Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Marathon Race Report!

So, finally, after more than a week (or two, or, actually three... well, actually, a MONTH), I'm writing my first ever Marathon Race Report. I think it takes this long, frankly, to come to terms with the distance. There are a lot of miles and experiences to process. Plus -- I'm not shy in saying that my body gave me a bit of a kick back, so I've been working out quite a few kinks. The kinks that started in my leg ended up in my head, and I did quite a bit of spinning (mentally) about this ITB injury.

Perhaps the best way to recap the marathon is with photos -- and SJV provided plenty of gorgeous ones for your review. Bless him for being so patient the entire day -- it was a hot one for runners and for spectators alike, but he and Connie (my amazing buddy) were there around every corner.

And a HUGE thank you to Reed and Vickie -- my amazing friends who happen to be my next-door-neighbors (boy did I ever luck out!). Vik ran about a mile with me, and Reed ran about 15. His company was so wonderful -- particularly since he had to slow wayyyyy wayyyyy down to hang with the likes of an Injured Belly. Still, I was glad that we had multiple hours to chill.

I'll begin from the beginning -- the day before at the Expo. SJV and I headed down to the expo to pick up our numbers and such -- even though SJV wasn't planning on running, he still needed to pick up his goodie bag, etc. Great swag -- and the expo was pretty fantastic. We both got to hold a gold medal! See?

Then, we went over to the pacer area to say howdy to some folks we know who were running the pacer groups. I toyed with signing up for a group -- I decided that it would be cool to have one of those nifty temporary tattoos to help you keep on pace. Now, I had said (many, many times) that I wasn't going to "race" this one -- just run and jog and walk, and generally do whatever my left leg would allow. But my ego was beginning to remind the rest of me that we really could go faster if we wanted... and so we compromised and got a temporary tattoo for 5:00 -- a really slow marathon for what I knew I was capable of. So, that decision made, we started to go through the rest of the pacer line. That's when we saw our friend Lora (super-fantastic runner and the 5:45 pacer) who was chillin' with another pacer.

(Adorable photo, guys!) Lora had a great time at the marathon -- sounds like she did incredibly well, and really enjoyed herself. Fantastic!

We left them, mingled around a bit, and got our stuff.

Then we went home, and I started to set up. I put medical tape on my favorite running shirt, and started to write "Belly" across my chest. (Note the Stick in the photo -- I have not been far from that little piece of equipment for some time, now...)

Here's the completed product...

A note: the tape worked well, but next time I'm going to secure it with some safety pins. It kept rolling up, (at the end, people were yelling for "Kelly" because they couldn't see the top of the "B" anymore) so that I finally had to just rip it off. End note.
So, the night before the marathon, SJV and I had pasta at home -- no way was I going to chance it with a restaurant. That's the nice thing about having a race that's in your backyard! Marathon morning, I got up early (5:30 -- not that early when you consider that for tri's we have to actually be there at 6:00 or earlier) got on my Belly shirt, put on my tatt,

and we made our way to the train to get us downtown. And downtown was pretty packed with people, all going to the marathon.

It was a pretty, pretty morning - although it warm, the sky was beautiful, and the sunrise! Well, it was a really gorgeous sight.

SJV and I got to Grant Park by 7:15 -- perfect. Not so early that I would sit around and hear other people freaking out (because let me tell you -- I was getting SUPER nervous right around this time). And not so late that I would be rushed. I hate being rushed. But ... we didn't quite understand where the tent for my training group was. And there were no (seriously ZERO) signs telling us that we couldn't get there from here... or from there... or from over there... Pretty soon it was 7:30, and I was sweating a bit. Then, 7:45 -- still looking for the tent. Fifteen minutes from the start, and we were still looking for where I could put my gear...

The group had told us that there would be porta-potties for us right by the tent, so I held off using the facilities, knowing that there would be fresh potties and toilet paper... (SJV and I had joked that this was the one and only time when we wouldn't have to worry about bringing our own, actually. For all tri's and for other distance road races, we always carry a spare roll... just in case.)

Finally, around 7:50, and after having walked for the better part of an hour (yes, I was very aggravated, and SJV was mad, too) we found the tent and porta potties -- sans t.p.! I KNOW! I was aggravated. SJV, not daunted by this hiccup, got me some paper towels. And then, we hot-footed it to the starting line. I honestly think we had, like, 10 minutes to get me in line. On the way, a nice photographer took this photo:

Isn't that cute?

Note that I am holding one foot up, sortof. That's because my leg was already hurting from walking so much. More on that later.

We got closer to the start, and I had to kiss SJV goodbye. I was super nervous, and annoyed that I was "late" (even though you can't really be late for a chip-timed race) and wanting to get in my "zone" (if you can have a zone even when you know you aren't really going to "race"). So, I waved him goodbye.

And off I was. There are a lot of folks in this marathon. Exhibit A:

Holy frijoles! Lots of peeps. So, I started off toward them, thinking that I'd go to the 5:00 hour folks and see what that did for me. I was shocked when I had enough time to do that (I was still anxious from thinking I was going to be "late"), and then we just sortof started shuffling forward, really slowly. It was then that, lo and behold! SJV found me! If that's not a testament to us being eerily aware of the other, I don't know what is. I was super happy to see him:

I had given him a very quick kiss goodbye, and missed him immediately after walking away. Now I figured I had a second chance, so I took it! We walked together for a while:

And stood by each other (and by some folks that looked like they had just woken up...)

And then, pretty soon, the line really started to move, and I knew we were going to be off. SJV had said that he was going to meet me at 10 (or so), at 14, 16 and at 22 (or so). Best Bud Connie was going to join him. I knew it was going to be a tough day. I was looking forward to seeing them as often as possible... Next door neighbor and rabbit runner Reed was going to meet me at 10 with SJV, and run with me for a few miles. I was really, really looking forward to that.

So off I went -- by myself, and without my i-pod (which I forgot in my gear bag, which I checked at the tent in the mad dash to get to the starting line). Now, I know that they're not allowed on the course, but c'mon! Anyhoo, all I could hear was the pitter patter of running feet...

Mile one down, and my leg already hurt like a son-of-a-gun. Those first few miles were, for me, more thoughtful and contemplative than the last twenty. I ran by the building where I had both my first and second jobs, the river-boat pier where I boarded a dinner-cruise boat during my first trip to Chicago, the building where I have my current job... all I could think of was what a strange path these past few years have taken, and how much I appreciate all of it.

Of course, that was all punctuated by my leg screaming every now and again. As much as I had promised myself that I would stop and stretch every mile or so, it was so packed that doing so was like taking my life into my own hands. So I wasn't as good at stretching it in the beginning.

We got into River North, and I was running with the BatMan crew -- group of about six folks dressed like Batman, Robin, the Joker -- you get the picture. I took their camera and took a photo of them running together -- very cute photo, and i wish I had a copy! Leg still hurting (that's pretty much a constant through this marathon, unfortunately).

The other constant through this marathon was the heat -- it was starting to get warmer by this time in the race. I was still keeping a great pace -- definitely within a 5:00 hour time frame, and I was still pretty confident that even with the leg I'd make it well under 5:00.

Up to North Avenue, and let me tell you how great it was to hear music. As I neared North Avenue, I could hear U2 on some really great loudspeakers, and felt a huge surge of energy. Amazing, really, what some good music can do.

And in we go, into the park. Lots of water, and the heat's just creeping up. Now we were starting to move toward my 'hood, and I hoped that I'd see some people I knew. The crowds are usually huge in Lakeview, and I was counting on that for some much needed motivation.

Rounding the corner on Addison, there are HUGE crowds of people, including the boystown cheerleaders (yay!) and I was laughing for most of this stretch. My leg was honestly killing me, and I was limping pretty good.

But there were little kids holding out their hands to give you a high five, and everyone was yelling "GO BELLY? Belly? Was that her name...?" It was cracking me up.

But the fact of the matter: I got some cheers. And I needed them...

At the end of my street in Lakeview, I saw Vik -- amazing athlete and great friend (wife of Reed, the rabbit runner). I was SO glad to see her! And she popped out of the crowd and ran with me for about a mile. She was super positive, and I needed that, too. I learned later that I hadn't hidden how bad my leg felt from her (even though I thought I had) and that she was a little worried that I wouldn't finish. Honestly, so was I.

But I did get to tell her that, had it not been for her and Reed, there would be no way that I could have changed my life in the way that I have -- two years ago I was a smoker that didnt' run at all. Now I was completing a marathon, and I owed a good bit of that transformation to her and Reed. It was great to have that time with her, and i was sad to see her have to go. But I was also glad to have some solitary time, and to go through Old Town now.

I ran through some really beautiful areas in Chicago on this stretch -- Lincoln Park and Old Town are really fantastic, and it kept my mind off the leg. I wasn't even paying attention to the miles, to be honest -- I knew that it was going to be a long day...

But, pretty soon, I popped out on North Avenue again, and started looking for SJV and Reed and Connie. I thought that I ran by them, and was getting ready to run backwards to find them, when I saw them just ahead. SJV had a special needs bag for me, and dipped into it for some special cream that does a great job of soothing the leg. Honestly, that worked wonders, and after a kiss and a hug, Reed and I took off for points south.

Right about here is when Reed thought that I wasn't going to make it. I was limping along, my gait had changed, and I probably should have just said enough was enough. But, as I had said before, I had run a 20 mile run, and I would have been damned not to get a medal after all was said and done. I was determined. Sometimes the heart beats the head.

I was super glad to hit the half-way, and then remembered that the race starts at halfway. *Sigh* Oh -- and by this time, I was slipping from my hoped finishing time. And it was getting really hot. Really, really hot on the pavement. I wavered between worrying if I was getting enough to drink and worrying if I was drinking too much.

Reed and I stopped a lot to stretch and drink... and right around the halfway point is when I threw in the towel on my finishing time goal, and lo and behold: my leg magically stopped hurting. So, that was one major positive. The other was having Reed keeping me company. Honestly, an amazing runner and a great guy to keep you company during a long run (or at any time, really.)

At 14 or so, we saw SJV (I was really looking forward to that...)

Frankly, I think these are both from 14, but they may be from 16 -- like I said, I got the miles all jumbled in my head...

And Reed was going to take off and leave me at mile 16. He had already run 5 with a friend of ours, and he hadn't been doing a whole lot of training. So this was quite a bit of running (even though he's Elite Level). We came up on SJV and Connie at mile 16, took a nice chit chat break, and then started off again. Reed then said that he'd run with me until he found a good L station or something to take him home. That would be around chinatown, which we both thought was in two miles.

Um, no. Chinatown was a good 4-5 miles from there. *sigh* Again, totally unaware of my surroundings.

And this was when it started to get blazingly hot. There are reports that signs said it was 92, but in any case, on the pavement in the sun (no shade at this point) it was in the mid-80s, and it was very uncomfortable. So, Reed found some ice, and we put it under our hats on our heads. Very good call, and that kept us going for quite a while. We'd alternate running and walking, and just generally taking it easy.

We made it through little italy, and through Pilsen -- right around there I got a bit light-headed and started to feel a little funny. We slowed and drank some water, and took it even easier from that point. I was convinced that I was going to finish -- my leg didn't hurt so long as I took it easy, and I just wanted that medal. I craved it.

Chinatown was great -- a much needed energy boost, with big crowds and chinese dragons. Very cool. As an added plus, I had watched the marathon for years at that spot, and I had had visions of that portion of the race during my long runs. Now I was doing it -- and I was darned proud.

I figured thta Reed would stop off at that point, but to my surprise and delight, he stayed, saying that SJV was going to meet me at 22-23, and he might as well run that far, too. I had the feeling that he was worried about me -- which was wonderful and horrible at the same time. I was NOT going to be pulled off of this course in a stretcher.

SJV was going to run me in from 22-23, and I was very excited abuot that. In my head, I had planned on how we would run it together, and how special it would be when he was with me for it. We got to mile 22-23, and I saw SJV, and he still had on jeans. I was super disappointed, so I sortof barked at him a bit -- how was he going to run in jeans? I thought he was going to run with me! Best Bud Connie was also there, and SJV said that they hadn't had time to change, and did I really want him to run... there was a bit of discussion, and he said that he would. I was then happy, but wish that I would have noticed that my blood sugar was a little wonky (or I was just honestly tired) which was why I was so cranky at him just then. In any case, I still hadn't hit the wall, and was having a pretty good time. I figured that there were only a few miles left, and that wasnt' any big deal at all.

Of course, it was still unbearably hot. But Reed found some more ice, so I put some in my head to show John how I looked like a cone-head:

And we went along, alternating running and walking, and generally hanging together. John would run ahead and take photos (again, not what I had envisioned in my head) and then run back, and then head off again -- I tried to keep up with him, trying to go faster than I should, and then I'd bonk and start walking. *Sigh* And around 25 was when my blood sugar and attitude got the better of me, and I told John No More Photos. He captured it on camera:

It was pretty funny, really -- he saw the humor in it, and totally understood what I was going through (having done two marathons, he's been there himself). And before I knew it, Reed was waving goodbye at mile 26 (that's right, folks -- he ran 21 miles of the marathon!). Then it was SJV that waved goodbye, and kissed me good luck. Then I was off, to my final goal of running up the hill to the finish line, and to run it in the last .2. SJV captured it:

And I was done.

I saw Paul -- amazing friend and co-worker (well, actually, boss) at the finish. He leads the pacers, and he was the one who gave me my medal and my mylar thingy. And then I had to walk -- AGAIN -- at least a mile to get my food and stuff, and then to get over to the tent. *sigh* SJV caught me before I got there (thank god) and I got a congratulatory hug and a kiss. Then we made our way over to the tent, where I saw good buddy connie:

And, in the tent, running path mayor Bob Horowitz:

And fellow running group member, Melissa:

Both Bob and Melissa had rough days, as well -- in fact, everyone's times were within 45-1:00 of what they had wanted. The heat was a lot, and it was a long day. Anyhoo, we hung out at the tent for a bit, and then we took the train home:

(That photo of me on the train is Exhibit A on why I won't allow photos to be taken of me in mylar.)

SJV and I went out to eat:
But I couldn't really eat. I tried to tell him about all the stuff that happened in the marathon, but there was too much. The one thing I could tell him was what I decided to do to my temporary tattoo after it was clear that trying to finish in 5:00 was going to kill my leg:

And that, my friends, is it. A marathon race report that gives you a taste, and a view, of what it was like for me. ;) My time is unimportant, but it was something like 5:33. I finished, and that's what matters.
Since the marathon, I've had a lot of time to think about it, and to think about what I think about thinking about it. I think the marathon is what it is: a race with a significant distance, that requires a lot of focus and drive, and a lot of luck. Four months of training come down to the conditions (both external and internal) on one day. That's a lot of pressure to put on one day...
I'm off to go for a run, or something -- thanks for listening, and good luck at the races...
One mile at a time...

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