I remember when I first started running. I got on a treadmill, thinking I’d just see how far into a 5k I could get, and then just increase week by week from there. I got through a quarter of a mile. Zero point two five. I thought marathon runners were crazy (spoiler alert: we are), and I thought I’d just stick to 5ks (I didn’t), since that seems like a reasonable distance to run (it is).
I stopped running immediately after my first 5k. I was sidelined for a month with a mysterious mono-but-not-mono illness, and then it was December and outside was cold and snowy and I didn’t feel like running on a treadmill, so I pretty much stopped running. In January 2015 I figured eh, let’s give a 5k another shot. And then I thought, well, I’ve done two 5ks, what’s a 10k? So then I did a 10k, and 10 miles is not that much further than a 10k, and if I can do 10 miles, I can do a half marathon, and well, shit, I might as well just do the full distance now.
So here I was, March 2016, almost a year after my first 5k in 2.5 years and I signed up to run the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Of course, I was nervous about not being able to get in, and I was adamant that my first marathon be run in my hometown, so I signed up to run for an awesome charity, Girls on the Run.
I trained hard over the next few months, and I learned a lot about running that I never knew before. I learned how to pace myself properly (though I didn’t follow my own advice during the marathon), I made friends with runners for the first time, and I set PR after PR in each successive 5k, 10k, and half marathon I did throughout my training.
When it came time to the actual marathon, I was so excited I couldn’t even handle myself. I could barely function in school, I just wanted to be back at home, cuddle my dog, eat good food and run! I got in late on the Friday before the marathon, woke up early Saturday to run the International Chicago 5k, and then went down to the Chicago Marathon expo, where I picked up my bib, some GU, and a new running belt since the current one I was rocking was looking like it was going to fall apart at mile 15. I know, I know, no new gear before the marathon, and this slightly tighter belt I think did contribute to some of my later stomach cramping after the race, but I still did pretty well for my first marathon.
The expo was, as might be expected for a huge, world class race, amazing. I had my first sip of beer in a month (!) at the Goose Island booth, I picked up one of the super cool posters (speaking of, who is the artist? I’m really into it, and I can’t find any info anywhere on the internet about it), and I grabbed a bunch of snacks to eat after the race. A lot of people on the internet were complaining about the t-shirt, but I really like it! I mean, I’m a little done with this color (pretty much every shirt I’ve gotten from a race in the last year has been this exact color), so I’m hoping for maybe some more blues or reds in 2017 races.
Now, as for the race itself: amazing, fantastic, awe-inspiring, long as hell, painful, too long, but passed in a blur. I started out ten seconds too fast on my first mile, and while I was able to keep up the 9:00/mile pace through about mile 18-19, I crashed HARD. I kept pushing myself but between miles 20-23 I had to stop and walk through two aid stations just to make sure I was actually keeping down gatorade to get my blood sugar back up. It got so bad at one point around mile 23 that I was thinking about even quitting the race entirely, but I called my mother and had her talk me through the last 3 miles. Even though I couldn’t talk much since I was trying to concentrate on running, it was wonderful to hear a familiar voice – also, I was pretty sick of listening to podcasts at that point.
I was so overwhelmed by the sights and sounds and seeing Chicago from this new perspective that most of the race seemed to pass in a blur. I do remember passing over the bridge at the halfway point because my GPS got totally messed up and was telling me I did a 3 minute mile -_- I remember seeing our GOTR Cheer Squad around mile 14. I remember the high winds off the lake before turning onto Stockton near the zoo. I remember the 800 meters to go sign and seeing a wall of police officers guarding the last km to the finish. I remember the further I got to the end and the further I got into my delirium the more faces started to look really warped and strange. Everyone was a part of the uncanny valley at that point. I remember turning onto Halsted near UIC and running through my old hood. I passed by my old dorm, my old office, my friends’ apartments – flashbacks of undergrad passing through my head. I remember being so out of it that I had no idea what direction I was running at some points. I remember a banana at mile 23 tasting like bile. I still don’t know if I threw up or not. Most importantly, I remember finishing, and being in pain, but still smiling.
I was overconfident in my training and thought I could do my first marathon in under 4 hours. If I hadn’t stopped to walk, I actually might have finished in under 4 – I was pretty close at 4:05:52. I was so happy to be done, but so incredibly nauseous. I grabbed my medal and heat sheet, a banana and some water, and a bunch of snacks, but the only thing I could stomach at that point was the beer provided by Goose Island, which, coincidentally, is my go-to beer when I haven’t been in Chicago for a while. Solid foods were hard for the rest of the day – I ate a little here and there, but I wasn’t really able to eat anything more solid than yogurt until around 7pm.
Overall: I LOVED this race. I would do it again in a heartbeat, except that I want to experience more marathons in more cities around the US and around the world. I’m sure someday I’ll be back to reclaim Chicago, but I think I’ll wait until I’ve got a few more marathons under my belt and I can for sure enter Chicago as a time qualifier (and hell, maybe even as a Boston Qualifier). For now, I’m relaxing, and doing some light training runs before my next half marathon in November.