Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Road to Chicago


I had a mantra going into this marathon: I will be great. 
I will (I will do this. I will improve. I will become better. I will finish.) 
Be great (by challenging myself, by working towards a new goal.)

I will be great.
I will.
Be great.

There were so many things surrounding this full that I used as motivation. Three years ago when I ran my last marathon, I was a completely different person. I wasn't serious. I didn't take my health seriously. I didn't run with purpose. Back then my training was marginal at best. I talked a good game, but when it came down to it, I coasted my way through. 

Maybe it's because I am older now. Maybe having a child changed my perspective. Or maybe it's because the thought of challenging myself both physically and mentally is the only way I can feel like I am making the most of this body with the limited time I have on this earth. Whatever the case, something fundamentally shifted in my mind last year.

When I clicked submit on the Chicago marathon lottery registration last February, I just knew. I knew this year will be different. This marathon will be different.

It's worth noting that the shift was caused by a low point in my running/personal life. Fresh out of the "new motherhood" phase, I was overweight and out of shape. I ran a half close to a year after giving birth, and finished with an abysmal result. I was embarrassed.

The fact that I crashed and burned wasn't the issue, but that I used my new status as an excuse to disregard my own health. Humbled and humiliated, I joined online running groups for motivation, and found people whose enthusiasm for running and working out to be infectious.

You can say that I started training for Chicago even before I knew I was chosen to run, even before I decided to enter the lottery. I sought redemption for that abysmal half by immediately signing up for another, one that would toughen my resolve. I started strength training in earnest, and cleaned up my eating habits (for the most part). I started running and working out in the winter, something I have never done before.

Three months after the abysmal half, in the dead of January, I found my redemption by running a new PR, a cycle that repeated itself over and over this year. The distances varied, but the results were the same. One by one the old records fell. Part of me was amazed that I would find so much improvement in such a short period of time. And part of me cursed my younger self for not trying harder.

I set aside what I thought I knew, and relearned the basics of base building, started incorporating speed work and reprogrammed my schedule. If you're reading this, then you pretty much knew how my training went, so I'll spare you the details...


Traveling out of town for a marathon is a daunting event: fly in. Run to expo. Check into hotel. Find food. And try to get enough hydration and rest before race day. Add in a group and you have a few logistical issues to balance.

The Friday night before flying in, I only managed 5 hours of sleep. Saturday I was up at 5:30am for an 8:30 flight. In my mind, the only things on my agenda was to head to the expo, meet up with the LOCM crew, find some food, lay out my gear, and call it a day. And while that was essentially what happened, everything took way longer than I had planned. Having made arrangements for accommodation with a group, I should have taken into account that incorporating the schedules of 8 other people would result in a less than ideal situation for individual prep time. Not wanting to be selfish, I just went with the flow. However, this caused me to be on my feet for way longer than I had anticipated. I also didn't get a proper meal in until very late into the evening, when my legs were screaming at me from the flight and from running around. Up until about 8pm, the only food I ate was an airport croissant, a cup of coffee, a bagel and a banana. I did manage however, to keep hydrated by carrying my water bottle everywhere.

I was up for over 16 hours, on my feet for way too long. I also had plans to get bread and PB nearby, but tossed that decision aside to chance the free breakfast at the hotel. (And when they ran out of coffee, and only had bagels and muffins left, thanked the heavens silently that I at least had the sense to stop into a 7/11 to grab bananas, almonds, coconut water and pretzels "just in case.") 

Needless to say, the entire time leading before the race was taxing both physically and mentally, but once I was able to ritualistically lay out my gear, I was able to relax. I fell asleep around 11:15pm, and actually slept fairly well until the alarm went off five and a half hours later. 

Armed with two bananas, a bagel, a quarter cup of coffee and a bag of pretzels, I headed out of the hotel and approached a runner who was trying to hail a taxi, and asked if she would mind sharing a ride to the start, to which she happily accepted. The cab driver was only able to drive us about three blocks over before informing us that the roads were already being closed off, and that we'd have to walk the rest of the way. It's worth noting that within those three blocks, we almost got into a car accident because some idiot was driving the wrong way, and if it weren't for the quick foot of our cabbie breaking, I probably wouldn't have made it to the starting line. (It's funny now, but the only thought I had in my mind at the time was, "Oh hell no, I need to run this race!")

After walking to the entrance gates, and sharing running stories, my fellow car accident escapee and I bid each other a good race. She headed to her corral, and I walked over to mine where I happily met up with our fearless LOCM leader, and later on, H, my fellow NYer. I stuffed down the bagel, bananas, and half a bag of pretzels, made a last porta potty run, and prayed that the less than ideal previous 24 hours will not play a big part in the next 5. But I knew it would. The question was how it was going to play out. 

But first, let me take a selfie...

MILES 1-18

The first half was a blur. I honestly don't remember much of the early miles other than the fact that I felt really good. I was conscious of going out too fast, so I tried to pull back whenever I realized I was quick stepping it. I had trouble reading the garmin, (which I knew would be the case from reading course feedback), so I tried to go by feel. It didn't seem hot, but I stuck to my hydration strategy, and refilled at mile 5 and 10 like I always did. However, the first sign of trouble came between miles 8 and 9. I felt the familiar twinge of a cramp threat on my left calf. I wrestled with the decision, and ultimately decided pop a Tylenol in just to see if I can hold off any cramping. (That twinge gave me flashbacks of mile 10 at MCM when all the running around the day before caused a leg cramp.)

I do remember I got super excited when I got to the halfway point, and thinking to myself that I'm actually running straight through. The first time I actually took a walk break was around the 17.5 mark, and I purposely did that because I knew I was going to get myself in trouble if I didn't reel it in and refocus. Realizing I hit 2:25 for the first half, I knew I had a little time in the bank so to speak. There would be no negative splitting on this day... 

MILES 19-26

From 19 on, the wheels pretty much started to fall off. I held on as much as I could, but I could feel my legs getting heavier. At certain points, I started adding more walking in just to try and head off the quads, which were beginning to seize up in a way that I've never experienced before, and wondered if the rolling hills training versus fast and flat course running caused this new phenomenon. After reaching mile 22 and popping a third Tylenol, I was about to let go of my sub 5 hour B goal, but for some reason thought about people on suicide missions, and how they just don't give up without a fight, and how their spirit just drives them to their final goal. (Chalk this one up for the glycogen store depletion.) As macabre as that sounded, it gave me a new mantra to focus on...


Through the entire race, I semi-followed people who had pace numbers on their backs. From mile 22 on, I bounced back and forth between a lady with chevron capris (4:55) and two neon green TFK runners (5:00). Each time I slowed down to a walk, I thought to myself, "not without a fight," and started running again. I got angry. And then I got focused. I came too far to just let go, and that thought sustained me for the last 4 miles. 

Around mile 24, I got lightheaded. Not without a fight. 

Around mile 25, I got angry again. Not without a fight. 

By the time the "1 More Mile" sign appeared, I had used up everything in the tank, and was running on fumes. The last 800 meters seemed almost as long as the first 13 miles. I crossed the finish line with everything I had, and was immediately overwhelmed by all the feelings that had built up over the last several hours. 

A lady in the crowd calls out, "5:05:30! Great job!" And I accepted that as my time, along with my medal and beer. Funny thing was, somewhere along the way, I realized that it didn't even matter what time I finished at, because I was already proud of what I had accomplished. It wasn't until I sat down and checked my messages that I saw a screenshot of my official time, and got crazy excited that I had attained my B goal that I cried some more. The beer tasted extra good after that!

I literally got chills when I saw that.

Oh, and for those that wondered, I did have my celebratory donut in the end! (Seems to work, so why change it now?!)

Caramel Pumpkin Pecan donut courtesy of Glazed and Infused

The splits. (I can't believe I did a couple of sub 10s.)


CewTwo said...

Excellent, excellent tale you tell. It was mesmerising and brought back memories! Thanks, Lisa!

dahgenius said...

You're a Rock Star! You are PHENOMENAL.

dahgenius said...

BTW, you better change your profile summary... "slow poke marathoner" no longer applies! :) said...

Great job! Congrats!

Susan said...

This is amazing! Fu is BACK, baby!!!!!