Santa Rosa Marathon Race Recap

“Someone is breaking into the room,” was my first semi-conscious thought as a loud rumble woke me from my pre-race sleep.  I sat up and surveyed the room, trying to transition my brain into awake mode long enough to figure out what was happening. Then it dawned on me. Earthquake.

I went to college in the Bay Area, so I’ve felt my fair share of small shakers.  And even on Friday, while enjoying drinks on Mission Street in San Francisco with an old college friend, we laughed about the chances of “the big one” ripping through the earth during our short stay.  My friend assured us that they had just had a small one recently, so we’d likely escape without incident.

But here we were, at 3:20 am, more than an hour before our alarms would go off, completely awake at this point, as the earth continued to shake. This was definitely a significant one, and it seemed to last much longer than anything I’d ever felt before.  While we found out the magnitude (6.0, the largest since the last Big One of 1989) and location (very close to us) thanks to some super speedy Facebook detectives, we didn’t realize how much damage it had caused to the area until hours later.

What we did know is that we weren’t going back to sleep.  We laid in bed for an hour, but the whole experience had released so much adrenaline and the possibilities of after shocks were so high, that there was no way we’d be able to relax enough again to doze off.

So, when my alarm went off at 4:30, we climbed out of bed, exhausted before the day even began.

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The Santa Rosa Marathon is held in Sonoma County, about an hour’s drive from San Francisco. With less than 1,700 marathon spots available, it is a pretty small race run mostly on country roads.  Yet, somehow the race organizers have been able to market it as one of the top places to qualify for Boston, having been ranked nationally for the high percentage of qualifiers each year.  Combine that with its late August date (two weeks before Boston registration opens) and the fact that it is one of the few races that doesn’t sell out immediately (this year it didn’t sell out at all), and you get a popular “last chance” race. And the promises of a ridiculous amount of  schwag all for the insanely cheap price of $135 make this a hard race to overlook (EDITED to clarify that I’m not being facetious here…this is the cheapest marathon I’ve run, and it came with far more “stuff”).

For all of these reasons, we chose this race back in January or February as our goal race of the year and spent the last 4 months training to beat our Chicago times from two years ago.

We flew into San Francisco on Friday and after a rather stressful day spent mostly in traffic (but also hanging out with some of my old college friends) we drove up to Santa Rosa.  Instead of staying at a hotel, we had rented a vacation studio cottage through vrbo.com which ended up being a fantastic choice, mostly because of the private hot tub.

Because this is a Wine Country race, much of it revolved around…wait for it…WINE.

The expo was held at a winery called DeLoach.  Without the bells and whistles of a Kara Goucher speaking engagement or a large Brooks Running carnival themed display, this expo was small, organized with plenty of super perky and helpful volunteers, and relaxing.  Our artsy bibs were passed out in the middle of grape vines and race shirts were handed out in a winery guest house.

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Oh, and each half or full runner received a bottle of wine from the hosting winery titled, “Runner’s Red” that could be picked up in the barrel room.  Runners were also treated to a complimentary wine tasting.IMG_8345

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After the expo, we made the mistake(?) of driving the rural country part of the course.  For the most part, we had been led to believe that this course was flat.  The website does describe each hill with detail, but I guess something like that is hard to visualize until you actually see it.  When we saw significant rolling hills through a big chunk of miles 8-20, we got nervous. We had not been training for this type of incline variation. BUT, I guess better to find that out then (with plenty of hours to have panic attacks) then to discover this during the race without the time or energy to mentally prepare.

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From my Garmin. I think maybe our definition of flat is a bit different outside of the Bay Area?

We stopped by a couple of other wineries in the area (I highly recommend Hook and Ladder), and then went to Trader Joe’s to buy some food for dinner. Because we had a vacation cottage, we decided to use the kitchen to cook some gluten free pasta which we had been eating before our long runs.  After dinner we met up with San Francisco Road Warrior Angela who is a fantastic and speedy running blogger.  She was also signed up to run the marathon the next day.

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We were in bed by 10 which was later than I wanted, but I’ve raced on less sleep before, so I wasn’t too worried.

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Earthquake (see above).

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Pre-race fuel included about half a glass of Nuun and a Larabar (I really don’t like Larabars, but they are small and jam-packed with calories so there is less to force down pre-run) before leaving the cottage at 5:00 am.  TIP: park at the mall, but use the second parking garage.  Mall parking is close to the start and about $3, so the race encourages runners to use it.  There are actually 2 parking garages.  One has a long, slow moving line to get in.  The other does not. The second one (literally next to the first) is completely visible, so we just kept going  with no wait in the long line.

Santa Rosa starts at 6:00 am, so when we got there at about 5:15, it was still completely dark outside.  They had lights, but we actually had to search for the bag check because we couldn’t see anything.  There was an hour gap between the marathon start time and the half start time, so it wasn’t overcrowded.  Both the porta lines and bag check went fast, and I was able to get two rounds through the portas without any issue (which is far more than you needed to know I’m sure).  Also, menfolk, please learn to aim at the urinal thing in the dark.  YUCK.

As a small race, Santa Rosa doesn’t have corrals, so people just line up wherever. We got there about 6 minutes before start time and I positioned myself right behind the 3:30 pacers.  Thanks to Jen and her recent fiascos I was wondering what song would play at the start, but the speakers remained silent.  I could have used some pep in my step to get me going, but I had to rely on my own internal singing (I feel the earth. move. under my feet).

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The horn sounded, and we were off!  The first 2.5 miles went through downtown Santa Rosa.  It was still dark, but there were plenty of lights, so the course was very visible.  My only issue was that some of the pavers used on the streets felt like running on cobblestones.  Nothing detrimental, but it wasn’t easy to run on. Lanes are also marked with reflector bumps that I kept stumbling over.

My goal to stay with the 3:30 pacers.  But when I ran mile 2 in 7:53, about 30 seconds faster than I wanted to be running at that point, I realized that I would be using too much energy to keep up (truthfully, I think they went out too fast considering 3:30 equals an 8 minute mile average pace).  So, I had to let go and trust my own instincts.  My decision was solidified when one of the pacers fell flat on his face.  I’m kind of surprised that he got up and kept running because he fell pretty hard.

At mile 2.5 we entered the closed “Greenway” trail which continued until about mile 8.5.  The trail is closed to traffic and slightly below the city.  While the marathon isn’t an “out and back” course, most of this section is reused on the last 6 miles of the marathon.  It was narrow, so it was a little congested, but not too bad.  It was mostly just boring.  It does run next to a creek with large trees, but it all looks the same after awhile.  We also ran over the signature bridges of the marathon which were nice, but not really noteworthy.  Because it was a bit more isolated, there was no crowd support, but at that point in the race, I didn’t need it (well, I always need it, but I didn’t NEED, need it).

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Stolen from the SRM website. We didn’t get this view from on top of the bridge.

At about mile 8.5, we crossed the first set of course timing mats, and re-emerged into society.  Some spectators started to pop up including a few men riding their bikes to every mile marker with cowbells.  I’m not sure if the people they were supporting were running near me (or maybe they were just following me….), but I saw these people several times. Other course highlights included Thing 1 and Thing 1 (grown men), a teenage banana, a teenage penguin (both boys), a dancing jazzerciser (female), and lots of younger teenage girls dressed in tutus.  There were also a fair number of folksy ukuleleists, banjoists and guitar players who have probably been strumming since the 60’s.  But, even though the people who came out were awesome, the crowd support was sparse.  I didn’t realize just how much I count on the energy of others to push me during these races.  It is a mental battle that I now recognize and will work on for the future since probably 95% of all races don’t involve 26 miles of cheering people.

One thing I was a bit worried about was the aid station situation.  I think every race I’ve done before, and definitely every marathon, has had aid stations every mile.  Santa Rosa has them every two miles, AND I completely missed the first one.  I took a cup of water and a cup of Gatorade at every station, and while I normally only take a few sips before throwing the cup away while never stopping, I was trying to take in twice as much here, which was impossible to do while running.  Aid station miles were about 10-15 seconds slower because of this.

A highlight of the race is getting to run through the barrel room of the expo-hosting winery somewhere around mile 10.5.  It really was a neat experience, and the group around me started howling, creating loud echoes which made it more fun.

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Thanks for capturing this moment, race photographer people.

From the winery on, the course got interesting.  It seemed like from the winery to mile 15, the rolling hills did not end.  The small but steep inclines caused several of the runners I had been with the entire time to start falling back, and I could tell that I was slowing down.  The road was also pretty slanted, leaving the middle next to the yellow lane lines/reflector bumps as the only flat place to run.  Also, because this is Wine Country, wine growers will often shoot blanks or fireworks into the air to scare off birds.  I had read about this somewhere so I wasn’t caught off guard, but I can imagine that unexpectedly hearing several explosions during a marathon can be unsettling. TIP: Be prepared to hear gunshots near the vineyards.

Despite my wine-ing about the course, I have to admit that it was truly magnificent.  The weather was PERFECT with overcast skies that didn’t burn off until well after I crossed the finish line, and we ran next to gorgeous vineyards and storybook farms.

Miles 15-17 were along a main road (highway?) and were flat. I was passing runners left and right, and I felt like I was keeping a good pace, but I looked down and realized that I had slowed down, but I’m not sure why? At some point I started getting the weird weak feeling you get before you pass out (sorry to say I know what this feels like), but extra Gatorade at the next aid station took care of that.

Miles 17-20 entered into the second set of large rolling hills.  By this point, I was starting to experience the first signs of fatigue, and these hills took much more energy than they had the first go-round.  It always is a relief to hit that 20 mile marker though.

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From Google maps. If you look close, you can see the hills. The vines were more lush on Sunday, so it was beautiful.

Shortly after mile 20, we reentered the Greenway to backtrack where we had run earlier.  This trail is also used for the half marathon course  which mentally wasn’t helpful.  The marathoners had thinned out, so I was surrounded mostly by walking half marathoners and for some reason my brain had to work extra hard to keep running when most people around me were walking.   I stopped paying attention to my pace and focused all of my efforts on spotting runners ahead of me with the intention of catching up to them.  I repeated and repeated my mantras.  I reminded myself of how hard I had pushed during training and how I shouldn’t let all of that work go to waste.

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Congested Greenway path…all of these peeps are half marathoners I think

But in the end, it wasn’t enough to keep the paces down.  Truthfully, this is the best I’ve ever felt during a marathon.  Nothing hurt, my stomach was completely settled. My muscles weren’t really tired, and I was focused enough to not completely lose it mentally, plus the weather was perfect.

I simply didn’t want it enough.

It didn’t help that there were about 4 more little steep hills during mile 25, and of course this is where the photographers were.  In my head I was saying “this hill is your bitch” and “you have 1 mile to go, so don’t be a wuss (except that’s not quite the word I used) now.”  (Mile 25 Amy is so elegant).  I was still pushing to finish with a Boston Qualifying time, and I was pretty sure I could do it, but I wasn’t really leaving myself any wiggle room.  I was annoyed that we hadn’t exited the Greenway yet.

At last, we exited the Greenway at mile 26, and the course did 1-2 more turns in Downtown Santa Rosa before I spotted the finish line.  I managed to pass a few more people and sprinted toward the place of happiness and rest. The clock was reading 3:34:47 as I approached it, and even though I knew I had started about 30 seconds after gun time, I pushed to make sure I crossed with my BQ officially.

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Those people behind me? I passed them.

Net time, 3:34:21.  26 seconds slower than my Chicago PR time, and 39 seconds faster than my Boston Qualifying Time.  While I am happy with my time and with my general performance, I worked really hard to PR at this race, and it didn’t happen.

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A nice volunteer handed me a medal which is easily the biggest race medal in existence with two spinners. I spotted Aaron right away.  For the last month he’s been trying to fix some sort of hip issue that popped up out of nowhere and basically caused him to sit out or not push very hard for much of the last bit of training.  He was disappointed in his time, but was more concerned about his leg that had been destroyed from the race.

At the finish line, they handed out space blankets, but they weren’t race specific and it wasn’t cold, so I passed.  They also passed out cups (smaller than the course cups) of water which was not awesome.  I wanted to drink water endlessly, but the volunteers were working hard just to keep the table stocked, so I wasn’t really able to get more than 1 refill.  They also had watermelon which I normally hate, but it tasted fantastic that morning.

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Once you exited the finishers chute, we faced a long line for what I think turned out to be a hoodie.  Santa Rosa typically hands out fancy jackets instead of race shirts at the expo, but something happened somewhere and they weren’t available, so we got race shirts instead.  After the race, they were handing out the hoodie or whatever.  The line was ridiculous, so we skipped out.  When we went back a couple of hours later (to the beer festival… more on that in a bit), they were out of all but extra large, so we didn’t get one. They also had pancakes for finishers, but I didn’t see that area until we came back a little while later.

This year, the marathon also co-hosted a small inaugural beer festival post-race.  Runners got half price tickets to the full festival, or free beer tickets for a couple of tastes.  We obviously went with the full festival option (also comes with a growler).  Since we finished the race well before 10 am and the festival didn’t start until 11, we went back to our cottage to feast on a fast food cheeseburger (SO INCREDIBLY AMAZING), shower up, and catch up on all the earthquake updates.  Turns out we were pretty lucky to have power and unaffected roads for the race.

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The beer festival was fun!  We got to try lots of local beer, the pours were generous, and it was a relaxing way to wind down and numb some of the soreness.

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At that was the end of Marathon #3, Boston Qualifier #2.

For the first time ever, I didn’t get sick post marathon.  I was sore, but not nearly to the extent that I have been before (I even ran for a bit on Wednesday with no issues which has never happened earlier than 2 weeks post-race).  I feel like this is progress, but I also feel like it means I didn’t push myself hard enough.

I do want to emphasize that our overall experience with the Santa Rosa Marathon was positive.  The race organizers really care about their runners, and aside from some small negatives (the lack of sufficient amounts of water at the start and finish lines for example), everything was well organized, especially considering the last minute panic that must have occurred after the earthquake. That being said, because this is a destination race for us, I don’t know if I would go out of my way to run it again.

We did some wine tasting on Monday, and got to visit with Jen and Cathryn and her ridiculously cute kid with a ridiculously cute English accent before flying home on Tuesday. All three of the bloggers I met this week were so fantastic.  I love that the internet can connect us to people to the point that when we meet for the first time, it feels like we’ve been friends all along.

So, what’s next? Boston registration opens in a couple of weeks.  Last year, my qualifying time would have been a minute too slow to actually get into the race, so I’m not holding my breath.  The trip is also really expensive, especially considering it would be a trip all about me and accommodating  my needs.  I’ve run Boston.  I would absolutely love to do it again, but if that money could fund a significant chunk of a vacation to a new place (the world is so big!) where both of us can do stuff that doesn’t involve 6-7 solo hours waiting, then I think it should.  I still have some time to ponder it though.

Amy Race Details:

Finish time: 3:34:21 (8:10 average pace)

Fuel: Larabar pre-race, GU (with caffiene) at 50 minute intervals (50, 1:40, 2:30)

Hydration: Half glass of Nuun pre-race, water and Gatorade at every aid station (located every 2 miles…ish)

Gear: Brooks Adrenaline shoes, CEP calf sleeves, Lululemon Pacesetter skirt, Lululemon cool racerback, Bic Band, LOTS of Body Glide and sunscreen (you can get sun damage even when it is overcast!).

Favorite Moment: Running through the DeLoach wine barrel room

Least Favorite Moment: The small/steep climbs during the last mile

Biggest Piece of Advice For Anyone Considering This Race: Incorporate steep rolling hills into the end of your long training runs.

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The 117th Boston Marathon Race Recap

10:19 a.m., April 15th.  I was looking down compulsively at my Garmin.  I had activated the satellite location finder a few minutes before and it had sprung into action faster than anticipated (it usually takes 5 minutes), so I was worried that it would shut off before I could initiate the timer as I crossed the start line.

Lined up in corral 7 of the 2nd wave, my Garmin was my most pressing concern.  At that moment, the Boston Marathon was still just the Holy Grail of races for marathon runners, an impressive race for some non-runners in the know, and for most people in the world, an event with little to no importance.  In fact, I imagine that very few people outside of Boston or the running community had any idea at all that some 24,000 runners were nervously lined up in a small Massachusetts town called Hopkinton, waiting to embark on possibly the most coveted 26.2 mile journey in all of road racing.

I wish that was still the case. But, we all know what happens next.

I’ve seriously contemplated whether or not I should write a race recap.  After a lot of encouragement, I decided that while these people hijacked our lives and thrusted us into the era of successful “soft target” terrorism in America at 2:50 pm, I won’t let them have a second more.

So, let’s talk about the Boston Marathon as it was at 10:19 a.m.  A simple yet momentous road race that signified determination and achievement to runners across the world.

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Pre-Marathon Monday

Aaron and I flew into Albany on Thursday and explored three different states (and two counties) with stops in Saratoga Springs, Burlington, Hanover, and Montreal before making our way to Boston on Sunday.

We checked into our Cambridge Hotel, and took the “T” (Boston’s public rail transportation system of which I am personally not a fan) across the Charles River and over to the Copely Square station for the Expo. The historic town of Boston slowly came into view as we emerged from the underground, and we were greeted with a sea of blue and yellow jackets…2013 jackets…walking in all directions.  Apparently, in Boston, wearing the current year garb before the race is more than acceptable.  It is expected. It was here that I got my first glimpse of the famed, brightly painted finish line from the other side of the barriers.

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The Expo

The expo was held at Hynes Convention Center right on Boylston which is apparently a different location than it had been held in years past.  The expo is a 3 day long endeavor, but it seemed as if most people decided to go right when we went…at 1:30 on Sunday.  The bib distribution was held in a hallway and the process was pretty painless, but I was sad that they were out of my t-shirt size. TIP: Don’t wait until the last minute to go to the expo. 

When we entered the main expo and I was immediately overwhelmed by the hoards of runners crowding the narrow aisles, snatching up free samples and Boston themed merchandise (EVERY company has special Boston themed merchandise).  Luckily, the Adidas store was the first exhibit, so I was able to locate the Unicorn Jackets and buy myself one. They were well stocked, and none of the sizes appeared to be in danger of selling out.

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In a moment of non-run nerdery, I didn’t look up when any of the elite runners would be appearing (I only obsess over Kara Goucher every day, yet apparently I have no desire to actually see her), but we did come across Katherine Swisher, known as the first woman to (illegally) run the Boston Marathon.  As can be expected, she had a ridiculous line of fans waiting for her autograph, so I snapped this stalker type photo and moved on.

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We exited the expo, and hopped back on the “T” to get to Cambridge. We took the “T” twice during our time in  Boston and both times it took far longer than it should have to get where we were going.

Because of all the driving we’d been doing (from Vermont to Montreal the day before, and from Vermont to Massachusetts that morning), I wanted to do a shake out run (I do this before every race).  Our hotel was right on the Charles River in Cambridge, so we ran a lovely two miles with great views of the city.  All of my body parts felt ok, and overall it was a run that at the very least, reassured me of my ability to run 2 of the 26.2 miles required of me the next day.

We headed back to the hotel, showered at the speed of light, and met Jon, Ellie, Adrienne, Mike, and Susan downstairs for drinks.  If Jon wasn’t my first ever blog friend, he was pretty close, so it was one of those situations where you kind of forget that this is your first meeting.  They all ran the B.A.A. 5-K that morning, and I think just about everyone PR’d! We had a wonderful time talking about Boston (I complained a lot about the “T” to my captive audience), and I hope to meet up with everyone again should we make it back next year!

After drinks, Aaron and I headed across the River to Boston’s North End which is exactly like San Francisco’s North Beach…an entire neighborhood made up of small, family-owned Italian restaurants, aka, carb-load heaven.  I had made reservations about a month in advance at Panza on the recommend of Hyedi. The place was small and packed, and about 10 parties walked in with 7:00 reservations which they obviously couldn’t accommodate, prompting some of the locals to get quite heated.  I love the people of Boston, but they can be quite… high strung? We actually had to share a table with a couple from Sacramento (he qualified at CIM). It was nice to sit next to our fellow Westerners who were refreshingly laid back.

I ate the linguine carbonara with sangiovese (I don’t think that is a recommended wine pairing, but whatever).  The meal was perfect, and my glycogen felt sufficiently stored as we headed back to Cambridge to settle in for the evening.

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Marathon Monday

Despite my 10:20 start time, the logistics of the morning required a typical 5:00 a.m. wake-up call. I’ve never participated in a race that started after 8 in the morning, so I had to plan nutrition, water, bathroom, and supplies accordingly.  At the hotel I drank a glass of Nuun, but held off eating.  I showered, got all of my stuff together, and headed out the door at 6:10.  Aaron went with me into the city because the last thing the world needed was a nervous, sleepy runner trying to navigate the Boston public transportation system by herself.  Plus, he was planning on walking the Freedom Trail while I ran.

I had made arrangements to meet Beth and her friend Sheliah, also from Albuquerque, in the bus line.  She said to look for the tall blonde lady wearing a black baseball hat and throw-away clothes which easily described 30% of the population.  When we emerged from the underground,we were met the with sight of thousands upon thousands of runners waiting for the bus (it took us over an hour to get through).  In some sort of miracle, we were able to find Beth and Sheilah, and we hopped in line.  Sheilah has run Boston multiple times, so she was a great resource.

At 7:30 I ate a Luna bar, and was mindfully sipping water throughout.  Somewhere in there, we came upon a group of porta-potties.  They were emitting a pretty rancid smell, so I was hesitant to use one, but Sheliah assured us that even after we got to Hopkinton (an hour drive), we’d still have a long wait, so using it now was a really smart choice.  I heeded her advice, and it was absolutely the right decision. TIP: Use the porta-potties in the bus line.

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By my estimation, school buses from the entire state were being used for marathon transportation.  They would load about 10 at a time, those buses would drive off in unison, and 10 more buses would drive up. The whole thing was being run by MIT students, and it worked like clockwork. I sat next to a man from Utah.  He had run Boston in 2008, and this time he’d brought his brother with him.  They both qualified and they were going to run and cross the finish line together! I hope they were able to do it.

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The drive was pleasant.  I got to see some of the Boston suburbs and multiple crew teams training in the river. You could feel the excitement on the bus as we reached the town of Hopkinton and pulled up to our final destination, the Athlete’s Village.  As a seasoned pro, Sheliah led us away from the herd and up toward the bag check (there was a lot of uphill walking) toward a second set of porta-potties with less people (still about a half hour wait).  TIP: Bring toilet paper because there was none to be found.  Luckily I noticed with enough time to make necessary adjustments, but I can imagine there were some uncomfortable situations.

In a moment of desperation, I decided to pop a couple of ibuprofen.  My calf had been giving me issues for weeks, even driving me to see a specialist, and I had lost my most valuable training weeks trying to rest it.  It hadn’t been bothering me during our last few shake out runs, but I didn’t want to get a few miles in and be in pain.  This isn’t something that I think you’re supposed to do, but if I’ve learned anything, it’s that marathon runners aren’t particularly rational when it comes to racing. And, of course, the pain relief starts fading right at about 3 hours when you need it the most.

I had opted to stop drinking water aside from small sips after 9:00.  I ate a banana at about 9:20 (1 hour before start). We started organizing our stuff, peeling off the layers (it was comfortably warm at this point), reapplying sunscreen and body glide (apparently I did a good job…no chaffing!), and prepping to head to the start line. Gear drop off was fast and easy, and with little time to spare, we started on the LONG walk from the Athlete’s Village to the start line at about 10:00, and we had several Wave 1 runners (10:00 start time) frantically run past us. I’d heard that there was an epically long walk from the Athlete’s Village to the Start Line, and turns out this was not an exaggeration.

Much to my surprise, a whole colony of porta-potties was situated at the start corrals.  These ones had toilet paper and the lines only 1-2 people long which was a miraculous sight!  They also had what I can only describe as “out in the open” urinals…so that was awkward. TIP: Be prepared to see lots of peeing men. 

I parted ways with Beth and Sheliah as we headed into our respective corrals.  I got my Garmin set up, tried to focus my energy, and attempted to pump myself up (I forget what song was playing) as I heard the gun. AND WE WERE OFF!  I remember smiling, completely satisfied, as I started running and waved cheesily at the start line video camera.

Every course guide tells you to start Boston slower than you want to because it starts at a steep downhill.  For the most part, everyone started off slow, and kept that pace for the first half a mile.  But then, half a mile in, we got our first taste of spectating, Boston Marathon style.  And that resolve to keep a reasonable pace disappeared as every runner got caught up in the energy of the crowd.

The First Half

In my head, the first half of the race is a series of snapshots strung together.  It seemed jam packed with new sights and a new town every few miles.  Highlights include:

1) The huge “All in for… (insert town here)” signs as you exited each town.  I liked being able to check each town off a mental checklist as I ran through the course.  And each town takes great pride and pleasure in making sure you remember THEM as the best. I don’t remember why, but I have Framingham in mind as my favorite.

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2) Having about 10 kids jumping on trampolines with inspirational signs, and one at the end, holding up a giant Sam Adams cut-out.  Because what’s Boston without a Sam Adams cut-out?

3) The sheer number of people handing out wet towels/oranges/water/snacks/Popsicles, alcohol, Vaseline, etc. along the course.  These people literally spent their money on supplies for the runners and their day off handing them out.  While Chicago spectators were more entertaining, Boston spectators were far more functional.

4) How “amateur day” the whole thing felt.  Considering this is the marathon of seasoned professionals, I saw many rookie mistakes, like people just coming to a complete stop in the middle of the course (I literally ran into two people who did this).  I also saw more people stop to walk in the first few miles and along the entire course than I saw stop in the last 6.2 miles of Chicago. And men were peeing everywhere.  If we ran by a slightly wooded area, guaranteed there were male runners peeing in it.

5) The fun college kids. We passed by several college campuses, and a lot of areas where students lived.  You could easily identify them because the whole place started smelling like beer.  They were loud and enthusiastic cheerleaders.  I don’t remember any groups handing out beer specifically, but some girls were handing out jello shots, and cheered wildly when one runner slurped it down with experience in the earlier miles.

6) Noticing how different a race feels in the back.  For Chicago, I was near the front and the course was relatively clean.  In Boston, about 15,000 people had already gone through the water stations by the time I came through.  It was like running through a sticky Gatorade river of yuckiness.  I was sufficiently grossed out by the feeling of having Gatorade splash ups on the back of my legs.  And the cups.  They were everywhere.  I had visions of slipping on a cup and breaking my leg.

Slide3

Ewe.

7) People with homes along the course used the occasion to host big BBQ’s and parties in their front yards.  Marathon Monday is truly a day of celebration, and I was impressed at the atmosphere for the entire race.

8) Running by the Hoyt’s.  This is a father/son team who runs the marathon every year.  The father pushes the son (who is in a wheelchair), and they are easily the most popular (and maybe even the most famous) runners on the course.

All through this, I was keeping a pretty good pace and I was on track for a 3:35 finish time. It didn’t feel as effortless as my last few races, but I didn’t feel like I was pushing it to the point of epic failure toward the end either, and I was having fun.

I will say this though.  If I had never heard that this was a downhill course, I wouldn’t have described it as such.  There was downhill and, especially at the beginning, it was severely steep downhill.  But for the most part, the course was full of rolling hills.  I had done plenty of downhill training and quad strengthening, but I hadn’t done really any rolling hill training (mostly because it is impossible with the Albuquerque landscape). TIP: Train for rolling hills. 

Somewhere between miles 11 and 12, I started hearing a humming noise.  As I ran on, the hum increased in volume.  I started looking around at my fellow racers, and we all started smiling.  So this is what thousands of screaming girls sound like from half a mile out! And sure enough, in a few minutes, we entered the Wellesley Scream Tunnel, a stretch of road in front of Wellesley College where, what appears to be the entire student population, lines up with their “kiss me I’m from (insert home town/state/country here)” signs.  The energy was incredibly motivating!  I actually ran my fastest mile of the race during the Scream Tunnel. If only every race could include one.

The Second Half

We hit the halfway point, and I was starting to get worried.  I wasn’t feeling tired necessarily, but I felt a blister forming (my shoes were soaked from the aid stations) and my feet were staring to ache.  As we passed the half marathon timing mat, I heard a man say, “Oh, you all know the second half of this race is the easier part, right?”  We all laughed because we knew the worst was about to come.

I don’t recall how we entered Newton exactly.  I remember that most of the towns had beautiful signs announcing your entrance, so I’m guessing Newton was similar.  However it happened, I remember getting butterflies in my stomach.  Despite the fact that the entire course had been littered with hills, I knew these were different.  All of the hill repeats and elevation gain during long runs would come down to the next 4 miles.

SOURCE

The Newton Hills are a series of four.  The first one is long.  The next two are steep.  But it’s the last one that gets you.  This one has been infamously named Heartbreak Hill because, not only it is both long and steep (though to a lesser degree than the other ones), but by the time you get there, you are 21 miles into your marathon and not in the mood to deal with any shenanigans.

The first hill felt long, but I managed to keep up my pace.  Just when I was feeling good again after the downhill, I spotted the sea of runners winding their way up the next hill. This hill was steeper, but it was shorter, and the downhill portion felt like a wave of relief.  But the relief was temporary as the next hill came into view.  I was starting to run out of steam, and my fellow comrades were losing it even more.  As much as I was slowing down, I was the person passing people.  In fact, several people started to walk.

Slide4

My mind starting getting fuzzy.  I had studied the course, but I suddenly couldn’t remember how many hills there were.  Three? Was that Heartbreak? Four? Or were there five?  I didn’t think I could take much more of this. I approached the base of the next hill, and started wishing with all my might that this was Heartbreak because I was done with these hills.  This was my slowest mile. I remember looking down at my Garmin and seeing my slower pace, and not even caring.  I didn’t have the will to push forward with any sense of urgency.

I reached the top and I was looking for the giant inflatable Boston College arch that let me know that Heartbreak was over.  I didn’t see it.  I immediately panicked, wondering if that wasn’t it.  The prospect of the largest hill looming ahead was frustrating.  But then, probably half a mile after that last hill, I spotted the arch. I had survived! Like most people say, Heartbreak Hill wasn’t all that bad.  But my legs had been fighting hills all race and I didn’t train well enough to not have it affect my pace, so it was a little bit heartbreaking for me.

Someone yelled, it’s all downhill from here! And I had a sudden resurgence of energy.

But that person lied.

The hills just kept going.  They weren’t big ones, but after Newton, I hadn’t really counted on having to use more energy on more hills. The last four miles felt really long.  I remember deciding (again) that marathons were stupid and I was especially stupid for running them.  I was incredibly envious of the drunk Boston College kids and how unmiserable they looked.

I also knew that Aaron would be somewhere around here.  I started looking back and forth, but we were now in Boston, and the streets were packed with spectators.  It turns out that looking back and forth for someone requires a lot of energy and focus. More energy and focus than I wanted to use. My calf was hurting, my IT band was hurting, my blister was hurting, and my feet were screaming in agony.  I could tell that the ibuprofen was wearing off.

IMG_6516Aaron’s picture from where he was waiting for me.  As you can see, blue tank tops were pretty popular.

IMG_6515Aaron’s picture: Elites making their left turn from Hereford to Boylston

At mile 24, I gave up looking for Aaron and instead switched to focusing on the finish. (Meanwhile, Aaron was at the 40K mat, chatting with none other than Bart Yasso. He didn’t see me pass by, and started back toward the finish area when he got the notification that I had passed the 40K mark).   I was tired, and I really didn’t feel like running another 2.2 miles.  I had to dig deep and focus on my mantras and remember the wounded warriors from Bataan and how any pain I was going through was insignificant.  Except in my head it sounded more like “THIS ISN’T PAIN,” and I knew what I meant.

I remember seeing the Citco sign, another noted Marathon landmark, and knowing that I was supposed to be excited, but not remembering if that meant I only had 3 miles or if I only had 1 mile, and that you could see it from deceptively far away, so I might still have 4.  My brain was done with the thinking.

Luckily, somewhere right around here, someone was blasting Don’t Stop Believing, which is my jam for life.  I owe much of my ability to finish to that person!

The course took a sharp turn to the right.  I looked down at my Garmin, and realized that, with only about half a mile left, I had officially taken THE right on Hereford. Hereford was short, and I could see the next turn (the big one) directly in front of me.  In my head, I was screaming something like “The left! The left!”  The left turn onto Boylston. I remember my first sighting of the finish line and being so happy that I was so close to it.  And I also remember thinking that there was STILL so far to go (I think almost half a mile).

IMG_6512The Finish line area.  This picture was taken at about 1:00

Slide1I LOVE this photo…what marathoners look like when they see the Finish Line for the first time.

I passed the 26 mile sign, and looked down at my Garmin.  I was at something like 3:38, and I was sad that my 3:35 had gone so far out the window during Newton, but if I hurried, I could get there in under 3:40.  So, I pushed as hard as I could.  I remember reaching the famously painted finish line, looking down in excitement, and realizing that the mats weren’t there, but several feet ahead.

Slide6

I crossed the finish line in 3 hours, 39 minutes, and 52 seconds.  6 minutes slower than my Chicago time, 5 minutes slower than a Boston qualifying time, and about 5 minutes faster than what I was expecting. I was elated, but I also felt slightly dizzy and weak. I started noticing runners collapsing all around me.  There were so many people, and I was starting to hyperventilate a little bit with claustrophobia.

I heard someone call out my name, and I looked over and was surprised to see my childhood neighbor Brandon (he guest posted here last summer!).  He works for ESPN and lives on the East Coast now and had gone to watch a couple of other friends run. We said a quick hello, but I knew I needed to keep moving. The finisher’s chute had all of the necessities for tired runners. First space blankets, then water, then Gatorade  then little snack packs with some amazing dinner rolls, and at the end, the medals.  I’m not sure if there was one of those backdrop photo stations.  If there was, I didn’t see it, but a photographer was standing there snapping as many people as he could.  So, my finish line photo was kind of gross with my space blanket.

Slide2

Gear check was at the end of the chute, and after a few minutes of waiting, a volunteer handed me my bag and I made my way back the opposite direction (walking against the crowd was pretty hard), and to the next street over from Boylston toward the family reunion area. I called Aaron and he said he was waiting for me at the “L” sign (they had signs with all the letters of the alphabet).  The letters were lined up on both sides of the street, and it turns out that “L” was pretty much the farthest back down toward the finish line, which felt pretty annoying at the time since essentially I walked the distance of the finisher’s chute twice. The annoyance turned to excitement as I spotted Aaron and he handed me a rose and let me know that I had a giant ClifShot goober on my face.  Lovely.  I had talked to my neighbor, taken my finish line photo, and talked to a bunch of other runners and volunteers with a giant poo brown goober. TIP: Use those wet towels handed out along the course to wipe your face.

I wanted to rest for a bit and munch on some items in my snack pack, so we walked down the street until we found an empty spot on the curb.  Aaron took my victory picture and texted my mom before coming to sit down next to me.  She replied back at 2:48 saying that I looked quite burrito-esqe, wrapped in my space blanket which was a pretty accurate statement. We were still laughing about my resemblance to a burrito when the first explosion went off.

IMG_0748About 2:45 p.m in my burrito outfit.

Post Race:

Once we got back to the hotel maybe an hour or so later (I had no concept of time), we sat downstairs in the bar watching the news. I forced half a cheeseburger down, really the first thing I’d eaten since the Luna Bar at 7:30, and ate a wedge salad much later at about 11:00 p.m., definitely not the post-race fuel I’d normally go for, but I wasn’t hungry.

IMG_6521Back safely in Cambridge.  I thought this was clever, and shows just how much the city embraces the race!

I actually recovered much faster than I did after Chicago which I attribute to the 2 mile walk to Cambridge after the marathon.

In Conclusion:

Even though I truthfully enjoyed almost everything about Chicago more, Boston is still a world-class race.  With so many potential logistical nightmares like busing 24,000 people 26 miles out of town before 10:00 am and setting up a course that runs through multiple municipalities, the execution ran like clockwork.  And the spectators had so much heart.  They did an amazing job of taking care of the runners, and I really think they, along with the dedicated volunteers are what makes this race so great.

From the social media interaction over the last 4 months, the “Unicorn Television” YouTube videos, the walking down the street and seeing a sea of blue and yellow jackets, and running from one historic town to the next, you aren’t going to run a marathon that will make you feel more special and more appreciated as a runner.  And while I was a bit worried about potential Boston run snobs, the general attitude from the runners was one of support and joy.  I had a wonderful experience (even during the miles when I wanted to punch the man who ran the first marathon…those are the miles that show you what you are made of).

I do want to make it clear that in no way do I feel cheated, and in no way do I feel like my experience or my achievement were taken away from me.  I got to finish (an estimated 5700 runners were stopped before crossing the finish line), I got to get a medal placed around my sweaty, goober-covered face, and I even got to celebrate with Aaron before the marathon became a national headline for all the wrong reasons. I fully intend to run this race again, because in the end, there is nothing quite like crossing the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Details:

Finish time: 3:39:52 (8:24 average pace)

Fuel: Luna Bar and banana pre-race, ClifShot (with caffiene) at miles 7, 14, and 21

Hydration: One glass of Nuun and one water bottle pre-race, alternating between water and Gatorade at every aid station (located almost every mile)

Gear: Brooks Adrenaline shoes, ProCompression socks, Lululemon Pacesetter skirt, Lululemon cool racerback, Nike Visor, LOTS of sunscreen and Body Glide

Favorite Moment: The Wellesley Scream Tunnel

Least Favorite Moment: running through aid stations and getting splashed with stickiness

Biggest Piece of Advice: Thank EVERY spectator and volunteer that you can

IMG_6706And with that, I am ready to move on.

Bank of America Chicago Marathon: The Recap

So, I am probably the last person out there to offer up my Chicago Marathon story.  26.2 is a lot of miles to process.  The drawback is that the mile by mile play by play is fuzzy and making way for a more general race memory.  So, unfortunately you won’t get the most detailed report of what I felt during 3:33:55 hours of pure marathon goodness (and not so goodness).  BUT I think you’re probably cool with that. Even though this is still over 3000 words long.  It WAS 4,000 words long. And I think all of the pictures of the race (rather before and after the race) are on Aaron’s phone which is with him at work right now.  So, you may have to check back tomorrow!

THURSDAY

We arrived in Chicago on Thursday afternoon to temperatures much warmer than we’d been anticipating.  Our hotel was about half a mile from the start line, so our cab drove us right by the starting area.  I was amazed at how huge the marathon village was, and how many porta poties were lining the streets (this would seem like a lot less on Sunday morning while waiting our turn to pee). As I started unpacking, I realized that I had forgotten some essential items like  running socks, pajamas, iPod shuffle, and toothbrush. Oops.

FRIDAY

We went out for a 2.5 mile easy run along the lake front.  Temperatures were still warmish, though not as warm as they had been the day before.  The temperatures were predicted to get colder until Sunday.

Then we headed to the expo.  I love expos.  They combine running AND shopping! The expo was well organized and everything was labeled and easy to find.  But wow, were there a lot of people, and Friday was the slow day.  I’m scared to think what Saturday looked like! Nike had a whole store set up, and I bought myself a special marathon shirt (and some socks because I forgot mine).  I also signed up for my 3:35 pace group, and got a 3:35 bib to pin to my back.

SATURDAY:

We did a 2 mile shake out run, however this one was much colder.  But really, a few minutes in, I felt overdressed in my winter gear.

We opted to do the Art Institute Museum on Saturday morning.  Coach Aaron wouldn’t let me wear heels, but my jeans are all too long, so I had to walk around Chicago in my running capris and running shoes.  THE HORROR.  Seriously.  But the museum was huge and we were on our feet for easily 3 hours, so I’m glad I wasn’t in stilettos.  We also carried a water bottle and focused on drinking obscene amounts of water.

I did insist on changing into boots for dinner on the condition that we eat at the pub across the street from our hotel.  Awesomely enough they had a special marathon menu so I got my pasta carb loading fill! Aaron ate something with mashed potatoes (how does one carb load on a gluten free diet?). Bedtime was 9:30.

Why yes, carb loading included beer.  This means beer + marathon = BQ! And one of the few moments I got cell phone service! Aaron was annoyed. 

SUNDAY:

The alarm went off at 5 am.  I did my pre-race ritual of showering (one can’t dominate marathons with unshaven legs), and ate some Luna bar and some banana and layered on the winter gear. We got out the door at 6:15.  The city was dark but alive with thousands of shivering runners walking to the start.  We felt like cattle.  We may have moo’d.

The first thing we did was get in the potty line which was already pretty long (we waited about 20 minutes).  Gear check drop off was easy, but at this point it was time to head to the corrals (they closed at 7:20, no exception), so I didn’t get in my second ritual pee.  Aaron and I said our goodbyes as he headed to “B” and I headed to “C.”

This was post race, but it gives you an idea of what I look like when I realize that my husband is photographing me coming out of the porta potty. 

I couldn’t find my pacers.  And since everyone was wearing sweatshirts over their clothes, I couldn’t find any 3:35 bibs.  I kept inching up until I found a nice looking man and asked if he’d seen the 3:35 signs.  He said he was in the 3:35 group and as far as he could tell the people surrounding were all in it too. A few people turned and nodded in agreement, and grunted a “welcome to the pack.”  I took off my long sleeve and tied it around my waist because I knew I would get warm pretty fast and I didn’t want to attempt undressing while running.  I was cold in my racer back, but not miserable.

Looking around I also realized that Chicago was a pretty male dominated race.  And let’s just say I was one of very few women wearing hot pink, sparkle headband, and a running skirt.

The race started, and while I was anticipating a good 10 minutes before we crossed the start line, we actually approached really fast (within 3 minutes).  And we were off!

The first 3 miles

This is the official start line photo.  I found Aaron (he has a red circle around his head).

So, the first thing you do is run uphill into a tunnel.  Tunnels are dark.  Tunnels also have dividers in the middle. Someone ran into someone who ran into me and I ran into the next person because someone didn’t see the divider in front of them until it was too late.  Luckily nobody was actually knocked down in the confusion, but it was pretty funny to see.  I guess you had to be there.

We emerged from the tunnel, and I looked down at my Garmin to see that it had lost signal.  Fantastic.  I spotted the pacers way ahead so I figured I would just hang out with them since I no longer had pacing function. It was awesome (and warm) to be running with so many people (over 38,000 at the start), but hard to get anywhere.  I saw the pacers but I couldn’t actually get near them.  Luckily, my Garmin got it’s act together pretty fast.

I saw some soldiers with amputated arms, and the crowd went wild every time they ran past.  I saw a lady with a prosthetic leg.  I saw people in wheelchairs.  I saw people going out of their way to support other runners.  Marathons restore faith in humanity.

I allowed myself to not worry about pace (pointless since maneuvering around people was impossible), and take in the sights.  A huge shout out to the city of Chicago and the spectators!  I felt nothing short of  rockstar status because these cheering people with their crazy signs were amazing. Also amusing were the people starting to shed clothes.  They would attempt to throw them into the crowd, but 75% of the time the clothing article would bop a runner on the head.

After trying to get myself next to the pacers for the first few miles I finally succeeded at about mile 3.  Everyone was de-clothed and I could see the huge group of 3:35ers emerge.  The crowd started thinning, and I finally got myself into a rhythm.

Miles 4 to 16

Crowd support was amazing.  Every neighborhood/church/school had bands or DJs and motivation was high.  So high that I suddenly found myself running sub 8 miles with no effort, and the pacers were somewhere far far behind me. I knew I needed to slow my ass down.  But I couldn’t.  The energy was too much to handle.  I was on track to run a 3:30 marathon (noted that at mile 6 this is hardly confirmation of anything), yet here is where I made the decision to run a Boston qualifier.

Gangham Style was being played by three different groups (including a Korean church with nice Korean middle aged ladies in track suits doing the dance).  Aaron, who at that point was about 15 minutes ahead of me, said that those same groups were playing that same song so it must have been on repeat.

The pacer bibs turned out to be quite the conversation starter.  I had people come up to me saying I was ahead of schedule (as a compliment, not as a warning that I was running too fast). And indeed I was.  While there were a few 3:35er’s I was surrounded by 3:30s and 3:25ers.  But I was feeling great. Instead of wishing desperately to be done at the 13.1 sign, I was like, hey, half way done! Hooray! But I was still stressing that I was running too fast.

The course was awesome! So many cool neighborhoods and so many cool sights.  For several miles, the Sears Tower was in view. And the weather was perfect.  I was cold at a few points, but overall, I was feeling wonderful.

There was uphill.  Not anything crazy, but there are rivers to cross and bridges aren’t at street level, so we did have to go up them.  I figured if this is what the last hill at the end looked like, I should be in ok shape.

Mile 16: 

Potty break. My pre-race ritual calls for 2 stops at the porta potty, but I only had time for one.  I had to pee the entire time,  and while it was annoying, it wasn’t affecting my pace.  I put it off as long as possible and was looking for a pee station right off the course (a few required some detour efforts).  I had my chance at the mile 16 aid station. By the way, Chicago gets a HUGE thumbs up for their stations.  They were almost every mile and 2 full city blocks long.  A nice person yelled out where things were upon approach so no guess work was involved.

According to my Garmin, I was stopped for well over a minute which makes me sad.

Miles 17-22

I was still feeling good, and amazed that I was SO CLOSE to finishing.  But, this is when crowd support went from super energized on steroids to non existent.   I REALLY wished I had my music to turn on at this point, but alas my iPod was back home in Albuquerque.

And people started dropping like flies starting at mile 20.  Up til this point I hadn’t seen anyone have any major problems.  Now people were puking on the sidelines, stopping to stretch, and stopping to walk.

Meanwhile I was gaining a whole new crazy confidence.  I calculated along the way that I needed to be at the 20 mile point by 2:40 to be on track for a 3:30.  I hit 20 miles at about 2:41.  CRAZINESS.  I was going to pull this off!

Miles 23-25.9

Um….WALL.

Training at elevation made it so that I never felt out of breath or without energy in low altitude Chicago.  But at mile 23, my legs said NO with the stubbornness of a two year old.  My feet felt fine, but my calves tightened and I realized that I was ready to be done with this thing.

The whole race my pace had stayed pretty consistent   Here it dropped to about 8:30 (the same as my pee mile) and it never came back down. But this was also when I had the most support from my fellow runners. A nice man came up to me and said, “way to go 3:35! You’ve got this!” Another lady came up and said something about girl power. But, despite the encouragement, the marathon became a completely personal battle.  I had to make a decision to keep going or stop and no amount of course support or inspiration could do the work for me.

Last week Kelly left me a comment that said to “trust myself.”  I decided that I would use that as my mantra, and in my time of need, that was the only thing my mind could come up with.  Trust yourself.  It literally got me through.

Regardless, at mile 25 I wanted to stop and walk.  I was beyond ready to not be running anymore.  But then I realized that if I kept going, I only had about 10 minutes left.  With 10 minutes left I would hit my goal.  If I didn’t keep going, I would literally miss qualifying by mere seconds.  The prospect of coming in at 3:35:02 was far more painful than sucking it up for the last 1.2 miles.

So, I sucked up (after taking the last water station very slow). And wow.  A mile has never felt so long.

Somewhere near the end

Miles 25.9-26.2

I saw a sign that said “only 800 meters to go!”  I HATE 800’s.  Not helpful.

We turned a corner and there it was.  THE HILL.  It was humongous.  Much bigger than the rest. At the top was the  mile 26 sign.  But I had to get there first. I felt like I crawled.  It was the longest minute? 30 seconds? of my life.

I felt a huge relief in my legs and I knew that I had reached the top. The course turned and the giant FINISH sign came into view.  I couldn’t move any faster, but I ran in (no sprint possible).  My life turned into a movie with the Rocky soundtrack playing in the background (in my head) and the roar of the crowd somewhat muted behind my racing heart. I crossed the finish in 3:33:55!

The crossover was pretty uneventful.  I know I was happy.  My goal was met.  But I didn’t have the energy to be super excited about it.  A girl that came in right behind me screamed BOSTON! And I wanted to turn around and give her a Boston Sister high five.  But I didn’t because I needed to focus on forward motion. I didn’t cry at the end.  Strangely, aside from complete contentment, I experienced very little emotion until hours later.

Aaron spotted me pretty fast (hot pink does have it’s advantages), and we proceeded to go through the longest post race walk EVER (about a mile worth of walking).  We did get our medals and our space blankets, but it would have been ok with me if the walk had been shorter.

Aaron’s Race

Aaron had such a strong and awesome first 21 miles.  He was holding a really fantastic pace and should have come in right about 3:10.

But then he got muscle cramps.  He had already run through the world’s ugliest blister (2 inches in diameter and YUCKY to look at), but running through muscle cramps just isn’t very easily done.  His last 5 miles involved a lot of walking and stretching.  And at the end of that hill at mile 25.9, a medic asked if he needed her to walk him in, so apparently he looked pretty pathetic.

He politely declined (people actually started cheering for him when he got moving again) and made his way to the finish in 3:27:21.

When he found me after I finished we had to stop on about 3 occasions during that long, long walk for him to sit down and stretch.

He wasn’t in good shape. He was understandably frustrated and really has been playing out what he could have done differently in his mind.  But he still had an awesome finish time that he’s happy to brag about!

After:

Gear check pick up was kind of a cluster-f and it took a good 20 minutes for us to get our stuff.  Not impressed.  It was arranged by bib number and bib numbers were arranged by pace, so each line was bombarded by people finishing at the same time.

After that, we still had another half mile walk to the finish line festival. We redeemed our free beer ticket then started the long walk back to the hotel with all the other limping people.

About an hour after finishing my left calf tightened to the point that I couldn’t walk on it (and couldn’t for the next few days).  And my stomach which thankfully held up so nicely during the race, decided to go crazy on me in grand style for the rest of the day.  I may have reached my goal but I paid for it.

In Conclusion:

Chicago organizes a great race.  I’ve heard some complaints, but my experience was fantastic! Volunteers, aid stations, the course, the signage, everything was spot on (they did run out of medals for the last few finishers but I think most of them were in past the cut off time).

The crowd was so amazing, and I appreciated all the support, all the signs, all the costumes and all the music.

I was amazed at how my legs just knew what to do and did it and at a much faster pace than I thought I could do.  I don’t think I would have been able to go faster at the end if I had slowed it down during those sub 8’s and if I had slowed down, I probably wouldn’t have met my qualifying time, so I’m happy that I ran faster than advised.  And really, my pace was so consistent throughout which really makes me happy.

I don’t think this will become a lifestyle.  I still enjoy halves far more, and I’ve never had such a long recovery period.  I’m still walking with a limp and trying to get my calves to loosen up.  And even though I am already forgetting the pain, I remember thinking how wretchedly awful it was to be at mile 25.  I’ve had some mean thoughts during the later miles in races, but I’ve never hated my whole existence as much as I did toward the end of the marathon.  It did make for a very sweet feeling when I pushed through it anyway but really, humans aren’t designed for this.

BUT, I will run Boston in April and earn my Unicorn (more on that tomorrow).

Thanks again for all of your amazing support this weekend!  I thought of all of you each time I passed a time sensor, knowing that you were getting a text message or seeing my little stick figure along the interactive map! It helped me so much going in to know that you were coming along with me. It was a great experience and I enjoyed getting to share it with you all and with Aaron, obviously the best running coach ever.  I questioned him many times throughout training.  We were running too much.  We were running on courses that were too hard.  We were running in the heat.  But in the end it helped me have a relatively uneventful and goal crushing marathon.

It was the proudest moment of my life to cross that finish line under my goal time, and THAT was worth all the training and pain.