October 14, 2013

Race Recap: Chicago Marathon 10.13.13

Well, it's been over 24 hours since the big day, and I think I am finally starting to process it.  I'm sure I will forget a million things--where to even begin??--but I'll give it my best shot. :)

Growing up, I never really knew anyone who ran marathons.  Even when I made a few friends who were distance runners in college, I always kind of thought that it was just something you were born with.  You know, some people were born able to run marathons, other people (like me) weren't.  It's totally crazy, but that was really what I thought!  Even when I started running seriously back in 2010, I still never thought I'd run a marathon.  Then, this January, I decided that 2013 was the big year.  I signed up with Autism Speaks as a charity runner with Team Up!, and I registered for the Chicago Marathon the next month.  Yikes!  Okay, I don't need to go into detail about my training--I've been blogging about that since summer!  Fast forward to this weekend!

Friday I was off school early thanks to a late night of parent conferences Thursday, so I was able to head to the race expo downtown.  I got some fun swag, a bought a great shirt, had some KT tape put on my left foot (ugh plantar faciitis...) that I later decided to peel off, and chatted with the coordinator from Team Up! Autism Speaks.  This expo was totally awesome, and the booths were spread out enough that it never felt crazy crowded.  After a super busy week at school, things started FINALLY sinking in at the expo--I would be running a marathon in just two days!
Signing the wall of runners!

Saturday I went to the Autism Speaks charity pasta dinner and basically became an emotional basket case listening to other runners share stories about their connections to autism.  Truly amazing.  Oh, and I also stuffed my face with amazing pasta. YUM.  That night I laid out my clothes and gear, pinned on my race bib, taped my ITBs with rock tape, and rolled out with the stick before hopping in bed at 8:30pm.  Thanks to my awesome friend Katy for letting me crash at her place in the city!
Our team!
My wake up call came bright (dark?) and early at 4:15am on Sunday.  I wasted no time in getting dressed, eating a quick breakfast, and jumping on the L to get myself downtown.  I met up with my running buddy Christy and her sister before heading over to our start corral.  I was so glad to have Christy with me before the start--chatting with a friend totally calmed my nerves!  We also met up with out other friend from running group, Jessica, before the start!
I swear, I would never have made it to the start line without these girls!
Crowds.  Gigantic Crowds.
Frozen and ready to start RUNNING!!

The weather was super chilly early on, so I was reeeally grateful for my throwaway jacket, pants, and gloves.  I think the whole time standing around in our corral I was mostly in denial--I was so distracted by being FREEZING that I didn't have a chance to get nervous!  WIN!  Before I knew it, we were off, running through the streets of the Windy City with 40,000 other people.  Christy and I ran together and decided to start out running around a 12:30 average pace, sticking to the 5/1 run/walk intervals we trained with over the summer.  Christy warned me that she gets excited at races and sucks at pacing herself, so we agreed I would be in charge of keeping us on pace. :)  Challenge accepted!
My parents snapped this pic of the elites running through Old Town
The first miles ticked by so quickly--the crowds were so energetic as we ran through downtown! Next, we ran up to beautiful Lincoln Park, where, around mile 5, Christy and I decided that regardless of the LONG LINES, we HAD to stop for a restroom break.  We ended up waiting in line at the porta-potties for over 5 minutes, but I don't think I could have made it another step!  Around mile 6.5, I saw my friend Steve!  The course ran right by his apartment in Lakeview, and it was awesome to see him and get a quick high-five.
Thanks for coming out, Steve!
After that, we ran circled back south and hit Old Town with amazing cheering crowds and Boys Town with its hilarious wedding-themed cheering stations.  I saw my parents around mile 9, my friend Katy around mile 10, and our pace-group leader from summer training, Donna, at mile 11.  Donna ran out into the street screaming our names and gave us a gigantic hug.  Perfect. :)  I cannot even begin to tell you how much both the support of the crowds of spectators and my friends and family who came out to cheer meant to me.  Although some of the aches and pains I felt during my training were starting to make some noise to me, I commented to Christy that I felt like the mile were passing quickly!
Big smiles--I'm loving this race!

No matter how bad I feel a run or a race went, there is always a part of running where I am smiling from ear to ear.  If running can keep me smiling like that, it will always be a part of my life.

Ali Tremaine
Having a blast with Christy
Things get pretty blurry around this point--the sun was starting to come out in full-force!  We continued to run through North Side neighborhoods, then back through downtown before turning west and south.  We ran past United Center, and I commented that you'd think they could get at least a couple Blackhawks or Bulls out to cheer for us.  I mean really.  :)  There was Greek Town, West Loop, Littly Italy, and UIC...Christy was really struggling with the heat, and we took a few extra walking breaks.  By the half way point, my left IT band was acting up too, so I stopped a few times to stretch it out.  Thankfully, I was able to keep trucking along!  Around mile 19 in Pilsen, Christy sat down on a curb in the shade under a bridge--the heat was becoming too much.  I stayed with her while she rested, but when we got up, she told me to go on ahead--she needed to walk for awhile longer.  We had decided in advance that we would run our own races if it came to it, so I wished her luck and headed off.

My IT band was really bugging me at this point, and I was stopping to stretch more frequently when I realized that I had stuck two Extra Strength Tylenol in my SPI belt to take around mile 15, and I'd forgotten about them!  I popped those babies at the mile 20 aid station along with my third Peanut Butter Gu of the race, washed it all down with some Gatorade and Water, and took off like a new woman.  I swear, those Tylenol were a godsend.  My legs felt better, and I was able to pick up my pace without needing so many stretch breaks.  I booked it out of Pilsen and into Chinatown where the Chinese Dragon put a big smile on my face.

Shortly after that I saw my parents again hanging out in the IIT campus.  This was the PERFECT time in the race to see them--it had been awhile since I'd seen a friendly face, and without my running buddy to keep me company anymore, it was a perfect pick me up.
I'm starting to look more like I've been running for 20+ miles at this point...

(This smile is only partially fake...)

From there, I knew that we were getting close.  I can't lie, though, miles 22-24ish were tough.  Hot, sunny, and with less crowd support than any other chunk of the race.  But just when everything is feeling really rough, the Chicago skyline comes back into view and you realize you are heading back into downtown.  Around this point I realized that almost every runner around me was walking--many looked like they were in so much pain, and more than once I saw someone being consoled by a spectator and talked into carrying on.  I was amazed to realize that while I was still taking my 1-minute walk breaks, I was able to continue running my 5-minute intervals and not feeling like I was ready to pass out or die.  Don't get me wrong, EVERYTHING hurt.  But I was still moving forward.  At that point, it started to hit me--I was going to finish a MARATHON!

As I ran up Michigan Avenue past mile 24, I saw my cousin in the crowd--I almost ran past her, but turned around to give her a big hug.  At that point in the race, having a fan cheering for me was a god send.  I swear it gave me the energy I needed to get to the finish!  Before I knew it, there was the sign for mile 25, then the "1 mile left" sign, then mile 26, 800 yards left, 400 yards left, 100 yards left...I ran up that infamous "hill", turned the corner, and gasped for breath, tears hitting my eyes, when I saw the finish line ahead of me.  I dug deep and gave everything I had left in me to sprint across that finish line.
Finish line of the 2011 Chicago Marathon
No finish line pics yet, so I borrowed this old one from here. It looked the same :)
By this point my body and brain were too exhausted to form any cohesive thoughts, but one thought did stick--I DID IT.  I FINISHED A MARATHON.  Not only that, but I'd run it without ever hitting "the wall" or ever wanting to quit.  I didn't cry any tears of pain, and I never felt like the race was passing slowly.  And when I finished, I finished smiling.  That's what I call a successful race.

So many people crossing the finish line of a marathon look as happy as when I won.  They have tears in their eyes.  This sport is full of winners.
Gary Muhrcke

Thanks to the extra tight security in Chicago this year, my parents and I had some trouble reuniting, and I even had trouble finding my way out of the post-race party in Grant Park.  My gear was checked at the Hilton hotel through my running group, CARA, but in order to leave Grant Park I had to walk even FURTHER away from the hotel.  I swear, that trek down Michigan Ave to the Hilton, clutching my space blanket and water was the toughest part of the day!  (That, and the steps down to get on the L later that afternoon...)  I kept looking up at the flags for the hotel in the distance, swearing that they weren't getting any closer.  But I finally made it there and was reunited with my parents.
After getting my gear back and getting a huge hug from the Autism Speaks team coordinator, I collapsed into a chair at the hotel's Starbucks and swore I wasn't moving again anytime in the near future.  No arguments there from my parents who were almost as tired as I was after a crazy day running all over the city spectating!  My Dad popped a couple of my Tylenol along with me after we finally sat down!
The miracle isn't that I finished.  The miracle is that I had the courage to start.
John Bingham
They say when you cross the finish line of a marathon, it changes you.  I think this is partly true--when I stepped into the finisher's chute and accepted my medal, my space blanket, and my 312 beer, I looked around and realized that finally, FINALLY I was a marathoner.  But I think there's more to it than crossing the finish line.  Those months of training are also what change you.  All of that hard work and effort leading up to this moment when I looked down at the medal around my neck and realized that I'd run a marathon.  That training that showed me again and again that anything relaly is possible.  I set distance record after distance record for myself this summer, constantly amazing myself as I stretched the limits of what I'd thought I was capable of doing.  I learned something important this summer--if you are willing to set big goals, to have faith, and to WORK harder than you've ever worked before, really, anything is possible.
Thanks Mom + Dad for being the best cheerleaders and parents EVER!
I run because it's so symbolic of life.  You have to drive yourself to overcome the obstacles.  You might feel that you can't.  But then you find your inner strength, and you realize you're capable of so much more than you thought.
Arthur Black

I cannot express enough how much the support of my friends and family has meant to me these past few months as I've trained for the toughest undertaking of my life.  More importantly, I am so very grateful to the friends, family, and strangers who supported my fundraising by donating over $3,100 total to Autism Speaks.  I am speechless when I think about all of the love poured into those donations and the difference they will make in the lives of those touched by autism.
The first child with autism to capture my heart when I was just a 14 year old babysitter...
13 years later and I am still blessed to be a part of his life!

Overall, the day was completely perfect.  The Chicago Marathon was without a doubt one of the best races of my life--the course was fantastic, and words cannot even describe the crowd support.  Seriously, you do not even know what good crowd support is until you've run Chicago.  Our city sure knows how to do a marathon!!  If it isn't already, put Chicago on your bucket list.  And if you think you can't run a marathon, think again.  YOU CAN.  

Put all excuses aside and remember this:
YOU are capable.
Zig Ziglar


  1. Congrats girl! Yes! Anything is possible! Great recap and loved the pictures.

  2. You need to cross this one off your 30-before-30 list!

  3. Congratulations! I agree...the process changes you. You realize that there's nothing you can't do if you set your mind to it. One of these days I'll get to do Chicago. It's definitely on the list.

  4. Congrats! This is so amazing. Definitely something to be incredibly proud of completing :)

  5. Congrats!! I can't even imagine how awesome it must feel to know you ran. So are you hooked now?

  6. Congrats! Great job on your first marathon, feels pretty good to join the ranks doesn't it :)

  7. Great job! YOu are a marathon runner!! Loved all of the smiles..hopefully when I run my first in two weeks I will be as full of smiles as you were :)

  8. A huge congrats! You are right that so much more than just finishing a marathon changes you. Glad you had support at different points to cheer you on.

  9. I totally started tearing up the other day when I read the part about you seeing the finish line! Nicely done on all counts. You are amazing!

  10. Congratulations! I was so excited to read this recap that I actually read it twice, but I loved it both times! You did it!!!!!!!!!!!!! It sounds like you had a really great experience which is awesome!

  11. Congratulations!! It sounds like you had an amazing time. I've enjoyed reading everyone's recaps of Chicago!!

  12. Congrats! This is so amazing.thanks for sharing.
    "Chicago IT"

  13. Congratulations! Running a marathon is a huge accomplishment and you will never ever forget it. Love your blog :)


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