The Chicago Marathon: I Did It, and I Only Sucked a Little Bit.

Hello there, blog readers! Boy, has it been a long time! So long that I’m not even sure that blogging is still a thing that people are doing(?) At any rate, I (sort of) recently ran the Chicago Marathon and I figured that my long-lost blog was as good a platform as any to share my race  report with you. So without further ado, if you should care to read it, here it is, my own personal account of the Chicago Marathon!

First, Let’s Set the Stage…

It’s no big secret to those of you in my inner circle that I am a frequent flyer on the Depression and Anxiety Express. The six months leading up to Chicago Marathon were a particularly turbulent and extended ride for me.  (Many thanks and hugs to all of you who supported/ tolerated me during that time.) How is this relevant to my race report, you ask? It’s relevant because this marathon training cycle  marked the transition out of a not-so-good place into a better one for me. Preparing for this race became the motivation I needed to get out of bed in the morning and my source of structure and feelings of success at a time in my life  when I really needed structure and feelings of success.

In hopes of ending a year + training/ motivation slump, I decided that (as a poor person) my ultimate motivator would  be making a not-insignificant financial investment in some formal coaching. Or a training program written especially for me by a coach, as the case was for me. (The cost of actual month to month coaching is a this point, a distant financial aspiration.)   Guys. Having someone else map out every single detail of my training was SO LUXURIOUS! I loved it and I would recommend it to anyone. The mileage was big, the mid-week workouts were daunting, and the pick ups were exotic. All things considered,  I  enjoyed the plan I used. I felt largely successful at it despite perfectly wretched heat and humidity that were present for its duration, and when they hay was in the barn I was healthy and feeling reasonably prepared to take a shot at my goal time of 3:19:59.

Fast Forward to Race Week…

I arrived in Chicago feeling overtired and overwhelmed from a busy work week leading up to going out of town, my usual last-minute packing/ travel anxiety, and an obscenely early (yet very affordable) flight. Fortunately, Laura’s  Super-Baller Marriott Points VIP status  allowed  us to check into our hotel up our 9 am arrival, and after enjoying the world’s most expensive Starbucks breakfast with Anna, I was able to treat myself to a gloriously long nap. And that’s pretty much how my time in Chicago leading up to the marathon went… Nap, eat, buy all the things at the expo, nap, shower using fancy sample sized Aveda products provided by our sheeshy hotel, repeat. On Saturday night I googled a pace band for  my goal time, pondered a few of the milestone splits on it, doodled out my plan for dividing the race course into segments, painted my nails and went to bed.

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View from the super-baller Marriott Points hotel room. Thanks again to Laura for the hook-up!

Fast Forward to Race Day…

I think I mostly got a restful night’s sleep, but I was up at the first sounds of  volunteer check in at 4 am, as we could hear every word of it being broadcast over the loudspeaker from our hotel. I finally removed myself from the bed around  5, and was immediately filled with optimism for a good race with an… errr… very productive bathroom visit.  A half bagel with Nutella, 24 oz of Tailwind, some bad hotel coffee, and one UCAN bar later my roommates Laura and Anna and I were out the door and start line bound. Despite the crowds we were able to locate a number of our BCTC teammates and even pose for a picture before the crowd scattered us in different directions. Laura and I checked our bags and peed among other openly peeing strangers in the park before heading for our corral.  As we approached the corral I decided that another bathroom stop was necessary, but porta potty lines were long were long and time was running short. I took matters into my own hands and treated myself to another “productive bathroom trip” behind the porta potties. As headed to the corral I was filled guilt, regret, and concern that this (probably illegal) action might have some negative bearing on my race day karma. Around the same time I casually checked my heart rate on the Garmin was alarmed to see that it was uncharacteristically high. A combination of public pooping guilt and race day jitters, no doubt.

I’m Doing It! I’m Only Kind of Sucking!

To calm myself I took some deep breaths and channeled my favorite inspirational mantras (“You’re doing it! You’re not sucking!” and “Everything is fine. Nothing is f@#%ed.” are my go-tos in high-stress race situations) as well as the comforting wisdom and hilarity of some of my favorite running friends. And before I knew it I was hitting the button on my watch at the start line. My race strategy entailed a conservative start, settling into the slower end of my goal pace range once I crossed the 10K, dropping down to the faster end of the goal pace range after the half, and giving it whatever I had left once I hit mile 22.

Of course my GPS signal vanished  almost instantly upon starting the race. I had heard from multiple people that this was a thing that would happen, but I  had also deemed myself immune to GPS catastrophes because the weekend prior my trusted friend and guy who ran Chicago really fast, Andrew McIver, switched my Garmin over to the fancy, Chicago Marathon proof GPS mode. (That’s the GLONASS for all you tech nerds out there.) I’m sure everything would have been just fine if it hadn’t been for the public pooping incident, but just as I feared I had botched my karma in a such a way that not even GLONASS could save me.

I was quite unpleasantly surprised at  how unnerved and helpless I felt without a trustworthy GPS to tell me my pace. And my alarm and anxiety were compounded when I compared splits with Laura to find that hers were VERY DRAMATICALLY DIFFERENT THAN MINE! By this time according to my watch, we were mostly right at goal pace, or else a little slower. (ie Exactly where I wanted to be at this point in the race.) According to Laura’s watch we were going significantly faster than goal pace. (Not where I wanted to be at all.) My perceived effort level seemed more congruent with Laura’s watch, but it was hard to know if that felt high because of my pace or my GPS anxiety.

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Christ, Garmin! GET IT TOGETHER!!! (Also, back up off me, creepy all-black-wearing dude!)

At any rate, somewhere in the 7 to 10 mile range the paces on our respective watches seemed to shake out to the pace we were looking for. I breathed a tremendous sigh of relief and likely stated my aforementioned mantras aloud as we crossed the half mat right on schedule at 1:40:xx. I noted that I was  feeling neither especially spritely nor especially exhausted at the half and I put my best conscious effort into shaving off a few more seconds per mile over the next few miles. I suppose I was mildly successful at this, seeing as the 25K to 30K 5K was, indeed my fastest of the race. But somewhere in there Laura decided to drop back and this made me sad.

I Was Going to Have a Great Marathon Until…

With out her calming presence and strategic distraction conversation, my number one race day nemesis, negative self-talk quickly set in. By ~mile 20 my inner monologue had spiraled into a dark place and my pace had slowed enough that Laura caught up with me again. She asked me if I would be interested in making a poop stop, and although we all know that I had already done enough of that for one marathon, I happily obliged. During those glorious moments when I was not running but unabashedly enjoying a sitting break in the port potty I hatched a winning strategy to bring this marathon back from the brink of disaster… or at least get to the effing finish line as fast as possible.

Mile 20 had me like…

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via GIPHY

Exotic Pick Ups to the Rescue!

A popular element of the long runs I did in training was what I like to call “exotic pick ups”. These are pick ups of varying duration done at marathon goal pace or slightly faster in the last 60 minutes of the long run with 5 min recoveries in between. Throughout my training cycle I enjoyed these pick ups for several reasons. First of all, they shifted emphasis off counting down miles late in the run and thus made the final 60 mins fly by quickly. Secondly, they segmented out  the remainder of my run into small, manageable chunks, and I found it very satisfying to dutifully check them off my list until I was done.

So when we hit mile 21 Laura and I launched a 3 mins fast/ 5 mins recovery campaign to get us through the remainder of the race. The very kind and outgoing 3:25 pacer, whom I passed and then got passed by multiple times as I employed this strategy seemed  bewildered and (as the Irish say) banjaxed by my antics, as was Adrien when I caught him on his way to a victory in the Emergency Root Canal the Day Before the Marathon division. But it worked. I was effectively moving forward, and only sucking a little.

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Mostly not sucking late in the race (sorry for blocking your face, Laura.) and moderately sucking into the finish.

My final 3:00 min effort ran out with 800m to go, and I tried to dig deep and maintain my working effort pace  for the final haul into to chute. I’m very certain that I was unsuccessful in doing this. I mercifully crossed the line in the 3:26:45, needless to say, not at all reaching my goal of 3:19:59  But I prefer to focus on what I had done. I had… (1.) Completed my second fastest marathon ever! and (2.) More importantly, slain the negative self talk and anxiety dragons that I so frequently struggle with (and not just when I’m running marathons.) In the end, yes, it was a bummer that a challenging, yet successful-feeling training cycle didn’t convert into the goal time I had hoped for. But at the same time a took a lot of pride and satisfaction from finding the mental fortitude and presence to burst through  gingerly climb over the infamous mile 20 wall when things got ugly.  And so, I will file the Chicago Marathon away as a win.

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via GIPHY

The Chicago Marathon: A mental victory that would surely make Dr. Richard Nygard proud.

In Conclusion…

Chicago puts on a terrific marathon!  It offers a flat course, amazing crowd and volunteer support, a lovely tour of an iconic, culturally diverse American city, and low stress race day logistics. Would I do it again, you ask? Does a runner shit behind the porta-johns??? Yes, it’s a race experience that I would repeat, but next time I will leave my GPS at home and just take mile splits with the trusty ole Timex. (Thanks for nothing Garmin! You can kiss my glonASS!)

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Celebrating marathon (and pizza eating) success with many of my BCTC favorites!

Words of Gratitude…

My most sincere thanks to the following people…

  • Ryan Warrenburg of Zap Fitness for writing me an enjoyable, funk-crushing training program that schooled me in the art of exotic pick ups.
  • Laura Keeley for jet-setting over to Durham to run 22 miles with me and for tolerating my GPS watch-induced panic attacks for at least 16 miles of the marathon.
  • The Oiselle Volee Cheering Section at Mile 17 & Katie Ortkiese: Ladies, y’all were the most beautiful thing I saw on the course all day! All the energy, enthusiasm, and encouragement you bestowed on me made me feel like princess who could accomplish anything! I just wish you could have been at every single mile marker! Thank you!
  • EVERYONE who waited around for my late ass to show up for any given Sunday long run. (All of you are saints and you deserve much better than me.)
  • Extra-special thanks to Bill and Torrie, who were particularly loyal long run companions.
  • Everyone who sent me supportive, encouraging texts, tweets, Facebook posts, etc. (I could feel all of your positive energy and good thoughts SO HARD on race day and every once of it was tremendously appreciated!)
  • Andrew McIver, I am grateful to you for introducing me to Giphy. This race report would hardly be worth reading without the magic of Giphy. Also, I forgive you for the GLONASS debacle. 😉
  • Brett Harris, I stole that Chris Trager GIF from you. #sorrynotsorry
  • And of course, thanks to all of you for reading.

It may very well be another two years until I write another blog post, so until then, rattle, rattle, and keep running the good run.

Xoxo,

Ellen

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