I totally conquered the big fat nope of moving forward for 26.2 miles. I must admit, it was mostly grit and stubbornness that got me through. I said more than once that “I’ll be damned if I don’t finish this thing come hell or high water.” I didn’t realize it was going to be such a struggle to get to the finish line. Well, I was worried I wouldn’t make it that far.
I combined my hotel reservation with my friend, Jane to save us a buck or two when the hotel mentioned they were overbooked and didn’t have the room I’d requested. Our friend, Maureen was staying nearby. Her husband drove us as close to the start as he could. We wound up taking a road under Chicago to get to Michigan Ave and having a fairly short walk to our entry point. I went through security, lifted my jacket to show my holster was simply water and food and joined back with my friends.
We walked on to the restrooms and made it through the lines. We sat on the ground in our start corral and heard the first wave start. I sat beside a man who had drawn on his shirt, “Maria Survivor from PR,” and I told him I was happy to see him. Maureen, Jane, and I took a few selfies because Jane was doing something that wasn’t saving them. So we wound up with this lovely photo:
At 8 am, I decided to meander to a pace group so I could meet people to run with. I didn’t really find a partner despite chatting it up with a few people. When we started moving forward to the start, I felt the sudden urge to dig into the ground like a dog on a leash not wanting to go. I resisted the urge and walked forward. The image stuck in my head, though. I looked down at my Garmin watch and probably hit it twice because after coming out from under the first bit under a tunnel, the time wasn’t advancing. It didn’t help to start the run tracking, either. The GPS wasn’t working. I’d planned to use it for timing, but I had no idea how much time had elapsed from when I started. The website says I started right before 9am. When the heat of the day was just started to set in.
My Kind of People
I’d started doing my intervals after I got past my frustration with forgetting to start my watch. A group of people in front of me put their hands in the air and said, “3,2,1….walk. And reset.” Then, they all put their arms in the air for a stretch and walked. I replied, “If you insist,” and started walking. Their intervals were 4 minutes run 2 minutes walk, which was close enough to my 5:1 intervals. I asked if I could join and they were gracious hosts to my nervous self. We all stopped at the bathrooms at the same time, which was good because I think I would have peed myself trying to skip them to make good time. I’d waited awhile at the start and was used to starting at 6:30 am and earlier for long runs on Sundays.
I kept up with the group for awhile. They were great fun. I shook my booty and wiggled my shoulders to “Bomboleo,” when I heard it. I smiled when people shouted my name, which was written in permanent marker on golden ‘duck tape’ I’d pinned to my Team Challenge jersey. I felt great and the crowd was so amazing! No wonder people liked this race.
I lost the group at one point and found some people in the 5 hour 45 minute finish pace group. I asked them if they were doing intervals, and two women said they were. While settling in with them, I saw the group I’d lost. I ran over a median to get to them and we all chatted away. One woman had a mom with Colitis and she said she’d appreciated my charity cause. She started to fall back and I struggled to stay with the group. I kept pushing and just couldn’t catch them on a walk break where I tried to run to them. I slowed down.
Bestie For a Day
One member of the group, Lynn, had also fallen back and she caught up to me and told me that we were going to stick together and get it done even if we had to walk the rest of the race. We weren’t even at 7 miles yet. I was pissed that my running consisted of one block at a time.
We danced together to “Uptown Funk” as it played on the street. We shared our misery and a few stories about how and why we were doing our first marathon there. She had an outpouring of support in honor of a close friend who had passed away and she was extremely grateful to all of the people who did it in his name for her to be able to meet her goal. She was running with Team Salute. Hubby took our pic at one of his cheering spots.
Fortunately, Lynn was actually from Chicago and started giving me my own speed walking tour where we broke into a run once in awhile together to keep our speed up in the range where we’d finish in the official time (6 hours 30 minutes). My legs and my butt were so stiff, running was becoming less frequent. I lost Lynn after mile 14. I tried to catch her, but with the crowd and my body revolting against me, I couldn’t do it. I ate my gels and I didn’t feel light headed. I just felt heavy everywhere.
I found a man who was obviously a Nike Pacer walking. I asked him if he was ok and he said he was injured, but he wanted to finish. I told him I hoped he did and that I planned the same.
Another man was walking along in a “Marathon Maniacs” shirt. They’re an elite club that I can’t fathom every qualifying for. I tapped his shoulder and I said “I hear walking to the finish is better than not finishing,” to which he told me he had to walk. He encouraged me to push myself if I could because he was falling behind on the time and I would likely fall into that category soon. He was a triathlete who had broken a hip on his bike during a race. He told me he was trying to decide if he was experiencing regular pain from endurance or from injury. I went on to talk to him as he decided that his pain was not on both sides, and was therefore more likely to be an injury. I walked with him to the next aid station and said my farewell. His parting words to me were that, “Seriously, nothing new on race day. It’s always tempting, but just don’t.”
Worst Race Fear Happened
Anyone who talked to me during training knew that my fear was being passed up by the slackin’ wagon, which is a name I assigned for the car that I assumed disqualified a runner from the race because that’s what I was told.
It wasn’t one car. It was a BMW SUV with a timer attached to the roof followed by about 5 more vehicles moving at around 5 mph in the lane to the left of the runners. It pulled up and I started to run keeping stride 1 or 2 steps ahead of it. I did that for about 1 mile before I completely lost them. I also completely lost my composure and started crying. Not a couple tears dropping down. I was ugly crying in public. Where people could see me. I don’t know how there couldn’t be pictures of it, but my race photos aren’t ready yet.
People were still there to cheer. I was convinced I’d been DQ’d and wouldn’t get a medal. I figured the finish line would be gone when I got there. I put myself down for everything. I prayed to God to speak to me and tell me what to do. Then, I saw duct tape on the ground that was in the shape of the number “1” and had the word “mile” written on it. This was not a mile to the end. I was at 23. I was so mad for a second until I realized Jane kept saying to me in the days leading up to the marathon, “We’re going to do this. One mile at a time. That’s it. Just one mile. Then another one.” I put my butt in gear and I mustered this ridiculous fast walk that was the top speed I could muster. I felt stinging in my heels going all of the way up to the backs of my legs and I carried on.
Familiar People and Fans
I had an ongoing text conversation with my husband. It was ridiculously hard with my hand so swollen, it looked like a glove filled with air. I read messages from my friend Liz, who was encouraging me, but I couldn’t respond. There was no definition in my fingers, my knuckles were gone, and it was so swollen I couldn’t make a fist. I approached a bridge where Angel from the charity was cheering for me. I looked at her with such a pathetic face, she asked me if I needed food or water and I burst into tears. I pointed to the convoy that was still just ahead of me and said, “I can’t keep up with that thing and I’m trying so hard.” She said to ignore it and just go. This is the picture of a woman feeling like she’d been beaten by herself (with that damn convoy of cars next to me on the road).
I realized that my goal was to cross the finish line. That’s what I’d told my friend Jill when she started helping me with my training after the many pitfalls I’d encountered. There were people in front of me, but there were people behind me. Even if there was no finish line when I got there, 26.2 miles was bound to be marked by something and the furthest I’d been before Sunday was 20 miles and some change. It all made sense. I needed to get to the finish any way I could manage.
I grinned every time someone yelled at me to smile, despite the fact I was sobbing off and on. I waved to people if they called my name and I thanked them. One man intensely looked me in the face and said “Jenn, you’ve got this! You’re almost there, Jenn!” I really wanted to just sit down and cry instead of walking and being unable to run anymore. I kept passing race photographers above me and I just hated that I knew the pic would not only be me walking, but me crying and walking.
My husband, Matt, caught up with me in mile 25 and wound up walking me all of the way to mile 26. Nobody stopped him. They just waved and told me I was doing a good job. That didn’t help the crying any. I was like “No I’m not,” quietly. Matt kept shushing me and trying to reassure me. When we broke off right before mile 26, I started to try to run again. I found Roosevelt hill to be easily surmountable compared to what I’d been told and how I’d felt approaching the famous “hill at the end of the course.” It was painful and everything in my body told me not to move anymore. I mustered a strange little running shuffle for .2 miles and crossed the finish running and hearing people cheer me on. The finish line was still there. The announcer was still announcing finishers. People in the bleachers cheered. I took it all in as I approached each group of people holding items for the runners.
A man put a medal around my neck and I burst into tears and said “I get one of these?! THANK YOU!!!” He looked a little taken by my reaction, but the lady next to him said “Congrats. You did it.” I walked ahead and saw a person giving out Goose Island 312 beer and she put one in my hand and congratulated me. A man with a bible verse* on his shirt was standing at the end with a medal. He looked right into my face, offered his hand to shake, and said “You did a great job.” Total stranger. I realized I’d died during the race and somehow was having a very weird entrance into the after life involving a foil cape, cold washcloths, beer, water, and a protein shake. Oh, and lots of tears. It didn’t make me stop crying. I took a snap when I finished.
In the End
I did not enjoy that experience except that it was a great crowd and awesome race support all around. They had plenty to drink and plenty to eat along the course. There were water jugs to refill the bottles I carried on my belt. I just had a lot of training roadblocks. That experience doesn’t mean I won’t do it again. I won’t do it anytime soon, of course. I think I need more time to recover and some time off before training again.
I was prepared to finish the race, but not mentally prepared for the feeling of defeat that comes with falling behind and finishing in 6 hours and 48 minutes. By no means did I come in last. There were people that took 8 hours and a former quadriplegic who completed the race in 15 hours. The reasons I’d broken down on the course and been so upset seem so small in the rear view. Not one thing that I’d gotten upset about was worth quitting. Deep down, I knew it. Jane knew it. She told me that if I couldn’t finish, I’d still do it due to the grit I have. She was right. I thought about it while I walked with the blisters stinging in my shoes. My hips and butt were trying to keep me from moving any more. I wasn’t going to give up. I really would have crawled if I had to because I was going to finish the marathon distance no matter how I did it.
I had to walk a bit to meet up with Matt because of all of the security. Great job, Chicago. It was a very safe feeling place. I opted to walk back to the hotel from near Millennium Park and the Bean. I finally got to see the Willis (Sears) Tower, but was too exhausted to even try for the Skydeck. At one point, Matt stopped me, asked me to lean against something, and pulled my socks and shoes off to put my Oofos sandals on. It was so sweet. I walked along with my medal and my bib with my husband through the streets of Chicago to my hotel in Greek Town. I took a few stumbles where I had to grip tighter to Matt to get there, but the walk was actually helpful in calming me down and making my muscles feel looser. We had dinner in the hotel restaurant. Despite feeling like I could eat everything on the menu, I didn’t finish my burger and fries. I downed two pints of Goose Island Fest Beer, though. Very nice, by the way. I napped a little on the way home, and I napped a lot on Monday.
I have a 5k on Saturday the 14th. Then, I’ll be working on my speed and my half marathon pace until I start training for a sprint triathlon with my local Fleet Feet. Another marathon is in the future because my time was not what I wanted, but I’m not signing on just yet. Maybe 2019 will look better to me.
Thanks for reading! If you have any questions or suggestions on what you want me to write, let me know!
*I think it was Hebrews 12:1, but it could have been Phillipians 4:13. Either way, it was one I already knew, but needed to see at that moment.