As tradition dictates, here it is. My Chicago Marathon 2009 recap. And ah-waaaaay we go!
To qualify for Boston, I had to run under a 3:45:59. I’d trained all summer on the Furman program for a 3:45 finishing time, but still wasn’t sure I could do it. I felt pretty confident I could hold the pace until mile 21 but didn’t know what awaited me after that. I told only a few people I was trying for Boston and told everyone else I just wanted to break 4 hours. I do better mentally if I know I’ve lowered people’s expectations and can surprise them with a big win…
The first thing I did was slice the back of my right ankle open with a razor while shaving. Vanity, vanity… probably would have been better to run with stubble but I’m a shave-on-race-day kinda girl. No major damage, thank heavens.
I met my family downstairs (details on that later) and we walked to Corral D. It was cold - 34 degrees. I started the race in a running skirt, long-sleeved technical tee, $8 throw-away jacket, gloves, and baseball hat. I was unusually calm. No jitters, butterflies, or nerves. I felt exactly like I wanted to feel - like I was going out for a 26.2 mile run at a targeted pace and we'd just see what the day held. With the exception of the 44,499 other runners surrounding me, I could have been back home.
The Start: I crossed the start line 3+ minutes after the gun went off. Ran a slow first mile due to the crowd but it was possible to pick your pace beginning at about mile 2.
Miles 1-3: I was wearing a Race Ready skirt which is a running skirt with pockets in the back to hold whatever you need for a race. I'd wore the skirt on several practice runs but never loaded down with 5 Gu's and an I-pod. I spent the first miles of the race tugging back up a skirt that kept slipping down in the back. Thank heavens my jacket was long enough to cover my back end because this skirt was SLIPPING DOWN. I'm running and tugging it up thinking, "I can NOT do this for 26 miles!" I finally threw out a Gu to lighten the load, gave one good tug up, and was okay after that.
Miles 4-6: Unintentionally, I started the race near the 3:45 pace team in my corral. I tried to run with a pace team in Richmond with terrible results and had sworn them off. Yet I found myself thinking, "Well, we started together. Maybe I should just hang with them..." But by my watch, we were running 8:21 - 8:22 minute miles when what we should have been running were 8:35's. I hesitated. Maybe the pace leaders knew better than I did. Maybe they knew that we'd have to run this faster pace in order to get through the water stops and still make a 3:45 finish. After going back and forth I went back to my mantra which was "Trust the Training." 8:21 was too fast a pace to hold and not ruin my marathon. I backed off and let them go. (And caught them later in the race.)
Mile 7: The spasm. I got a small pinch/spasm in my upper, rear right thigh. I've had it before... near the end of my marathons. Feeling the sharp twinge that early in the race freaked me out. But I had almost one minute banked so I paused for 10 seconds and stretched it out. I did this 3-4 times during the race. It kept twinging, but never got bad.
Mile 13: I get to see my family! I'm scanning the crowd for them and spot them as I take a curve. They haven't seen me. They're looking for a purple top but I'm still wearing my white throw-away jacket. I scream, "Nicole, Nicole, Nicole!" at my sister and she sees me and points me out to Mom. I have a fleeting glimpse of a guy next to Blair nudging him and pointing me out and Blair catching a quick glimpse of me. I didn't see my Dad and cousin, Mark, who were also there, but I'm thrilled to have seen family.
Mile 17: Time to look for family again. This time I spot them and they spot me. They're behind a waist-high fence in a curve and I start to run over to give them a quick hug but I'd proably lose 10-15 seconds so I think better of it, wave, and keep going.
Mile 21: Chinatown. Par-tay! This was my favorite part of the course. Crowds were 5 people deep, screaming encouragement, signs, dragons, music... impossible not to lift the spirits. My family had said they'd try to meet me here but weren't sure they could make it here and still have time to get to the finish line. Blair, my darling husband, ran from mile 17 to the mile 21 spot just in time to see me go through. I was so happy to see him. Every time I spotted family on the course I felt that much stronger.
Mile 22: An announcer on a loudspeaker tells us that we are making history and that we'll remember this day for the rest of our lives. I know in my heart he's right.
Mile 23.1: All I have left is a 5k. I've got this. I have so GOT this race in the bag, and I know it. I've still got plenty of mojo working for me. I can't believe the run I've had. By my watch, I have held steady between an 8:28 - 8:30 pace the entire way. And felt not just fine, but great. I never once struggled, never once thought about stopping, never once had to struggle to stay on pace. I think I took 3 deep breaths the entire race. After having trained all summer in NC humidity, 38 degree weather was a gift. Breathing was a breeze, didn't sweat much, no issues with dehydration. I was stiff and sore, sure. But I've had much harder 15 mile training runs. This run was a pleasure.
Miles 24-26.2: I'm looking for family but the crowds are immense. I never did see them (although they saw me with only the .2 left to go). I pick up the pace and sprint the finish. "THAT'S BOSTON!" is all I can think.
AFTER THE RACE
I suffer when I stop running and this was no exception. I managed to grab some ice bags and lower myself to the ground and iced my legs for about 10 minutes. Didn't help. I was really hurting. With great pain and sometimes fighting off tears, I made it the 3 blocks (!!!) to the runners reunite area where we were to meet our families. I lurched my way to the "H" section and squatted down. It hurt too much to stand. I saw Blair go by. "Blair!" I said. He looked right and left. "Down here," I called. He gave me a big hug (and his jacket) and hand fed me animal crackers because I kid you not, I was too sore to make the effort to do it myself. We found my family and walked back to the hotel.
My official time is 3:44:02, an 8:34 pace. I was 6,836 overall (out of 33,608 finishers), and placed in the top 10% for my gender (I was the 1,454 woman to cross the finish line) and my age group (35-39).
What freaks me out is the 8:34 official pace. By my Garmin, I never ONCE went over an 8:30 pace. Per my watch, I finished the race at an 8:28 pace. Which means if I had stuck with the plan and run, by my watch, an 8:35 pace, thinking I was qualifying for Boston, I would have missed it. Thank God I was worried I might run out of juice at the end and so chose to bank some minutes. It's what saved me.
To say I'm still on a runner's high is an understatement. I never, EVER thought at the beginning of this summer that me running a Boston qualifying time was even remotely possible. I was just hoping I'd be able to come in under 4 hours. I am writing the Furman program a long and heartfelt thank you letter, first thing tomorrow morning. They helped me slice 31 minutes off my PR from last November. I think I owe them my firstborn.
And bear with me, but I have a few more marathon stories to tell. Namely about what my family and Blair went through to make sure I had a great race day. I'll post that tomorrow. But for now, I'll leave you with words of wisdom from a spectator, who held a giant sign up around mile 15 that had my favorite quote of the day:
"The only reason your feet hurt is because
of the amount of ASS You're Kicking!!!"