At 5 am the sound of Demi Lavato’s voice singing “Skyscraper” came on. I heard Michael take a deep breath, I rolled on to my back, looked up at the ceiling and thought to myself, “Marathon weekend is finally here” and smiled. I was so excited and happy. By 7am we were on the plane and headed to Chicago or “Chicaka” as I had been calling it. We landed just before 9am and hopped on the El to get to the Marathon Expo. It was a long train ride, weaving through all the neighborhoods. I kept wondering which one’s I’d run through. We went directly to the Expo from the Airport.
I was so excited to be at the expo. I loved seeing the banners, and the swag and feeling the excitement.
We had a great time getting our bibs and checking in. The t-shirts were great, thanks to Nike, and we had so much fun picking out all of our marathon gear!
The walls of the Nike space at the expo were wrapped in the Own Chicago 26.2 slogan and listed every runner’s name in alphabetical order. I found mine!
Brook’s was there with a really cool display for the Pure Project shoes as were all the other big names like Asics, Saucony, and others. My favorite part of the expo was the green screen where you could get your photo taken! Michael did not want any part of it but I convinced him to do it with me and we had a blast!
After going back to the hotel and napping I went for a run around the lake. It was perfect. Slow and refreshing and just enough to loosen up the muscles that got tight on the flight. We spent the rest of the day and all day Saturday exploring the city…more on that in another post!
Sunday morning the alarm went off at 5am. I rolled over and looked at Michael, “Marathon Morning is here! Are you ready?!” We woke up, got dressed, ate our oatmeal, wrote our names on our arms and got ready for the day. My Garmin decided to lock up and display 100% battery. I freaked out and had a slight meltdown, but luckily a quick google search on the iPad told me how to reset it and the crisis was solved…only problem it wasn’t charged 100%. It had to do.
At 6:15 am we were out of the hotel and in a cab heading as close to the start as possible. Michael was in awe of the throngs of runner’s making their way in the darkness to the start. The crowd was humming but you could feel the excitement and nervousness. We had some trouble getting into the start corral and through the bathroom line but we made it. The whole time we were trying to keep each other calm and positive. It was great to have my partner by my side. We got to the corral and I found the signs for the 3:30 pace team. Then melt down #2 came. The 3:30 Pace team was up in the seeded start and I was only in the open start, the volunteers would not let me in the corral to get to the Pace team. I started to cry, I was so nervous about trying to qualify and knew that the day had to be PERFECT for it to happen. Michael took charge, and got me to calm down. We made our way to the Open Corral and got as close to the front as possible. They sang the National Anthem and then the elites were off and we were on our way to the Start. We crossed the start at about 7:37am.
Michael and I weaved our way through the crowds and up Columbus Drive and over to Grand Avenue. At mile 1 I was already about 40 seconds off pace, there were too many runners and I could not run at pace. Michael and I were taking it in and making a game plan for the race, happy to be experiencing all of it together. Just after mile 1 we saw Michael’s parents and were so happy to see a familiar face. We crossed over Wacker Dr. and were in awe of the views of downtown and the sound of the crowds cheering us on. We passed by the famous Chicago sign and I couldn’t keep from smiling ear to ear. Around mile 8, I took the 3:30 pace bib off of my back. I felt as if I needed to free myself from that. I was running a great race but was already minutes behind. More importantly, I was having more fun than I could have imagined running with Michael and taking in the crowds and neighborhoods north of the city. At that moment, qualifying for Boston didn’t matter. Life is short, and it’s not the times we post in a marathon we remember, it’s the moments of the marathon we remember. And every moment of those first 13 miles was awesome. I’m so happy I got to experience them with Michael and share the road and the race with him. The miles were flying by, in fact we missed the markers for mile 7, we looked up and it was mile 8! I loved weaving through the city, and out to the north side neighborhoods and then back into the city with the views of Willis Tower. Coming back into the city and seeing the Willis Tower standing tall over the city and the crowds cheering you on was unforgettable! At mile 13 we saw Michael’s parents again. It was unexpected but picked us up at a time when the going was getting tough. Around mile 14 Michael started to slow and it was time for me to keep going and him to tough out the rest by himself. We knew the moment would come eventually but I was still wishing we could stick together and cross the finish line together.
The rest of mile 14 and most of mile 15 went quickly. The crowds thinned out a bit and there was less to look at. I enjoyed the quiet for a little bit to relax, settle in and set a plan for myself to get through the last 10 miles. I sent positive thoughts and love and light out to Michael and could only hope he would push through and stay strong when the going got tough. Through mile 16 people were yelling my name. They were complete strangers but I loved hearing my name and having someone cheer for me. Just before mile 17 I started to get tired and could feel myself slowing. I decided to take a Clif Shot from the station just before mile 18 and washed it down with some Gatorade and water. By now it was getting hot out and I kept trying to run through the misters they had up and through the hoses people were spraying. I took a cup of water and dumped it over my head. It was cooling and refreshing. At mile 18 and half I ran for a few hundred meters with a woman and chatted about our goal times and how we were feeling. Mile 19 seemed to drag on, I was anxious to get to mile 20. My longest run had been 20 miles and the discomfort I felt on that training run was starting to settle in. I kept hearing in my head everyone telling me the marathon doesn’t start until mile 20 and I wanted to push myself. Before I knew it we were coming up on mile 21 and entering Chinatown. It was amazing to cross through the gate, see all of the big dragons dancing in the crowds, to hear the drummers and the crowds cheering and the music playing. It was really incredible and made you feel so blessed that all these people came out to celebrate your sport and marathon day. Mile 22 to 23 dragged out, I was in a hurry to get down to three miles left. It was a mental hurdle for me. Luckily I was distracted by the marathon photographers snapping photos of all the runners so it went by pretty quickly. I also saw Cellular Field right around there. After crossing to mile 24 you couldn’t help but be excited thanks to the Nike Inspirational Mile and all the signs and crowds and music. It was the perfect pick-me up to get through the end. Mile 25 had less spectators and was much more quiet. I learned later this was because it was hard spot to get to from the El. Mile 25, one to go. I decided to push with everything I had left. I was able to run about an 8:10 mile. I kept pushing, kept hearing my name in the crowd and looking ahead to see where the road led. Just before mile 26 the crowds grew and you couldn’t help but be excited! Right then my Garmin died. I was disappointed but just dug as deep as I could to run as hard as I could. I crossed the finish line in 3:51:21! It was amazing. I was exhausted, and a tired and hot but it was over and I felt great!
I made my way through the finish corral. I got my heat sheet, water, my medal, food, a cold towel, and some ice and kept moving. I made my way to the final exit before the 27th mile party. I was supposed to meet Michael at the party but realized if I stood at the exit I would have to see him. It was a little nerve-wracking waiting for him. There were people everywhere and I was afraid I would miss him. Luckily I met a wonderful woman from Arizona who had a cell phone. She looked up his bib number for me and told me he finished at 11:57 am. I knew he had to be coming in the next few minutes. Sure enough I looked up and saw him walking towards me with a smile I his face. I was SO excited and happy to see him that I actually ran. It hurt so bad! “Hey Marathoner!” I said and before I knew it we were wrapped up in each other reveling in the moment of accomplishing this goal and seeing all our hard work pay off. It was truly a special moment for Michael and I.
We met up with his parents at our meeting place. Everyone was all smiles and enthusiasm for the event! It was awesome! We managed to walk back to our hotel, about a mile. We stopped along the way for lunch. The post-marathon shower felt amazing. There is nothing like washing away all the sweat, grime and Gatorade that ends up stuck to you!
After a well-needed nap we went to Sullivan’s Steak House for a celebration dinner!
It was a perfect day. I may not have qualified for Boston but running the marathon with Michael and sharing those moments with him was the best part. Taking in all of the sights and the crowds and the neighborhoods of Chicago was incredible. It literally it made my jaw drop a few times. That is an amazing feeling. I learned that I’m not seasoned enough to Boston Qualify at such a big marathon. There are too many things that can go wrong and aren’t in my control. I haven’t become immune to them yet, they still bother me and I still get really nervous race morning. I learned that there will always be more marathons and that someday I will get my Boston Qualifier. Until then I’ll run Boston for Charity and run for a cause greater than me. I’ll use my hobby and personal goals to help other’s who are suffering and struggling. I’ll keep replaying my internal movie of the Chicago Marathon 2011 again and again because it was everything I hoped it could be and more!