted.

Looking back on that race, it’s amazing I did as well as I did for my first marathon as I barely made it through my one and only 20 mile training run and did not log nearly as many miles during the week as I do now – and I did absolutely no speed work—things that have become second nature to me going into my 8th marathon and 2nd year running with the Fleet Feet Chicago Racing Team.

Starting in the third wave – with a bib number in the upper 20,000s, it was quite the experience. I trained and ran the race solo and saw my friends and mom at different points throughout the race. I wore a brand new Timex watch that I didn’t even know how to use and had no idea what a split was, didn’t monitor my pace, and did my nutrition all wrong. But rounding that last corner onto Mass Ave made all the pain, blisters, and stomach aches suddenly disappear. The crowd consumed me and it was all I could do not to break into tears at the sight of the finish line. I finished around the 3:52 mark – meeting my goal of finishing in less than 4 hours and I was utterly exhausted but oddly fascinated by the realization that I wanted to do it again – and I wanted to go faster.

2012: The Hardest, Hottest Run of my Life
Fast forward to 2012. At this point, I had completed 2 more marathons (my second being Marine Corp Marathon where I time-qualified for Boston by just about 5 minutes). Having moved to Austin, Texas – I had enjoyed a great training season as I did not have to deal with weather conditions like I did when I lived in the northeast. I was feeling pretty confident going into the race. I had moved up to wave two and my bib number again improved by almost 10,000 numbers.

2012 Boston Marathon
Forcing a smile at the end of the 2012 Boston Marathon.

Rather than recap the whole race, I’ll sum it up by saying this experience was truly the hardest, hottest, most difficult run of my life. When forecasters started reporting that it’d be in the 80s the day of the marathon – I thought I’d have a leg up – but I learned the hard way – to respect the conditions and readjust expectations. I finished – but not where I wanted to. Going into the race, assuming all went well, I had not planned to make another appearance in Boston again– but because I want my last time running Boston to end on a high note, I decided I’d have to do it again.

When the bombings happened in 2013, I was sitting at my desk, now living and working in Chicago. My heart broke. It was gut wrenching to watch a town I used to call home and my community – the community of runners – get beat up like that. But it was also so encouraging to see everyone come together and really support one another. I decided in that moment – no matter what – I would cross that finish line at least one more time.

2015: Chasing the Unicorn with a Team by my Side
In the fall of 2013 I toed the line of the Chicago marathon for the first time. I had trained hard and for the first time ever, with others through the Chicago Endurance Sports (CES) marathon training program and the Fleet Feet Racing Team workouts. I felt ready – more ready than I have ever felt in my life. I not only PR’d but shaved off 20 minutes finishing in just over 3 hours and 15 minutes. I was beyond ecstatic. I would run Boston again in 2015.

Since then, I have run two more marathons – Lake Placid and Chicago again in 2014. My last experience was another huge improvement – finishing in just over 3 hours and 3 minutes. I can honestly say if it had not been for the support, encouragement and constant challenges I receive from my running family at Fleet Feet and CES (because I truly see them as an extension of my family) there is no way I would be where I am today.

With some of my teammates at the finish of the 2014 Chicago Marathon. Can't wait to run the streets with them in Boston!
With some of my teammates at the finish of the 2014 Chicago Marathon. Can’t wait to run the streets with them in Boston!

So this will be my third time running Boston. I have moved from the back of wave 3 to the middle of wave 1 – averaging about a 10,000 bib increase each time. I have trained through a terrible Chicago winter – and yes, mostly outdoors in occasional white out conditions and through bone-freezing negative wind chills. I did speed workouts on treadmills when the ice made it unsafe to attempt to do them outside, woke before dawn for double digit training runs during the week. Ran a 20 miler by myself because I had to skip the planned one due to a slight injury and travel plans. I even broke down in tears due to a tight hamstring 2 miles into a speed workout on the lake front path only to be met by fellow teammates who stopped and run/walked me back to the store – foregoing their planned workout for the night to help me. I ran through a lingering illness for over two weeks and started a new job in the middle of some of my highest mileage weeks. And when I wanted to quit – which was multiple times– I did not because of the support and encouragement of my teammates and our coaches.

So what have I learned throughout this training season? That while we may not always run together – and we sometimes even compete against each other – we are one community – a community of runners. And I am so grateful for the friendships, bonds and miles we’ve put in this together.

And in my dreams – there’s that finish line – the ultimate prize. Here’s to chasing that unicorn in less than a week! Good luck to everyone who has trained hard. May this race be all you hope it to be!