Friday, October 18, 2013

Chicago Marathon 2013: So Many Lessons To Learn. So Little Time

“Learning is not child's play; we cannot learn without pain” ~ Aristotle
My husband nudges me in bed.
"It's 4. I thought you said you had to leave at 4!!"
"Ummm, I'm all packed. Just have to shower and leave, soooooo, I was planning to sleep til 4:30."
I grumble.

Too late I'm awake. 4 hours of restless sleep. The night before the night before a race is the important one. Well, that's already totally screwed up. Off on a good foot...

The drive to DIA is dark and quiet and pea soup foggy - and as usually I have the tunes blasting...

As we land in Chicago after a bumpy flight, I flash back to last year - flying into Midway for the Fox Valley Marathon and then a few weeks later for the Chicago Marathon. Chicago has taken on a special flavor for me. Chicago is where I come for two things: To see my best friends and to run. Just being here evokes very raw and vibrant emotions.

At this point I have the drill down. Airport, up the ramp out down the long corridor to catch the Orange Line to downtown. I don't even have to look for directions anymore. I know where to go. I move through the world with my personal soundtrack blaring in my ears. I'm vibrating inside my skin. Sometimes these weekends away from my 'normal' life feel a bit illicit. My 'other' self gets to disappear into an anonymous, strange place.

I text Sandra. She's just getting in too. So is Jeni and Rylee. Things are coming together seamlessly. I get off at Harold Washington Library, walk down to the street and get my bearings. North, South, East, West. Then I head south to find the crew outside Subway (note: I did not, but should have, eaten something). Mistake #1.

We drop our bags at the hotel and head off to the expo. Now, I'm not so keen on the whole expo thing. I get razzed about this sometimes. So I try to be a good sport. I grab every morsel of food I can get my shaky little fingers on...we sign walls here and there...we make the rounds. We have fun.

And we can't get into the hotel until 3pm anyway, so we have time to kill. But at some point I hit my limit and I set up camp in an open area on the floor, all our bags strewn around me. Sandra and Jeni head off for more exploration. Ry plays games on his phone. My phone is about to die. I lie on the floor gazing up at the ceiling, staring into the lights, taking myself away from where I am. The din around me becomes white like the light. Where am I? Last year I was here to run with someone else. Last year I wasn't racing. Last year was different. And yet, it's hard for me to grasp that I'm here to run. To race my race. I can't seem to absorb this, which is why I end up making so many mistakes - both concerning myself and those I am here to support. Sandra and Jeni return excited about just having met Deena Kastor and I am at this point in a pissy mood, mostly because all this thinking and trying to be present has sent me into a funk. I then, of course deeply regret being such a piss-ant, which then leads to me being quiet, which then leads to the inevitable "Are you alright?" Mistake #2: Show nothing.

Am I alright??? Uggggggggg. No. I'm nervous as all get out, I'm not sure what I'm doing, and I'm being/feeling hyper-sensitive, but I need to stuff it,  just stuff your shit. No one needs it...Go inside. Just go inside.

We get back to the hotel to chill for a while. I have splits to get together for the four runners I have running in the morning. I still haven't eaten anything. It's 3:30pm. I had some toast at 4:45am. Hello?? Stupid. Eat!. I open a box of crackers that I stashed in my bag as I rushed out of the dark house this morning. Yeah. They are NOT doing it for me.

About 4:45 we all head for the restaurant, about a mile away, for dinner. I walk slowly. I lag behind the group. I just watch. Sandra, Jeni, Esther, Stu, Trying to melt away.

We get to the Rosebud and meet up with some old and new friends. It's great to see everyone, but I'd rather be doing this tomorrow. Before a race I usually hide out by myself, eat my rice and veggies, and fester alone. So, yeah, again, I do what I need to do. And then we walk the mile back to the hotel. And at this point the alarms are screaming in my head! Mistake #umpteenth: Take the ride offered and persuade your runners to do the same even if they don't want to. 

Jeni and Ry are asleep in no time flat. They are here to cheer us on and for Ry (a talented 14 year old runner with goals set high) to see the elites race. Sandra and I watch bits and pieces of "Spirit of the Marathon" when it will actually load. Lights out. Sleep is elusive...I worry about me. I worry about everyone. I sleep about 2 hours, and then - snap - eyes wide open. Mind spinning. And so it goes from 12:30 am until our 5:45 wake up.

I'm up. Eat a bar, make some strong coffee, bathroom, dress, bathroom,...make sure splits are clear for everyone, bathroom...Hugs. And more hugs, and good lucks, and on...And I head off for my wave 1 start. I hate leaving everyone. I hate it more than I even expected.

Now. What is MY plan. Mistake # - Oh, what am I up to now???  I didn't write down splits. Maybe I'm afraid to think about all of this. Maybe I'm making excuses. Let's face it, I tell myself, I'm really not sure what I can run. I have an idea of what I want to do, or think is reasonable, but things have been uneven for me for a while now. I will just keep it around 8:40s for the first half, then see where I'm at.

Yeah, nice and safe and doable...and, cowardly. Damn coward.

I drop my bag at gear check and head for the C corral. I luck out. There's non-crowded porta potties right by the corral entrance. Then I squeeze myself into the sea of runners - peeling off layers as the sun rises higher in the sky. A fighter jet does a flyover. National anthem is sung. And we're off.

And things are fine for the first, oh, 500 meters. Then the GPS goes all whack. It starts jumping from 7:05/mi to 15:53/mi. What?? We pass mile one. Time 7:45. Whoa. Slow it down girl. I press the lap button, hoping in vain to snap it out of it's tizzy. No good. The Garmin has betrayed me, but worse I'm relying on something I've NEVER relied on before, and it is the one time it has decided to crap out on me. Mile 2 passes. I do the math: 10:XX. I just ran a 10ish minute mile!!! That can't be right (turns out, it is). The crowd has me out of sorts. I can't seem to find my sweet spot. For the next several miles, I try to do the math using just the elapsed time. My math skills are wanting. When we pass the 13.1 mark, I see clearly that I am way off pace. We turn onto one of the larger bridges somewhere in mile 14, and I suddenly feel able to move.

And so, as we emerge from the tall buildings of downtown and the Garmin actually starts working again, I start trying to chip away at the deficit without blowing up. NOW I hit my groove. Now the pace feels good and right, and my body is finally doing what it wants and knows how to do.

Around mile 18, a woman catches me at the water stop, and says "I don't know who you are, but you have a really good pace. I've been running behind you." I thank her...drink...look over my shoulder a few times, hoping she'll join me, but I also notice that my pace is picked up a bit. And yet, I could use some company. I also realize that I feel really really good and strong.

At Mile 25, my calves start feeling zings of cramps shooting through them. I back off a bit, visions of crawling the last mile dancing in my head. Once we hit mile 26, I just don't care anymore and I push with whatever I have to push with. I pass Jeni and Ry on the bridge and manage a feeble wave.

And I cross the mats in 3:51:21. The ONE thing the watch got spot on - my time and the official time were identical.
“Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time.” ~ George Bernard Shaw 
Another BQ. I should be happy. But here were my A, B, and C goals, only articulated to myself (never mind anybody else) AFTER I was done, or perhaps as I turned onto Michigan Avenue (Yes, that is too freakin' late butthead! Mistake #...): A. under 3:40; B. under 3:50; C. BQ

So I got C. And I am happy about that. Am I satisfied? No.

And now I must do what Aristotle counsels all cowards, who desire to be courageous, must do. I must do the courageous thing. Now I need to learn what that means...
“We become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions.” ~ Aristotle.


  1. I wish I'd known you were about--we could have taken out the whistle-blowing pacer together. :^)

    Ugh, I'm sorry you were so stressed, but given all of that you ran strong (as you usually do). You'll get that A goal another day. Get some sleep--you have more races ahead of you.

    1. Thanks Terzah! Yes, wish I had seen you. Congrats on your fantastic day!! Hard earned and well deserved!!

  2. I'm just so proud of you anyway...not that I understand how the goals are set. damn girl! You ran the race; you finished it and you will most definitely run again (and soon, if i know you)!

    1. Damn Una!!! You read my tedious blog ;) Thanks!!! love you!

  3. I hate the Garmin when I race downtown. It had me doing some sub-5 minute miles during the Shamrock Shuffle earlier this year. In the marathon, it said sub-7's and some 15's (WTF?). Definitely back on target after mile 14. Glad your Garmin and official time matched, mine was 3 minutes off. Congrats on your BQ.

  4. Does it help on the garmin if you are using the footpod? Supposed to default to it if does not get a clear signal. After my next race I am switching to a suunto ambit2 s, with an accelerometer built in...but a bad system for foot pods. Either foot pods or GPS, not both. Congrats on your race. You will always be a racer at the end of the day. Way to BQ. Are you running Boston next year? I will be there. Best of luck.

    1. I have heard that the Suuntos are better in many situation, particularly trail running, so they might be better in this situation as well. I don't know. I also don't know about the footpod.
      Regardless it was a lesson I knew enough to avoid - and yet... ;)
      Yes, I am registered to run Boston 2014.
      Don't know yet If I'll do it again in 2015.


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