So, let’s talk about how the marathon went! (Spoiler alert: I finished.)
Our wave of the marathon started around 8:30 but you had to be in your corral by 8:10. We agreed to meet my friends around 7:30 at the CES race day resort. Side note – one of the best things we did was find and hook up with Chicago Endurance Sports. They offer a virtual (and in person) training plan for the marathon and this “resort” with food, energy gels, and indoor bathrooms before the marathon, and more food, massages, and an open bar after the race. I didn’t use the training plan both because I have a fabulous in-person coach (and because treatment meant I needed an adjustable plan), but they were super nice and the resort was fantastic. I was even able to pay for Tony to be able to access it once the race started so he could eat and drink too. I was too late to enjoy it afterwards but I did get a beer.
Anyway – it was a little cold when we left our VRBO (which was on the Gold Coast and gorgeous, and cheaper than a hotel), so — as you can see by my stylish ensemble — I wore the throw-away clothes I had brought with me and of course sported my pink cast for the broken finger. I figured pink was the right choice since it was October, and Tony decorated the cast the night before for a little extra flair. Once we all got there, used the restroom, and grabbed water and mini bagels, we went back downstairs to meet Tony who told us to strike “runner poses” before we left.
And with that we were off to wait.
We split up at this point because Holly and Courtney were in a faster corral and had to go in a different gate. After we got through security Chrissie and I sat on a hill for a while before lining up which was a mistake as I ended up with So. Many. Chigger. Bites. I also managed to get three stains on my shirt from anti-chafe gel I remembered to apply at the last minute. Of course the stains are visible in all the race pictures. So off to a great start!
Finally we were moving and I said goodbye to Chrissie as she ran on ahead. We pretty quickly crossed a bridge over the river which had red carpet laid on top of the metal bridge pieces. This happened I think 8 times during the course of the race and wasn’t all that comfortable to run on. Since I had fallen while running 2 weeks before the race, leading to the aforementioned broken finger, I was extra careful on those sections. I saw Tony for the first time somewhere between mile one and two and wish I had pulled out my phone to take a picture of him and all his signs – he had four as well as a backpack full of stuff I might need – body glide, extra headphones, and even an extra watch. He was definitely the MVP of spectating that day! But he did get a shot of me.
I’ve always heard that you run the first ten miles of a marathon with your head, the second ten with your legs, and the last 6.2 with your heart. I decided I should follow that advice as I was feeling really, really good at the start and was worried I’d go out too fast which people always warn against. At the same time, I know that personally I can also mess up by going out too slow and then finding it hard to pick up the pace later on. My watch pace, I knew from a little research, would be way off particularly the first few miles thanks to the difficulty in picking up GPS signals downtown. So when I noticed I hit mile 2 about 15 minutes after mile 1 according to the clocks on the mile markers, I decided to try to stay with that pace for as long as I could. I was doing pretty good for these first ten “head” miles – I did have to pee around mile 5 and stopped to hug a guy wearing a “free hugs” shirt so I lost almost 3 minutes that mile. I half-tried to make that time up, but didn’t push too hard knowing it was still early. I saw Tony again with Holly’s and Courtney’s husbands between miles 7 and 8. They told me Holly and Courtney were doing well but that Chrissie had stopped around the 10k mark (turns out she was fine, the tracking mats just dropped her for some reason until around mile 19). Tony went to go pick up our rental car from the airport at this point so I knew I wouldn’t see him for a while. Time to buckle down and keep running.
(Apparently I really like to wave at race photographers.)
It was a warm day and the temperatures were rising quickly. The miles blend together but I know somewhere around 12 or 13 I felt like my stomach was kind of sloshy – the water cups they were handing out (which I always take, while avoiding the Gatorade that gives me heartburn) were pretty full so I started drinking half a cup instead of a full one. I also stopped at a medical tent around here for some Tylenol which took longer than I thought it should have. When I fell and broke my finger I bruised my hip pretty good and even though we had taped it, my left hip was definitely achy. By mile 14 it was tingling, which is usually a “stop running” pain, and after my sacral stress fracture last year I’m usually very strict about those. But – it was mile 14 of the marathon! I decided to run through the tingling and hope it went away, which it did after a couple more miles. My legs and the rest of me were getting really tired, but I kept reminding myself “second ten you run with your legs” meaning I had trained for this and just had to figuratively put my head down and push through.
Somewhere in this section I noticed the discarded cups weren’t being cleared as much as they usually are in races, and while the wet sponges they handed out around mile 16 felt fantastic, they were pretty hazardous to run around because people dropped them wherever. This is a problem with being in the back of the pack! The situation got worse later on, particularly with banana peels, and after slipping on an energy chew I ended up walking through some of the post-aid-section parts of the race just for safety reasons.
At mile 18 I saw Tony again and took some body glide from him because the gels in my pockets were starting to cause my shorts to rub on my legs. The other guys had just left, he told me, because Holly had to stop around mile 22. Tony was going to sit down and have a burger and a beer and I’d see him at the finish. I told him I had 2 more hours, at least, so he should take his time. Not long after, I got a text from Holly that she had gotten really sick and had to stop at the mile 22 medical tent. Courtney was finished by now and Chrissie was at mile 21. I was too tired to really focus on these facts and I had always known I’d be last of the four of us anyway, so I kept on going.
Around mile 19 some wonderful person was handing out orange slices and grapes which were fantastic. Not too long after that, the pace car passed me and they started dumping the water tables and pulling the timing mats from the course. Luckily the volunteers still held jugs of water to refill water bottles, and spectators were handing out water as well, so I made it to the end with plenty. Good move to keep water available on such a hot day. I stopped again to pee at mile 20 even though I didn’t think I needed to (and I didn’t) – I’m not sure why I did that other than a vague concern about hydration or hyponatremia. Possibly my brain was just trying to get me to stop for any reason it could come up with.
At mile 22 my hip pain came back as stabbing, and I knew that meant I needed to walk. I had managed to run up until that point other than a few steps here and there to talk to Tony or get through some of the street debris. But I didn’t think much more running was in my future – the last 4 miles were probably 60-65% walking. A couple of miles later I could have sworn I saw the mile 24 sign, but then it was gone. Luckily for me I saw a Team in Training coach I knew from Dallas right at that point who told me that indeed it was mile 24, they had just pulled the sign. I managed to get past miles 25 and 26 just as they were taking the signs down, and they did leave the final timing mat so everyone could get a finish time. The removal of those timing mats worried Tony though, who texted me to be sure I was okay when the tracking app showed me stopped at mile 20.
I mentioned above that you run the last 6.2 miles with your heart. At mile 20, I decided to dedicate each of the last miles to someone and focus on them during that mile to keep my mind off the race. Miles 20-22 were for Courtney, Chrissie, and Holly, respectively, my friends who ran the race with me as part of #teambadass. Mile 23 was for my friend Angi aka Bubbles, whose leukemia diagnosis started me running in the first place and who I believe saved my life by getting me healthy enough for my own cancer battle. I cried a little of course thinking of Angi, but told myself to Bubble Up and keep going. Mile 24 was for the wonderful support group I’ve met in an online Facebook breast cancer group, some of whom are stage 4, some of whom still can’t exercise without pain, some of whom are fellow runners, and all of whom have taught me a lot about what it means to come out the other side of treatment. Mile 25 was for my husband who spent the whole weekend getting me ready for this marathon and doing everything he could to make sure I wasn’t stressed and everything went perfectly, including leaving the room two mornings in a row before he had even had coffee (if you’ve met him, you know this is a big deal!)
And the last .2? That was just for me, to celebrate being alive and NED.
I cried and ran all the way across the finish line (and then thanked my lucky stars that my watch and phone did NOT die during the race because they wouldn’t let Tony into Grant Park to meet me so he had to verbally direct me back to the race day resort). Had a beer, took my clinical trial medicine that Tony carried all day so I wouldn’t miss a dose, and then met our friends for the celebratory champagne. I was tired, of course, but so happy to have made it across the finish.
When I signed up for Chicago, I had hoped to run it in 5:15 or less. Of course, I wasn’t exactly planning on a cancer diagnosis at that time, and I finished in 7:03:17. Which, it turns out, was a 35 second personal best. So while I don’t recommend surgery, chemo, and radiation as a training method, it worked out okay after all. I can’t wait to see what I can do next.